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Last summer, according to a whole bunch of different organizations that concern themselves with recording the weather, was the hottest one ever. I don't know where you are, but where I am, this summer seems to be on track to give us more of the same, which makes this a very good time to talk about linen, that classic summer textile.
Linen clothes get a little bit of a bad rap for being difficult to care for, and frankly, that's unfair.
Linen clothes get a little bit of a bad rap for being difficult to care for, and frankly, that's unfair. Linen is actually super easy to launder, you just need to understand its needs, hopes, dreams, fears, etc.
Here's the biggest thing to know about linen: You absolutely are not bound to dry clean it. In fact, with the exception of linen suits, most of your linen clothing will benefit from regular old laundering and are best not dry cleaned. Linen suits and blazers are another story because of their construction; go ahead and send those out. For everything else, from linen shirts to pants to dresses and even to sheets and tablecloths, here's what to know.
Washing Your Linen Clothing
Linen is a sturdy material that can absolutely be machine washed, though of course you may also hand wash if you choose. There are, however, a few things to know about caring for linen that are different from how you'd wash other similar natural fabrics like cotton.
Linen, much like cotton, does have a tendency to shrink. For that reason, avoid washing linen clothes in hot water and opt for either warm or cold water; if your linen is a vibrant or dark color, stick with cold to avoid fading.
Linen is a sturdy material that can absolutely be machine washed, though of course you may also hand wash if you choose.
Product-wise, linen is best washed with a mild detergent; a product designed for baby clothes, like Dreft, a scent- and dye-free detergent like Tide Free and Gentle, or a specialty detergent like Le Blanc Linen Wash are all good options. Avoid the use of fabric softener, and never use bleach on linen clothing, even if it's white. If you do need to brighten up white or light-colored linen clothes, use an oxygenated bleach like Biokleen Oxygen Bleach Plus. If you have a piece of vintage linen that has yellowed due to age and/or has older stains, there's a wonderful product called Restoration Fabric Restorer that will safely and effectively bring the garment back to its original state.
Because of the way linen fibers are structured, overhandling can cause damage; for that reason, use the gentle cycle and wash linen alongside similar lightweight or delicate fabrics — so, your lightweight cottons, camisoles and other undergarments — and avoid mixing heavy items like jeans, hoodies or towels in a load with linen clothes. If you hand wash, avoid wringing the fabric, which will twist the fibers in a way they won't appreciate.
One of linen's finest qualities, other than its good looks, is that it's fast drying — that quality makes linen a great choice for travel, and for wearing when it's very hot. Given how quickly it will dry, and its tendency to shrink when exposed to heat, air drying is your best bet when it comes to your linen clothes. Plus, we wear our linen during warmer months, which means that it will air dry extra fast thanks to the summer heat. If you do choose to machine dry, use a low- or no-heat setting.
When air drying, either lay the garment flat on a towel or use a drying rack; avoid hangers, which will leave unsightly dent marks unless they're padded.
The Wrinkle Factor
The choice of whether or not to iron your linen clothes is exactly that — a choice. Making that choice or not really depends on the individual garment and how you plan to wear it. You probably won't want to iron a slouchy linen top, but perhaps you'll want a crisper look when it comes to a more tailored linen shirt that you plan to wear to the office, or a linen dress worn at a wedding or other dressy occasion.
Just like with washing, there are a few procedures that are specific to ironing linen, so if you opt to do so, here's what you need to know.
For the best results, press the shirt straight out of the wash while it's still damp.
For the best results, press the shirt straight out of the wash while it's still damp or, if the piece is already dry, dampen it using a spray bottle filled with water or with linen spray. Use a medium- to high-heat setting on the iron and press only until the wrinkles are removed — you don't need to iron until the fabric is completely dry, as it will dry quickly all on its own. Bright and dark colored linen clothes should be ironed on the backside of the garment to avoid shiny patches or fading.
If you want your linen clothes to stay pressed-looking for the duration of wear, you can use spray starch for a crisper look, and to ensure that whisker-points like the knees, elbows and crotch don't become impossibly creased as the day wears on. In the event you want to maintain the natural rumpled look of linen, but a garment has gotten heavily creased, use a spray bottle of water to eliminate them by lightly spritzing the creased section, laying the item flat, smoothing it with your hands and allowing it to air dry.