Does Linen Shrink? (How To Keep Your Clothes Looking Their Best)

Does Linen Shrink? (How To Keep Your Clothes Looking Their Best)

The average Brit spends £43.88 on clothes each month. Whether splashing your cash on designer gear or heading to the high street to get kitted out, you must take care of your clothes. If you've got linen pieces in your wardrobe, they require special attention.

Linen has become a beloved choice for those seeking a blend of natural allure and optimal comfort. With its inherent beauty and breathability, linen has captured the hearts of many. However, a lingering question remains: Does linen shrink?

This guide unravels the truth about linen's shrinkage tendencies, providing valuable insights and guidance. From exploring how linen behaves in the washing machine and tumble dryer to offering essential care instructions, we delve into the factors that affect linen's dimensions. Let's look at everything you need to know about this fabric.

What is linen, anyway?

First up, let's talk about what linen is. While many clothes are made of this material, you may not know what it is. Linen is a natural fabric derived from the flax plant. Flax fibres are carefully extracted from the plant and spun into yarns to create linen textiles. This process results in a material known for its exceptional durability, breathability, and lustre.

Its unique properties make it a preferred choice for home textiles, including bed linens, clothing, and upholstery. But it doesn't end there. Additionally, linen has excellent moisture-wicking abilities, keeping you cool and comfortable during warmer months. Linen covers are often made from a blend of fibres, including cotton and rayon, resulting in a versatile fabric that combines the best qualities of each material.

Find out how often you should wash your household linens in our other article. 

Does linen shrink in the wash?

There's nothing worse than washing your clothes and finding that they have shrunk. When cleaning your dirty laundry, you need to know the facts beforehand. So, does linen shrink when you put it in a washing machine? The answer depends on a few things.

Linen has the potential to shrink when exposed to water and agitation, such as in the washing machine. However, the degree of shrinkage largely depends on the specific quality and type of linen, as well as the washing conditions.

However, there is more to consider. For example, high-quality linens are often pre-washed and pre-shrunk, minimising the chances of significant shrinkage. Put simply, if you are buying more expensive linen clothing, it is less likely that your items will shrink. While that's not always a hard and fast rule, it's something that you should keep in mind.

Luckily, there is something you can do. Following the guidance of laundry symbols and care instructions, such as using a gentle wash cycle and cool water, may help lower your linen shrinkage risks.

For example, it's advisable to check the care instructions provided by the manufacturer for specific guidance on washing linen clothing. Some manufacturers recommend machine-washing linen in cold water to minimise shrinkage, as well as using a gentle cycle and a mild detergent can help maintain the fabric's integrity. You will find that the exact advice depends on the retailer and the quality of the material used.

Does linen shrink in the tumble dryer?

The short answer is yes — sometimes, anyway. Linen is more likely to shrink in the tumble dryer than other fabrics, especially when subjected to high heat settings. We don't want to get too technical here. However, the short version is that the agitation and heat can cause the fibres to contract, resulting in a reduction in size. To preserve the shape and size of linen clothing, it's wiser to air dry them or use low heat settings in the dryer.

Remove the linen while slightly damp to minimise wrinkling and allow it to finish drying naturally. This gentle drying method helps retain the fabric's original dimensions and prevent excessive shrinkage. However, it's important to note that some linen fabrics may have a slight shrinkage tendency even with proper care. You can't always protect it!

Next, find out if you can put your shoes in the dryer. If you're ditching your dryer altogether, we've got some alternative uses for dryer sheets, too! 

How to wash linen clothes (without shrinking them!)

Chances are, you don't want your linen clothes to shrink. Who does? If that is the case, there's something you can do about it. Proper care is essential to prevent excessive shrinkage while washing linen clothes, so that's why we're sharing our laundry tips.

You need to be extra careful here. Follow these steps to maintain your linen pieces' size and shape when cleaning them:

  1. Read the care instructions: Always check the care label on your linen covers for specific washing guidelines provided by the manufacturer. This information is crucial to ensure the appropriate treatment of your linens. As we have mentioned, different retailers may have their own care instructions. Keep that in mind!
  2. Opt for a gentle cycle: If in doubt, you always need to go for a gentle cycle. It's your safest bet here. Use a delicate or hand wash cycle with cool or lukewarm water to minimise the risk of shrinkage. Additionally, you should avoid using hot water, as it can cause the fibres to contract and potentially lead to shrinkage.
  3. Use a mild detergent: Your cleaning products could impact whether your linen shrinks. For the best results, you must always choose a gentle, pH-neutral detergent suitable for delicate fabrics to protect the fibres. This move will help you to prevent unnecessary stress and maintain your clothes. Harsh detergents can damage the linen fibres and increase the likelihood of shrinkage. Take a look at the best laundry detergent alternatives for more guidance. 
  4. Avoid overcrowding your washing machine: While big washes can be a cost-effective way to save time doing laundry, they may damage your clothing. As a golden rule, you need to wash linen separately or with similar colours to prevent excessive agitation and ensure a thorough but gentle wash. Overcrowding the washing machine can cause friction between the fabrics, leading to potential shrinkage and damage.

Following the above steps is a simple way to protect your linen clothes. However, as we have mentioned, there is no surefire way to ensure linen items don't shrink. All you can do is be as careful as possible when cleaning and drying these products.

Linen clothing offers timeless elegance and breathability to your wardrobe. While linen has the potential to shrink, proper care and following the manufacturer's instructions can help minimise this effect. The more careful you are, the better. By understanding how to care for linen properly, you can enjoy its beauty and durability for years to come.

Remember, the specific characteristics of linen can vary between different brands and fabric compositions. For example, we have another article answering the question does viscose shrink. You should always consult the care instructions provided by the manufacturer to ensure the best care for your linen covers. 


Are you looking for some more answers about washing your linen clothes? We've got you covered. Here are some of the frequently asked questions and solutions regarding linen shrinkage.

Does linen shrink the first time you wash it?

Linen may experience minimal shrinkage during the first wash, but high-quality linen is typically pre-shrunk to minimise this effect. Pre-shrinking the fabric helps ensure that any initial shrinkage is minimal and does not affect the final dimensions significantly. You may find that some linen clothing items come pre-shrunk. If that is the case, they are less likely to decrease in size when you wash them for the first time.

How much does linen shrink on the first wash?

There's not a straightforward answer to this particular question. The amount of shrinkage varies on a few things. For example, it depends significantly on the specific linen fabric and the washing conditions you subject it to. Generally, the shrinkage is minimal. However, proper care and adherence to the manufacturer's instructions can help minimise shrinkage. You should also make sure you use a gentle cycle to lower the risk factor.

Does linen get softer with each wash?

Yes, linen tends to get softer and more comfortable with each wash. That is good news if you found it stiff, to begin with. The fabric undergoes a natural process known as "breaking in," where the fibres loosen up and become more pliable. This results in a softer and more luxurious feel over time.

Why does linen go hard?

Linen can become stiff or rigid when exposed to hard water, excessive agitation, or high heat during drying. Hard water contains minerals that can accumulate on the fabric, causing stiffness. Consider using soft water or adding a water softener or white vinegar, during the wash cycle to prevent this. Additionally, avoid over-drying the linen and opt for gentle drying methods to maintain its softness.

Do you have any tips for washing linen clothes? Share them in the comments below!

Joanne A


Expert in finding beautiful solutions for small and rented spaces. Would happily spend the rest of my life shopping for homewares and watching Disney movies - I only wish I had Cinderella's army of mice to help me clean!

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