How to Wash Linen – A Comprehensive Guide for 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. This popular fabric is versatile. But, you may find yourself wondering how to wash linen without damaging your favorite shirt or tablecloth.

Follow along as this guide takes you through how to wash your linen fabrics, including everything from clothing to sheets.

​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 them dirty, they take them to a dry cleaner to have them washed.

However, you can easily wash linen yourself, without having to go to great lengths or crazy care instructions. You don't need to dry clean linen.

Unlike many fabrics, linen is easy to care for and clean.

​Your best bet is to wash linen in cold water on a gentle cycle
 and hang dry. This will preserve your linen, extend its life,
and keep it from shrinking.

​How to Wash Linen Clothes

​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.

Related: ​How to Care for Delicate Silk Items

girl in the laundry how to wash linen

Machine Washing Tips

  • Wash your linens separate from other materials
  • ​Only fill your washing machine half way with your linens
  • Separate darks from lights
  • ​Machine was linen in cold or lukewarm water
  • Only wash on the gentle cycle only
  • If possible, hang dry - this will extend linen's life
  • Dry linen on a low heat, fast spin cycle
  • 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.

Also make sure to 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. Once washed, skip the dryer and hang up your shirts.

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.

Then, hang your linen pants up to dry. Linen is not a fabric that shows wrinkles. Instead, any wrinkling helps give linen its unique and airy shape.

If you do want to reduce any obvious wrinkles or create a crisp crease, you can iron or ​steam your linen​.

Your shag rugs and carpet require different vacuums to keep them clean because of how thick the carpet is. Read our vacuum recommendations.

​How to Machine Wash Linen Home Goods

​You can easily machine wash linen clothes. But, what about your linen fabrics you use every day in your home?

Empty coffee cup with saucer on a light linen tablecloth

​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.

​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

linen fabric how to wash linen

​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 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.

Linen Washing FAQs

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.

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.

Dinner setting on with a checkered linen napkin

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.

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).


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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