How to Care for Table Linens

November 27, 2017
Decorative Table

After a special holiday feast or dinner, how do you care for your table linens? Here are five simple tips to keep your table linens looking their best.

To judge from the number of fine table linens offered at thrift shops and yard sales, using them may be a dying art. But like many good things in life, their use is due for a revival. Old linens are treasures: firm, close-woven, and pure. Handling them gives you a sense of the energy and strength of the women who wove them and “soured” them with buttermilk to make them purely white.

Old-time tablecloths, often called “board cloths,” were made from holland, huckaback, osnaburg, or lockram—all comparatively coarse materials—or of fine damask, some trimmed with lace. Before built-in closets, our foremothers kept linens in capacious chests, tucked in with sprigs of lavender.

Today, here is advice to care for your table linens.

  1. Linens needn’t be ironed immediately after use. Do wash them, but to preserve the fiber and color, put them away until you plan to use them again. Never tumble-dry linen as this can over-dry the fibers and makes ironing more difficult. Linen naturally dries quickly. Just spin and line dry.
  2. When you wash linen, just avoid using any whitening detergents or bleach. This will change the subtle natural white linen damask. If you use professional launders, check that they will not use whiteners; there is nothing worse for natural fiber.
  3. Whenever possible, store linen articles without folding. Linen tablecloths store best rolled.
  4. When you iron before use, there’s usually no need to use starch except perhaps for the finest linens, for linen has built-in crispness. If the linen has already dried out before ironing, use a water spray to re-dampen it. A good steam iron will work best on linen. Iron first on the underside of the tablecloth to eliminate creases, then on the right side to enhance the fabric’s natural sheen. 
  5. Or, follow the advice of one veteran table-linen lover: Secure a long, wooden dowel to the basement ceiling and drape freshly ironed tablecloths over it; cover these with plastic bags, and when you need one, simply take it down and spread it out on the table.

Wondering how to remove stains such as wine spills? See our article on stain removal.

Also, here is how to fold your napkins for the holidays or any special dinner.

Reader Comments

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Old linens

Have wondered how to care for my mother's old linens. Colors have darkened and want to bring them "back to life" but was afraid I'd ruin them w/out proper instruction. Help?

Caring for linens

After reading this article, I have no question why fine linens have gone out of style!

How can I protect old family

How can I protect old family table linen from being permanently stained by the likes of wine or gravy, etc.?