Lavender Hill Interiors March 2022

How to take care of linen furniture

Before you clean you linen sofa or armchair on your own, follow the suggestions below to learn exactly how to take care of linen furniture.

From spot cleaning yourself to outsourcing a professional cleaning, properly caring for linen furniture requires you to understand the unique properties of this natural material. Using scalding hot water, a harsh detergent or a coarse scrubbing brush could damage the fabric.

Leaving dark or brightly coloured furniture in the sun could cause fading. Failing to air out your living room could encourage mould to grow. Linen reacts to moisture, sunlight and cleaning solutions differently than synthetic materials like polyester and other natural fibres like cotton do.

Before you clean a linen sofa or armchair on your own, follow below to learn all you need to know. In this post, we answer all of your frequently asked questions and offer our top cleaning tips.

Why Designers Love Linen

While linen is certainly timeless, it has grown in popularity over the last few years across both the fashion and interior design industries. Linen is antibacterial, antistatic, temperature regulating and incredibly versatile.

Designers frequently use linen fabric for everything from furniture upholstery to drapery and from tablecloths to bedspreads. According to Lorraine Dawkins in her article “Why linen is the ultimate fabric for relaxed, laid-back living” for House Beautiful, “natural linen in the home will work across all seasons, whether spring, summer, autumn or winter.” 

Writing for Houzz in the article “8 Modern Uses for Classically Beautiful Linen,” Lee Anne Culpepper of Culpepper Carpets & Interiors, Inc. notes that linen is also quite practical.

Culpepper writes that “linen makes an excellent upholstery fabric because it does not pill or stretch.” Linen is also more durable and long-lasting than most fabrics, so it “can be dry-cleaned or washed and will look great for years.”

FAQs About Caring for Linen Furniture

1. Does Linen Fade?

Lavender Hill Interiors Duck Egg Blue Linen Buttoned Armchair and Foot stool

If dyes are not fixed properly, a linen sofa exposed to direct sunlight could fade over time. In general, however, linen fibres take dye well.

This means that dyed linen fabrics are less likely to fade or bleed. The DIY article “Dyeing Fabrics: Tips, Tricks, and How-Tos” explains. According to the site, “natural fibres—such as cotton, linen, silk, and wool—take dye much better than synthetics do.” 

As long as your couch’s linen upholstery was prepared and treated properly, it should be at least somewhat resistant to fading.

Some linens – particularly those used to upholster outdoor furniture – are specially treated to be UV resistant. Check with your sofa’s manufacturer or read the sewn-in label for more information. Just in case, try to keep heavily dyed darker linens away from direct sunlight as dark colours more readily absorb light and fade faster.

2. Does Linen Fabric Tear Easily?

Made from flax plants, linen is one of the most durable natural fibre fabrics used in upholstery.Lauren Flanagan elaborates in her article “Everything You Need to Know About Linen Fabric” for The Spruce. Flanagan writes that linen is actually “two to three times stronger than cotton.” Linen also has anti-bacterial and cooling properties. 

3. Will a Linen Sofa Absorb Odours Easily?

Because 100% linen fabrics are breathable and anti-bacterial, they do not hold onto pet odours the same way synthetic fabrics do.

Synthetic fabrics tend to trap odours because they wick away both moisture and oils. Jessica Boddy explains in a recent article for Popular Science.

Boddy writes synthetic materials like polyester are hydrophobic, which makes them “great at soaking up sweat and then quickly getting rid of it through evaporation.” However, polyester is also “olophilic.” This means that while polyester wicks away water, it also absorbs “odorous compounds…[that] cling to polyester fibres for dear life.” Absorption of oil accounts for the stink in many synthetic fabrics. 

Like cotton and some other natural fibre fabrics, however, linen clothes and upholstery fabric can mould and mildew more easily than synthetic fabrics.

According to the Smithsonian Institute for Conservation, “stagnant air above 80% Relative Humidity will support mould on cellulosics—cotton or linen.”

Alternatively, mould rarely forms on wool or silk under 92% RH, which is close to dew point humidity. Synthetic fabrics like nylon and/or polyester are least likely to develop mould because “they do not absorb much moisture.”

Keep in mind that linen blends react to moisture differently than 100% linen fabrics. You can prevent mould from forming on your linen couch by improving ventilation and decreasing the humidity in your home. 

How to Reduce Odours in Linen Upholstery

In her article “How to clean a linen sofa” for Better Homes & Gardens, Olivia Hart explains how to reduce unpleasant odours. Hart writes that those who “want to freshen up their linen…[can] sprinkle some baking soda on your couch.” As long as you let the baking soda “sit for a while before vacuuming up…it should remove any odour.”

4. Can You Put Linen Slipcovers in the Washing Machine or Dryer?

Green Southampton rectangle cushion

If your sofa has linen slipcovers, you might be tempted to unzip those covers and toss them in the washing machine or dryer. Depending on the composition of these covers, the manufacturer’s instructions might actually encourage machine washing or drying.

However, machine washing linen slipcovers might not be best – even if the label's washing instructions expressly allow it. This is because natural fibres like linen – which is spun from flax – can be crushed by the agitator in your machine. They can also shrink in a tumble dryer, so drape all the covers over a clothes horse to air dry after you clean them.

Worse yet, certain dyed linens will either fade or bleed in a machine wash cycle. In her article “Keep in mind that linen blends react to moisture differently than 100% linen fabrics.“ for Who What Wear, Mandy Zee explains.

Zee writes “linens that are blended with other fabrics or have special treatments or dyes may require handwashing” to prevent damage. Decorative trim might also fare poorly in the machine washing process, so look out for any appliques before tossing linen slipcovers in your machine. Given many issues listed above, we recommend having your sofa covers professionally cleaned if time and money allows.

5. Can You Steam Clean Linen Upholstery?

Most experts recommend against using steam to clean or press linen upholstery, drapes and/or clothing.

In her article “Yes, It's Possible to De-Stain Your Couch” for Esquire, Jolie Kerr explains. Speaking with the owner of a dirty white linen couch, cleaning expert and advice columnist Jolie Kerr notes that the care tag on your furniture will dictate which methods are safe. Of course, care instructions will vary based on the fibre content of your couch.

However, Kerr recommends owners “steer clear of any machines that operate using steam [if] the couch contains polyester or linen.” This is because “the steam can cause those materials to pucker in a way that will be tricky to reverse.”

As linen is already prone to stubborn creasing and wrinkling, using steam to press or clean is usually frowned upon.

6. Which Cleaning Solutions Can Linen Handle?

Hamptons style sofa with Studs

According to Benna Crawford in her article “How to Clean a Linen Sofa” for Home Steady, most linens are either Code S or Code WS fabrics.

Other Code S fabrics include silk, wool and cotton while other Code WS fabrics include polyester, nylon and linen blends. Code S fabrics should be cleaned only with solvent-based cleaners while Code WS fabrics can be cleaned with either water based or solvent-based cleaners. In general, linen fabrics can handle both “alkaline detergents and dry cleaning solvents.”

However, particularly valuable, old or fragile linen upholstery should be taken to a professional cleaner who can choose the perfect products.

7. Can You Spray Scotchgard or Other Fabric Protectants on Linen?

Duck Egg Blue linen Buttoned armchair and Foot Stool

Those with pets or small children often choose to spray a fabric protector on their couches, sectionals and/or armchairs to prevent spills from ruining the upholstery.

Interviewing a number of cleaning experts in her article “How to Protect Fabric Furniture From Stains and Dirt” for The Strategist from The New York Times, Lori Keong notes that certain protectors are safe for linen.

Keong writes that “nearly all the experts [she] spoke to agree that the best way to minimize stains on fabric furniture is to pretreat it with an upholstery protector.” Many of the cleaning experts interviewed by Keong suggested Scotchgard, which is “‘totally safe to use on delicate fabrics such as silk and wool.’”

Most Code S and WS upholstery fabrics can be treated with Scotchgard protectors. According to the 3M website, “Scotchgard™ Fabric -Water Shield can be used on cotton, polyester, silk, wool, acrylic, nylon, and most other washable fabrics.” However, Scotchgard and other fabric protectors should not be used on suede, leather or other Code X fabrics that cannot be cleaned with solvent or water-based cleaners. 

How to Apply Fabric Protector to Your Linen Sofa or Armchair

To apply a fabric protector like Scotchgard, simply “spray the fabric protector on the couch from about six inches away until the entire surface area is covered.” Reapply once each year after having the sofa professionally cleaned. Some sofas come pre-treated with stain protectants while others are untreated. Check with your sofa’s manufacturer before applying a fresh coat.

Everything You Need to Know About Cleaning Linen Fabric

Vacuum First

Natural Linen Buttoned ottoman

Before spot cleaning linen fabric – whether it be sofa covers or upholstery – be sure to vacuum up any dust, pet hairs or debris.

Removing these bits ensures you will not loosen or otherwise damage fibres when cleaning stains with solvents or moisture. Lucy Searle explains how to vacuum linen upholstery in her article “How to clean upholstery – 3 steps to care for chairs and more furniture fabrics yourself” for RealHomes. 

Searle suggests first removing “any loose throw cushions” from your couch or armchair and shaking them “to knock out the dust.”

Next, use the upholstery brush attachment on your hand vac to “vacuum all the visible parts of the sofa seat and back cushions with a slow sweeping movement, working left-to-right.”

To avoid damaging delicate fibres, Searle recommends “setting the suction to low…if you’re working with silk or linen.”

Use Baby Wipes or a Damp Cloth for Minor Spills

Check the label on your couch or armchair before using either solvents or moisture. If the tag says using water or a mild detergent is okay, consider baby wipes or a damp cloth.

While a damp cloth seems fairly obvious, you might not have thought to use baby wipes. In their article “How to Clean Upholstered Furniture to Keep Your Sofa Looking Spotless” for Better Homes & Gardens, Berit Thorkelson and Jessica Bennett explain why baby wipes are a good idea.

Bennet and Thorkelson write that “baby wipes are surprisingly effective for quick DIY upholstery cleaning.” They are reportedly great for both natural and synthetic materials because they “offer a gentle mixture 

Thorkelson and Bennet recommend using baby wipes to spot clean “coffee drips and other spills.”

A white vinegar solution can also help remove coffee stains. If the stain remains, you can always follow up with a damp cloth. When cleaning with a damp cloth, gently dab with lukewarm or cold water.

Never rub stains with a coarse cloth or harsh cleaning solution as this can disturb the fibres and spread the stain. Always use a white cloth to ensure the colour of the cloth does not transfer to your couch. Using a white cloth will also help you see if the detergent is bleaching or lifting the dye from your couch before it is too late.

Pour Salt on Wine, Grease and Oil Stains

Another surprisingly stain removal method is to pour salt on wine, grease and/or oil. To remove stains left behind by grease or oil, sprinkle the salt and allow it to sit on the stain for a couple minutes. Dab with soapy water until the stain is gone. The process is fairly similar for wine spills. In her article “How to Clean Table Linens” for Town & Country, Jolie Kerr explains how to get rid of red wine stains. 

Kerr writes that “table salt will act as a desiccant when poured onto a fresh red wine spill.” Quickly pour “a liberal amount and make an anthill-style heap in the spot where the wine has spilled.” After the salt has absorbed the wine, “brush the salt away and treat any residual staining” with a damp cloth.

Consider an Enzymatic Cleaner for Food and Pet Stain Removal

For food or pet stains, consider an enzymatic cleaner. In her article “How to Protect Fabric Furniture From Stains and Dirt” for The Strategist from The New York Times, Lori Keong explains. Keong writes that “certain food and bodily-fluid stains, like chocolate, blood, and urine, require a more powerful product.” Enzymatic cleaners “use enzymes to eliminate organic matter in a stain,” which makes them perfect for households with pets. 

After applying the cleaner, place a fan next to the stain to speed up the drying process. This prevents the linen upholstery from wrinkling. If you are not sure whether an enzymatic cleaner is safe to use on your linen sofa, reach out to the manufacturer or call a dry cleaning professional.

Striped Linen Wingback armchair

Don’t DIY If Your Linen Sofa is Dyed

Navy linen 3 seater sofa

If your couch is coloured or the fabric is particularly delicate, try to avoid cleaning the sofa by yourself. If you do decide to spot clean a coloured couch, be sure to test any cleaning solution in a hidden area that will not show any damage before applying the solution to any stains. Do not use store bought stain removers on delicate or dyed linen upholstery, instead cleaning with a mild soap.

In an article for Romper
, Grace Gallagher explains that store-bought stain removers “are problematic for the average home user.” Quoting Joshua Hay of Sydney-based upholstery and carpet cleaning company Mega Clean, Gallagher elaborates. 

According to Hay, the problem with using a store-bought stain remover "'is the consumer sprays the harsh chemicals onto the fabric and does not have a reliable extraction tool to help flush out and dry what was sprayed on.” This is especially common with linen upholstery couches and armchairs – particularly when slipcovers cannot be removed.

Residue remains on fabrics that cannot be fully rinsed. This could “stain the fabric and potentially discolour and worsen the odour.” In some cases, leaving this residue behind could bleach the fabric and create a lighter patch on your couch cushion.

If you mark your linen furniture or it simply requires a freshen up, it can be done. Linen is a beautiful fabric for furniture, strong and luxurious and should not be shied away from for a relaxed and beautiful look in your home.  Keep your linen beautiful with frequent care and spot cleaning when required.  Looked after, linen upholstered furniture will keep a beautiful look for many years to come.


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