Who can resist the coolness and freshness of pure linen?
Wonderful for summer and great next to the skin for layering. We crave the understated luxury that the simplicity and naturalness of linen evokes. Linen is the queen of fabrics and is surprisingly easy to care for.
The word linen comes from the Latin for ‘flax’ and linen is the textile made from the fibres of the flax plant. Flax is very strong, absorbent and dries faster than cotton. That is why linen clothes make great partners while travelling or on holiday. The flax plant has been prized for thousands of years because all the plant parts have uses and this makes it very sustainable. However, flax is most renowned as the raw material for an extraordinary fabric.
Flax is one of the few crops still produced in Western Europe, with nearly 75,000 acres under cultivation annually. Climatic conditions in this region are perfect for growing flax.
Linen scores very highly on ecological factors. Flax is a natural product that does not require irrigation during growth and needs little or no chemical treatment. All parts of the plant are used, so there is no waste. Linen fabric is 100% biodegradable and recyclable. Also, the environmental impact of spinning and weaving flax is virtually zero.
Only 1% of linen is farmed organically, so organic linen is a very rare fibre – look out for the GOTS label which ensures the highest standards of the raw fibre and the finished product. Organic linen is certainly one of the most sustainable fabrics on earth!
So now how do we care for these precious linen clothes?
There are a few important points to understand first.
- Has your linen been pre-washed?
If it hasn’t you must assume a 3-5% shrinkage on first washing – so choose your sizing carefully
- Is your linen mixed with cotton or other fibres?
If so shrinkage could be up to 10% if the fabric has not been pre-washed
- Is your linen a structured jacket or shirt?
Then you must follow the instructions on the garment and dry clean if necessary.
Shrinkage is a factor we must take into account with linen. It happens because flax is a natural cellulose fibre and when washed it soaks up a great deal of water. As the fibres dry they curl which tends to make them shorter. These shorter fibres cause linen to shrink.
- How do we wash new loose-fitting shirts, trousers and other garments made from linen?
Your organic & natural linen requires organic & natural laundry products. Buying certified organic laundry products is the best – using either non-scented or products fragranced only with organic essential oils. If the fabric has been dyed it is sensible to try a cold wash to begin with so that any excess colour will be rinsed away. Always wash the linen garment separately at this stage. Start by using a medium spin speed say 1000-1200 and ensure that the garment is line or rack dried.
- What about ironing? Wrinkles or no wrinkles?
If you decide to iron your linen to achieve a pristine finish make sure you turn the fabric inside out and iron when the fabric is damp. That way you will remove all the creases. If on the other hand you enjoy linen wrinkles – spin on a higher speed 1400-1600 with no laundry conditioner and wring with your hands before drying on a rack or hanger.
- What about a regular wash?
Once linen is no longer new, we can begin to include it in our regular laundry cycles. However, always use a cool wash – no more than 40 degrees. Laundry conditioner is great for new linen as it softens the fabric and makes it less scratchy. Do make sure you choose your laundry conditioner with care – organic is best as it excludes the toxic chemicals that are present in most laundry conditioners.
- Can linen be tumble dried?
Once you are happy that your linen can be added to your regular wash, you can also tumble dry on a low setting. Make sure that the linen is removed damp if you want to iron. Linen is a very strong fibre and will not degrade as quickly as cotton. Do be careful with mixed linen fibres and check the material from time to time to ensure that the tumble dryer is not causing any damage. If you can alternate tumble drying with air drying that is ideal.
- What about stains?
Stains on linen should be tackled fast. First remove any excess spillage and then soak the item in water. Tamp the stain (press up and down on the fabric not rubbing) with lemon juice, vinegar or organic castile soap. Leave for a few minutes and then wash on a cool machine setting or by hand. You may have to repeat this process to achieve the results you want.
- How do we store linen clothes?
Linen is an extraordinary natural fibre that is naturally moth proof. It is best to store linen garments on hangers in a large wardrobe with plenty of air circulation. Summer tops and smaller items will be happy in a drawer as long as there is some air movement and the temperature is cool.
Follow these tips for stress-free linen care and enjoy this luxurious fibre at its best!
This Guide has been written by Christina Hawkes, founder of Greenscents certified organic laundry and cleaning products.