It happens pretty frequently. You have a beautiful costume ready to wear at the next convention only to unpack it in the hotel room and find that it’s become wrinkled during transport. You want your costume to look as good as possible but don’t have much experience with ironing garments, especially ones that you’re afraid of ruining.
Most cosplay costumes are better off being steamed instead of ironed. However, if you don’t have a steamer on hand, you can iron the costumes on low heat or use a damp press cloth to help remove wrinkles from the fabric.
Of course, this all depends on the type of fabric or material your costume is made from. Almost all store-bought costumes will be made from polyester fabric that will melt if it gets too hot, so you need to take some precautions to make sure you don’t ruin the cosplay. However, if you made the costume at home, the ironing technique you use will depend entirely on the type of fabric you used.
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Ironing or steaming store-bought cosplay costumes
In almost all cases, costumes that you buy online from an online cosplay store will be made from polyester or synthetic fabric. Basically, this type of fabric is made up of plastic fibers. While polyester fabric typically does not wrinkle as easily as natural fibers, it’s also more difficult to iron out wrinkles since too much heat will cause the plastic fibers to melt.
This means you need to be extra careful when ironing your cosplay costumes. You don’t want to ruin them by melting part of the costume. Use these tips to help you iron your costume to make it look pristine the next time you wear it.
- Use a low heat setting on the iron. A low heat setting should be safe to use on polyester fabrics. You want to use the iron as hot as possible without melting the fabric, so always test the iron first. Try it on an inconspicuous area of the costume to make sure it’s not too hot. You also always want to iron the costume inside-out so that if something does start to melt, it’s less likely to show on the right side of the costume.
- Use a steamer. Typically this will be better for lightweight or flowy types of polyester fabric. Steamers for clothing are not all that expensive and are usually easier to use than irons.
- Use a damp press cloth. If you don’t have a steamer, you can get a similar effect by ironing with a damp cloth on top of your costume. A cotton or linen cloth is usually best, but whatever you have available will work. Simply spread it over the costume piece and iron it as usual. By ironing the damp cloth, you are creating steam that helps de-wrinkle the costume.
- Hang the costume in the bathroom during a hot shower. If you don’t have a steamer, steam from the shower can help to de-wrinkle clothing when you run the hot water. Personally, I find that this is hit or miss. It works sometimes, but sometimes you just can’t get the bathroom steamy enough for this technique to work.
Ironing home-made or commissioned costumes
If you made your own costume or you had the costume specially commissioned, the way you iron it will depend entirely on the type of fabric that was used. Most irons will have heat settings labeled on the dial already, to help you choose the best setting. If polyester fabric was used, you can follow the tips in the previous section.
Tip: iron your costumes inside out. This way if you make a mistake it won’t show on the right side of your costume.
Determine the type of fiber your fabric is made from
The easiest way to figure out what kind of fabric your costume is made from is to look at your receipt from the fabric store. This should have the fiber content, or you should at least be able to look it up on the store website. Even better, take a picture of the fabric label when you purchase it so you can more easily keep track of the fabric. If you commissioned the costume from an individual (not a large online store), ask the person you made it. They should be able to tell you what they used.
If you have a scrap piece of fabric, it’s a great idea to test the iron settings on that before touching your costume. This way you can test how hot to make the iron before the fabric starts to burn or melt.
Cotton or linen
Cotton and linen are the easiest types of fabric to iron since they can stand up to quite a bit of heat. Linen, in particular, needs very hot temperatures to iron out any wrinkles. They can still burn if you leave the iron in one place for too long, but generally hot settings on the iron will be fine.
How to tell if your fabric is cotton or linen: If you don’t have the original label for the type of fabric you’re working with, you can generally tell if it’s cotton or linen by how easily it wrinkles. If you scrunch the fabric up in your hand for 5 seconds, both of these fabrics will come out with wrinkles. Cotton tends to have a fairly stiff drape, while linen will be flowier. Neither cotton nor linen will be shiny fabrics.
Wool should be ironed at a temperature that is in the middle range. Slightly cooler than linen or cotton, but it can still take some heat. It’s also a really good idea to use steam and moisture with wool. A steamer can do wonders, but you can also use a spray bottle to lightly dampen the fabric before ironing to help with stubborn wrinkles.
How to tell if your fabric is wool: Wool generally does not wrinkle too easily. You’ll see more wrinkles than in polyester fabric, but crushing it won’t create sharp wrinkles. Because it’s made of animal fibers, it tends to have a slightly furry texture to it.
Believe it or not, it’s okay to iron silk, but you do need to be careful. The iron should be set at the low heat end of the spectrum, but generally not as cool as polyester fabric requires. You can also steam silk, but you need to be careful here too since water can stain silk if the steamer accidentally spits water on the fabric instead of steam.
That being said, most of the time you will not be using actual silk for a cosplay costume. Silk is usually quite expensive, so even if it looks like silk, you’re probably using a polyester or synthetic fabric that was made to mimic the look (in which case, you can use the tips from the first section of this article)
How to tell the difference between actual silk and polyester: The main way to tell if you’re working with silk or a polyester silk look-alike is by how easily it wrinkles. Silk will wrinkle fairly easily while polyester will not. Synthetic ‘silk’ fabrics will also have less drape and be less flowy.
Rayon is a slightly less common fabric, especially in cosplay, but since it tends to be my favorite to work with, I’ll include it here. Rayon is kind of a cross between a synthetic type of fabric and a natural fabric. That’s because it is made from wood or bamboo pulp that is synthesized into the fibers that create the fabric.
When ironing, rayon can be treated similarly to silk. You should use low heat settings, but it doesn’t need to be quite as low as polyester fabric. You can also steam rayon, but you want to be careful with moisture because water can weaken the fabric so it’s easier to damage when it’s wet.
How to tell if your fabric is rayon: Rayon will usually look and feel like a cotton fabric that has a lot of drape or flow to it. Rayon also wrinkles very easily, even more easily than cotton fabric. The easiest way to tell if it’s rayon is by seeing how the fabric reacts to water. When it’s wet and you can crumple the fabric up into a ball it will hold itself crumpled together, whereas cotton will not.
The types of material you should NOT iron
Most fabrics that are used for cosplay can stand up to some heat without much of a problem, but there are a few you want to look out for and avoid ironing altogether.
- Leather and suede (including faux varieties)
- Velvet and velour (these can be steamed.
- Costume parts made from foam or non-fabric materials
Last-ditch scenario: use a wrinkle-release spray
If you need to de-wrinkle a part of your costume while you’re still wearing it or in a very tight scenario, you can keep a wrinkle-release spray on hand. This tends to only work on smaller-scale wrinkles, but it can be great for when you’re wearing your costume all day and just want to refresh the way your costume looks.