Can you machine wash linen fabric?
You've bought your beautiful new linen bedding set or summer linen shirt – now you're wondering if it can be machine washed. Fear not, in this post you'll discover everything you need to know about washing your linen items, whether that's linen clothes or household textiles.
Linen fabrics are produced from the flax plant, an ancient and natural source of fibers that has been used for thousands of years. Traditionally, linen was used for clothing, bedding, and household and kitchen linens.
From elegant linen clothing to sumptuously soft sheets, linen is the top choice for lovers of natural textiles. We love it for its long-wearing strength and timeless, rustic beauty and because it's a sustainable fabric. Compared to cotton, flax uses fewer resources to produce, and is also biodegradable. With all these qualities it's no surprise that linen has featured in homes for generations. But if you're new to the joys of linen, here are our washing tips for your linen items.
Before you start: check the instructions!
One of the first things to remember is just because one of the most resilient, durable of the natural fabrics used in homewares and clothing, it's important to always wash something according to the care instructions on the particular garment. High quality linen is super easy to care for but an item may have components, like embroidery or stitching, in a less hard-wearing fabric. The manufacturer's instructions will take this into account. Some linen items will be dry clean only, so always check the label before washing linen.
As part of its natural quality, linen may shrink after the first wash. To avoid this in manufactured linen clothing or textiles, many producers pre-wash an item before it goes on sale. This method means the fibers won't shrink substantially in subsequent washes. Even with pre-washed linen, it's important to follow the item's specific linen care instructions.
How to hand wash linen
If a garment specifies hand washing, then fill a large tub with lukewarm water and mild detergent. Swill the item in the water and rub gently to remove any stains or marks. Empty the water away and refill the tub. Rinse the linen, making sure the water is a cool temperature. Repeat until no detergent remains. Reshape your hand washed garment while still damp and hang to air dry on a line, or lay flat on a drying rack.
Cleaning linen in a washing machine
This is the easiest way to wash your linens, and with most good quality linen fabric you can simply throw it in the washing machine. In fact, linens get softer with each wash so as long as the washing tips on the item specify a machine wash, go for it!
Turn linen clothing inside out to protect the fibers in the washing machine. Always use the gentle cycle and mild detergent, and avoid using hot water. If your linens have been pre-washed you can use a hotter wash, but check the care directions first. You can use fabric softener with linen laundry but it's not necessary as the fabric will keep on softening naturally. After washing on a low heat, shake your linens and hang to air dry. Many linens can be tumble dried on a medium temperature so if needed, this is a quick, if less eco-friendly option for drying your linen laundry.
We love the inherent natural wrinkles that all linen fabrics have after washing, and so ironing is entirely optional. If you'd like to iron your garment, make sure it's still slightly damp. Keep your iron on a low temperature.
How to tackle a stain on linen
Linen fabric is often used in napkins, tea towels and tablecloths, which come into contact with food, spills, splashes and stains. It's best to act quickly to stop stains 'sticking' so we advise that you soak the linen as soon as possible. Hand or machine washing linens may not be enough to remove a stubborn stain. Apply gentle detergent directly to the stain, then soak the garment in warm water for a few hours before washing your linen.Bleach can damage the natural fibers in linen fabrics so is not advisable. Follow the normal washing and drying process, and repeat the soak if needed.
Stain removal powders, baking soda, glycerin and ether may help remove a stain, but always test a small, hidden area first in case they cause color change. This is especially important if using bleach or cleaning darker fabrics. For tips on cleaning linen upholstery, go here.
The general process for washing your linen is to:
- Follow the care guidelines on the garment label
- If machine washing, use cool or warm water
- If hand washing use mild detergent and lukewarm water
- If air-drying, hang the linen while still damp
- If tumble drying, use a medium or cool cycle
- Iron on a low-medium heat if you want, or embrace the charming wrinkles of this natural fabric
As a sustainable, natural fabric linen makes the ideal choice for the modern home. Beloved for its resilience and charm, it's also really easy to care for. Machine washing linen couldn't be simpler. Just remember that vintage linens and newer items may have different requirements. Find more tips on caring for linen here, and a guide to dyeing linen fabric here.