Does Linen Stretch? I Actually Tested The Fabric

Linen is the fabric for harsh summers. It is light, breathable, and extremely cool. But people often avoid buying linen because they have some misconceptions about this wonderful fabric. Believing that linen stretches is one such misconception.

Some people claim that linen shrinks, while others claim that linen stretches. Confused, I decided to do a few experiments to find out the answer.

So, does linen stretch?

Linen does not stretch. It might temporarily lose its shape and get shrunk if it is washed in hot water or dried at an extreme temperature. However, linen will never stretch as its fibers are very stiff.

To get to this conclusion, I decided to put on a scientist’s hat. I conducted a bunch of experiments on my three favorite linen garments and recorded the results.

The answers I got were pretty surprising.

Does Linen Stretch After Washing?

stretchy fabric

Linen usually does not stretch after being washed in cold water. In most cases, linen garments would shrink slightly for a small period of time after they are washed, and then they regain their original shape and size. This is called relaxation shrinkage.

Another benefit of washing linen is that it starts becoming softer and softer after every wash. This works great for certain garments like shirts, but terribly for more structured pieces such as blazers and sport coats.

It is possible that relaxation shrinkage may actually cause your linen clothes to stretch rather than returning back to their original shape. However, this is a very rare occurrence, and the stretch is not noticeable at all.

But a word of warning before you throw your favorite linen item in the wash; never wash linen in warm or hot water. This will definitely lead to a change in size; either shrinkage or stretching. Always wash linen garments in cold water. They can be both hand-washed and machine-washed.

Some linen garments, depending on the make and the quality, do not shrink at all in the washing machine.

The Experiment

To get to the above result, I put three of my linen garments, two shirts and a pair of trousers, into the wash. I took their measurements before washing as well as after washing.

I washed the Theory shirt and the Uniqlo pants in cold water, and the H&M linen button-down in warm water (not hot).

Comparing these two numbers gave me the “Change in Size” metric. This metric helped me ascertain if my linen garments had shrunk or stretched.

Here are the results of this little experiment, tabulated for your convenience.

Linen GarmentsChange in Size
Theory half-sleeved linen shirtShrunk, but got back to original size.
H&M linen button-downSlightly shrunk
Uniqlo Linen PantsNo change in size.
Results of washing linen garments.

Now, the results of the experiment are very clear.

No matter how you wash your linen, you can be certain that it is not going to stretch more than its current size. However, washing linen in warm water might lead to permanent shrinkage.

Does Linen Stretch In The Dryer?

To answer this question, I again decided to do some research.

I took the three different linen garments that I tested previously (which are made by popular brands such as Uniqlo, H&M, and Theory). These are all pieces that have had some wear, that is, they are not brand new. So keep that in mind.

I took their current measurements and then measured them once again after putting them in the dryer until they completely dried.

This would help me determine if there had been any change in the size of the garments post-tumble-drying because comparing the two measurements would give me the “Change in Size” metric.

This metric would help me decide if my linen had stretched or shrunk.

Linen GarmentsChange in Size
Uniqlo Linen PantsSlightly shrunk
Theory half-sleeved linen shirtSlightly shrunk
H&M linen button-downMajor shrinkage
Change in size of linen after drying.

As you can clearly see in the table, none of my linens stretched by any amount.

All of them shrunk, and the H&M one literally went from a medium to a small right in front of my eyes.

Through this experiment, I’ve come to a pretty thorough and well-researched conclusion.

You should never dry your linens in a dryer as that could lead to shrinkage. No matter the quality of your garments, linen is going to shrink in the dryer.

Does Linen Stretch When Worn?

Linen is not a stretchy fabric, and it does not stretch at all when worn.

Linen is known in the fashion world to be an extremely stiff fabric. It does not change its shape according to the wearer that some other fabrics (like wool) are prone to do. Now, this works great for formal clothing like sport coats and blazers, but not so much with casual shirts and trousers.

Linen does get softer after every wash, which can help with stretchiness and comfort, but it is the stiffness of this fabric that gives it its unique vibe.

Therefore, I always recommend people to buy linen garments true-to-size, that is, their actual size. Sizing up and down is usually a recipe for disaster.

Do Linen Blends Stretch?

Linen blends do not tend to stretch, but it usually depends on the material. Linen-cotton blends do not stretch or shrink in the wash. On the other hand, washing a linen-rayon blend in hot water will definitely lead to shrinkage.

The purpose of blends is to make the garment look and feel better (and make it less expensive). So when cotton is mixed with linen, the resulting garment gets the washability and durability of cotton along with the breathability of linen.

Blending linen and rayon together results in a perfect shirt for the summer that is extremely cool. However, both these fabrics are known to shrink if not washed properly. So soaking them in hot water is going to either stretch or shrink them in an irreversible way.

Final Remarks

Linen is known to be a difficult fabric to take care of. But after doing multiple tests and experiments, I realized that this is a big lie.

Most of the information you read online about cloth care is similar to an old wives’ tale. The writers read that information in a book somewhere, but what they don’t realize is that clothes manufacturing has changed extensively just in the past decade.

We’ve better technology now, and all that previous information is not of any use. Therefore, I like to base my conclusions on actual experiments rather than hearsay.