How to Wash Linen: A Comprehensive Guide for Washing all Linens

Empty coffee cup with saucer on a light linen tablecloth

More durable than cotton as well as eco-friendly, linen fabrics are a staple of almost every home and a must have in your seasonal wardrobe. Made from the fibers of the flax plant, this popular fabric is versatile. But, you may find yourself wondering how to wash linen without damaging your favorite shirt or tablecloth.

​Can You Wash Linen?

​Many people opt to leave linen fabrics on display instead of using them due to the fear of washing them. Or, when they get their linen items dirty, they take them to a dry cleaner to have them washed.

Despite what you may have heard or believe, you can easily wash linen yourself. There is no need to go to great lengths or crazy care instructions so that you can use and enjoy your linen clothes and homegoods. You also definitely don't need to dry clean linen.

linen fabric how to wash linen

If you have linen items in your home and you are holding off using them due to worries about how to wash linen items, then follow along with this guide. We will cover the different ways that you can care for your linen things and what not to do, so that you can become a linen cleaning expert.

​How Do You Wash Linen

Unlike many fabrics, linen is easy to care for and clean. ​Here are a few different ways that you can wash your linen items.

  • ​Washing Machine - Your best bet is to wash linen in luke warm water on a gentle cycle and hang dry. This will preserve your linen, extend its life, and keep it from shrinking.
  • ​Hand Washing - You can also hand wash some linen items if they are not as soiled, have embellishments or have a loose weave in the fabric design.
  • ​Dry Clean - While this guide is based on helping you learn how to wash your linen items at home, there are a few pieces that you may want to keep dry clean only. This refers to linen suits as well as any tailored linen jackets.

We will elaborate on each of these choices a little further down to give you great step by step instructions on how to wash each of your linen items.

How Not to Wash your Linen Items

​There are a few things you need to know before you dive right into washing your linen clothing and household items. It is important to know how linen fabric can react to certain treatments and cleaning so that you don’t harm the fabrics. Keep these tips in mind as you are learning how to wash linen fabrics.

  • ​Using the maximum amount of water allowed in machines - This allows your linen items to move freely in the washer so that the fabrics don’t become cramped and potentially tangled in the small amount of water.
  • ​Overstuffing your washer - For linen fabrics, you will also want to limit how much you toss in the washer at a time. Keep it to a few smaller like colored linen fabrics so that they have room to move as they are washed without getting tangled in each other, causing the linen fibers to be stretched and damaged.
  • ​Handling without care - Make sure that you refrain from harshly wringing, twisting and scrubbing linen fabrics. ​Same as when washing silk, this can harm the fibers. If you are hand washing and need to get excess water out of your linen items then you will want to fold the linen together and easily apply squeezing pressure to help push excess water out. Just don’t twist the fabric as you do this.
  • ​​Not pre-washing - Know your linen items by reading the tags. If your linen has been pre-washed then there is much less of a chance of it shrinking when you wash your linen with the proper care requirements that we will discuss further down. If your linen fabric has not been pre-washed, then it will shrink some, even if you hand wash. Also, if your linen has been pre-washed, then it is ok to be tumble dried on low heat.
  • Bleaching - Is a hard no! Even if you are dealing with snow white linen, you definitely do not want to add any bleach to the cleaning or stain fighting mix. This is because the harshness of bleach will damage the linen’s fibers by weakening them. It can also discolor your linen items.
  • Using Fabric Softener - You will want to skip the fabric softener when it comes to your linen items. Linen will naturally become softer over time as you wash and care for it, making this not only a more durable fabric but also one that you will want to wash. When you use fabric softener, it won’t speed up the process of making your linen clothes softer, instead it will coat the fibers, reducing their ability to wick moisture as well as reduce the overall natural softness linen offers.

Now that you know a few things to avoid, you can keep these in mind as you further learn the best way to wash your linen clothes.  

​How to Wash Linen Clothes

​When it comes to learning how to wash your linen clothes, there are a few helpful hints you can use to know how to best care for your particular clothing garments.

First, you will want to consult the ultimate guide for each piece of clothing, it’s label. Washing your linen clothes is as easy as ​reading the label​ and following the care instructions. Clothes come with labels for a reason.

They help guide you by letting you know what the specific fabric can and can’t withstand. Once you get to know your clothes by the label, you can properly care for and launder them.

Secondly, know the dos and don'ts of how to wash specific fabrics such as linen, which we covered in the last section.

Putting those two pieces together will help you figure out the best method for washing your linen items. Whether you choose to use your washing machine, hand wash garments or hold off and dry clean specialty items.

​Machine Washing Tips

If you opt to use your washing machine to launder your linen clothing, then keep these quick tips in mind so that you can protect your linen garments.

girl in the laundry how to wash linen
  • ​Wash your linens separate from other materials
  • ​​Only fill your washing machine half way with your linens
  • ​Separate darks from lights
  • ​Machine wash linen in lukewarm water
  • Only wash on the gentle cycle
  • If possible, hang dry - this will extend linen's life
  • Dry linen on a low heat, fast spin cycle
  • Take your linen items out of the dryer while they are still just a little damp
  • Use a hot iron to press immediately after pulling out of the dryer

​How to Wash Linen Shirt

​Most all linen shirts can be washed in a washing machine on the gentle cycle. Make sure to ​​​unbutton any and all buttons​ on your shirts so the fabric is allowed to freely move without developing any kinks. This will also keep your buttons free from being pulled too much and potentially breaking or becoming loose.

You will also want to make sure that you wash all like colors and do not mix the darks and whites due to a chance of the colors running. Use a mild detergent to clean your linen fabrics without damaging them. Mild detergents will clean your linen without introducing too many harsh chemicals to the fibers.

You can also opt to add a cup of white distilled vinegar to your load of linen. This safe yet effective cleaner will help clean, can disinfect and will remove any gunk that is on your linen fabrics. Vinegar is also a great way to keep your colors brighter by limiting color running.

Once your linen shirts are clean you can opt to skip the dryer and hang up your shirts. You could also place your shirts in the dryer on a low tumble heat for 15 minutes. This will get your shirts jump-started on drying so that they won’t take as long to air dry.

H​ow to Wash Linen Pants

​You do not need to send your linen fabrics to the dry cleaner since they are easily washed at home. However, it is recommended you dry clean linen suits due to the many layers and the specific fit.

While you may opt to send linen suit jackets off to the cleaners, you can wash your linen pants at home. After washing them in the machine you can get them warm in the dryer on a low heat setting.

Send your linen suit to the dry cleaner, but you can wash
your linen pants at home with no problem.


​How to Machine Wash Linen Home Goods

Learning how to machine wash linen clothes is pretty straightforward thanks to the labels and easy to implement tips, but what about your linen fabrics that you use every day in your home? There are a few different ways that you can clean and care for these daily use items without having to trek to the dry cleaners once a week.

Dinner setting on with a checkered linen napkin

How to Remove Stains from Linen

​There are a few great natural products that you can use straight from your pantry to treat stains on your linen fabrics without risking any harm to them. 

White Vinegar

​For stains, mix up a 50/50 solution of water and white vinegar. Spray the mixture onto the stain and let it sit for a minute. Next, you will want to use a soft cloth or paper towel to dab and blot the stain.

It should come up easy thanks to the acidic properties of vinegar that makes it tough on stains yet gentle enough on your fabric. ​Vinegar is also commonly used to remove stains on carpet as well.

Baking Soda

​You can also make a baking soda paste by mixing it with water until the baking soda is thick. Place the paste mixture on any stains to help absorb the stain while working to brighten your white linen cloths.

If you need a more powerful cleaning agent, then sprinkle the baking soda over the stain and then spray on some white vinegar. The two products will create a fizzing chemical reaction that won’t harm your linen fabric.

Use a gloved hand to gently massage the foaming mixture into the stain, and then blot it up with a cloth or paper towel.

Lemon Juice

​Lemon juice has a great disinfecting quality while also brightening your linen fabrics. This should only be used on lighter and white linen fabrics, not dark colors. If you are unsure about using lemon juice, then try out a small unnoticeable area to see how the linen fabrics reacts to the lemon juice.

To use lemon juice on a stain, simply add a few drops to the stained area and give it a few minutes to completely lighten the stain. Rinse the lemon juice off with cool, clean water and repeat if needed.

These natural remedies are great for working hard to clean your linen while remaining gentle on the fibers. You can also pick up commercial stain removers and spot treatments to deal with stubborn spots on your linen fabrics, just make sure they don’t use any harm chemicals like bleach in the mixture.

​How to Wash Linen Tablecloth

​When you are dealing with stains on your linen tablecloths it is a simple process to clean and restore them to new. Before washing, ​treat the stain​ with a mild laundry stain remover. Even if your tablecloths are white, do not use bleach since it can ruin linen fibers.

After pre-treating stains, toss your tablecloth in the washing machine, one at a time and wash them on a gentle cycle. Once finished, inspect them to make sure any and all stains were removed before drying.

Related: ​Top Hacks for Spot Carpet Cleaning

Hang your tablecloth out on the line or over a large drying rack (shower curtain rods work too) and let it completely air dry before storing or next use.

Empty coffee cup with saucer on a light linen tablecloth

​How ​to Wash Linen by Hand

​If you have a tablecloth with an embroidered design, you will want to hand wash it instead of using the washing machine. For hand washing linen items,

  • 1
    ​Get a large enough basin or a bucket.
  • 2
    ​Add the water and detergent in first. You can use a natural cleaner.
  • 3
    ​Pre-treat any stains if needed
  • 4
    ​Insert and submerge the linen tablecloth.
  • 5
    ​Let the tablecloth sit in the water for about five minutes to soak.
  • 6
    ​Gently begin to agitate the linen in the detergent by swishing it around with your hand.
  • 7
    ​Lift the table cloth and lightly squeeze out any excess water.
  • 8
    ​Refill the bucket with cool clean water and swish the table cloth around.
  • 9
    ​Repeat refilling the bucket with cool water and swishing until no suds are showing.
  • 10
    ​Wring out the table cloth gently. You don’t want to squeeze it too hard and cause fiber damage or wrinkles.
  • 11
    ​Hang the table cloth outside over a rail or on the clothesline to air dry.​

This also works for smaller linen items you want to hand wash due to any embroidery or if you are worried about how an item will do in the washing machine.

Related: Recommended Products to Clean Your House

​How to Wash Linen Sheets

​Linen sheets are great for a comforting night’s sleep and even better after a few washes. This is because linen gets softer after washing. So, if you wonder how to soften linen sheets, just give them a good washing. Also keep in mind ​how often you should be washing them​​​.

This linen softening method only works if you follow the care instructions and do not shrink or damage the fibers with heat. You should always wash your linen sheets separately to make sure they are thoroughly cleaned and do not get tangled and stretched in the wash.

Also make sure you are using a mild detergent that does not contain bleach or any other harsh chemicals which can damage or break the fibers.

For drying your linen sheets, you can place them in the dryer and tumble on low heat at first to warm them up. Take the sheets out while they are still damp and hang them up to finish drying. This will shorten the time it takes for your sheets to fully dry so that you aren’t waiting all day to put them away. 

Linen Washing FAQs

While we have covered most of the basics for how to wash your linen clothes and daily use fabrics, you may still have some lingering questions or want to know just a little more to make sure that you are taking be best care possible for your linen items.

These frequently asked questions can help shine a little more light on the best process you can go through to keep your linens looking clean and lasting for years to come.

​Should I Even Wash My Linens?

​Yes, you should wash all of your linens! Regular and consistent washing keeps your linens clean and keeps dirt and debris from setting in. One of the best ways to prevent wear and tear is to wash them consistently.

Washing your linens regularly keeps them soft and the colors vibrant. Since linen is a fabric that holds up well to dirt, you will benefit from frequent washing.

Can You Machine Wash Linen?

​Linen is a great fabric for the washing machine. Keep the cycle on gentle so it does not over agitate the fibers. Just like washing wool products, you also want to keep the water temperature cold or lukewarm.

Do not mix linen colors between light and dark. Keep your linens looking like new by washing like colors and not over filling your washer.

Does Linen Fabric Shrink When Washed?

​Linen will shrink when put in high temperature situations like a dryer. The best way to dry linen is to hang and let it air dry. You can toss it in the dryer on low heat for a few moments to get it warm before hanging, but you do not want to leave it in there for prolonged periods.

Folded linen table napkins in a square

Linen does not do well in the dryer. But, does linen shrink when washed? If you use hot water in the washer, your linen fabrics are at risk for shrinking. Always stick to using cool water when washing your linen.

Also keep in mind that any linen clothing or fabrics that have not been pre-washed in the manufacturing process will shrink a little no matter how gently you care for them when washing.

Can I use Stain Remover on Linen?

​Yes, you can use gentle stain removers on your linen cloth. Avoid bleach and other strong chemicals, as they weaken fibers and mute colors.

White vinegar and baking soda are great stain treaters for laundry. These two natural products can fight stains without harming linen fibers or discoloring the fabric.

Linen vs Cotton

​A common question people have is whether to opt for cotton or linen. And, while this depends on many factors, one thing is clear: linen is more durable the cotton.

Whereas cotton breaks down with each and every wash, linen stays in tact every time you wash it (some even argue is gets stronger).

Linen is also more eco-friendly, as the resources that go into producing it are substantially less than what goes into cotton.

In addition to all of this, linen ​wicks away moisture much better than cotton, making it great for sheets (keeping you warmer on cold nights and cooler on hot nights).

​Conclusion

Learning how to wash linen can seem difficult at first. Once you know the right settings to use, it is a breeze.

About the Author Lauren Moldvay

Lauren Moldvay is a freelance writer from Virginia and the mother of one (not always) sweet little girl. She specializes in trying to help others find easier ways to clean, manage the home and save money with DIY projects.

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