Who doesn’t love fresh, clean linens - the smell, the crispness under our hands or next to our skin, the wonderful feeling of rightness knowing that some things, at least, are sparkling clean? The hard work of ironing is another issue, which is why washed linen has gained such popularity - take advantage of it! That is the reason I called our work ‘rough’ linen when we launched the perfect messy bed ten years ago: rough is simply the lovely soft crumpled texture of washed linen, as opposed to time-consuming glossy ironed show beds. The benefit? Heavenly drape and flow. That’s the beauty of linen, it is perfect just as it is.
If you want the low-down on the best way to look after your linens, make yourself a cup of tea, settle down, and I’ll begin.
1. Treat Stains Promptly
First things first - before your linens even hit the hamper, they should be checked for stains and treated. Of course, it is good practice to soak a stain as soon as it occurs, but life is imperfect and sometimes that doesn’t happen, so it’s good to know modern science has your back. Shout is a winner in my book. If you have a stain, spray it with Shout and let it sit for at least 15 minutes before washing. I’ve experimented, spraying Shout on dry fabrics of various colours and materials (including our linens of course), then let it dry (something that is not generally recommended) and guess what? The stains came out, and the colour of the fabric was not affected. Note: It’s best to avoid heating (i.e. tumble-drying) a stained item until you are certain the stain is gone, as heat will set stains.
2. Wash Cold
It might go against the grain, but modern detergents work just as well in cold water, it is gentler on your fabrics, and you are saving the expense of heating it, besides being more eco-friendly.
3. Use Less Detergent
Did you know you probably only need about half the amount of detergent you normally use? Most of us use way too much because detergent companies mark higher-than-needed amounts on their measuring cups (they want to sell more, of course). Excess detergent can clog your washer, and it can linger in fabrics, giving them an unpleasant feel and overpowering scent - less really is more. I strongly recommend detergents that are formulated to be gentle, ones that are derived from natural ingredients: never use Tide or other harsh detergents formulated for man-made fibers, they can change the colour. Never pour the detergent directly onto dry fabric, make sure it is well diluted first: the small print on detergent bottles is there for a reason. I don't recommend softener either, as it coats the fibers and makes them less absorbent, and as if that isn’t enough mischief, it clogs your dryer filters too.
4. Keeping Whites White
There comes a moment in every white fabric’s life when it needs a bit of brightening. Fabrics can yellow for a variety of reasons, contact with body oils or simply from storage. To whiten white linen, I favor Biz over OxiClean, as it contains enzymes to digest food and other natural stains. A few hours hanging in the sun (if you’re lucky enough to have an outdoor line) is also a wonderful way to whiten linens that may have yellowed over time. Chlorine bleach is harsh, so I use it only as a last resort, and it must be done with care, as too much can cause fabrics to yellow even more, or worse, weaken it to the point of tearing.
5. Don’t Over Dry!
The number one rule for caring for your linens, (and making the maintenance easier on you) is toavoid over-drying. Tumble-drying is fine, on medium heat or even hot, and wool dryer balls are a real help getting things dry faster and with fewer wrinkles. The trick is to remove your linens from the dryer while slightly damp. Smooth the edges and wrinkles with your hands to relax any creases. Sheets should be just about dry by the end of this process, or you can hang or lay them flat to dry the rest of the way (this shouldn’t take long). Flattening linens while there is still a hint of moisture in the fabric naturally and gently presses them - wrinkles will fall out but you won’t lose that iconic linen texture.
If you get a stubborn one, spray it with water and smooth it with your hands or (last resort), an iron. Your linens will have a soft natural texture which will relax with a little time - something to remember when you hang curtains - they will need to drop over the course of a day, or overnight.
7. Fold in Thirds
Next, you will want to fold your linens and put them away, (unless of course, they go right back onto the bed, table, cushion or curtain rod). There is a nice tradition for folding linen: in thirds, and the rationale is so you can always present a plump, smooth front in your linen closet. This might not rank high on your priorities, but it’s just as well to know.
Sheets are most awkward to fold because of their size, and it helps immeasurably to do it with a companion. If you must work solo, drape the sheet over a bed and walk around every time you fold.
Here is a little demo for the folding method, the traditional way, in thirds. This is shown on a pillow cover but the same principle applies to sheets as well. First fold in half, then in half again, and again, until you have a long narrow piece, ideally at a width that suits your linen closet. Then fold into thirds (with a sheet you will want to halve it length-wise first).
The result is a neat, tidy package which even Marie Kondo would approve. Stop at this point and clap your hands with delight.
Stack the results proudly in your linen closet, and don’t be surprised to see that by the next day the piles will be considerably reduced, as the linen settles and in essence, flattens itself out, almost like ironing. Who wouldn’t love so cooperative a fabric! Tuck it in with some lavender bags, give it a part of the approval and tiptoe away. Your work here is done.
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