White linen makes for an airy and crisp curtain, yet time, sunlight and dirt can cause the fabric to yellow. Reverse the yellowing process and whiten your linen curtains with just a few tweaks to your laundry routine. Manufacturers of modern linen often recommend dry cleaning, yet with a gentle washing method and care when drying, you can whiten them at home.
Vacuum the curtains thoroughly while they’re hanging to remove excess dust and dirt, making it easier to determine if the linen curtains are really discolored or just dirty. Use a dust brush or upholstery vacuum attachment with soft bristles and hold the curtain taut as you work, moving quickly in small sections from top to bottom. Remove the curtains from the rod or clips when you’re finished if you still feel that whitening is necessary.
Stubborn stains hold up to even the best detergent or whitening product, so pre-treat the fabric first. Lay the curtains on a large, flat surface in a well-lit area such as your kitchen floor. Mix a mild detergent with water and apply it to any visible stains. If you’re working with older antique linen curtains or difficult stains, apply an oxygen-based bleach pen or a paste of powdered dishwashing detergent and water. Let this treatment sit for as long as you can, at least an hour.
For thicker linen curtains, a mild laundry detergent, oxygen-based bleach, cold water and the delicate cycle on your washer are all you need to whiten them. Do not use standard household bleach; when it reacts with linen, a yellow hue develops. For older or more delicate fabrics, use your tub instead of your washing machine. Fill it with water and add a whitening detergent meant for antique linens or an oxygen-based bleach. Let the curtains soak overnight and then drain the tub, refilling it with clean water. Add a cup of white distilled vinegar to halt the bleaching process, let this soak for a few minutes, and rinse. Refill the tub with clean water once more to wash away any residue.
Drying to Whiten
If you’re happy with your curtains after pre-treating and washing them, lay them flat to dry or put them in your dryer. Remove the curtains when they're still damp to prevent shrinkage. Further the whitening process and lay the curtains flat in a sunny area outside to dry. The sun will continue to bleach the fabric, resulting in crisp, vibrant white linen curtains.
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