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Living With White Textiles and Linens: Q&A

(This post has been contributed to. You can learn more about my sponsored and contributed posts in my disclaimer.)

If the last few years of interior design trends can be described in a single word, that word would probably be “white”. While “Scandi” undoubtedly gives “white” a run for its money, most Scandi-style involves large amounts of white, so it seems fair to award white the crown.

White has been the interior design staple for years now. The color (or lack of color) has conquered the interiors world, quite unlike anything has ever managed before. It’s impossible to browse through images of stylish homes these days without seeing an abundance of white; it’s on the walls, the furniture, and – most importantly for what we shall be discussing – the textiles.

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Is white hard to live with?

For those who have not yet jumped on the “all white, all the time” bandwagon, their immediate response to this trend is to question how feasible white furnishings are. White, after all, holds no prisoners; if a speck of dust lands on it, one naturally assumes that this will be apparent for all to see. Surely white is difficult to keep clean?

For some items, that’s simply not the case. White furniture, for example, is just about as simple to maintain as furniture of any color. One of the major advantages of white furniture is that it tends to have a matte finish, which helps to disguise dust and dirt. Shinier items of white furniture are difficult to maintain, but only in the same way that glass furniture pieces are.

As for white walls, yes, they require maintenance– but in truth, so does every wall color. White is not special, or different, in this regard. There’s no wall color on this earth that can disguise handprints, mess, or just signs of people walking past it on a daily basis; dark colors are just as likely to suffer from the issue. So while white walls do need to be maintained, and may perhaps need to be recoated more often, they’re no trickier than average.

There is, however, an area in which white is difficult to maintain: textiles and linens.

Why are textiles and linens so difficult to maintain?

White textiles and linens look fantastic, but there’s no doubt they require extra work when compared to other colors. There are a few reasons for this:

The white itself shows up any mark of dust, dirt, or lint. This problem is less obvious on textured textiles (such as a fluffy white rug) but is still an issue.

White has to be very white to look good. It has to be pristine, crisp, as close to its hex code as possible. Maintaining this crispness in textiles and linens can feel like an uphill battle.

The reason for this is the material. Textiles are naturally porous, and they don’t have the multiple layers of paint that walls and furniture can use to prevent the process of color degradation. With textiles, the color is relying on a few layers to produce that “true” white color– and, in time, this tends to become problematic.

Why do white textiles and linens degrade?

There are many reasons why white textiles and linens are prone to degrading. If you are experiencing this issue, then the following may be the cause of your woes:

The washing process

Washing is tough on fabrics in general, but particularly tough on white, which tends to need a closer “true” color to look good. If you lay a red tablecloth on your table, then the shade of red doesn’t truly matter; if it loses pigment during the washing process, it’s just a lighter shade of red.

However, if you lay a white tablecloth on that same table, it can only be one color to truly look good: brilliant white. If the pigment moves from this brilliant status, the tablecloth is no longer white– it’s cream or ivory. These are nice enough colors, but if you want a white tablecloth, then they’re not what you’re looking for.

Repeated washing of white textiles and linens tends to lead to the color fading, which – as explained above, in white’s case – means that the color is changing.

Sunlight

We all love sunlight; the way it makes us feel, the boost to our Vitamin D, how it illuminates our homes and somehow makes them look bigger, brighter, and all-around better.

However, sunlight does have a downside: it can cause white textiles and linens to degrade at a frightening pace. The UV rays from sunlight tend to cause white textiles and linens to turn a dirty shade of yellow; worse still, the damage is often permanent. This is particularly problematic for items like white curtains, or rugs that are displayed in the center of a room and thus receive a lot of light.

Continued use

Finally, the reason that your white textiles and linens degrade is use. Of course, all colors degrade, but as discussed above, white is far more noticeable when it begins to lose its as-new luster. The bright white cushion you bought will, in a few short weeks, begin to resemble a light cream cushion– and there’s very little you can do to bring it back.

The above conclusion may lead you to wonder…

Is there no point in having white textiles and linens, then?

It’s natural to wonder this; if white textiles are going to be so problematic, should you just abandon your plans and embrace a world of more color?

Not necessarily; but you are going to have to change your habits. When it comes to white textiles, you don’t just have to focus on cleaning them, as you do with other colors– you have to also focus on preserving them. The better you treat a white fabric or textile, the longer it will last.

How can white textiles and linens be preserved?

The first preservation method is an obvious one: avoid the sunlight. Your white textiles should be vampiric; kept far away from direct sunlight. This can be difficult with cushions, rugs, and especially curtains, but it’s an essential step if you don’t want to have to replace your furnishings on a constant basis. You can tuck curtains away from the window during the day; hide cushions until the midday sun has passed, and roll rugs to protect them from damage.

Of course, there’s no denying this does somewhat ruin the aesthetic. This won’t matter so much if you’re doing it during the day when you’re at work, but what if you want to enjoy the room and protect it from sunlight?

By far the best option is to use UV filtering film on your windows. This film is nearly invisible to the naked eye, but it provides all the protection that you need to keep your white looking bright.

Aside from sunlight, the biggest problem facing your whites is the washing process. We’re all well aware of how we should separate white laundry from colors, but this alone is not a strong enough step to help preserve the strength of the white pigment.

You need to ensure you take the relevant steps to protect the fabric. This is best done with a very gentle washing process, which should include elements of the following:

  • An all-natural cleaner such as Better Life, which contains far fewer synthetic ingredients that can cause damage to the fabric. With Better Life and similar products, your whites should last for a lot longer thanks to the absence of overly-strong chemicals that may damage the fabric.
  • Wash your whites at a low temperature to help preserve the quality of the fabric. Fabric suffers more at high washing temperatures, which is obviously an issue you are expressly trying to avoid.
  • Don’t use your dryer on white fabrics. Dryers are generally bad for fabric anyway, but they are particularly ruinous for white, so you should air dry wherever possible. However, due to the UV issues mentioned above, it’s inadvisable to dry your whites in direct sunlight– choose a shaded spot in your garden and let the wind do the bulk of the work for you.

Should you use bleach on white textiles and linens?

This is something of a controversial one. There are pros and cons to using bleach on white textiles:

PRO: It will work

Bleach, well, bleaches the color from anything it comes into contact with. That means that it will indeed give your white textiles the boost that they need.

CON: It will damage the fabric

As we have discussed a few times now, properly maintaining white textiles is all about protecting the thin layers of fabric; the layers that, if compromised, can cause the white to lose its colors. Bleaching is a harsh process, and it will inevitably damage the fabric.

So it’s fair to say that while bleach is effective, it has substantial downsides. However, it may be a good course of action; if you don’t intend to keep a piece for much longer, then bleaching is a good choice. For example, if you know you’re going to have to replace your white tablecloth soon anyway, using bleach on it for one final dinner party is a decent option for an instant improvement.

To conclude

The above should help you live with white textiles and linens, helping to capture one of the key interior design trends of the last decade and preserve it, too.

Living with White Textiles and Linens: Q&A - The Southern Smiths: Is it doable?

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