DRYING: How to Care for Vintage Linens & Lace

When last we talked about caring for vintage linens, we covered basic washing.  I suppose you could say I left you with clean, wet linens…  If you missed my tried-and-true washing tips, you can read them HERE.

Today let’s talk about the two basic ways to get those wet linens dry:
heat and air


When it comes to vintage linens and lace, air is by far the preferred method.

If you’re blessed to have a clothesline, use it.  There’s something quaint and relaxing about vintage linens blowing in the breeze…
Laundry Clothesline - 4
If your linens are small pieces, you can use a drying rack; there are many different styles … both new and old.  Some are portable and can be used outside where dripping water isn’t a problem.  Others are interior styles and are mounted to a wall; the water drips over a sink or countertop.  (You might want to put a towel on top of the counter to keep the drips from splashing everywhere.)

Tip: It’s hard to see in this picture, but I added clear plastic tubing to the dowels to ensure that no staining would occur from contact with the painted wood.  It may not have been necessary, but I’ve had occasional problems with wood drying racks in the past, and I didn’t want to chance it.  I’m not into removing stains twice!

Small items can also be draped over the edge of a sink or tub so the water can run down the drain.  It doesn’t get much simpler than that!
Another way to air-dry linens is crofting… otherwise known as “laying them out on the grass.”  I was familiar with the concept – but not the term “crofting” – until recently, but it’s been around a really long time and is a fascinating part of textile history.  Click on the link to read about it if you like.  Crofting is often a great way to dry large items when you don’t have a clothesline.  Some people use this method a lot; I rarely do.  The last time I used the crofting method, I had such problems with birds flying over and creating stains that I swore I’d never try it again.  I’ll spare you the pics.  You’re welcome.  It wasn’t pretty … 
Because crofting is often used to naturally bleach fabrics (I’ll cover that in our stain removal part of this series), you want to take two precautions when using this option for drying your colored linens:

  1. Printed linens should be laid on the grass face down to discourage fading of the colors.
  2. Leave linens outside only long enough to get them dry (or, if possible, take them inside when slightly damp and spread them out to finish drying).




Now for the million dollar question some of you have been dying to ask…

Is it okay to put my vintage linens in the dryer?

You will meet some linen collectors who say it is absolutely never.ever.Ever.EVER okay.  Others will tell you that air drying is highly preferred because it increases the life of the fabric … but – with proper care – machine drying is sometimes okay.
So where do I come down on the subject?  I fall into the latter category; I’m not a purist.  I appreciate and respect my vintage linens, but I also enjoy them and don’t let them rule me – or my time.  If, like me, you’re open to using a dryer on occasion, let me offer a few basic guidelines.
As a rule, if the pieces you’re laundering are delicate (think hand-made laces, fringes, thin/lightweight fabrics like organdy) or have really ornate embroidery (and therefore challenging to iron), don’t even consider putting them in a dryer.
Personally, after much trial and a few errors, I wouldn’t put any of these types of linens in the dryer…

These, on the other hand, would never cause me a moment of hesitation.  The fabric is sturdy … and the embroidery is tight.

If you choose to use a dryer, it’s very important to remember that, over time, excessive heat can cause a fabric’s fibers to break down.  In order to decrease the risk of that happening, there are two things you should do:

  1. Dry on a warm or permanent press setting … never on hot.  For small, lightweight pieces, you might even use the “air” setting if your dryer has one.  The simple motion of tumbling will dry them fairly quickly.
  2. Ideally, remove the linens before they’re entirely dry; spread them out to finish cooling/drying.  Fold or hang immediately.  Linens dried completely and left in the dryer to cool will wrinkle horribly.  Do wrinkles really matter if you’re going to iron the piece anyway?  Yes!  In fact, next time, when we talk about ironing, I’ll show you just how much.

Tip: After washing, some items need to be reshaped by hand, and that’s much easier to do before drying.  Lay them on a flat surface Even pieces that are going to be machine dried can benefit from a quick reshaping while adding to the dryer.
If there’s something I haven’t covered here that you’re wondering about, PLEASE leave a comment and ask me!  Someone else may have the same question…

Next time we’ll talk about ironing. In the meantime, have a great week!
I’m linking to Inspiration Friday at At The Picket Fence.


  1. I think this is wonderful to give this information so that those who have never dealt with old linens know what to do. AND pretty pictures, too. Blessings- xo Diana

  2. Good tips. I hadn’t heard the term crofting either. One of the items that I sometimes wish that we had kept from Nana’s home was an absolutely giant…HUGE mangle. That said, on the days when I want to meditate or just let my Ming completely veg out, I actually enjoy ironing a hundred or so napkins and a handful of tablecloths. I adore the aroma of freshly ironed linens…it’s the smell of home and security. Cherry Kay

  3. For Pete sake…Ming should have been mind. Cherry Kay

  4. I am EATING UP your vintage linen washing/drying/ironing instructions. I get paralyzed with fear when dealing with old linens, and I love them so much that I need to overcome that!
    PS Cherry, who posted above and loves to iron? Could you send her to my house? Please? I’ll feed her if she’ll iron!