Is Linen an Eco-Friendly Fabric?

Linen bedding and pillows

If like me, you want to live a greener lifestyle that’s easier on the planet then you’re going to want to check out linen for its awesome environmentally-friendly properties. I wanted to know if linen was as “green” a choice as I’ve heard and here’s what I found.

Linen is the most environmentally-friendly fabric choice you can make.

  1. All parts of the flax plant can be used.
  2. Growing flax to make linen is less water and chemical-intensive than growing cotton.
  3. Flax absorbs CO2 and fights greenhouse gas buildup.
  4. Relatively little energy is needed to process flax.
  5. Linen is very strong and lasts for years.
  6. Untreated linen is biodegradable and recyclable.

But that just scratches the surface of all the ways that linen is such an awesome and eco-friendly fabric.

Flax Plant

What Makes Linen Such a Green Choice?

Linen is made from the flax plant and all parts of the flax plant can be utilized. So there is potentially very little waste. The stems are where the fiber that can be processed and woven into linen comes from.

The seeds can be eaten and they have many health benefits because they are high in the Omega-3 fatty acid called ALA, lignans, and fiber. Flax seeds are also used to make linseed oil which is used as a preservative for wood and is used in making in paints, varnishes, and stains.

Flax is a pretty “easy on the Earth” kind of plant. Flax can be grown on land that isn’t suitable for other crops. In comparison to the cotton plant, flax requires much less water to grow. Cotton often needs to be irrigated while flax can grow with only normal amounts of rainwater. Flax can grow in poorer soil and requires less fertilization. Plus because it has few “enemies” of the insect variety it needs fewer pesticides.

Flax can help us stop climate change. Flax absolutely gobbles up Carbon Dioxide. According to Liebco a Belgian Linen company, “flax plants on one hectare absorb more than a 3,7 metric tons of carbon dioxide and convert it into oxygen.” If you aren’t sure how big a hectare is it’s just a bit smaller than 2.5 acres. So that’s a good amount of carbon dioxide absorption per acre!

Turning flax into linen doesn’t require a lot of energy. The process of turning the raw material into linen fabric is less energy-intensive than turning raw cotton into fabric.

Linen lasts and lasts! Because the fibers are so strong, 30% stronger than cotton, in fact, fabric made from linen can last a lot longer than cotton fabrics. So those linen sheets you splurged on will serve you well for years and years to come.

The other great thing about the strength of flax fiber is that because of that strength it doesn’t need as much starching during the spinning and weaving process. So again, fewer chemicals, win win!

Linen is biodegradable and recyclable. If you manage to wear out your linen shirt, or linen sheets, never fear. It’s biodegradable and recyclable. If your linen is organic you can recycle it or even compost it. Recycled linen is used in making paper and some types of car insulation.

The one thing to beware of, particularly if you are composting linen, is whether or not your linen was made with chemicals or chemical dyes. You probably don’t want that in your compost pile.

It’s so Versatile

Great for warm climates. Linen breathes and keeps you cooler than cotton. Linen is great at absorbing moisture, yes, even sweat. And, it is doubly useful because it doesn’t allow bacteria to build up. This is because linen wicks away the moisture and then dries so quickly that it doesn’t give the bacteria time to grow.

Linen is a great choice for clothing including shirts, pants, skirts, suits, you name it. It’s also wonderful for household goods like curtains, sheets, table cloths, and upholstery.

A great plus in regard to linen sheets is the aforementioned fact that they don’t hold bacteria so you’ll end up with fewer dust mites even without washing your sheets as often.

Linen has been used to make the finest papers. They even use linen to make dollar bills because it allows the bills to have more flexibility and strength.

Flax Bundles
Flax Bouquets

Linen is Cruelty Free

As much as I love a good wool or alpaca sweater (and I do!) I am concerned about whether or not the wool is “harvested” in a humane way. Not all sheep farms shear their sheep humanely. I won’t go into detail, but on a huge sheep ranch, when the shearers are in a hurry and need to shear a lot of sheep in a short amount of time, it’s not exactly a trip to the spa for the sheep.

On the contrary, the process can be downright cruel and leave the sheep, bleeding, injured and traumatized. So if you want clothing or furnishings made of wool or other animal fibers, you might want to be picky and make that you are choosing sources that treat their animals well.

Having said that, the water and feed it takes to raise animals to provide fibers for textiles makes those fibers less eco-friendly than fibers that we can grow directly from the soil like linen.

How to Choose Your Linen

  • Always look for organic linen.
  • Linen made in China often has more chemicals used in its growth and production than linen made in Western Europe or Japan. So look for linen sourced from those areas.
  • For the greenest choice choose unbleached and undyed linen. The bleaches and dyes sometimes used in the manufacturing process are less environmentally friendly for sure. Natural linen comes in a variety of shades including creamy ivory, ecru, tan and gray.

Cons of Linen

There are few drawbacks when it comes to linen, and you probably are already aware of them. Linen clothing and furnishings tend to be more expensive than clothes or furnishings made from other fabrics. And that can be a definite problem.

You want to choose the greener fabric, but if you can’t afford to, then you can’t afford to. So like anything else you might work on switching over one small piece at a time. Ask for gift certificates for your birthday or the holidays to be able to buy those 100% organic linen sheets you’ve always wanted. They’ll last you for years even decades to come.

The other drawback of linen is that it wrinkles so easily! But that’s kind of one of the givens of linen and can actually add to the look – as long as you don’t look like you wore your linen clothes to bed.

How to Care Linen

Dry clean only?!? Not necessary. Not unless you’re talking about a suit. For linen shirts and pants, etc. you can do a gentle wash in cold water with a mild detergent. They even have detergents specifically made for washing linen.

Never dry linen on high heat. Like cotton, linen will shrink. For your linen clothing items its best to smooth them out and lay them flat to dry. (Drying linen on hangers will leave unsightly hanger marks.) For sheets, you can tumble dry on low heat or air dry.

What about ironing? You can iron linen if you want to get rid of some of the wrinkles. It’s best to iron when still damp using a medium to high setting and spend just enough time ironing to smooth the fabric. If your fabric is still damp after you smooth it no worries. It will dry the rest of the way very quickly. If you decide to iron when the fabric is already dry just mist it with a little water before you start to help ease out the wrinkles.

If you want to make sure your linen slacks stay as wrinkle-free as possible throughout the day you might consider using a little bit of spray starch when you iron.

The Verdict

Linen is an amazingly versatile and environmentally friendly fabric that is long-lasting and beautiful! It’s a great green choice!

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