Does linen fabric shrink when washed?
Many of us love to surround ourselves with linen fabric, textiles and clothing. We love its soft texture, its cool feel and its long-lasting durability. As a fabric it's super-easy to care for, as it's machine washable and can be tumble dried. But does linen shrink when washed?
To make sure you don't buy a stunning linen dress only to wash it and find it one size smaller, or take your new linen duvet cover out of the washing machine and realise it's shrunk, read on. In this post we'll explain how and why linen can shrink, and what it means for your linen clothes, textiles and fabric. So, before you wash your linen or throw your linen items in the tumble dryer, read on.
How is linen fabric produced?
If you have some much loved linen clothing or home textiles, the chances are you've chosen linen for its softness, hard-wearing strength and sustainability. But do you know where it comes from?
Linen is made from the fibers of the flax plant. Crops of these stunning blue-purple flowers are grown in temperate regions of Northern Europe, which offer the perfect growing conditions to get the best quality flax plant – and therefore, the best quality linen. Once the flax has been harvested it undergoes a centuries-old retting and separating process. This ensures the right fibers are processed into linen yarn.
Once the fibers have been woven into linen fabric, it's ready to become clothing, bedlinen, towels and countless other linen items. You can buy linen fabric by the yard to make your own items, or you can find a wide range of completed garments and soft furnishings ready to wear or use. As a natural fabric it has inherent creases and slubbing, which all add to the appealing texture and look of linen.
These plant fibers are also prone to shrinkage and loss of elasticity when placed in water. Which means you need to take care when washing any linen fabrics.
Does linen shrink?
Yes linen will shrink naturally after its first wash. The average is around 4% shrinkage for pure linen. To prevent changes to the shape and size of clothing and textiles, many companies sell pre washed linen fabric. Thanks to this initial wash, the fabric will only have minimal shrinking when it's next washed.
Look for pre washed linen fabrics.
Check the label to see if the fabric has been pre washed, and always follow the care instructions.
Cold water or hot water? How to wash linen
Most linen can be washed in a washing machine using mild detergent in lukewarm water but it's important to check the individual item's instructions.
Poorer quality linen fabric may not wash as well, and pure linen will shrink if it hasn't been pre washed, so bear this in mind when purchasing. This is particularly worth considering if you're buying things that need frequent washing at higher temperatures, like bed linen or table linens. use the gentle cycle on your washing machine if you're not sure.
If in doubt, or you're washing vintage linen fabrics, hand washing first in cold water will minimize any further shrinking or changes to the garment's original size. Use mild detergent and rinse well in cool water.
Both high temperatures and very cold water are more likely to cause shrinkage, so stick to lukewarm water. There's no need for fabric softener as linen gets softer and more supple with every wash.
Drying linen clothes and textiles
Again, follow the manufacturer's care instructions before you dry your linen clothing or textiles. Some linen may shrink in the dryer, so to be safe hang dry in the fresh air. Light colored items and whites will be slightly bleached the direct sunlight, removing stains or marks.
What to do if your linen shrinks
If you wash a linen item and it shrinks, don't panic. There are things you can do:
- Soak the fabric in lukewarm water and mild detergent for around 10 minutes
- Remove from the water and gently press out any excess water
- Hang to dry for a few minutes, to allow any extra water to release
- While the linen fabric is still damp, lay flat on a towel on an ironing board
- Using a mild temperature on the iron, press the fabric or garment outwards, carefully stretching the fibers back to their original size. Don't rub or press hard as this will damage the fabric. Just use a firm but gentle pressing motion.
As a natural, hypoallergenic, anti-bacterial and temperature-wicking fabric, linen has a lot in its favour. Keep yours in great shape by following the care instructions and buying great quality pure linen in the first place.