Does Linen Shrink in the Dryer?

  • Linen is one of the most gracious textiles used worldwide, known for its high standard of quality. This fabric combines luxury and comfort. It’s one of the most durable and easy-to-care-for. Yet, linen has several disadvantages. For example, the shrinkage of the fabric can happen while washing linen and dry cleaning. 
  • The best way to protect your linen is to follow instructions carefully prepared for this natural fabric. For example, avoid hot and use warm water for washing, choose the low temperature for drying instead of high temperatures, use mild detergent for gentle cycle wash ― they made all these tips to prevent washed linen from shrinking. 
  • To avoid shrinkage, manufacturers pre wash linens before turning them into clothing. If you’re a sewer yourself, make sure you pre wash as part of your linen clothing production and maintenance.

What is linen?

Linen is a fabric made from very fine fibers, carefully extracted from the flax plant. These fibers are spun into yarn and then woven into long sheets of fabric.

Linen is:

  • soft, 
  • warm, 
  • cozy,
  • comfortable, 
  • strong, 
  • lightweight, 
  • sustainable,
  • naturally antibacterial ― it means that harmful germs have a hard time surviving within the fine and closely woven fibers of linen fabrics,
  • a great conductor of heat ― thanks to porous fibers, 
  • durable, and 
  • naturally absorbent ― it dries much faster than cotton;

The best thing about linen is that it naturally keeps you warm during the winter months. But, on the other hand, its moisture-wicking properties keep you dry and cool in the warmer months.

Not surprisingly, given this range of valuable properties, linen is used for a range of applications such as

  • window treatments ― linen is excellent at filtering light and filtering germs, 
  • bandages, 
  • home accessories, 
  • bed linen,
  • clothing;

How is linen made?

We can wash linen. You can both hand wash your linens and toss them into the washing machine. Linens can also be dry cleaned. You’ll save money and time on iron since dry cleaning will also deal with wrinkles.

However, washing comes with a list of care instructions. 

It’s because shrinking happens quite often when dealing with linen.

Why? 

Before we get to understand if washing linen fabric in the machine or dry cleaning could end with your clothes staying in their original size, let’s see what’s the structure of this fabric. 

If you’re wondering why linen shrinks, it’s essential to understand how linen fabric is constructed. 

Linen comprises fibers sourced from the stems of flax plants grown in cooler climates throughout the world. 

We harvest flax plants and separate the fibers through processes of 

1. “retting” ― when we place flax in water before taking it out to dry,

2. “scutching” ― crushing the woody part of the stalk, which further loosens the flax fibers,

3. “heckling” ― separating the short fibers using a combing technique;

These stages leave behind the long flax fibers, later spun into yarn and woven into a textile. 

Flax fibers are solid thanks to their crystalline structure. 

With time, linen becomes firmer and softer.

Does linen shrink in the dryer?

We said a lot about how durable are linen clothes and other linen fabrics.

So why should we even bother with the question of linen shrink when washed?

The “relaxation shrinkage,” according to the National Cleaners Association, is what happens to linen during washing because, at the time of the manufacturing process, fibers stretch. 

Let’s tackle it:

1. Linen fabric becomes wet during washing. 

2. The fibers “relax.” 

3. As a result of throwing linen into the washing machine, fibers return to their original size.

4. Fabric appears to have shrunk while it has actually turned back to its original size. 

Experts agree an average shrinkage of up to 3 to 4% is possible, 10% in rare cases. 

Tip: To avoid significant shrinkage cases during washing, manufacturers should ensure that linens are pre washed before being turned into a garment.

How to prevent linen fabrics from shrinkage?

We already know that a washing machine can harm these fabrics and that linen clothing and other accessories can shrink when dry cleaned. 

So which care instructions could help us avoid shrinkage? 

Washing linen

If possible, wash all linens in the cold to lukewarm water because applying heat can cause natural fibers to shrink.

Practice shows if one linen is washed in cold water and another in hot water, the one washed in hot water will show more significant shrinkage. 

We advise hot water up to 40 ℃ only.

When cleaning fine linens with a washing machine, also remember not to:

  • use bleach,
  • overload your machine;

Instead, be sure to:

  • use mild detergent,
  • use the gentle cycle,
  • separate light-colored fabrics and dark fabrics, and linen fabrics from other types of fabrics;

Choose dry cleaning to save the time associated with pressing the linens to remove any creases or wrinkles.

When washing your linen clothing and accessories by hands:

  1. prepare this mixture in the sink: water and a teaspoon of mild detergent,
  2. soak linens for about 10 minutes, 
  3. gently move the fabric around the container with your hands,
  4. pour the water, then let it drain, and then refill the sink again until you remove all the detergent;

Important: Don’t twist the fabric or scrub it because it can damage the fibers.

Drying linen

Drying linen can also cause shrinkage. 

Important: Tumble drying on high heat can not only cause the fibers to shrink but break them altogether. 

In case your linen is pre washed, you can put it in the dryer on low heat. If you decide to dry your natural linen clothing, remove the linens from the dryer while they are still somewhat damp. 

If you fancy wrinkle-free linens, turn iron to low to medium hot setting and iron the linen while the fabric is still damp.

If you use the linen as upholstery on furniture and can’t place it inside a dryer, go for air drying.

Linen does shrink if washed or dried, but by following a few easy steps ― avoiding high heat and hot water during fabric care, etc. ― you can reduce the chances of shrinkage.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Here are instructions on what you could do to save your linen items. First, re wash your linen and let it air dry on a line. When water from the fabric has stopped dripping, but the fabric is still damp, put it on an ironing board and iron it. Place the iron in the center and move outward toward the corners and edges. Stretch out your piece of linen this way.
Bleaching is an excellent idea to brighten various fabrics, but it's not recommended for linens as it can weaken the flax fibers and discolor the fabric. To remove the stain, act on it as fast as possible. First, soak the stain using detergent and water, club soda, baking soda, or white vinegar. Then, blot the stain with a towel.
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