Ironing or smoothing is the work of using a heated tool to remove wrinkles from washed clothes. The common tools for this purpose are called "irons", though modern designs are no longer made of iron.
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Metal pans filled with charcoal were used for smoothing fabrics in China in the 1st century BC. From the 17th century, sadirons, thick slabs of cast iron, delta-shaped and with a handle, heated in a fire, began to be used in Europe. A later design consisted of an iron box which could be filled with hot coals, which had to be periodically aerated by attaching a bellows. This type was on sale in the USA until at least 1902.
In the industrialized world, these designs have been superseded by the electric iron, which uses resistive heating from an electric current. The hot plate, called the sole plate, is no longer made of iron but of aluminium, which is lighter. The heating element is controlled by a thermostat which switches the current on and off to maintain the selected temperature.
The invention of the resistively heated electric iron is credited to Henry W. Seeley of New York in 1882. In the same year an iron heated by a carbon arc was introduced in France, but was too dangerous to be successful. The first thermostatically controlled electric iron appeared in the 1920s.
In recent years, some people have invented the sport of Extreme Ironing, which consists of ironing clothing under creatively difficult circumstances.