Does Linen Shrink When Washing & Drying?

Linen is a popular choice when it comes to many items including clothes, curtains and bedding. It’s popular because it naturally absorbs moisture without feeling damp. This creates a cooling effect which allows us to sleep better under linen sheets in the hot summer months and prevents us from sweating in the winter when wearing lots of layers.

Linen, like all natural fibres, has a tendency to shrink if it isn’t cared for properly. But don’t worry, because in this article we explore the best ways for keeping your linen items as good as new and even give you tips on how to restore shrunken linen items too!

Why Does Linen Shrink?

Linen is a woven fabric made from flax fibres which during the manufacturing process get stretched. Once those fibres get wet the fibres return to their original condition which is what we see as shrinkage in our linen items.

Exposing linen to hot water, high drying temperatures and hot irons can also cause flax fibres to shrink. This is because the flax fibres return to their unstretched condition.

From the reaction of linen in relation to hot water, high drying temperatures and hot irons, we can see that heat also plays a huge part contributing to the shrinking of linen.

Linen has a loose weave which is why it’s so cooling and breathable. When subjected to wet, hot conditions that weave can constrict making the linen item shrink.

How Can You Prevent Linen From Shrinking?

Linen

You should always buy linen items that are of high quality and those that have been pre-washed before being offered for sale. Manufacturers are aware that it’s natural for linen to shrink, which is why many design their linen items slightly larger than similar items made from other fabrics.

When Does Linen Shrink?

Linen will always shrink the most, the first time it is washed. This is why we recommend buying pre-washed linen items because most of the problems with shrinkage will already have happened.

So if you see a linen shirt that’s prewashed and it fits you perfectly, it’s likely to keep fitting you perfectly even after washing. That doesn’t mean you don’t need to be careful when washing and drying the shirt, because there’s always the potential for more shrinkage under the right (or wrong) conditions.

Will Linen Shrink In The Wash?

Integrated Washing Machine

The thing to remember about linen is that it will always shrink if it isn’t looked after properly. 

It’s estimated that new linen can shrink by anywhere between 3 to 10% in the first wash. Which is why it is recommended that new linen should be washed in cold water to avoid shrinkage.

Machine Washing Linen

Always check the wash care label to ensure you are washing and drying your linen correctly. In the absence of a care label you should always;

  1. Separate White And Coloured Items
    Wash light linen items separately from dark linen items.
  2. Wash Separately
    Linen should be washed on its own and not with other fabrics. Not even other natural fabrics like cotton or denim.
  3. Don’t Overload The Drum
    For best results, you should never fill the drum of your washer to more than ¾ full.
  4. Select A Low Wash Temperature
    Linen should be washed at temperatures of 30°C or below. It’s best to err on the side of caution and select the lowest wash temperature you can (20°C or 30°C).
  5. Select A Gentle Wash Cycle
    You should select the delicate, hand wash or gentle cycle on your machine to wash linen.
  6. Use The Correct Detergent
    When washing linen items you should always use a gentle detergent designed for delicate fabrics.
  7. Avoid Fabric Softener
    Linen naturally becomes softer with every wash. This means fabric softener is unnecessary and in some cases can damage the delicate linen fibres.
  8. Avoid Bleach
    Bleach and detergents with brightening agents can weaken the linen fibres and cause discolouration.

Hand Washing Linen

It is recommended that you hand wash linen items that have a loose weave or are not too heavily soiled. All you need to do is;

  1. Fill A Small Container WIth Lukewarm Water
    Ensure the water is not too hot, remember linen can shrink if the water is too hot.
  2. Add 1 teaspoon Of Mild Detergent
    Swirl the detergent into the water to ensure it is mixed in properly.
  3. Place The Linen Item In The Container
    Ensure the linen is completely submerged in the container and allow to soak for around 10 minutes.
  4. Gently Swirl The Water
    Take care to not twist, scrub or treat the linen roughly at all as this can cause damage.
  5. Drain The Container
    After you have allowed enough time for the linen to get clean, drain the container and fill with fresh lukewarm water.
  6. Swirl The Linen Gently In The Fresh Water
    Take care to not twist or wring the linen and repeat the rinsing process until there are no soap bubbles visible, keep draining and refilling.
  7. Remove Excess Water
    Lay the now clean linen on a dry towel and gently roll the towel up (with the linen inside) to remove excess moisture. Take care to not twist or wring the linen as this will cause damage.
  8. Air Dry
    Your linen item should be dried naturally either by hanging on a padded hanger or laid flat on an airer.

Can Linen Be Tumble Dried?

Delicate Wash Cycle

It is possible to dry linen in a tumble dryer using the low heat setting. However, it’s not necessary because linen dries very quickly. If you decide to tumble anyway, take care because linen can shrink if the dryer gets too hot or the fabric gets over dried.

You should select the delicate cycle on your dryer as well as the low or no heat setting.

It’s always best to remove the linen from the dryer before it is fully dry and finish the drying process on an airer. If you decide to line dry your linen, do so out of direct sunlight as the heat from the sun can also damage the fabric.

It’s also worth considering that linen could shrink by 10 to 15% in a dryer if the temperature is too hot. Which is why we recommend air drying your linen items.

Can Linen Be Unshrunk?

If your linen has shrunk in the washer or dryer, it is possible to stretch it to a certain degree. If it has shrunk dramatically, there’s probably no chance of restoring it.

But if it’s only slightly shrunk you can try the following;

  1. Soak The Garment
    Fill a container with lukewarm water and soak the garment for 10 to 15 minutes.
  2. Allow Excess Water To Drain
    Remove the item from the soak and lay on a dry towel. Roll the towel up to gently squeeze excess moisture from the linen item.
  3. Iron The Fabric
    Whilst still damp, iron the item from the middle out to the edges using the low heat setting on the iron. Gently put pressure on the fabric outwards from the centre to encourage the item to gently stretch. Take care not to drag the iron as this could cause the linen item to become damaged.

Can Linen Be Ironed?

Ironing

You can iron linen items but be prepared for them to get creased up easily. Like all natural fibres, linen tends to wrinkle and crease very easily. 

However, this isn’t that much of a problem because creased linen is perfectly acceptable. This is because everyone knows that linen creases easily.

If you want to remove all of the creases from a linen item, try spraying the item with cold water and placing a damp towel on top of the item. This will allow the moisture to penetrate the fabric. 

You can then iron using the low heat setting on the iron. 

If you’re ironing white linen it’s best to iron both sides, but dark linen should be ironed only on the reverse side.

Do You Need to Buy Linen Garments A Size Larger Than You Normally Wear?

It’s normally not necessary to buy linen garments in a larger size because most manufacturers either pre-wash their garments or size them larger to allow for shrinkage.

With that said, if you are at the larger end of your regular size, it might be a good idea to buy your linen garments a size larger if you like your clothes to fit loosely.

Remember linen garments can shrink by 3 to 10% in the wash and 10 to 15% in the dryer.

SEE ALSO: Does Lemon Juice Stain Clothes?

Frequently Asked Questions

How many sizes will linen shrink?

The average shrinkage rate of linen items is around 3 to 4%. However, some linen items can shrink by as much as 10%. Always buy pre-washed linen to prevent too much shrinkage.

Does linen shrink in the washer and dryer?

Linen can shrink by anything between 3 to 10% during its first wash and between 10 to 15% in the dryer.

Should you size up or down in linen?

Linen is likely to shrink when first washed and dried by anywhere between 3 to 10% or even more if subjected to high temperatures. For this reason it’s always best to buy linen items slightly larger than your normal size.

Can you shrink 100% linen?

100% linen can shrink if exposed to high temperatures in the washer or dryer. Linen should be washed at temperatures no higher than 30°C and dried on the low heat or no heat setting. Or better still air dry your linen.

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