What Is Extreme Ironing? (with pictures)

Amanda Holland
Amanda Holland

What Is Extreme Ironing?

Sources indicate that extreme ironing should be done with commercially available irons and ironing boards.
Sources indicate that extreme ironing should be done with commercially available irons and ironing boards.

As the name implies, extreme ironing involves ironing clothing outdoors in a bizarre, remote, or unusual location. The Extreme Ironing Bureau states that the sport “combines the thrill of an extreme outdoor activity with the satisfaction of a well-pressed shirt.”

Is Extreme Ironing Real?

While EI is a real activity with enthusiastic participants, there is some debate about whether it can truly be classified as a sport. Many sources suggest that EI athletes and fans consider it a good-natured joke or a performance rather than a true sport. The EIB’s official Facebook page seems to function as an online community for hobbyists and fans rather than a traditional regulatory organization like most sports have.

A group of three British extreme ironists pressed a Union Jack flag at the Mount Everest Base Camp in 2003.
A group of three British extreme ironists pressed a Union Jack flag at the Mount Everest Base Camp in 2003.

There was an official competition that occurred in Germany in 2002: the 1st Extreme Ironing World Championships. A British group won the team event, and a German with the moniker “Hot Pants” won the individual competition. There is no information about a follow-up event.

Fun Facts About Extreme Ironing

  • Some examples of the sport include ironing while skydiving, mountain climbing, canoeing, snowboarding, or surfing.
  • Enthusiasts have created their own branches of extreme ironing, such as bungee ironing and underwater ironing.
  • Some EI participants refer to themselves as extreme ironers or extreme ironists.
  • In 2003, British mountain climbers John Roberts, Christopher Allan Jowsey, and Ben Gibbons worked together to iron a Union Jack flag at the Mount Everest Base Camp.
  • According to the 2003 documentary Extreme Ironing: Pressing for Victory, there is (or was at the time) a rivalry between the EIB and the Urban Housework group, which was trying to popularize its own sport, extreme vacuum-cleaning.

Who Started Extreme Ironing?

Some extreme ironists have pressed clothing while skydiving.
Some extreme ironists have pressed clothing while skydiving.

It’s not entirely clear who can be credited with the invention of extreme ironing. Many sources say that Phil Shaw, an Englishman, started it in 1997. As the story goes, Phil was tired after his long workday at a knitwear factory and came home to a pile of unironed laundry. In a bid to combine what he really wanted to do (go rock climbing) with what he needed to do, Phil took his ironing board out to his garden and pressed his clothes outdoors. Soon after, he and his roommate, Paul Cartwright, completed several ironing adventures while rock climbing, skiing, and climbing trees. In 1999, Phil adopted the nickname “Steam” and went on an international tour to promote his sport.

However, there is an alternate version of extreme ironing’s genesis, which credits Tony Hiam for inventing it in England in 1980. In this account, Tony got the idea after watching his brother-in-law iron his clothes while camping in a tent. Tony felt that trying to maintain ironed clothes while participating in outdoor activities was futile, and he expressed this view by purposely performing ironing demonstrations in bizarre places, such as airport terminals, phone booths, and mountaintops. Sources say that Tony carried an ironing board in his car for the better part of a decade so he was ready to iron whenever the opportunity presented itself.

What Are the Rules of Extreme Ironing?

Regulations for extreme ironing are not consistent across EI sites. According to one source, the ironing board must have legs and be 30 centimeters wide by 1 meter long. An ironist must use a real iron, and the activity must be completed outdoors.

Another source doesn’t specify the size of the ironing board but states that it must be a commercially available model. This set of rules indicates that the iron must also be a standard product. The iron may be heated by a gas cooker or a similar device when standard electrical heating is not available.

Where Is Extreme Ironing Popular?

Though EI started in England, it has become popular in many other places, especially Germany. Notable extreme ironists hail from South Africa, England, Germany, and the Netherlands.

What Is Classed as an Extreme Sport?

The Encyclopedia Britannica says that extreme sports usually take place outside and are characterized by high speeds and high risk. However, it seems that not everyone agrees on which activities count as extreme sports. Nowadays, the term is also used to describe unconventional or weird sports, even those that aren’t inherently high-risk.

Whether or not it should be classified as a sport (extreme or otherwise), extreme ironing is certainly an intriguing activity. The next time you are faced with a mountain of wrinkled clothes, consider taking your ironing to the extreme, even if it’s just by bringing your iron and board out to your backyard.

Amanda Holland
Amanda Holland
Amanda Holland is equally passionate about math and grammar, and she has incorporated both into her career. She spent several years as a signals analyst for the Defense Department, creating and editing reports for the intelligence community. After her two kids were born, she transitioned to a career as a freelance writer. When she isn't crafting content, she's usually reading, baking, or playing video games.
Amanda Holland
Amanda Holland
Amanda Holland is equally passionate about math and grammar, and she has incorporated both into her career. She spent several years as a signals analyst for the Defense Department, creating and editing reports for the intelligence community. After her two kids were born, she transitioned to a career as a freelance writer. When she isn't crafting content, she's usually reading, baking, or playing video games.

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    • Sources indicate that extreme ironing should be done with commercially available irons and ironing boards.
      Sources indicate that extreme ironing should be done with commercially available irons and ironing boards.
    • A group of three British extreme ironists pressed a Union Jack flag at the Mount Everest Base Camp in 2003.
      A group of three British extreme ironists pressed a Union Jack flag at the Mount Everest Base Camp in 2003.
    • Some extreme ironists have pressed clothing while skydiving.
      Some extreme ironists have pressed clothing while skydiving.