Does Linen Shrink?

Linen is a nice material to bring out for summer because of its lighter feel and breathability. But, we might decide it needs a freshen up in the washing machine first. Before you do this, it is important to consider the properties of the material. Does linen shrink and how should we take care of it?

Does linen shrink?

Unfortunately, linen can shrink quite dramatically if you aren’t careful with it. As with a lot of other fabrics, the factor to watch out for here is heat. It pays to be diligent when washing linen clothing, especially those that are 100% linen. Mistakes can happen so, it’s also helps to know whether or not you can stretch linen once it has shrunk.

Can linen shrink in the wash?

There is the risk of linen shrinking in the wash because of the properties of the material. Linen fibers don’t have any elasticity but, they are very absorbent and prone to heat damage. A hot wash could see a garment take in a lot of hot water and shrink. New clothes that aren’t pre-washed or treated with more care before washing can shrink considerably on their first wash.

Can you put linen in the dryer after washing it?

It all depends on how you handle the garment and whether you put the dryer on too high a heat. It is possible to get some dampness out of linen on a low heat in a machine and not do any damage. You could find that a gentle cycle is a good way of dealing with wrinkles as long as you don’t overdo things. It is a good idea to stop the dryer before the clothes are fully dry and to leave it to air dry from there. This could be easier said than done on some modern dryers. It can be difficult to stop a cycle part way and to guesstimate when the clothes are at the optimal level of dampness.

Is it just better to hand-wash and air dry anything made from linen?

This is a safer bet, even if it does mean spending a bit more effort getting your linens clean and fresh again. Hand-washing clothes in cool or lukewarm water gives time for a gentle detergent to get into the fibers and to agitate them just enough to avoid damage. Linen doesn’t have much movement and is prone to breaking to intense abrasion, such as with deep cleaning, which could be an issue. Once washed and rinsed out, hang the item carefully so it drapes naturally to avoid wrinkles. Then have it air-dry somewhere without intense sunlight. Avoid wringing out the clothes beforehand as this could also cause wrinkles and damage.

What about clothes that are a linen blend?

There could be a lower risk of shrinkage with an item that is a blend of linen and cotton, or linen and some synthetic or stretchy fiber. The best thing to do with any item of clothing is to look at the label. This should tell you whether or not you can wash it in a machine, the ideal temperature if you can, and whether it is safe to dry in a machine. There should also be guidance on ironing the clothes, but this shouldn’t be necessary with linen if you treat it right.

Can you stretch out linen clothes if they shrink?

Again, it depends on the blend of materials. 100% linen isn’t going to be able to get back to normal if you shrink it because of the lack of elasticity. But, some blends could be ok with some cold water, conditioner, and light teasing into their old shape. Of course, stretch linen does exist and can be a great alternative choice to 100% linen clothes. If you linen does shrink, check out my guide that walks you through how to stretch out clothes that have shrunk to see if this trick will work on your garment.

Is it better not to make clothes with linen yarn?

As you can see in my other guide to the best linen yarn, this material is uncommon but interest for lighter projects. Using 100% linen yarn could be a problem in the long-term when it comes to caring for the items. Linen blend yards perhaps less so.

Don’t get disheartened about making linen clothes or buying anything with a high percentage of linen. As long as you take the right steps in washing and drying your items, they should be fine.