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Can You Bleach Linen Fabric White?

white linen

Linen gets stained just like other fabric but needs to be treated with care. Find out if you can bleach white linen clothes and fabric without ruining it.

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I recently acquired 2 pieces of cotton/linen and wish to bleach them.  I would describe them as being medium weight. They measure 60 inches by 90 inches.
Can I bleach them in my washing machine?  Also, does it help to thoroughly wet the fabric before placing it in the washing machine?


It sounds like you have an interesting project!  Are you trying to improve the dingy appearance of older fabric, or are you trying to remove color?  You can definitely bleach large pieces of cotton/linen fabric in a clothes washer—it’s a lot like washing a very large tablecloth.  If I were doing something like this myself, I probably would proceed a little differently than what’s in the video, which is for your basic every day load of white laundry.  You didn’t say what type of clothes washer you have, so I’ll address two options.

Traditional top loading deep-fill model with central agitator

Start with an empty washer.  Select the “large” load size and the “delicate” cycle, and then start the washer to fill with hot water. When it finishes filling, raise the lid (this usually stops the machine from agitating) and add the bleach.  For basic whitening, add ½ cup Clorox® Regular Bleach2; to strip color, use more.  Close the lid so the machine agitates for a few seconds to mix the bleach, and then open the lid again.  Now you can add the fabric.  To do this, bunch the fabric together in a big loose wad and then slowly ease the bunched fabric into the washer.  Add the second piece of fabric in the same way, putting it in the washer across the agitator from the first piece.  Ideally you can do both pieces of fabric together to balance out the washer, but if they are different colors then you will need to do them separately.  Be careful when adding the fabric to not wrap it around the central agitator!  When the fabric has been added to the washer, clothes the lid to restart the washer and let it run to completion.

For a top loader, I like a delicate cycle because the agitation speed is lower, which can help keep the fabric from getting tangled around the agitator.  I don’t think it’s necessary to pre-wet the fabric before adding it to a top loader.

Front loading high-efficiency model

Begin with an empty washer.  Select the hot water temperature and a delicate cycle and start the washer so it starts filling.  When the washer stops filling (you should hear the water shut off), stop the washer.  You may have to wait a minute or two for the door to unlock.  Once you can access the washer, open the door and add ½ cup Clorox® Regular Bleach2.  Close the door and restart the washer to mix the bleach and water for a few seconds, and then stop the washer again.  Now you can add the fabric, which you actually do want to pre-wet.  Bunch the wet fabric together in a big wad and then drop the bunched fabric into the water in the bottom of the washer.  Add the second piece of fabric on top of the first, pushing them down so they are submerged.  Now close the door and re-start the washer.  Let it run for about 5 minutes, and then stop the washer again.  Advance the dial to the end of the wash cycle and restart the washer so the machine can drain and begin the first rinse.

For a front-loader, I like the delicate cycle because the spin speed is lower.  This makes it less likely that a single large piece of fabric will throw the washer out of balance during the spin cycle.  How easy it will be to manually advance the washer cycle to the end of the wash after 5 minutes depends the type of washer.  If you want to share more information on the type of washer you have, I may be able to provide more tips.

You didn’t ask about detergent.  You certainly can add a little laundry detergent along with the bleach if you want.  It really depends on what your goal for bleaching the fabric is.  I hope this is helpful.  Please let me know if you have any other questions, and thanks for writing!

–Dr. Laundry