Extreme Ironing Pushes the Limits of Domestic Life

Phil via Flicker // CC BY NC 2.0
Phil via Flicker // CC BY NC 2.0 / Phil via Flicker // CC BY NC 2.0

Everything was a little more extreme in the '90s, from our blue jeans to our sugary soft drinks. Just when it seemed like things couldn't get more extreme, in 1997 a man from Leicester, England proved that even the most mundane household chore had the potential to be awesome.

It all started when Phil Shaw, bored by the predictability of indoor ironing, decided to take his work out into the garden. When his housemate asked what he was doing, he replied, “extreme ironing." Today, the Extreme Ironing Bureau defines the sport as a combination of “the thrill of an extreme outdoor activity with the satisfaction of a well-pressed shirt.” 

Since Shaw's revelation, the pastime has exploded into a worldwide phenomenon. “EI" enthusiasts have taken it everywhere from the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro to the depths of the ocean. In 2002, the first and only Extreme Ironing World Championships were held in Munich. A few of the "extreme" locations included the top of a tree, a rock climbing wall, and in a fast-moving canoe. Whenever possible, irons were plugged into a nearby outlet for several minutes, then unplugged when the activity began. Cordless irons were also used, but those were a last resort (they don’t get as hot as the real thing).

Extreme ironing isn’t as active as it was in its early years, but news from the sport’s founder could mean it's coming back in a big way. Earlier this year, Britain's International Television Network reported that Phil Shaw is coming out of retirement. As for what’s next for the sport, maybe an extreme ironing shark dive, or extreme ironing in space? We’ll keep our spray starch close at hand.