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How to Wash Linen Sheets (Plus Soften and Dry)

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How to Wash Linen Sheets

Linen sheets, especially after they have been broken in for the ultimate softness, are a luxurious item to add to your bedding to ensure a comfortable sleep environment. Unlike many fabrics that break down with wear over time and become rough, linen gets softer with use and age.

When it comes to taking care of linen sheets, compared to other fabrics, it can be a little more challenging. But with a little understanding of the fabric and knowing how to wash linen sheets, as explained here, will take the guesswork out of the care and allow you to focus on enjoying your linen sheets. We’ll also look at how to soften linen sheets so they feel smooth and luxurious.

Linen fabric is made of flax which makes it robust and smooth at the same time. It’s extremely durable and gets softer with time. Due to the higher quality, the fabric tends to come at a higher price. It makes sense to properly care for these items so they can be enjoyed for many years to come.

It’s also important to know how to dry linen sheets, which we’ll discuss as well.

Related: How to Wash Silk Clothing

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How to Wash Linen Sheets

Consult the Linen Sheet Care Label

The first step when it comes to knowing how to wash linen sheets is consulting the manufacturer’s care label. This will help you determine if you need to dry-clean the sheets or if you can wash them at home.

If the label indicates that the linen sheets are “dry-clean only” then you will need to find a local dry-cleaner to assist with the cleaning of your sheets. There are pros and cons to using a dry-cleaner for this task. It can be helpful to have someone take care of the cleaning of the sheets. Although the downside is having to pay for this service and arrange to drop off the sheets and pick them up after cleaning.

If the label just says “dry-clean”, then this is a recommendation by the manufacturer since the fabric is a delicate care item but not necessarily the only way your sheets can be cleaned.

If you are nervous or concerned about washing your linen sheets, by all means, hire a professional to do the work for you.

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Pre-Treating Linen Sheets

When it comes to routine washing of your linen sheets, you will want to start by looking over the sheets to identify any marks or stains. If you find anything that does not belong on your sheets you should pretreat the area using a chemical-free, gentle fabric spot remover, laundry detergent, or even non-toxic dish soap.

Wet the area with cool water and add your chosen stain remover to the area. Allow to sit and soak in 5-10 minutes before moving on to the washing step of the process.

If this is your first time washing the linen sheets before using, this step can be skipped.

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Washing Linen Sheets

You will have to decide if you will be hand washing or using a washing machine to clean the linen sheets. Both options are explained below. Here are a few more general guidelines regarding the washing care of linen sheets.

  • Separate your linen sheets for washing from other laundry items. Stronger fabrics such as denim and terry towels can rub and break down the linen fibers which will result in unnecessary wear and tear that will impact the longevity of the item.
  • Only wash linen sheets with similar colors to avoid color bleed and transfer.
  • Only use a mild, chemical-free detergent as other options can be too harsh for the fabric and cause deterioration of the linen sheets over time.
  • Do not use fabric softener. These often contain chemicals that leave a residue on washed items to soften which can weaken the linen fibers causing the sheets to be less durable. The linen sheets will naturally soften over time with use and washings.
  • Avoid heat and direct sun exposure for extended periods of time as they can break down the fibers in the linen sheets.

Machine Washing

Put your linen sheets into the tub of the washing machine. Add your chosen natural laundry detergent as normal in your front load washing machine (if using a laundry powder it is best to dissolve in some water before adding to your washing machine so it can quickly dissolve when being added to the washing cycle).

For a top load washing machine, allow the tub to fill with water and add your laundry detergent so it can dissolve before adding the linen sheets.

Use the gentle or delicate wash cycle option, depending on the linen sheet care label instructions and/or your washing machine options. The water temperature should be in a cold setting.

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Hand Washing

For hand washing your linen sheets, fill a sink, bin, or bucket with cool water and dissolve your natural laundry detergent completely. Only use 1-2 teaspoons of your detergent so that it is not too strong as it can be unnecessarily harsh on the linen fabric and will be challenging to thoroughly rinse out of the linen sheets.

Add your linen sheets and submerge completely. Allow them to sit for 5-10 minutes in the soap water.

Then plunge the sheet into the water a number of times and swish it around. Repeat with different sections of the linen sheet for a few minutes to help agitate the fabric and cause dirt and debris to fall free from the fibers. Take care not to twist or swirl the sheet as this can be harsh on the fibers.

Discard the dirty, soapy water. Once again fill the sink, tub, or bucket with cool water to rinse the linen sheets with the plunge and swish motions. Discard this water and repeat until the water is clear and without suds.

Squeeze excess water from the linen sheets. Again, try not to twist or wring the sheets to help protect the fibers.

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How to Dry Linen Sheets

After your linen sheets have been washed and are clean and wet it is time to dry them. Reference the care label to see how the manufacturer recommends drying their product and follow their instructions.

As mentioned above, linen fibers are sensitive to heat so it is important to keep this in mind when picking how to dry linen sheets. There are 2 ways you can dry your linen sheets. Either use your laundry dryer or air dry by hanging inside or outside. Or you can always try a combination of both.

Since linen is a lighter fabric than other fabric sheets, such as cotton, they tend to dry quicker than what you might be used to. When first getting started with linen sheets and cleaning them, check them periodically while drying so that they can be removed from the dryer, drying rack, or line as soon as they are dry.

Ensure that the linen sheets are thoroughly dried prior to storing.

Air Drying Linen Sheets

Air drying is the best option to increase the longevity of the sheets. Laying the sheets flat would be ideal but is not always practical. Drying racks can be used inside or outside. Or the sheets can be hung on a laundry line outside, if using cloths pins keep in mind that they could leave a dent in the linen sheets as they are drying.

If air drying linen sheets outside, remember not to leave them out in direct sunlight for any time more than necessary to dry your sheets as this can cause deterioration of the fabric over time.

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Using Dryer to Dry Linen Sheets

If using your laundry dryer to dry the linen sheets, put on the lowest or second to lowest heat setting. Check every 10 minutes until dry or almost dry. Once you know how long it takes for your dryer to dry your sheets on the setting you chose, then you will know what to set the drying time to in the future.

Then switch to the air or cool setting on your dryer for another 10-15 minutes to ensure that the sheets are completely dry. To aid in the drying process, consider using wool dryer balls since they help to fluff items in the dryer adding to the softness as well as decreasing drying time. To learn more, check out our post How to Use Wool Dryer Balls, and Why You Should.

Using a Dryer and Air Drying Linen Sheets

If you are interested in using a combined method of air drying and using a dryer for your linen sheets, start by putting the linen sheets in the dryer on the lowest or second to lowest heat setting for 10-20 minutes. Remove while still damp and hang to dry inside or outside until completely dry.

Another option for the combined drying approach, start by air drying and finish drying with the dryer on either low heat or a cool or air-dry setting.

Storing the Sheets

After washing and drying linen sheets and if not needed immediately for use on a bed, then it will be necessary to store them. Here are the best practices for storing linen sheets to ensure proper care.

 Ensure that the linen sheets are completely dry. It would be awful to go to use your sheets only to find that there is a musty odor or mildew that has grown.

Loosely fold the linen sheets, without causing pulling by any of the folds as this can distort the fibers leading to a breakdown in the fabric.

Store in a linen closet or another location that would be temperature-controlled with some ventilation as natural fibers like to breathe. Also, keep out of direct sunlight.

If storing linen sheets in something, avoid plastic bins or bags as dampness can be trapped in these locations with the fabric. It is recommended that they be placed in linen or cotton bags or even old pillowcases.

Related: How to Wash a Weighted Blanket Filled With Glass Beads

Frequently Asked Questions

Should you wash new linen sheets prior to using them?

Yes, linen sheets should be washed prior to using the first time. This can help to remove any chemicals or other environmental contaminants that might have been absorbed into the fabric during the manufacturing, transporting, or even storage process before you received the item.

How often should you wash linen sheets?

It is recommended that you wash your linen sheets bi-weekly or weekly. This is dependent on factors such as if bathing is done daily or if pajamas are worn (fewer body oils, sweat, etc will get directly on the sheets). You should not go any longer than 2 weeks between washings. 

Can you wash linen sheets in a washing machine?

Yes, preferably on a gentle or delicate cycle. It is best to wash linen sheets separate from other laundry and without harsh spot removers, fabric softener, and laundry detergents that use chemicals.

At what temperature should you wash your linen sheets in the washing machine?

The linen fabric should be washed with cold water. As a natural fabric, it tends to shrink in warm water and hot water can lead to the natural fibers breaking down.

Can you put linen sheets in the dryer?

Yes, as long as the care label instructions on your sheets do not advise against drying in the dryer. If your care label indicates that it can be dried in the dryer, cool or low heat settings should be used.

How to soften linen sheets?

Linen sheets have natural fibers that will soften as they are used and washed. It just takes time and patience for this to naturally occur.

Some linen sheets come from the manufacturer softened, this process is called stone washing.

If you are struggling with being patient for your sheets to get softer, you can add a teaspoon of baking soda to the laundry detergent in the washing machine, vinegar to the rinse cycle or use wool dryer balls in the dryer.

Can you iron linen sheets?

Yes, just use the lowest heat setting on the iron.

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How to Wash Linen Sheets: Final Thoughts

Linen sheets are a great investment in your bedroom space and for your own sleeping comfort. However, it is important to take care of these items, how to wash linen sheets, how soften linen sheets, and how to dry linen sheets.

After washing your linen sheets a few times it will become like second nature, leaving you to enjoy all the benefits and perks of owning linen sheets.

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