Can You Bleach Linen?

  • The flax plant is the linen natural structural source grown throughout Europe. There is no current commercial production of linen in the United States, but in Europe, Belgium linen is considered one of the highest quality.
  • Linen isn’t as easy to deal with as popular cotton. Natural linen fabrics are much weaker when wet and prone to abrasion when it comes to usage and maintenance. Therefore, we should wash linen fabric thoroughly with special care. It also applies to drying this delicate material and removing stains. 
  • Several bleaching methods (i.e., vinegar, baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, oxygen bleach, etc.) can turn delicate linen back white after it went yellow or remove single stains from it. However, consider that these methods are never entirely safe. So it’s always a good idea to test a small, hidden area of the fabric first. In the article below, we’ve prepared a couple of tips to bleach linen fabrics successfully.

Meet linen

Before we tackle dealing with linen when it gets dirty, let’s review the bright side of the story. 

Linen clothes, linen sheets, and other linens are lightweight and soften while also highly durable; they have natural moth-, bacteria- and perspiration-resistance qualities, are breathable, and provide maximum comfort. 

You can see linen around; we willingly use it for:

  • linen clothing,
  • linen sheets, 
  • window treatments, 
  • bandages, and 
  • home accessories;

No wonder many of us are dying to learn how to keep it at its best and provide it with good care. 

History of linen clothes

Flax plants ― which linen garments are made of ― have grown throughout the Mediterranean and Central Asia since the dawn of time. And the first clothes were made of these fabrics.

Our ancestors discovered that soaking a flax plant in water makes its outer steam rot. This process, in turn, makes the long, soft fibers, previously hidden underneath, show up. So they started to weave them into the fabric.

Do you remember the image of the Egyptian mummies? Historically, the most refined and gracious pieces were used to create white linen fabric for tunics and clothes (like those for the Egyptian corpses, then mummies). Coarser ones were great for boat sails and grain sacks. 

Romans began to dye the linen with vivid colors and spread its use throughout Europe after conquering Egypt.

Early settlers to America brought flax seeds to plant in the New World.

Until the mid-1800s, linen was the predominant fabric. But, then, cotton production was thriving in the Southern states.

How to take good care of linen?

As durable, luxurious, and comfortable linen fabric is, its splendidness comes in with a series of issues regarding maintenance. 

The burning question is: How to take the best care of linen?

What can we do, and what shouldn’t we do with it? 

Can we throw it into the washing machine when it gets dirty and wash our napkins, linens, and clothing in hot water like any other material? 

What about chemical methods and iron? Which laundry detergent to use? 

What method is the best to getting rid of stains on this natural fabric?

Learn what could potentially harm the linen material to provide it with the best care.

In the paragraphs below, we’ll look closer at a few tips related to our beloved linens.

Bleaching linen ― yes or no?

First off, remember that it’s always a good thing to check the manufacturer’s label when it comes to washing in the laundry instructions.

You can’t lose here. Yet, you can learn, and your clothing and linen sheets will be grateful. 

When considering the proper maintenance of linen, regarding both washing and drying, it’s crucial to remember that linens are much weaker than cotton when wet and prone to abrasion. 

 We can wash most clothes made of linen fabric ordinarily with several precautions. 

Important: Only several items, like structured clothes (for example lined coats and jackets) need dry cleaning instead of a typical washing machine process. It’s due to the inner fabrics and linings that help them hold their shape.

Turn your clothes made of linen inside out before washing to prevent surface fibers from breaking. 

You can wash clothes with the washing machine or by hand. 

If you go for a washing machine, pick:

  • gentle cycle using warm (up to 40 degrees) or cold water for washing, and 
  • cold water rinse cycle;

While general washing comes in with comprehensible rules, dealing with single stains on natural linen is not that easy. 

Can you bleach linen?

As a rule of thumb, avoid using bleach on bed linens. 

You can weaken linen fibers with chlorine bleach. Bleach is harsh and can damage the fabric.

Important: Never apply undiluted bleach directly to the fabric, even if it is white. You can use only diluted bleach solutions on linen or cellulosic fibers for stain removal and whitening. However, even the solution will weaken fibers and can cause them to rip and wear out if used too often.

Yet, as often, there is a little star next to the strict general prohibition regarding bleaching.

We don’t recommend bleaching delicate linens, but there are moments when your once-white-now-yellow clothing, napkins, and sheets may call for a refresh, and the laundry method is not enough to provide it.

Keep in mind that instead of using chlorine bleach, you can bleach linen with one of the following natural alternative method (some of them are even free):

  1. Vinegar
  2. Baking soda
  3. Sun (you heard us)
  4. Lemon juice
  5. Aspirin
  6. Hydrogen peroxide
  7. Oxygen bleach

Yet, if these methods failed, reach out to a chemical solution, getting yourself a bottle of chlorine bleach.

Important: Don’t mix chlorine bleach with oxygen bleach or ammonia. It can release dangerous fumes. 

Before you begin, test a small area in a discreet part of the garment before treating the whole piece. 

To treat your linen correctly, make a mix bleaching solution of one teaspoon of bleach with two water. 

Take a pipette or cotton bud and dab it onto the fabric. 

Don’t use bleach on the garment if the fabric’s color begin to change or it transfers onto the cotton bud.

Important: Chlorine bleach is strong and highly toxic, so read the instructions carefully to avoid harming your skin or eyes. Wear protective gloves. 

If your white linen materials or clothing are of good quality, you’re lucky. 

Your fabrics have a chance to withstand potential damage from the bleach. 

Thinner weaves or linen blends might wear thinner or break. 

If the linen is dyed, dark colors such as khaki may not be completely stable. So stain remover can change the color of your garment. 

Here’s how to conduct the process of chemical bleaching of linens: 

1. First off, re-read all our warnings above before you begin!

2. Run your wash on a hot water cycle; unless your linens care instructions recommend only warm or cool water. 

3. Pause the wash cycle after 5-10 minutes, so your detergent starts washing before the bleach comes in.

4. Dilute one cup of bleach with one liter of water.

5. Add your mix to the detergent dispenser.

6. Re-start the wash.

7. After your laundry is washed, remove the items and check for damage. 

8. If there are still yellow parts left, repeat the process until you get the desired result. Increasing the heat of water could also be an idea, but it’s somewhat risky.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Test a stain removal product on an inside seam or hem of your linen before treating the stain. Spread a bit of the stain remover on the seam and then rub with a cotton swab. If color transfers to the swab, don't use this product.
Linen keeps you cooler than cotton in the summer and when you sleep. You will sweat less when wearing linen because the wide, lengthy fibers of linen allow air to pass through the fabric.
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