How to Soften Your Linen Sheets
A few washing cycles should do the trick.
You spend a lot of time wrapped up in your favorite linen sheets, so you want them to be as soft as possible. Unfortunately, some linen sheets—especially when it's a new set—feel more crisp than cozy, which might have you guessing at ways to soften them up. To help you do so, we spoke with two experts to find out why some linen sheets occasionally feel scratchy, and what you can do to make them smooth and soft as can be in no time.
Linen comes from flax, which is a bast fiber. "Bast fibers are typically coarse natural fibers, meaning they aren't going to be super soft initially," says Sarah Wang, the head of research and development with Tricol-Everplush. "[For context], with the exception of linen, bast fibers are typically used for rugs, ropes, and other applications where strength and durability are key." However, with regular washing, linen sheets will become softer over time, she says.
Wash, Dry, Repeat
Newly-purchased linen sheets can feel stiff due to chemical residues from the manufacturing process, says Jolene Crawford, the founder Irregular Sleep Pattern. The trick, then, is to remove these. "Before your first use, put them through a warm cycle, accompanied with a cup of baking soda and no detergent," she says. If that doesn't do it, run them through an extra cold rinse with a cup of white vinegar.
Though there are ways to soften linen sheets, purchasing bedding that is already soft is the best course of action. If you're shopping online, it can be difficult to judge how cozy your new linens will be, so you'll need to ascertain the set's softness level from the label alone. "There are some great linen blends in the marketplace that combine linen and cotton," Wang says. "The more cotton, the softer the hand-feel." There's another bonus to the blend route, as well: Linen sheets can be very expensive, so sourcing a blended iteration is a great way to experience linen on a budget, while still getting a quality product.
And if you are shopping in-store? Don't assume that what you feel is what you're going to get. "Usually, retailers add a softener to the sheets, so they feel soft when you touch them in a store," Wang says. "After three to five washings, those softeners will disappear, and you'll know exactly how the sheet will feel against your skin." A better way to shop for a premium linen sheet set, or a linen blend, is to check and see if the length of the cotton staple fiber is listed, she notes: "The longer the fiber, the softer the sheet will feel (and the less lint and pilling you'll see on the product over time)."
Too-High Thread Count
While a high thread count used to be a reliable way to judge a linen sheet's softness, Wang says you should be wary of anything over 400. "It's one of the great marketing tricks in the bedding industry that high thread counts indicate better quality," she says. "High thread count sheets can actually deteriorate faster because of the threads' friction." Plus, a number over 400 is likely inflated—some companies count the individual plies used to twist the yarns together, she says, which results in a high (and inaccurate) number.