Linen fabric, made from the fibers of the flax plant, is a great alternative to cotton because it’s so strong and dries faster. In fact, it’s common to wear garments made of the material in warmer months because it’s so comfortable! But while most people know how to care for cotton items, this textile can seem a bit intimidating. That’s why we asked laundry pros how to wash linen, the secret to removing stains and what to do to avoid wrinkles. Thankfully, it’s easier than you may think!
Can you wash linen in the washing machine?
If it seems like the only way to clean the more delicate fabric is by dry cleaning them, you may be surprised to learn that laundry pros recommend tossing linen clothing in the washing machine. “However, hand washing is also a suitable option for items that are less soiled, have embellishments or have fabrics with a loose weaves,” explains Jonathon Reckles, with dry cleaning service company CD One Price Cleaners.
When in doubt, check the manufacturer’s tag of the item, which will tell you the best approach to take for that specific item. This ensures it maintains its quality and lasts a long time! (Click through to learn how to read laundry symbols.)
How to wash linen in the washing machine
While tossing linen into the washer is ideal, you’ll still want to take certain steps to ensure you don’t damage the material.
Step 1: Separate linen items into whites and colors like you would with a regular load of laundry.
Step 2: Add detergent. It’s best to go with something mild. “Try to stay away from something that has a lot of scent and avoid using any extra products such as fabric softener or scent beads on linen,” says Laurie Fulford, a laundry pro with Poplin. “The more mild the detergent, the better.”
Step 3: Select a gentle or delicate cycle, ensuring you pick a cool temperature setting. Also smart: “Choose the option that will allow your washing machine to fill up with the most water,” adds Fulford. “This will ensure that the linen has plenty of room to move around in the machine and be rinsed thoroughly.”
Once your item has finished washing, be sure to promptly remove it from the machine. This prevents any hard-to-remove wrinkles from forming in the fabric.
This video from clothing company Grae Cove walks you through how to wash linen:
How to wash linen by hand
If you do decide to hand wash linen (or the clothing tag calls for it), being gentle with the fabric is just as important to preserve the quality. First, fill a basin or tub with lukewarm water and add a mild detergent.
Next, gently submerge the garment in the water so it’s evenly covered and let soak for 5-10 minutes. After that time, you’ll want to swish the item around in the water using your hand. “This step helps dislodge dirt and stains without causing damage to the fabric,” shares Reckles.
Finally, rinse the garment under cool running water, making sure all of the detergent comes out. Gently press out any excess water and lay flat to dry completely.
How to remove stains on linen
Like with most fabrics, it’s important to treat the stain before you begin washing. An important note: “When using stain removal products, it’s fundamental to exercise caution, especially with dyed linen,” says Reckles. “This is because the colors may not be stable, and some products can cause discoloration or even damage to the fabric.”
For that reason, it’s best to test any stain removers on an inside seam or hem first. If you’re still worried about store-bought products damaging the material, however, there’s a gentle, natural solution you likely have right at home: Baking soda!
Fulford suggests soaking the stained item in cool water, then creating a paste using baking soda and water and applying it to the stained spot. (For best results, allow it to sit on the stain for at least 10 minutes.) Use a clean toothbrush to scrub the paste on the stain and rinse with cool water. Baking soda’s absorbent qualities make it a known stain lifter, so once you place the item into the washing machine, it will be spotless once again.
How to dry linen
Though linen does require a gentle washing cycle, you don’t have to skip the dryer in favor of line-drying. Running the item through the dryer is fine — just use a low to medium heat setting. “Drying linen with high heat can cause damage to the fabric,” says Fulford.
While line-drying isn’t necessary, it may be helpful to hang garments at the end of their drying cycle. “When the drying session is almost complete, remove your linens while they are still slightly damp to prevent wrinkles,” adds Reckles. “Once you take them out, hang them up immediately and let them finish air-drying.”
Ironing shouldn’t be necessary if you follow the above steps, but if you do need it to remove extra wrinkles, double check the garment tag to know what iron temperature to use. Reckles also suggests ironing when the clothes are slightly damp to sidestep any damage.
What *not* to do when washing linen
For certain stains or dingy looking linen items, you may be tempted to bring out the bleach to make it look like new again. Because of its harsh chemicals, you’ll want to pass on this when washing your linens. “Even diluted solutions can weaken the fibers over time, leading to premature wear and tear,” says Reckles.
Another way to help the item last: “Avoid using high temperatures when both washing and drying the linen,” adds Fulford. Hot water and high heat can damage the fibers and make them stiff.
For more helpful laundry tips, keep reading!