Linen is one of the oldest fabrics on the planet. We've been using it for clothing, bandages and bedding - you name it, we've made it. But it fell out of popular use, getting replaced by cotton. These days, it's associated with high end tablecloths, or light clothing. But there must be some benefit for something that is so versatile?
Now we have science and facts to back up some of the uses of linen. This research has lead us to do further R&D. This has generated new products, such as our comfort masks. It’s also revived old products that at one time, would have been in every household - fever blankets.
Linen is antibacterial
Nearly all flax linen has some ability to inhibit bacterial growth. In actual numbers, it caused a reduction of between 30% to 55% when tested on staphylococcus. This might be the rationale behind using it medically, but there are other benefits to this. Body odour is caused by bacteria. So a linen shirt should stay “fresher for longer”. For cleaning the kitchen, I’m sure you’ve seen adverts for antibacterial dish soap. They point out how much bacteria lives in sponges and dishcloths. A linen dishcloth would harbour less germs naturally, so it’s less of a worry.
There’s one time where this has been super noticeable for us in our daily use. It’s not as uncommon as we’d like, but it can happen that the dishes pile up in the sink (everyone does it!). So, when washing the dishes, we quickly run out of space on the draining board. As a quick fix, we started putting a dishcloth over a chopping board, and piling the dishes there while they dried. The cloth though, would start to stink (and we boil our kitchen towels to keep them as clean as we can). When the cloth started to smell, that weird damp smell, all the glasses and plates would, too. So we’d have to wash it all again. However, when it was a linen cloth, it just didn’t. They never smell. So, now we only use linen in the kitchen.
Linen can also withstand being boiled to sterilize it. Hold it under boiling water for 10 minutes with a wooden spoon (for safety). It’s as simple as that. There might be a little extra shrinkage the first couple of times, however.
It’s wicking and thermoregulating
When you’re too hot, you’ll sweat more. Biology 101, right? Linen will lift the perspiration away from your skin to prevent that gross clammy feeling. This also cools the fabric and in turn, cools you. When it’s cold? It holds onto the heat and traps the air to keep you warmer. This may seem a bit of an “every fabric does that” type of thing, but linen does it so much better.
For our face masks for example, a clammy face is not something anyone wants. Linen dries in the air pretty fast. It is relatively absorbent, but it doesn’t hold onto the moisture as much as other fibres. So as you breathe, any moisture buildup is wicked away from your skin, and evaporates away keeping you comfortable.
This feature on a blanket however, it’s perfect for the fluctuations in temperature in hot countries. When it’s colder in the depths of the night, it keeps you warm, but as it heats up with the sunrise, it balances your temperature so you don’t overheat. Goodbye disrupted sleeping, and relying on using an air conditioner all night! For fevers (and bad hangovers), it keeps you comfortable as your body goes through the confusion of not knowing if you’re too hot or too cold.
There’s very little fluff or lint
How do you feel about woollen sweaters? What about the fluff that gets in eyes, mouths, noses, and facial hair? I love woollen jumpers in winter, but I can’t stand the fluff. It’s like getting hair in your mouth. “Blegh!” Linen has almost none of the fluff as standard. Cotton can be fluffy or not depending on the weave. Linen just tends to be fluff-free. So obviously there’s benefits to this when being used for facemasks. But what about other applications?
Linen surpasses the competition when being used to dry things such as glass, when lint is very visible and unwanted. This is another reason it’s great in the kitchen. For medical purposes, it means less risk of fluff in wounds. Linen dressings were the norm before disposable alternatives took over. Less fluff, coupled with antibacterial properties, makes linen pretty well suited to medical use, too.
It’s durable and machine washable
Linen fibres get stronger when wet. So yes, it’s very machine washable. You can check out our wash instructions - we have a blog post on it for more detail. Because flax fibres are stronger when wet, when being washed, linen will sustain less damage than other fabrics. This is also why we weave linen in a very humid environment - to increase the tensile strength of the yarn.
The properties of linen combined, give it the ability to last much longer than other fabrics. One of the go-to examples of this is egyptian mummies. They were all wrapped in linen, and not only did it probably play a role in preserving the bodies, but it also lasted thousands of years in a tomb.
In Ireland (the home of the best linen, of course), a tablecloth or table-wear made of linen would have been given as a wedding present, or bought for a specific celebration, and it lasts generations. There are plenty of people that have unexplained linen items in their houses in Ireland. They’ve been handed down the generations and are still in good condition, not always because of good care, but also because linen can stick a lot of tough love.
For those with sensitives skin, or allergies to certain materials, linen is the best option. It doesn't cause allergic reactions. For asthma, for example, because it is both hypoallergenic and also is fluff-free, it's a great option for bedding. Along with its ability to thermoregulate, it can help those that suffer from allergies at night.
Linen is sustainable
Sustainability is a big thing for us. We take from the environment to create our products, not just materials, but also ideas and inspiration. In some fabric designs by the John England company, this is very clear. We want to live in a world where we try to give as much as we take. Luckily for us, linen is an incredibly sustainable fabric. It’s environmental footprint is very small, and it’s also biodegradable.
The fact that it lasts longer than other fabrics, it reduces our dependency on disposable alternatives. You'd have to buy a dozen cheap polycotton blankets, when you only need one linen blanket. It doesn’t age as fast, either.
So, basically, linen is the answer. Buy linen!