Linen is a common fabric with a variety of uses, from clothing to household textiles. Clothes made from linen are loved for their comfort, timelessness, and versatility. Linen is also known to be fairly inexpensive and long-lasting. Because of this, many people wonder, does linen shrink or stretch? It is a durable fabric, after all.
Despite being a long-lasting fabric, linen does tend to shrink without proper care, especially when washing and drying it. Linen does not stretch unless it is blended with other stretchy fabrics.
In this article, we’ll discuss why linen shrinks and how to prevent this from happening. We’ll also cover what to do if your linen does shrink and if there’s any way to stretch linen. Continue reading to learn more.
What Is Linen Made Of?
Linen is a natural fiber that is made from a plant called flax. It is similar to cotton, but while cotton is made from fluffy white cotton bolls, linen is made from fibers found in the stem of the flax plant. Plant stem fibers have to be strong and durable to support the plant. Since linen is made from these fibers, it is a strong and durable fabric as long as it is cared for properly.
Linen has been used since early European times, making it one of the oldest fabrics to be produced and used. It can also be traced back to Ancient Egypt, where it was a widely used fabric for clothing due to it being a cooling and breathable fabric. Linen is still used for some clothing today, but it is also increasingly being used for household fabrics.
Does Linen Shrink?
Linen fabrics will shrink, especially when you wash and dry them if you don’t follow the proper care instructions. Exposure to water and extreme temperatures can cause linen to shrink, especially if it is 100% pure.
Why Does Linen Shrink?
Linen is made of plant-based fibers. If you overwater a plant, it causes the plant to become flimsy and not as rigid as before. The same thing happens to linen when it gets wet due to relaxation shrinkage. Exposure to water causes the fibers to relax. Since the fibers are a lot thinner than a plant stem, if they become too relaxed, it is hard for them to return to their original shape.
How Much Does Linen Shrink?
In most cases, linen will shrink up to 3-4% of whatever its original size was, even if you take all the necessary steps to wash it properly. In some cases, linen can shrink at a higher percentage when washed incorrectly.
Since water and extreme temperatures can both cause linen to shrink, it is more likely to shrink when washed in hot water. To help prevent shrinking from happening, some textile companies will pre-shrink their linen. But even pre-shrunk linen is not completely resistant to shrinking.
Does Linen Shrink in Length or Width?
Linen has the potential to shrink in both length and width. Since linen is a natural fabric, all of the fibers come from the same source. This gives it a consistent structure across the fabric. All of the plant fibers will be exposed in the same way across the fabric, so they are all likely to shrink.
Can Linen Shrink More Than Once?
Linen can shrink more than once, especially if it is washed using incorrect temperature settings every time. The fibers will not bounce back or stretch back out on their own, so repeated shrinking is common due to continued damage to the fibers while in the wash. Pre-shrunk linens won’t shrink as much, but they can still shrink. It is important to follow the care instructions even if the linen is pre-shrunk.
Does Linen Shrink When Washed?
One quality of the linen is that it tends to become softer with each wash. But even if the fabric does become softer, linen will shrink when washed if you don’t use the correct settings. Being washed is the most common reason that linen does shrink, but all fabrics usually have instructions that tell you how to wash the fabric to prevent shrinking and damage.
Can You Wash 100% Linen?
The greatest factor that affects linen shrinkage when washed is water temperature. If the water temperature is too hot or too cold, linen can shrink. The extreme temperatures can shock or damage the fibers, causing the fabric itself to shrink. While cold water won’t cause as much shrinkage as hot water, the fabric could still shrink more than normal.
The first time you wash linen, it can shrink as much as 10% if the water temperature is too hot. The best water temperature to use for washing linen is cool or warm. These water temperatures are less likely to cause damage to the fibers. To prevent this much shrinkage during the first wash, you can buy pre-washed linen, although you still have to wash it carefully to prevent it from shrinking more.
Does Linen Shrink With Every Wash?
Linen can shrink with every wash. It may not shrink as much as it did during the first wash, but it will still shrink with subsequent washes. Consistently washing it the correct way each time is most effective for preventing shrinking.
Does Linen Shrink After Washing?
Linen usually shrinks in the washing machine. If you’ve washed it for the first time using water that is too hot or too cold, you’ll experience the most amount of shrinkage. Linen won’t shrink after it is washed without more exposure to the washing machine. But it will shrink each time you wash it if you aren’t careful.
How to Prevent Linens From Shrinking in the Wash
Follow these steps to prevent linens from shrinking in the wash.
- Separate linens from other types of fabric.
- Do not put too many items in the machine at once.
- Use mild detergent to protect the fibers.
- Avoiding using bleach because it can be too harsh.
- Turn the machine to the gentle cycle to keep the amount of agitation low.
- Set the water temperature to cool or warm.
Does Linen Shrink In The Dryer?
As with washing, drying linens can also cause them to shrink. Drying linens on high heat has the same effect that hot water has. The fibers will shrink and possibly even break if the dryer temperature is too hot. Linens should be dried with low or no heat.
Can You Put Linen in the Dryer?
You can put linen in the dryer, but you must be careful not to set the drying temperature too high or leave them in the dryer for too long. Prolonged exposure to high temperatures is what causes linen to shrink the most.
How Much Will Linen Shrink in the Dryer?
Linen can shrink as much as 5% in the dryer. Combined with the amount of shrinking that could happen in the washing machine, this means that your linen could shrink as much as 10% to 15% in total just from using the wrong settings for both the washing machine and dryer.
How To Prevent Linen From Shrinking In The Dryer
To prevent linen from shrinking in the dryer follow these steps:
- Dry on low or no heat. High heat will cause damage and shrinking.
- Do not let linens get completely dry. Check them occasionally and take them out while they are still damp. This will also help to prevent wrinkles.
- Hang them up and allow them to finish air-drying.
Does Linen Shrink When Dry Cleaned?
Some people think that dry cleaning linen is a fool-proof way to keep it from shrinking. However, linen will shrink when it is dry cleaned, but the amount of shrinking that happens is significantly less than it would be if you washed it in the washing machine.
Dry cleaning uses a combination of steam and dry cleaning fluid to clean fabrics. While fabrics don’t come directly in contact with water and don’t have as much exposure to it as they would in the washing machine, moisture is still absorbed by fabrics in the form of steam.
When linen fabrics absorb some of the moisture from the steam, it causes them to relax and shrink. All linens will undergo some amount of shrinkage no matter how you clean them. This is a natural quality of the fabric. Besides buying pre-washed fabric, there is not much you can do to prevent linen from shrinking. But even pre-washed linen will shrink some, even if it is dry cleaned.
How To Unshrink Linen
If your linen clothing or fabrics have shrunk, you may be wondering if there’s anything you can do to fix it. Don’t toss it out or repurpose it yet. There may be something you can do.
Can You Unshrink Linen?
It is possible to unshrink linen. But how successful you’ll be at returning the linen to its original size depends on how much the linen shrunk. Linens that have only shrunk the typical 3 or 4% have a better chance at returning to their original size with some help. If your linen has shrunk 10 or 15% percent, you may be able to unshrink it some, but it is highly unlikely that you can get it to return to its original size.
How to Unshrink Linen
If you want to attempt to unshrink linen, here is what you’ll need:
- A washtub or bucket
- A drying rack or clothesline
- Ironing board
- Ruler or measuring tape (optional)
Follow these steps to unshrink linen:
- Use the ruler to measure the length and width of the fabric before you attempt to unshrink it. This step is entirely optional, but it will help you determine if your efforts were successful in the end.
- Fill the washtub with lukewarm water. Remember that hot water can cause the linen to shrink further. The water should feel only slightly warm.
- Place the linen fabric in the water for 10 minutes. Do not leave it for too long because it is possible to shrink the fabric more.
- Squeeze the fabric gently to remove the excess water. Do not wring the fabric out; applying too much pressure can damage the fibers.
- Hang the clothing on a drying rack, outdoors on a clothesline, or anywhere else that it can air dry. You don’t want the fabric to dry completely. It needs to be damp to have the most success at unshrinking it.
- Usually, letting it dry for 20 minutes is long enough, but you may not want to wait that long if you hang it outside on a hot day.
- Remove the damp fabric from the hanger and lay it flat across an ironing board—plug in the iron.
- Iron the fabric across the length and width, starting in the center and working toward the edges. Ironing in this way will encourage the fabric to stretch.
- When you’ve finished ironing, you can measure the length and width of the fabric again to see if you were successful at unshrinking it. But remember, it may not completely return to its original size depending on how shrunk it was in the first place.
If you’re short on time, a quicker way to do unshrink fabric is to fill a spray bottle with lukewarm water to dampen the linen. Doing this keeps you from having to place the fabric in water for 10 minutes and then wait on it to air dry. Just dampen the fabric, then iron it using the same steps above. You may also want to place a pressing cloth on top of colored linens as you’re ironing to keep the color from fading.
Does Linen Cotton Blend Shrink?
Linen and cotton are both fabrics that are prone to shrinking by themselves. While linen tends to shrink 3 to 4%, cotton only shrinks about 1 to 3%. This means that cotton is a little bit more sturdy than linen.
Being natural fabrics, linen and cotton have similar properties. Blending them creates a breathable fabric that is more durable than either fabric would be by itself. A linen and cotton blend may still shrink, but the shrinkage amount will be less than it would be with 100% linen.
Does Linen Rayon Blend Shrink?
Just like linen, rayon is a fiber that comes from plants. Since they both come from plants, they have very similar properties. By itself, 100% rayon can shrink in size up to 10% when washed. While a blend of linen and rayon makes for a comfortable fabric, combining the two won’t cancel each other out in terms of shrinkage.
Because both fabrics can shrink up to about 10%, a linen and rayon blend will shrink when it is washed. This is especially true when washing it in hot water. You should take the same precautions when washing a linen rayon blend as you would when washing each fabric.
Does Linen Stretch?
100% linen fabric doesn’t stretch. Plant fibers are very rigid, so they have low elasticity. Attempting to stretch the fabric could damage it because it causes the fibers to break. This is the reason why you should avoid wringing out linen fabrics as well.
The fact that linen doesn’t stretch is why it is so prone to wrinkles. It is expected for linen fabrics to have wrinkles, so ironing them to remove wrinkles isn’t always the best option. Removing wrinkles stretches the fabric, so sometimes it is better to leave wrinkled linen be. If you don’t want your linen to be wrinkled, remove it from the dryer while it is still damp and hang it up to finish air-drying.
How to Stretch Linen
Stretching linen is very similar to the process of unshrinking it. You can try the steps listed under “How To Unshrink Linen.” But if your linen hasn’t necessarily shrunk and you want to stretch it out a little, you may not want to apply heat to it without trying other things first.
Here is what you can try instead.
- Fill a washtub with lukewarm water and a capful of gentle soap or conditioner.
- Soak the linen in the water for around 20-30 minutes to loosen the fibers.
- After the linen has soaked, gently squeeze the water out. Do not wring it out.
- Lay the fabric flat on a towel and roll the towel up to help squeeze out any excess water. The fabric should be damp but not wet.
- Remove the fabric from the rolled-up towel and lay it flat on a dry towel.
- Pull the fabric gently in all directions to stretch it out.
- Hang the fabric up to air dry.
What is Stretch Linen?Linen by itself isn’t stretchy, but it can be combined with stretch fabrics to make it more stretchy. Examples of stretch fabric that linen is usually blended with are lycra, elastane, or spandex. This blend of linen and stretch fabric is called stretch linen. Stretch linen is most commonly used for athletic and summer wear. Fabric retailer Mood Fabrics recommends stretch linen as a good fabric choice for making dresses and swim coverups.
Linen is breathable, while lycra, elastane, and spandex are moisture-wicking. This makes stretch linen a good fabric choice for hot summer days.
We hope you found this article helpful regarding the shrinkage and stretchiness of linen fabric. No matter how careful you are, linen will naturally shrink some, but there are precautions you can take to keep from over-shrinking it. If you did over-shrink it, you might be able to stretch it back to its original size, but that depends on how much it shrunk. If you enjoyed this article, share it with others and leave a comment. Thanks for reading!