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The Linen Lowdown

27 Sep, 2019


by Glassons

How to Care for Linen

What is linen made from?

Linen is a natural fibre made from the stalk of the flax plant. The long fibres from the flax plant are spun into linen, then weaved to create linen fabric.

A textile known for its incredible properties, linen is strong, durable, moisture-wicking, and also dries quicker than cotton. It’s a desirable choice for sheets and clothing, particularly because it softens the more it’s washed and used. Linen is a natural insulator and will retain heat and warmth from the body in colder months, while keeping you cool and dry during summer.

There are several types of linen used to meet a variety of needs. Common linen mixes include:

  • Sheeting linen – a sturdy, heavy type usually manufactured for sheets
  • Damask linen – woven on a jacquard loom to create a smooth texture, usually used for napkins and tablecloths
  • Blended linen – blended with cotton to make it extra soft and comfortable, ideal for clothing
  • Plain-woven linen – also known as glass towelling as it’s commonly used for wiping glassware.

How do you wash linen clothes?

Linen can be machine washed but, as always, double-check the garment’s washing instructions before tossing it in the wash. It may specify it needs to be hand washed or dry cleaned.

Like all natural fibres, linen needs to be washed carefully to avoid shrinkage and wrinkles:

  • Linen should be washed with similar colours and separated from regular clothes.
  • Avoid cramming the garments in with too many other items as this increases the chance of the material creasing.
  • Wash your linen on a gentle cycle on a medium (lukewarm) water setting. They should never be washed in hot or cold water.
  • Use a high-quality detergent and consider spot-testing new cleaning products before using them on the entire garment.

Hand washing might be recommended for particularly delicate pieces of linen clothing.

How do you soften linen?

While linen will naturally soften over time, newly purchased linen might feel stiffer and coarser than you’d prefer. To speed up the softening process, there are several options you can try.

  • Launder your linen as per the manufacturers recommendation to lessen the stiffness. If this doesn’t work after the first few washes, it might mean the stiffness is due to the weave of linen. You can break down the material by vigorously washing the material by hand.
  • Unfortunately, fabric softeners won’t work as well on linen material – and they might also leave unwanted residue. Opt for a natural fabric softener by adding ½ cup of baking soda or 1 cup of vinegar to the wash.

Can you iron linen?

Yes, linen can be ironed. But you should still always check the label in case it specifies otherwise – the linen might be suited to ironing, but the lining or other materials blended in might not be.

How to iron linen:

  • For the best ironing results, spray your linen with plain, cool water until lightly damp.
  • Roll the garments loosely before you iron so the water can seep into the fibres.
  • Place a towel over the ironing board to pad the surface.
  • Use a good-quality steam iron and set it to either high heat or linen/cotton.
  • Keep the iron moving smoothly and continuously (pausing on the one spot may burn the material).
  • You might need to spray more water to achieve a smooth finish.

Once you’ve ironed your linen, hang it up to dry for at least 10-15 minutes. Linen clothes should be ironed inside out.

Can you put linen in the dryer?

Yes, linen can be tumble-dried. The only exception is linen garments that haven’t been pre-washed during the production process.

To prevent your linen from creasing or shrinking, use a low heat setting on the dryer and take your linens out while they are still a little damp. This will prevent the material from becoming stiff. Hang your linen up, or lie it down flat for it to finish drying.

Even though you can use the dryer, it’s still a good idea to dry your linen naturally if you can to avoid wrinkles and shrinkage.

Does linen shrink or stretch?

As linen is made from natural fibres, it will usually shrink when washed for the first time. Washing or drying linen at high temperatures will also increase the likelihood of the material shrinking. This is why it’s recommended to purchase linen garments that have a slightly looser fit. It’s also possible to purchase linen that has been “pre-shrunk”.

Pure linen fibres don’t stretch and can also resist damage from abrasion. Due to its low elasticity, the fabric shouldn’t be folded and then ironed in the same spot repeatedly, as this will cause the fabric to eventually break down.

How do you keep linen from wrinkling?

Linen does have a tendency to wrinkle easily – though this is commonly considered part of the look. Due to its light, breathable nature, it creases quite easily even after it’s been freshly ironed.

Unfortunately, linen will wrinkle when worn. While it’s not entirely possible to prevent, there are tips you can use to lessen the creasing:

  • Ensure you’re wearing the correct size. Clothes too big are more likely to bag and consequently crease.
  • Wash and iron your linen as directed before wear.
  • Minimise pants from wrinkling by gently lifting them at the knees before you sit down.
  • Smooth your skirt or dress before sitting down by pulling at the tail.
  • Remove linen jackets while driving or sitting for large lengths of time. If possible, keep it on a hanger in the car.

Linen was made to naturally crease, so learn to embrace its relaxed look!

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