Monday, April 8, 2013

Sunbeam Verve 68 Iron Review

From the archives of All things Ironing - an Iron review.

A long time ago, we have made the choice for environment versus productivity when selecting our ironing equipment.  Having used commercial ironing machines for a decade, we decided to switch to much more environmentally friendly domestic irons about twelve years ago.

For one, domestic irons use a miniscule amount of electricity in comparison to the bulky, commercial, almost industrial machines and it is a lot easier and cheaper to replace a small iron in a matter of minutes than to have to be without an iron for up to two weeks sometimes, to have the commercial equipment repaired. Usually at great expense. 

Having tested all the domestic models available at the time, we settled on the Sunbeam range of Irons for quite a few reasons. The top of the range Sunbeam irons offer :
  • Excellent 2400 watts initial heat-up, the iron is ready faster.
  • Faster heat recovery during ironing, and therefore better, consistent quality.
  • An excellent, more even spread of steam through the sole plate (172 steam holes) and a powerful shot of steam.
  • Ergonomic design. This is particularly important in the case of using the irons on a semi commercial basis as we do for instance where the ironer is using the iron for 4 hours or more at a time. The weight distribution, rest position, water filling position are all important in reducing repetitive straining from a full time ironer's point of view.
  • Full length button groove seems to have been almost forgotten by other manufacturers, yet is vital in reducing damage to buttons and allowing for a much smoother finish, especially to the important bodice and placket areas of a shirt.
  • Resilium, durable scratch free base plate that truly does glide better than others.
Sunbeam Verve features
sunbeam verve pdf
In addition, the Sunbeam irons are closer to Australian made than any other brand and we always prefer to choose and use Australian made products. Although no longer made in Australia, according to the Sunbeam website, the design team and administration is still based in Australia and New Zealand.

During the last 10 years, Sunbeam has upgraded and re-designed their range a number of times and unfortunately, our experience has been that with each new model, the irons last a little less time.

Admittedly, we put the irons through their paces, with each iron ironing between 4 and 7 hours a day and Sunbeam makes a clear distinction in the warranty between domestic use (2 years) and commercial use (3 months). However, where the irons made 10 years ago mostly lasted over a year, the latest models hardly make it through two weeks of ironing on average (20 to 35 hours of ironing) before some component fails.
Yes, plainly we are within our rights to claim warranty each time the iron fails within the three month warranty period that applies to commercial use, however, it just seems plain silly to just pass this problem onto the retail supplier that we buy our irons from.
As it is usually one or other small component which makes the irons unusable, the next obvious step was to try and have the irons repaired by an authorised ironing equipment repair shop.
Unfortunately, this avenue failed also as we were assured by more than one repair specialist that Sunbeam does not provide spare parts and as such the iron can not be repaired and we should claim warranty. Back to square one.
Just to clarify, I have no way of confirming whether Sunbeam does or does not supply spare parts.
I have personally tried to communicate with Sunbeam about these issues on a number of occasions, considering we currently use 20 or more irons a year and can probably offer excellent feedback, but to no avail. My emails remain unanswered.
Continually returning the irons to our supplier (Good Guys) who have never refused a warranty claim, just seems an awkward waste of time and effort on everyone's behalf.
By now, you are probably wondering why we don't simply use another brand.
Simply, because the Sunbeam Verve iron is still the best on the market (when it works) in my opinion, having recently again gone through the exercise of testing the other available brands.
So where to from here?
I have decided to see if I can fix the irons my self.
The main problems we encounter are :
  • Loss of the shot of steam. There have been instances when this feature does not work at all on a brand new, just plugged in iron. Odd, considering it is the most prominent feature highlighted in advertising of the Sunbeam irons. Mostly though, the released steam gets weaker and weaker over a period of hours of ironing and eventually stops all together or just water comes through making it impossible to use the iron to iron.
  • The buttons used for the shot of steam and water spray sometimes just pop out. This is either a problem with the design or a poorly made component because the small plastic tab breaks too easily.
 Shot of steam button and clip holding it in place
  • Water fill inlet cover locking tab which is in place to stop water splashing out from the water chamber during ironing eventually snaps off regardless of how careful we are using it. Same reason as above I suspect.
 Water fill inlet cover locking tab
  • The shot of steam or water spray assembly comes apart. I have discovered this on one occasion when the button popped out and the rubber seal was still inside the spray chamber. In fact, it was this discovery that has led me to have the confidence of attempting some minor repairs my self.
Water spray button assembly 
  • On several occasions, when an iron gets older, water starts to seep from somewhere between the iron water tank assembly and the base plate. This can cause a short circuit and usually blows the fuse on our electrical board.
  • Of course, any time water starts to leak out of the iron in any manor, it becomes useless as an ironing tool.  
  • Rarely, in fact only once in all the years that we have used Sunbeam irons does it happen that a new iron refuses to heat up once plugged in.
  • With a test sample of at least 50 Sunbeam Verve irons, it is seldom for an iron last more than 3 months ( 250 to 400 ironing hours ) in our semi-commercial setting unless helped with some easy repairs.  
To be fair to Sunbeam, I suspect these small, yet vital breakdowns are more to do with the manufacturing process and materials used than the design its self. More a symptom of the consumer desire for cheaper products which has seen most Australian manufacturing outsourced off shore where I guess there are not as many strict quality checks that I would expect if the manufacturing was done locally.

Sunbeam Verve 68 Iron Quick Review

Test sample - over 50 Sunbeam Verve 68 Irons. Testing period for each iron - about three months (250 to 400 ironing hours)

Problems encountered                                                    Frequency

New iron not heating up                                                      Only once

Shot of steam stops working                                               Most
(have found a way of repairing)

Shot of steam button breaks off                                           Many

Water fill inlet cover locking tab breaks off                            Most
(able to repair some by using parts from old irons)

Thermostat failing or not working                                         Never

Water leaking from within the assembly                               Rare              

Attempting safe minor repairs
I have taken one iron apart to see which old components can be kept from the failed irons and used for repairs.
Sunbeam Verve iron disassembled
You can see that I have stopped when I got to the heating element assembly (top left). For one, it appears fused and there might be a good reason. I suspect that asbestos is used quite often to insulate heating elements as I was able to confirm with a quick search of the internet - even in hair dryers.
All up, around 100 components. A good reason for Sunbeam not to be supplying every appliance repairer with spare parts.
But as I said above, most of the new irons don't make it through three months without a breakdown so I have taken to keeping the dysfunctional irons for spare parts and attempted some repairs my self, extending the useful life of an iron well past the three month period specified in the warranty.
The other measure we have taken is to build into the price of our product a lifespan of 3 months per iron along with a guarantee that our irons are kept in peak condition and replaced every three months which avoids other problems such as rust and scale build-up within the iron its self which occur with any iron despite us using only filtered water.
To be fair, the cost incurred if an iron does last the three months is around $100.00 per iron which is as little as $0.25 per ironing hour or a couple of cents per item ironed so it is no big deal.
Shot of steam stops working
There are three reasons for the shot of steam to stop working.
A      The button clip holding it in place breaks and the button pops out.
 Shot of steam button and clip holding it in place
Gently ease a spare button into the spray chamber until it clicks into position. making sure the rubber stopper is not dislodged in the process.
Do not ad oil based lubricant as it may seep into the steam and leave marks on the ironing. 
B      The button becomes difficult to press and only very little steam shot is produced.
Sometimes, the rubber stopper (3) separates from the button and becomes lodged in the spray chamber. Also, the wire mesh filter (5) could have become clogged with impurities in the water used to fill the water tank.
Figure 1
Using a small flat head screwdriver, gently press the holding clip in until the button becomes loose. remove the button. You should see the rubber stopper (3) inside the chamber and a small washer (2).
Remove these from the chamber by gently sliding them out with a thin screwdriver. Do not scratch the wall of the chamber. If you decide to turn the iron upside down, ensure there is no water in the water tank.
Place the washer (2) into the button (1) so it is flat. Then replace the rubber stopper firmly (make sure the button and the inside button chamber are dry), checking that it is firmly in place. Once the assembly is complete, the spring will hold the rubber stopper in place.
(The design could be improved, as there is nothing holding the rubber stopper in place other than a narrowing of the button chamber)
If the spring (4), filter (5) and the steel ball (6) have come out in the process, replace the steel ball first (the steam chamber has a small indentation at the bottom that it fits into). Clean the filter if necessary and place it flat into the steam chamber. Insert the spring (4). You may want to stretch the spring a little to create more resistance and pressure on the rubber stopper to hold it in place.
Follow the instructions (A) in replacing the button.
C     If the above methods do not resolve the problem, chances are the fault lies in the iron assembly its self or an electronic component. You'll need to get a new iron.
.    .    .
Water fill inlet cover locking tab breaks off   
If you have a spare door, it is quite easy to replace.
1     Remove the steam buttons as above (Figure 1).
2     Remove the two screws using a small phillips screwdriver.
3     Remove the cover.
4     At this point you can easily remove the fill inlet cover and replace it.
5     Re-assemble the iron and happy ironing.
(Sunbeam has been approached to offer comment 7 days prior to the publishing of this article but has not responded to my invitation at this time.)


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