Linen Care Guide: How to Wash Linen and Keep it Crease Free

Linen has been prized for centuries for its beautiful appearance, easy comfort, and long-lasting appeal. 

As with many materials, there are certain things that you can do to help maintain linen’s quality and longevity.

As experts in country clothing and beautiful natural fibres, we’ll explain how you can keep your linen garments soft and supple. Discover the best ways to wash, dry, and store linen to preserve and enhance this timeless fabric for years to come.

What is linen?

Linen is a popular natural fabric that is woven using fibres from the flax plant. When the crop has grown and the stems are ready for harvesting, the flax fibres are rough and unwieldy, making them difficult to weave into linen. The material softens over time, however, it retains its durable nature which linen is known for. 

Along with its sturdiness, linen is especially favoured thanks to its absorbency; it can absorb 20% of its weight in liquid. This makes it an ideal fabric to wear in the summer, as it can wick moisture away from the skin to keep you cool. Also, as linen loses its crisp feel with each wear, it develops a beautiful lived-in appearance. 

The flax crop from which linen is harvested has been grown for thousands of years and dates back to Ancient Egyptian times. Back then, linen was the fabric of choice for clothing thanks to its lightweight and breathable properties, which was ideal for the balmy climate in Egypt. Since then, linen has travelled to the far-reaching corners of the world and is now cultivated in many different countries. 

Today, this versatile fibre can also be found throughout the home in the form of soft furnishings like towels, napkins, rugs, and curtains. 

Linen vs cotton

Linen is often compared to cotton as the two fabrics are both natural fibres and share similar properties; they are lightweight, suitable for wearing in warmer weather, wick moisture, and are breathable.

The difference between the two materials is that linen fibres are thicker than cotton, which makes it stronger and more absorbent. Due to this, higher-quality linen will have a lower thread count, which is the opposite of cotton. In terms of wear, linen has less elasticity than cotton, making it more prone to wrinkling.

Why is linen so expensive?

The process of growing and harvesting linen is relatively extensive, which can cause it to be more expensive than other fabrics.

To make linen, it must go through a series of steps:

1. Firstly, the flax seeds are sown and grown for around 100 days before being harvested, either by machine or by hand. 
2. Next, the flax leaves and seeds are removed to leave the stalks behind. This is a process called winnowing or ripping. 
3. After this, the inner fibres are removed and combed for spinning.
4. Finally, the fibres are spun into yarn before being woven into linen.

In addition to the craftsmanship required to create linen, the conditions required for flax to grow and flourish contribute to its increased cost. The flax plant thrives best in cool, damp environments and does not tolerate extreme heat. Due to this, flax crops are planted at various stages in the year, depending on the climate of the country. For example, in warmer countries, flax is sown in winter and harvested ahead of spring. 

Flax plants also benefit from loam and alluvial soils, which are most commonly found along the Nile River Valley. This is why the finest-quality linen hails from specific regions in Europe, such as Egypt and Belgium, because their climates provide the optimal growing conditions for flax.

How to wash linen

Thanks to its resilient fibres, linen can be safely washed in a washing machine or by hand. However, to prolong the life of your garments and prevent damage, we always recommend referring to your linen’s care label for specific instructions.

However, linen can have a tendency to crease and shrink. To prevent this from happening, we suggest:

  • Wash your linens in a half load – Filling your washing machine’s drum too full means that there will be less room for your garments to move around and absorb water. This can cause them to crease more heavily as they are compacted, so allow for plenty of space to remedy this.
  • Select a cold or delicate machine cycle for the first wash – Linen is usually sold as either pre-washed or not. Pre-washed linen means that the manufacturer has already washed the item to reduce the chances of it shrinking in the future, and also to soften the fibres. This is because linen can shrink significantly on the first wash cycle, so garments that have not been pre-washed are more likely to reduce in size when you wash them for the first time at home. If your linen has not been pre-washed, cleaning it in cold water or on the coolest cycle possible can help to minimise the amount that the fibres contract.

Washing linen in the machine:

1. Separate your white and light-coloured items from darker-coloured clothing to reduce the chances of colour bleeding.
2. While linen is less prone to bobbling, turn your garments inside out to reduce the chances of pilling.
3. Place your linen in the washing machine, but do not fill the drum more than half full. 
4. Add a bleach-free, mild clothing detergent to the tray and set the machine on a cool wash. Some washing machines will have a cool cycle, however, you can also wash linen at 30 degrees to prevent shrinking.

Washing linen by hand:

1. Turn your linen item inside out to prevent damaging the outer surface. 
2. Fill a clean bowl or your sink with warm water. 
3. Add a small amount of mild detergent and agitate the water to create suds.
4. Place your linen garment into the water and submerge it fully.
5. Gently move your garment around the soapy water, taking care not to wring or stretch the material.
6. Carefully squeeze the fabric together to remove excess water.
7. Empty your bowl or sink and fill it with fresh water.
8. Rinse your linen garment so remove all soapy residue.

How to dry linen

Linen is relatively easy to clean as it is thicker and sturdier than other natural fibres. However, it can be difficult to keep it from wrinkling as it lacks elasticity. To prevent linen from creasing, it must be hung up to dry as soon as you have washed it. 

Here are some additional tips for drying linen:

  • The most economical way to dry your linen is to let it air dry, as it avoids unnecessary electricity usage. Once the garment has been washed, shake out the item to remove any creases and then hang dry. 
  • Drying your white linens in direct sunlight can help to keep them bright, but it can cause darker colours to fade.
  • Linen dries quickly, so there is often little need to tumble dry it. However, if you prefer the feel of machine-dried fabrics, always set your tumble dryer on a low heat. High heat can cause your linen garments to shrink. Before they are completely dry, remove them from the dryer and finish the drying process by air drying to prevent the fabric from becoming stiff.

How to iron linen

Ironing linen is a matter of personal preference as many people prefer its effortless and lived-in appearance that it is known for. 

However, if you favour a crisp finish or your linen has deep creases that you would like to remove, we recommend:

  • Using a medium-hot temperature with the steam setting.
  • It is also best to do this when your linen is still slightly damp from washing before it has completely dried. This will help to prevent the fabric from becoming hard and aids in eliminating creases. 
  • If your linen has dried before you can iron it, spray your garment with some water to add moisture to the fibres first.

How to soften linen

Newer linen garments can feel scratchy as the flax fibres may still be rough and stiff. This is often the case with items that haven’t been washed often. Here are some tips for how to soften your linen clothes:

  1. 1. Launder your linen
  3. Washing your linen garments is the most effective and natural way to help them lose their stiff feel. This is because the water encourages the linen fibres to become more flexible, removing some of its rigidness. Laundering linen clothing over time will naturally make it softer.
  5. While other natural fibres can become worn and more prone to damage when washed frequently, linen is supremely durable and is less likely to become threadbare.
  7. 2. Use white vinegar
  9. Waiting for your linen items to soften by frequent washing may not be the fastest or most practical option, but there are certain household essentials that you can use to speed up the process.
  11. A popular method for softening linen is to use a small amount of white vinegar when washing your garments. White vinegar is well known for its non-toxic nature and powerful cleaning abilities, making it an effective option. 
  13. Add ½ a cup of white vinegar and ½ a cup of water to your wash in place of laundry detergent. The vinegar can eliminate chemicals and strip residual detergent from the flax fibres, which may be causing them to feel coarse.
  15. 3. Add baking soda to your washes
  17. Similarly, adding baking soda to your linen wash can encourage the flax fibres to soften. Baking soda has a high pH level and helps to regulate water by balancing out its acidic and alkaline properties. 
  19. To soften linen using baking soda, add ½ a cup to your wash in place of fabric softener.
  21. 4. Iron linen clothing
  23. The heat and pressure created when ironing linen can help to smooth and soften the flax fibres. Always ensure your linen clothing is slightly damp and set to the steam setting for the best results.

How to store linen

As with many other natural fibres, like merino wool or cashmere, you should always store linen once it is clean and completely dry. Otherwise, damp fabric that’s stored in a cupboard with poor air circulation can be susceptible to mould and mildew. 

Let your linen clothing breathe by keeping it in a cool, dry, and well-ventilated area. Avoid keeping it in plastic bags or cardboard boxes. If hanging in a wardrobe, opt for sturdy wooden hangers in favour of wire ones, as they can cause linen to crease more easily.

Enjoy the luxurious and effortless appeal of linen with The House of Bruar

With its lived-in yet luxurious look, linen is a stylish and practical fabric that belongs in any warm-weather wardrobe. 

Explore cotton and more knitwear options with us today.