If you live in a tropical, humid climate, you most likely know linen is one of the best fabrics to beat the heat. It is light and breezy enough to make scorching summers more tolerable. However, despite being one of the most comfortable fabrics, linen is also notorious for having a scratchy texture that can make it uncomfortable to wear.
The good news is, linen softens with regular wear. You can also resort to various methods to soften linen, such as soaking it in water with a cup of vinegar overnight or using baking soda to help reduce the annoying scratchiness of new linens.
Linen is incredibly versatile and is thus used for various purposes beyond clothing. So, if you’re looking for ways to soften the world’s most wrinkle-prone fabric, here’s a handy guide on linen, why it is scratchy, and what you can do to make it softer.
Why Is Linen Scratchy?
A sustainable fabric, linen is a lightweight fabric made from the flax plant.
To produce linen, the flax plant is pulled out of the ground to retain the length of the fibers. Its seeds are then removed through ripping or winnowing techniques and the plant stock is removed from the flax plant fibers via retting. The flax fibers are also combed to separate long and short fibers and remove any dirt or debris.
Flax is a plant with an extremely versatile by-product — fiber. This versatility extends the fiber being used in a wide range of products, all the way from ropes, paper, and cigarettes to the popular linen fabric.
This is also because flax is a bast fiber, which tends to be a coarser type of natural fiber. While this property makes linen strong and durable, making it great for producing ropes and rugs, it makes the fabric not as soft initially as you’d like.
However, fiber is not the only culprit! Industries don’t shy away from starching or using chemicals for stiffening linen. Both are agents of skin irritation that contribute to the scratchy feeling you want to get rid of.
The texture of linen is highly dependent on the production process it undergoes and where it has been blended with another fabric. For example, low-quality linen fabric will, of course, be harsher and stiffer.
Another factor is the thread count. If the thread count of the linen is too high, it can cause greater friction and even cause the fabric to deteriorate faster.
Does Linen Get Softer Over Time?
Unlike other fabrics, a major quality of linen fabric gets softer with time. So you just have to wait for a few washes for it to show effect.
Not only does linen soften over time, but it also becomes more comfortable with every use!
And if you don’t wish to wait for the fabric to become softer, It’s best to buy high-quality linen and check whether the label has listed the fiber length. Remember, the longer the fiber, the softer the linen.
How to Soften Scratchy Linen Clothes and Sheets
As tempting as commercial fabric softeners may sound, you should know, they do linens more harm than good. Instead, fabric softeners fill up the gaps of your linen, taking away its natural fiber qualities. A better and safer option is to use the ingredients you can find right at home to soften your linen fabrics.
Here are 4 methods you can try that will soften your linen clothes, sheets, and other upholstery.
1. Baking Soda
Baking soda has a pH of 9, which is high enough to soften your linen sheets but not too high that it will damage them. This makes baking soda an ideal natural softer. As an alkali, it balances your water’s pH and removes all the gunk, stench, and residue that may be lingering on your linen fabrics.
Not sure how to go about using baking soda as a softener? There are different ways you can use baking soda.
Here are the steps to follow for the soak method:
- Fill up a 5-gallon bucket of water.
- Add ½ a cup of baking soda. If the load is more, add accordingly.
- Dissolve the baking soda.
- Put your linen fabric or clothes into the bucket.
- Use your hands to submerge the fabric.
- Leave them to soak for at least 10 minutes (or overnight, if needed).
- When the waiting period is over, air dry or machine wash them.
If you don’t want to soak beforehand and would like to machine wash your linen instead, follow these steps:
- Load your linen fabric into the washing machine.
- Start the washing machine.
- Pour your usual detergent.
- Add ½ a cup of baking soda.
- Let the machine do its work.
- After it’s done, dry the fabric.
Compared to baking soda, white vinegar is always waiting for its moment to shine. White vinegar is highly acidic with an approximate pH of 2.5. It is also very helpful in loosening the scratchy fibers in your linens and making them soft.
Like baking soda, you can either soak linens in white vinegar for a day and let them dry or pour the vinegar into the washing machine. But do make sure that your washing machine can handle vinegar. It may cause long-term harm to its rubber parts, rendering it useless.
As for the amount needed, half a cup to one cup is enough. But, do not hesitate to try out different measurements. After all, every linen fabric requires different care.
Also, while it may seem like mixing vinegar and baking soda is a good idea, my article on mold removal from clothes and fabric covers why it doesn’t work.
If you still want to benefit from both vinegar and baking soda, you can use one as a pre-soak and the other during the wash.
3. Dryer BallsDryer balls are touted as the sustainable alternative to dryer sheets. They last for a long time and come in plastic, wood, or wool. And yes, they do help with scratchy linen?
Dryer balls essentially beat the bad out of linen fabrics. So pop a few of these in your washing machine and unload softer linens. Confused? Here’s how they work.Dryer balls tumble around in the machine, striking against the clothes multiple times. This generates heat, but the repeated movements also weaken the fibers of the fabric. If you naturally want to soften your linen articles with a faster drying time, using dryer balls is the best for you.
And to get the most out of drying balls, you can slightly dampen them before throwing them into the washing machine. It will ensure that the scratchiness of lint is almost eliminated.
4. Vigorous Washing
With each wash, your linen bed sheets and clothes soften more. However, there is no fixed number of washes you need to get through to get the desired result. It all depends on the quality of the fabric and how it was made.
Over a few washes, your linen will lose the excess lint that makes it feel scratchy. Just make sure you separate your linen articles from other fabrics as the lint may end up in your other clothes.
If you’re also struggling to figure out the best way to wash linen, there are no restrictions to washing the fabric. For example, you can hand wash linens or put them in a washing machine. The results will pretty much be similar. Stick to whichever method you find the most suitable to your needs.
However, your water temperature may affect your linen fabric. It is recommended to use room-temperature water, though you can also wash white linens in hot water. In addition, some linen items can only bear dry washing.
Check the labels as they should have instructions about the best method to wash particular linen items.
What Is the Softest Linen Fabric?
There is no one linen fabric that can claim to be the softest. The softness of linen is highly dependent on its weave pattern.
Here are some of the most common types of linen you will find:
Featuring a striped or checkered pattern, this is a loosely woven fabric and is highly durable. The loose weave also makes it very absorbent, making it ideal for producing hand towels or for use in the kitchen.
Damask linen is one of the smoothest types of linen fabric. It has an ornate look because of the satin and plain weaves used to produce it. This is also why damask linen is often used for special occasions such as decor.
Commonly used for bed sheets, sheeting linen is a heavier fabric because of its higher thread count and close weave.
Although not as durable as the other types of linen, loosely-woven linen is incredibly absorbent, which is why it is popularly used for diapers.
Apart from the weave and blend, the quality and origin of linen also play a major role in determining how soft the fabric will be.
The list below consists of different 100% pure linen fabrics that may become your softest linen fabric.
#1. Belgian Linen
Famous throughout the world, Belgian Linen is one of the most exceptional linen fabrics you can find. As the name suggests, Belgian linen flax is grown with utmost care in Belgium and other European regions.
Not any linen can claim to be Belgian. Authentic Belgian Linen is a registered trademark and goes through a rigorous selection period. Only a few thousand artisans under the association can weave the special linen in Belgium.
Belgian Linen has a wonderfully soft touch and feel and is long-lasting with unparalleled quality.
To avoid fake Belgian Linen sellers, check for the MASTERS OF LINEN brandmark on the label.
#2. French Linen
France offers an ideal climate and soil to grow flax seeds, making it a close second to Belgian Linen. While it does not flaunt a trademark, that does not take away from the durability and craftsmanship of French linen.
Apart from the different regions in which they are produced, both Belgian Linen and French linen offer the highest quality. You won’t go wrong with either.
#3. Lithuanian Linen
Northern Europe does not fall behind in the linen industry. Lithuanian linen is craftsmanship at its finest.
Lithuania prides itself on its linen fabrics, even having a festival to celebrate flax! Lithuanian linen is rich in quality and made using traditional methods that ensure a comfortable and soft texture.
#4. Japanese Linen
Japan is known for its attention to detail. So, You won’t be surprised to hear that this trait is found in Japan’s linen industry. They are the underdogs of the linen world.
The majority of the linens in Japan come from small families who are generational artisans by trade. And they take their work very seriously. With a strong belief in “show, not tell,” they do not advertise their work.
Japanese linen fabrics are soft and have a comforting and cozy touch, making them an ideal buy if you do not believe the brand is everything.
#5. Irish Linen
Ireland and linen have a special relationship. In France, King Louis XIV decided to oppress the country’s best artisans in the name of religion. These artisans — the Huguenots — left France and settled in Ireland, leading to the increased popularity of Irish linen. Although, it does not mean Ireland did not have linen before that.
Classism ran deep in Europe, so linen was one of the few options they had with low taxes and high demand.
Irish linen’s history and smooth, airy nature have drawn admirers from all around the world.
#6. European Flax Linen
If the name of the linen you are eyeing has “flax” in its name, know that the linen has gone to other countries such as China for production. European flax linen can be from any country in the continent, even Belgium and France.
Due to its production process, it cannot have the names such as Belgian Linen or Japanese linen that are produced in their home countries.
Still, European flax linen is soft and breathable. The craftsmanship is not lost.
Is Flax Linen Soft?
Softness is a subjective term. As previously established, linen fabric is not inherently soft, especially if it is poor quality.
While linen gradually gets increasingly softer, it is best not to expect silky smoothness from the fabric. There is a reason why people all over the world invest in good linen to make them even softer and last long.
The prices may feel steep, but purchasing one linen fabric that lasts you for years is better than buying six every year.
Linen can be tricky to buy, especially with so many options available in the market. Most mass-produced linens can feel scratchy, which may make you question all the hype surrounding linen. But buy one of high quality and you won’t look at another fabric again.
It is important to take care of the fabric with linen to avoid lint and scratchiness. We hope this article helps you choose good quality linens for your needs and soften them safely so that you can wear them without worrying about feeling uncomfortable.