- The actual question you want to ask is not whether linen shrinks but what you can do about it. Worry not; we’re here to guide you through the linen adventure from the first wash!
- Linen fabric is made of natural flax plant fibers. Since people didn’t synthetically make this fabric—like we did with many others—we find linen hard to deal with when it comes to the proper maintenance. But handling linen fabrics isn’t that hard, provided you have some knowledge about it!
- Linen is prone to shrinking: in hot water (above 40°C/104°F) if we expose it to high heat in a dryer or when it comes into contact with a high temperature of iron. However, we can still do all these things, keeping in mind several precautions. Read our guide to learn how to tackle linen fabrics.
Good to know about linen fabric
Linen is a high-quality, gracious, and one of the most popular household fabrics. It brings to mind comfort and luxury.
Have you ever wondered why we habitually call all laundry “linens”?
It’s because this natural fabric was once so popular that the phenomenon found its reflection in the language. It was once so cherished that they used it to wrap Egyptian mummies’ bodies for their sacred, eternal journey!
Nowadays, we’re past the age of cotton, and we’re well into the era of artificial materials instead. But linen is still frequently used to make
- rope, and more:
Linen is even sometimes blended with cotton—for instance, to make the sturdy, paper-like substance used to create dollar bills.
Since we’re mentioning these two fabrics, are linen and cotton the same thing?
These natural fabrics are both natural and come from plants, but different ones.
Cotton is a staple fiber produced from the cotton plant, part of the genus Gossypium and the family Malvaceae. Linen is a solid, lightweight fabric made from the flax plant, part of the genus Linum in the family Linaceae. The word “linen” comes from the Latin name for flax, “linum usitatissimum.” (read more on Masterclass )
Linen fabric is more durable than cotton. Pure linen gets softer and nicer to wear with each wash. On the contrary, cotton becomes more and more threadbare with wear and tear; its fibers get weaker.
Cotton is a smoother fabric, while linen has more of a rough, textured pattern due to its unique, loose weave.
Tip: You may have heard that cotton is easier to handle when it comes to maintenance. Yet, linen clothes and other linen items are actually just as easy to tackle as cotton. You just need to know and follow the care instructions.
There is also a cotton blend, made with high amounts of cotton and containing small amounts of other fibers, such as linen, rayon, polyester, or others. So you can have, for example, a bed sheet made of 80% cotton and 20% polyester.
Linen fabric wasn’t adjusted to people’s maintenance habits for one simple reason—it’s natural, made from a plant called flax. So, it’s us who have to follow linen fabric ‘s needs, not the other way around.
The flax plant has been cultivated in every country in the world. Moreover, it’s not only spread geographically, but its history also goes back far in time. Flax fibers have been used to make fiber for over 6,000 years—notices The Spruce.
The plants are either cut or pulled by hand from the ground to extract the fibers.
Tip: Allegedly, pulling flax fibers creates finer linen.
We love wearing linen clothes, whether it’s a linen dress, linen shirt or linen pants. These natural fabrics are just so comfy and delightfully… natural!
We also adore sleeping in linen bedding and using this natural fabric as part of our home interiors.
Linen fabric is also eco-friendly (it uses few resources in its production), and despite being so precious, it isn’t that costly.
So, do our beloved linen fabrics have any disadvantages?
Unfortunately, the fabric of your favorite linen shirt has other drawbacks:
- it tends to crease, and
- it’s challenging to iron, wash, and dry properly:
It’s not rare at all to experience linen shrinkage;
All in all, this timeless, charming fabric can be a challenge to keep in good shape if you don’t follow a few essential rules.
Linen needs a bit of special care with maintenance, but mainly in the beginning.
Keep reading to discover how to wash linen to ensure it remains in good shape and prevent linen shrinkage.
It’s expected that linen fabric shrinks. In fact, it’s one of the main reasons people research the internet for information about linen maintenance.
Important: Ensure you learn how to care about linen clothes before and not after the unfortunate linen shrinkage.
We’ll look at the tips for washing linen and drying linens to ensure they don’t shrink in the dryer in the following paragraphs.
Whether it’s linen clothing or linen bedding, your linen item will shrink when washed in the washing machine if you forget about several rules.
Linen shrink when washed in too hot water, above 40°C/104°F. Pure linen fabric shrink 4% in the machine wash on average.
To keep your linen item in its original size, never set your washing machine for high temperatures.
Instead, set lukewarm water or even cold water when you machine-wash linen.
Also, don’t worry too much if shrinkage happens. You can bring your linen dress back to normal by stretching it. We explain how to unshrink linen in the next paragraph.
Read our blog, Does Linen Stretch? to learn more about this complex topic.
Important: Whether you use cool water or warm water to wash linen, the first wash will cause a bit of linen shrinkage. Unless you buy a pre-washed fabric, linen natural fiber will shrink when washed. Pre-washed linen fabric means that the manufacturer washed it, so the fabric will feature only minimal shrinking when first tossed into a washing machine by the person who bought it.
Other proven hacks to prevent linen shrink?
- Separate white, light-colored, dark, and colored linens, especially when machine washing. Wash them separately from other fabrics.
- Use the gentle machine wash cycle in the washing machine. Also, don’t overload the washing machine.
- Use mild detergent formulated especially for delicate fabrics.
Can you use fabric softener for linen?
It’s okay to use a mild detergent to wash linen clothes but avoid bleach or fabric softeners.
Despite their name, even the gentlest fabric softener can cause build-up on the linen and have the reverse effect.
Harsh and excessive amounts of detergent can cause stiffness in linen, so don’t pour any detergent directly onto linen.
Tip: To soften linen items, you can use baking soda instead. Mix ½ cup of soda with your washing powder. Then, drop your linen pants, linen dress, or other linen items in the washing machine as usual. Otherwise, fill a bucket with warm water or cold water for hand washing linen. Pour the whole cup of soda into it.
For single stains, look for a stain remover designed especially for linen or use one of the natural products. Tackling a stain on linen isn’t that hard with good preparation.
Remember, the key is to tackle a stain quickly!
You want to prevent the stain from bedding into the fabric. Once a stain begins to dry, it’s harder to clean the garment.
When you see a spill, first scrape off any excess food or liquid and blot the spill with a damp fabric cloth and a tiny dash of mild detergent.
Important: Don’t rub! It will only make things worse.
What’s the best stain remover to use on linen?
Try these natural methods before you resort to harsh chemical solutions:
- cornstarch and baking soda,
- oxygen bleach,
- white vinegar;
Or try less natural products:
- hydrogen peroxide (apply it gently, using a spray bottle, and watch out, it may lighten your linen!),
- bleach (not recommended for use on linen fabric, so do it with a lot of caution);
Important: Avoid using bar soap to treat a stain—it’s a known way to set the stain within the fabric. Hot or warm water will also set the stain, so always use cold water for the initial wash when removing stains.
Should we invest in dry cleaning for our linen fabrics? Does linen even need it?
The quick answer is no.
Linen is totally fine with the washing machine or hand washing treatment, given you provide it with the right temperature, gentle cycle, and mild detergent.
Also, dry cleaning isn’t much better than home machine washing when it comes to the risk of linen shrinkage.
In fact, dry cleaning linen can also lead to shrinking, because even though linen fabric in dry cleaning doesn’t directly contact water, it’s still a highly-absorbent fabric that absorbs the water from the steam.
Only a few linen clothes are better to be dry cleaned: structured, tailored items like linen jackets or suits.
If your clothes are “dry clean only” or you’ve tried washing, and it hasn’t worked for making your linen item completely clean, take it to your dry cleaner. Don’t forget to describe what the stain is—it will make it easier for dry cleaner professionals to choose the right chemicals to treat it. Don’t wait too long. Once the stain has set in, it will be much harder to remove.
Does linen shrink when ironed?
Can you iron your linen pants and other linen items?
If you want to do it as usual: find a well-padded ironing board, wait until your iron gets slightly warm, lay flat your linen dress on a flat surface of an ironing board, and get this party going, read this Can You Iron Linen article to avoid making any mistakes in the process.
For the correct linen ironing, apart from getting yourself an iron, find
- ironing board,
- pressing cloth,
- steamer, and
- a spray bottle to spritz water;
Ironing linen will give your linen clothing or bed linen impressive effects, but only if you do it the right way! Otherwise, you risk gravely shrink linen pants and other linen items.
Important: Natural fibers of linen can occasionally break if ironed many times on the same fold.
Let’s get to drying linen.
What is the linen preference when it comes to a tumble dry? Can you toss your linen into a tumble dryer?
As a rule of thumb, it’s much better to let your linen clothes air dry than expose them to tumble drying in the machine.
Air dry outdoors is generally the best and the most ecological drying method for most fabrics, which
- saves money you would usually spend on a tumble dry, whether it’s a service outside your house or the electricity you have to put into the process,
- reduces wear and tear of clothing (yes, wear and tear is also caused by tumble drying), and
- eases concerns about ruining your delicate clothing;
Linen shrinks in a dryer quicker than cotton. For a more precise explanation of the process, read Does Linen Shrink in the Dryer on House Rituals.
So get yourself a fancy drying rack, and leave your linen fabrics outside for some time.
You better don’t overdo tumble dry (or rather, better don’t do it at all), but if tumble dry is unavoidable, you can tumble dry your linen natural fabric at the lowest temperatures.
Ensure that you set the drying temperature to the lowest heat.
Yet, every time possible, choose to air dry your linens from start to finish.
Tip: When drying linens, remove linen from the tumble dryer when it’s still a slightly damp fabric. It will help to prevent linen fabrics from becoming stiff. Then, hang or lay flat on a flat surface to finish the drying process.
Keep in mind that fashion trends are totally fine with your linen clothing being wrinkly. Actually, it’s even better when these natural fabrics aren’t entirely flat and smooth, so don’t worry about ironing.
How to undo the shrinking?
Is it possible to unshrink linen?
The good news is, there is still hope for linen fabric that shrink in the dryer!
If you want your linens to get back to their original size, follow a guide that teaches how to stretch the linen. Shrinking and stretching are the opposite actions that can be reversed!
Read also ”Does Linen Stretch?” on House Rituals.
To unshrink linen, follow these steps:
- fill a sink or tub with lukewarm water,
- add a mild detergent, gentle shampoo, or soap,
- soak your linen fabrics for up to 30 minutes (it’s when the fibers begin to loosen),
- gently squeeze water from the clothing, but don’t rinse them,
- lay flat the clothing on a towel,
- roll the towel with the clothing inside.
- squeeze it gently to release a bit more water—continue to do it until your linen clothes are damp rather than wet,
- take another dry flat towel and your clothing on it,
- stretch the fabric gently back to its preshrunk size,
- dry linen by air dry;
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