Are you introducing linen into your wardrobe or decor for the very first time? Well, many people buy linen items only to realize they somehow get shorter and more snug a while later.
Does linen shrink? Yes, linen shrinks when subjected to high heat and water. This means that either your washer or dryer could be the culprit. Luckily, there are ways to restore it to its original dimensions.
With a little planning and proper care, however, you can avoid unintentional shrinkage altogether. Continue reading to learn more about shrinking and unshrinking linen.
What Is Linen?
Linen is a popular fabric choice for clothing, bedding, and soft furnishing. That’s no surprise for a natural fiber that feels comfortable all year round and has an interesting texture and timeless appeal.
Linen is a strong plant-based fiber derived from the stem of flax plants. It is a pale neutral color but is usually bleached white or dyed into ivory, ecru, taupe, tan, and more, or sometimes printed on.
After being spun into threads, the fibers are loosely woven together, giving linen that lovely texture, drape, and breathability to die for during summer. You can also find linen yarn.
There are various types and grades of linen with varying textures, thickness, and even construction. Belgian linen is thought to be among the best versions of linen.
The general appearance of a linen weave may fool you into thinking it is a fragile fabric, but it is, in fact, a very durable material. Having been manufactured from the stem tissue (the part of the plant that provides it support), these fibers are very tough.
However, linen will shrink if not cared for appropriately. You might notice the hem of linen articles resting higher than previously or clothes fitting smaller after a while.
So what really makes linen shrink? Let’s find out.
Why Does Linen Shrink?
Linen is a plant-based fabric, which means it’s more likely to shrink than synthetic fabrics like polyester or nylon. Synthetic fabrics are treated to be stable, while their natural counterparts aren’t.
Shrinkage is an inherent quality of many natural fibers when exposed to water and extreme temperatures. When the linen fibers soak up water, they lose some of their tension. The threads relax and then crimp and shrink.
High temperatures also propel shrinkage and affect how much of it takes place. The shrinking process usually occurs at temperatures of 60-70°F or higher.
The higher the temperature, the greater the degree of shrinkage. Therefore, improper washing, drying, and storage techniques contribute to linen shrinkage.
Construction also plays a role in shrinkage. Tightly constructed fabrics have a lower propensity to shrink than loose ones. Linen is somewhat loosely constructed, giving the threads room to bunch up and shorten the fabric.
Does Linen Shrink In The Wash?
Yes, linen will indeed shrink in the wash. As we’ve already seen, it naturally shrinks when it is exposed to water.
Linen fabric shrinks during its very first wash. This is known as relaxation shrinkage, which occurs in the absence of tension experienced during manufacturing.
The linen may continue shrinking in subsequent washes if not washed correctly. That’s why it’s important to follow the care instructions on your linens.
If unsure, always wash your linens on the gentlest cycle on a machine or hand wash them like delicates.
Does Linen Shrink In The Dryer?
Linen will shrink in the dryer in the presence of excessive heat and if left long enough.
A high heat setting is an ideal ground for the shrinking process. And well, a dryer works by circulating hot air currents to dry fabrics.
Therefore, if you dry your linens on a high heat setting, they will shrink. The longer they stay in the dryer, the greater the damage.
Does Linen Shrink When Dry Cleaned?
So far, the most reasonable way to clean linen without it shrinking is to avoid water immersion. Dry cleaning might seem like the answer, but is it?
Will linen shrink when dry cleaned? Linen could shrink even when dry cleaned. Contrary to popular belief, dry cleaning is not a foolproof method of keeping linen from shrinking. Dry-cleaned linen will still shrink.
The good news is that the amount of shrinkage will be significantly lower compared to machine or hand washing, where the fabric is completely saturated in water.
Dry cleaning utilizes a combination of steam and dry cleaning fluid to clean fabrics. Therefore, fabrics don’t come directly in contact with water and don’t have as much exposure to it as they would in a regular wash.
Still, moisture is absorbed by fabrics in the form of steam. When linen fabrics absorb some of the moisture from the steam, it could cause them to shrink.
The steam not only contains water molecules but is also warm or hot. All linens will undergo some amount of shrinkage, no matter how you clean them. This is just the natural trait of the fabric.
Besides buying pre-washed linen fabric, there is not much you can do to prevent linen from shrinking. But even pre-washed linen may shrink some more if not cared for well.
How Much Does Linen Shrink?
You can expect linen to shrink by about 3% to 5% in the first wash and 1%-3% for preshrunk linen or subsequent washes. Suppose you choose to use a dryer. The linen can shrink a further 5% in there.
In addition, keeping your linen in a hot, humid room could result in the fabric shrinking even more than the 5% to 7% shrinkage rate above.
Combined, linen can shrink by up to 15% of the original size, which is massive. That is why linen must be handled correctly at every laundering stage.
Furthermore, linen shrinks repeatedly and not just during the first wash. As long as it is cleaned and dried in unsuitable heat settings, it will keep on shrinking. The fibers do not automatically recover.
Tips For Preventing Linen From Shrinking
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of how to deal with linens that have already shrunk, let’s look at some practical strategies to minimize or prevent shrinkage.
The sure-fire way is always to follow the care instructions provided by the manufacturer. They supersede all other information you may have about cleaning linen.
Various types of linens need to be washed and dried differently. So, if you don’t adhere to the care instructions provided, your linen will likely shrink or, worse, get damaged.
If there are no care instructions available for your linen for you to follow, we got your back. Here are the recommended guidelines for washing, drying, and storing linen to keep shrinkage under control.
- Do not wash your linen alongside other items made from different fabrics. Wash your linens separately from cotton, rayon, denim, etc.
- Avoid stuffing the washing tub with too many items. If you have a huge bundle, do not wash it all in one go. Compression encourages shrinkage, so ensure there’s room for the linen to move freely.
- Choose a mild detergent for your linens to protect them from damage. Avoid harsh detergents, fabric softeners, bleach, and other chlorinated cleaners as these can weaken the fibers preventing them from recovery.
- Mind the water temperature before you dip your linens in them. Use cool or lukewarm water to wash your linen. Hot water is a catalyst for the shrinking process.
- A gentle cycle is the most favorable option if using a washing machine. You may choose to hand wash linen too, as long as you don’t do it aggressively. The aim is to keep agitation at the minimum possible, if not avoid it altogether.
- Minimize the amount of time your linens are immersed in water. This will decrease the amount of shrinkage and will also prevent dulling of the color.
- Do not wring linen. Pressure from compression and twisting, especially when wet, encourages shrinkage and wrinkling.
- Whenever possible, air dry your linens. Hang your laundry outdoors to dry instead of using a dryer. Air drying linens where there’s a free, and even airflow allows it to dry with minimal shrinkage. Nonetheless, avoid the direct scorching sunlight.
- If you prefer using the dryer, resist the temptation of using the hottest setting. Many people don’t realize that drying your clothes on the highest setting could shrink your linen and also cause it to pill.
- Keep an eye on your linens, so they don’t stay too long in the dryer. You know you’ve overdone it if the linen comes out in a crisp state. Over-drying means extended time in the heat, and the consequences are further shrinkage.
- Try and remove the linen when they’re almost done but not quite dry so they don’t continue to shrink. Proceed to air dry them to complete the drying process without heat. The best way to avoid having your linen shrink up is to ensure it’s dry before putting it away.
- Store your clothes in a cool, dry place. The temperatures and humidity of the environment should be kept in check.
- It is best to keep the linen hanging in a closet or rack. If you choose to fold the linen, avoid piling them up more than two stacks high.
How To Unshrink Linen
Perhaps you are already in the shrunken situation and can’t help but wonder, is it possible to unshrink linen? Yes, it is possible to reverse shrinkage in linen.
Whether out of ignorance or despite your best efforts, your linens have shrunk. There are a few things you can do to revive them. So, before tossing anything away, you could try and salvage your linens, restore their integrity, and make them wearable again.
Now there is no guarantee that the linen will switch back 100% to its original size as before shrinkage. Your success on this mission is dependent on how severe the shrinkage is.
If the shrinkage is about 3% or less, the chances of achieving a full recovery are very high. However, reclaiming linen that has shrunk by 10% or even more will be a tall order.
You could attempt to unshrink it and get back some of the length. But it is nearly impossible to get rid of all the shrinkage back to its initial size.
There are various ways of unshrinking linen.
Using Cool Water
Since high temperatures play the biggest role in shrinkage of linen, you could use cool water instead to give the pieces a quick dip.
What You’ll Need:
- A tub
- Cool (not cold) water
- Drying line or rack
- An iron and ironing board
- Fill the tub with cool water. Room temperature is also acceptable.
- Immerse your linen fabric in the cool water and let it soak for no more than 10 minutes.
- Take it out and release excess water with a gentle squeeze. Do not wring.
- Use the rack or a clothesline to dry the linen outdoors or anywhere suitable that it can air dry.
- The linen shouldn’t dry thoroughly. Some slight dampness is necessary for the next step.
- Unhang the linen and spread it out flat across an ironing board.
- Turn on the iron and press the linen following this pattern. Begin in the middle, ironing outwards toward the edges all around. This technique encourages the linen to stretch.
- Make sure no side gets more attention than the others.
Using A Clothes Steamer
A clothes steamer can help unshrink linen. It works well, especially with older linens and linens shrunk by the dryer.
Simply lay your linens on a flat surface and aim the steamer at the fabric. Hover it around all over the linen. The steam will help the fibers relax and regain their original length.
Unshrinking your linen can be as simple as airing it out. Dampness encourages shrinking. Hang the shrunken linens where there’s plenty of freely moving air.
You could also store the linen in a breathable or perforated bag or bin somewhere open. Plastic bags, wraps, and tightly closed closets can trap moisture and encourage more shrinkage.
Alternatively, leave the linen hanging on a line or use a hanger in an open space. This will allow the fibers to breathe and relax, slowly, returning to their previous form.
Regardless of your method, a measuring tape comes in handy to determine whether your efforts bear any fruit. You can take measurements before and after the intervention to determine whether there’s been any change and unshrinking has been accomplished.
Do Linen Blends Shrink?
Linen blends are just as popular as pure linen. Linen is commonly blended with cotton, and rayon, among other fabrics.
A linen blend will shrink when exposed to the same conditions that shrink 100% linen. The other fabric does not make the linen blend immune to shrinkage.
How much a linen blend will shrink, however, is dependent on what type of fabric it is blended with and whether it shrinks or not, how much it shrinks, and also their ratios.
Linen and cotton, for example, make a lovely breathable, and durable fabric blend. Both fabrics are prone to shrinkage too, and therefore, the blend will undoubtedly shrink.
However, we must note that linen shrinks much more by itself than cotton does. Cotton shrinks by less than 3% compared to linen’s 4-5%.
Blending them creates a fabric that will shrink but not as much as 100% linen would, precisely due to the cotton fibers.
The ratio also matters. A 50% linen 50% cotton blend will shrink more than 40-60% of the same. That’s because, in the second case, the fabric that shrinks less (cotton) is more.
What about a linen rayon blend? Does linen rayon blend shrink? Linen rayon blend will shrink the same or even more than pure linen. That’s because rayon is prone to significant shrinkage of up to 10% on its own.
Similar to linen, rayon is also produced from the cellulose of plants. As a result, it bares many properties of plant-based fibers, among them shrinkage.
But rayon, unlike linen, is silky and is blended with linen to improve the comfortability of the fabric. Nonetheless, because both fabrics shrink, the combo will shrink when washed.
Therefore, linen blends must receive the same care as 100% linen to avoid shrinkage.
Linen is a fantastic fabric for light, breathable, and durable clothing, and a classic choice for home decor and furnishings. But it would be best to consider how it shrinks to avoid disappointments.
All linen will shrink, whether pure, blended or even preshrunk. The degree of shrinkage is what varies.
To keep your linen looking fresh, durable, and well-fitting, adhere to the care instructions availed by manufacturers. If it says dry clean only, then, by all means, do that.
Water and high temperatures are the main culprits when it comes to shrinkage. So, unless you want to shrink linen intentionally, avoid this pair.
Wash your linen in a gentle cycle using lukewarm water. Hanging your linen to dry is the optimal drying method, but if you must use a dryer, go with the lowest setting.
Finally, store your dry linens hanging or folded in a cool, dry well-aerated space.
There are multiple ways to try and unshrink linen. So, you don’t have to go a size up to account for shrinkage. Besides, after several washes, linen will eventually soften and loosen up on its own.