Is Linen/Flax Eco Friendly & Sustainable For Fibres, Fabric & Textiles?

We’ve already put together guides about some of the most eco friendly fibres and fabrics, and the least eco friendly fibres and fabrics.

In this short guide, we look at how sustainable and eco friendly Linen might be according to different measures.


Summary – How Sustainable & Eco Friendly Is Linen/Flax For Fibres, Fabric & Textiles?

Sustainability & Eco Friendliness

– Potential Benefits

Flax a natural and renewable plant

Flax may have a reasonable yield in some instances on a per acre or per hectare basis

Most of the flax plant can be reasonably well used

Flax may be able to grow with little to no irrigation in some climates and regions

Flax may have a similar carbon footprint to hemp, and a lower carbon footprint than jute

Flax may use little to no pesticides and synthetic fertilizers in some instances

Flax may be good for soil quality as a break crop, and good for reducing soil depletion as a rotation crop

Linen production may use less water, and also less energy than cotton and some synthetic fibres

Flax plant retting can use natural retting, which may be more sustainable and eco friendly than chemical retting

Linen processing that involves hand or machine manufacturing (for activities like retting and spinning) might be more sustainable and eco friendly than some rayons and regenerated fibres that are heavy in chemical use

Finished linen can be biodegradable depending on how it’s made and finished, considering that flax is a natural fibre. Linen may be more biodegradable than cotton in some instances

Organic flax and linen is available, and there are traceability and certification standards available as well mentions that Belgian linen may be eco friendly in noteworthy ways: ‘Belgian linen has eco friendly advantages such as reduced waste, zero irrigation, and so on’

Some sources indicate that 100% organic flax linen along with GOTS certified organic cotton might be some of the most sustainable fabrics with some of the best features


– Potential Drawbacks

Flax may have a lower yield per acre or hectare than other fibre crops like hemp in some instances

In some instances, flax may use synthetic pesticides and fertilizers to help with production and yield

Some sources indicate that flex cultivation can involve tilling that contributes to land and soil erosion.

Chemicals may be used to chemically ret fibres from the flax plant during fibre production

Chemicals may be used to bleach linen fabric. Pure white linen uses heavy bleaching.

Chemicals can be used to further finish linen products


Practical Considerations

The process of spinning and weaving flax fibres to make linen may be slower, less productive and more expensive in comparison to the same stage for cotton.

Hand manufacturing can be cost, time and resource intensive, especially compared to some other fibres like cotton

Two types of flax fibres can be used for both coarser fabric (shorter fibres), and finer linen (longer fibres)

Linen as a fabric has it’s own set of traits that differentiate it from other fabrics

Linen may not have as many uses as a fibre like cotton because it can crinkle and scrunch easily – this may limit it’s versatility and practicality of use. Linn may be more of a niche fabrics, and flax isn’t produced in the quantity that cotton is either 


Economic Considerations

The flax industry is worth hundreds of million of dollars annually



What About The Eco Friendliness & Sustainability Of Other Fibres & Fabrics?

We’ve put together guides about some of the most eco friendly fibres and fabrics, and the least eco friendly fibres and fabrics.

These guides may provide further insight on how flax/linen compares to other fibres too.


Other Factors That Might Impact The Sustainability Or Eco Friendliness Of Fibres

This guide outlines some more of the factors that contribute to how sustainable and eco friendly different fibres and fabrics might be.


*This Guide Is A Generalisation Only

The stages of flax growing and linen production that are variables in sustainability might be growing (conditions, climates, soils, farming technology, farming methods), harvesting by hand or by machine, retting naturally or chemical retting, spinning and weaving, and then finishing or bleaching the linen. There’s also usage and disposal to consider.

This is especially true between different producers, and between the developed and developing world countries.


What Is Linen, & What Is Flax?

Flax (also known as common flax or linseed) is a plant.

Linen is a fabric made from spun fibers from the stalks of flax plants (specifically the flax variety and not the linseed variety flax plant).


Types Of Flax Plants

There are two distinct and main types of flax plants


… [there is the] linseed variety (grown for linseed oil) which is shorter

… and [there is] the flax variety (grown for flax fiber) which is taller with less branches

–, and


Types Of Linen lists the different types of linen, such as Damask Linen, Plain-woven Linen, Loosely-woven Linen, and Sheeting Linen.

A further variable in these types of Linen is the weaving technique used.

All linens come from two different types of fibres.


Linen is a bast fiber.

There are two varieties: shorter tow fibers used for coarser fabrics and longer line fibers used for finer fabrics.



Production Of Linen/Flax

Current data suggests that flax fibres make up a much smaller share of all fibre production compared to other fibres like cotton and polyester.

Canada, along with China, the US, Russia and India are some of the largest producers of flax.

But, the best quality and finest linen is produced in specific regions of the world, such as Belgium, Ireland, and countries in the European Union.


% Of Total Fibre Production

You can read more about the production share of linen/flax compared to other fibres in this guide. indicates: ‘Flax is a rare product which represents less than 1% of all textile fibers consumed worldwide’


Countries That Grow & Produce The Most Linen/Flax

Flax is grown in many parts of the world, but top quality flax is primarily grown in Western European countries and Ukraine.

In recent years bulk linen production has moved to Eastern Europe and China, but high quality fabrics are still confined to niche producers in [different countries]

High quality linen fabrics are now produced in the United States for the upholstery market and in Belgium. 

Russia is currently the major flax cultivating nation.



Canada, Russia, Ukraine, France, Argentina, Italy, Germany, UK, Holland and Belgium are the top producing countries of flax (


A study in 2014 indicated that the total flax production all over the world is almost 2.65 million tonnes annually

The top flax producing countries in the world by production in tonnes are:

Canada – 872,000 (production in tonnes)

Kazakhstan – 419,957

China – 387,088

Russia – 365,088

USA – 161,750

India – 141, 000

[France, the Ukraine, Argentina, and Italy are the other countries, in order, behind India]



80% of the world’s production of scutched flax fibers are originated from Europe, and France is the world leader (


Flax is perhaps most widely cultivated in Russia and China, though the fibers tend to be of poorer quality than their European counterparts (


Where The Finest & Best Quality Linen Is Manufactured

Belgium, Ireland and parts of Europe might produce or manufacture the finest and best quality linen.


The best quality linen is retted in slow-moving natural water sources such as streams and rivers. 

The highest quality linen in the world is retted in Belgium in the River Lys

Irish linen is the best known and most valuable, though most of the flax used for manufacturing is grown elsewhere and imported into the country for processing

European linens are the next finest, with the French producing the whitest and most delicate of textiles.

Scotch linen is generally considered of medium quality, and German linen quality ranges from good to poor.



What Is Linen Used For? lists a range of products that linen can be used in


How Is Linen Made/Manufactured From Flax Fibres?

Linen has a fibre production/processing stage similar to other natural fibres where the fibre is spun after being separated from the plant.

It does not use chemical processing in the same way that rayon or a regenerated fibre does.

For manufacturing, machine manufacturing might be more common than hand manufacturing because it is more efficient in terms of time, cost and resource investment.


The General Process

From harvesting to fibre production, the general process might be:

– The flax plants are grown and harvested

– The fiber is separated from the flax plant with retting

– The flax is then dressed, spun and the linen yarn is weaved – and linen is made.

You can read more about growing flax, and the manufacturing process of linen from flax fibres in the listed resource, and also the listed resource


Machine Manufacturing vs Hand Manufacturing

Some sources indicate that machines manufacture a lot of linen these days, but the finest linens are still hand manufactured.


Compared To Other Fibres

According to, linen manufacturing is much more time and resource intensive than cotton manufacturing, and also more expensive, and this has impacted linen’s popularity compared to cotton somewhat.


The Yield Of Flax

Although the yield of flax can be good in some instances, it might be about half that of other fibre crops like hemp in some instances.


Yield Per Acre Or Hectare

… The yield on [one] particular 8-acre field was rather good: a harvest of 203 bales in total, weighing approximately 300 kg each.

[In this instance] the farmers harvested a total amount of 60,9 tons, or 7,6 tons per hectare.

A yield of 7,5 tons per hectare (= 2,47 acres) is considered a good yield. 



Yield Compared To Other Fibres

Hemp has a fiber yield that averages between 485 – 809 lbs., compared to flax, which averages just 323 – 465 lbs. on the same amount of land. (


Time To Harvest

… the seed takes 100 days to grow and reach 1 meter when it flowers.

But harvesting and retting can take place some months after flowering



How Effectively Is A Flax Plant Used?

Flax may be one of the best utilized plant crops, but, it’s worth noting that certain linen manufacturers or flax fibre producers may want specific fibres from the plant.


Whilst only the very best fibres are used by the Linen industry, no part of the flax plant is wasted; the left over linseeds, oil, straw and fibre are used in everything from lino and soap to cattlefeed and paper.

Few products are so efficiently used as flax.



How Much Water Does Linen/Flax Use?

Flax may be able to grow without much irrigation in some regions and climates.

Additionally, the production of linen may use less water than cotton or some synthetic fibres.


Flax Specifically

The flax plant is quite hardy and grows without the use of … irrigation (


Compared To Other Fibres

The production of linen fabric uses five to twenty times less water … than the production of cotton or other synthetic fabrics ( 


Carbon Footprint Of Linen/Flax

In terms of carbon footprint, flax might be on par with hemp, and is better than jute.


Linen/Flax Specifically

One hectare of flax can retain 3.7 tonnes of CO2 [per year] (, and


Compared To Other Fibres has a good infographic that shows the carbon footprint of different natural fibre crops, such as hemp, flax, and jute.

Hemp has a similar carbon footprint to flax, with jute having a slightly higher carbon footprint than both.


Energy Footprint Of Linen

Linen production might use less energy than cotton or synthetic fibres.


The production of linen fabric uses five to twenty times less … energy than the production of cotton or other synthetic fabrics (


How Much Pesticide Does Flax Use?

Flax may use little to no pesticides

But, in some instances, pesticides or herbicies might be used to help with yield/production.


The flax plant is quite hardy and grows without the use of pesticides … (


Farming flax requires few … pesticides (


From … herbicides [is] generally used to prevent reduced yields in flax crops


How Much Fertilizer Does Flax Use?

Flax may use little to no synthetic fertilizer

But, in some instances, fertilizers might be used to help with yield/production.


Farming flax requires few fertilizers … (


Flax, Soil Health, & Soil & Land Degradation

Flax may help the soil and land in two ways:

– Being a good break crop that helps with soil quality 

– Being easy to fit into crop rotation cycles to help reduce soil depletion and erosion

However, some sources indicate that flex cultivation can involve tilling that contributes to land and soil erosion.


Helping With Soil Quality

Flax has proven itself as an excellent break crop: renewed in rotation every 6 to 7 years, flax naturally produces optimal soil quality, thereby increasing returns on the following crops (


Reducing Soil & Land Depletion & Erosion

Flax is easy to incorporate into modern crop rotation cycles which prevents soil depletion (


… flax respects the environment and preserves the land (


Contributing To Land/Soil Erosion


… tilling [is] generally used to prevent reduced yields in flax crops

 … most cultivation processes used to grow flax degrade soil, which can lead to soil erosion and expansion of agricultural lands into neighboring wilderness areas.


How Many Chemicals Does Linen Use In The Processing Stage?

Chemicals may be used for chemical retting of the flax plant to separate fibres from the plant, compared to natural retting which might use water.

Chemicals may also be used for bleaching of linen.



The fibres first have to be naturally degraded from the plant [and] This is achieved through “retting“.

Retting is the process of bacteria to decomposing the pectin that binds the fibres together. 

Natural retting usually takes place in tanks and pools, or directly in the fields.

There are also chemical retting methods; these are faster, but are typically more harmful to the environment and to the fibres themselves.




[In modern times, manufacturers of linen may separate the flax fibres from the woody material in the flax stem with chemicals, and these chemicals can be washed into the environment]

[But, some manufacturers may hand harvest and ret flax plants and fibres – it depends on the manufacturer]

… the release of chemicals used in the retting process [and most commonly] alkali or oxalic acid are used to separate flax fibers from the woody interior of flax stems [and these chemicals can be toxic even in low concentrations]

 … chemical retting of flax is undeniably faster and more efficient

 … water retting of flax stems is preferred for environmental reasons


Finishing & Bleaching

From [Linen textiles are] bleached, dyed, printed on, or finished with a number of treatments or coatings [and there can also be an environmental impact at this stage]


Pure white linen is created by heavy bleaching (


Efficiency Of Making Linen 

The process of spinning and weaving flax fibres to make linen may be slower, less productive and more expensive in comparison to the same stage for cotton.


[During the weaving process of flax/linen fibres] … Linen fiber is inelastic and easy to break in the production process, so great care must be taken when spinning and weaving.  

As a result, these machines have to run at lower speeds, giving lesser yields and increasing costs [compared to cotton]



Biodegradability Of Linen

Flax is a natural fibre that is biodegradable by itself.

Depending on how linen has been finished and treated, it may also be biodegradable.


Linen Specifically

… made from flax plant fibres … when untreated (i.e. not dyed), it [linen] is fully biodegradable (


From Linen can degrade in a few weeks when buried in soil.


Compared To Other Fibres

From Linen is more biodegradable than cotton


Impact Of Flax & Linen On The Environment, Humans & Human Health, & Animals & Wildlife

Environmental Impact

It depends entirely on how the linen is grown, retted, the fibre is spun and produced, and how the linen is finished.

More sustainable farming and natural retting might be more sustainable, but might be less efficient and more expensive.



Overall … linen is one of the least environmentally damaging textiles.

[Linen can be quite sustainable if it’s farmed with sustainable practices, and manufacturing of flax fibres doesn’t involve chemicals, and instead involves water and hand retting]

[But, to meet demand and maintain or increase profits as well as keep time and other resource investments down …] majority of linen producers choose to use inexpensive processes that may be environmentally damaging.


Impact On Humans, & Human Health

During the growing of flax, if pesticides and herbicides aren’t used heavily, farm workers won’t be exposed to these chemicals as heavily.

Chemically retted linen and heavily bleached linen may also expose workers to chemicals.


From [There may be issues with working conditions for some linen workers in some parts of the world]


Impact On Animals & Wildlife

If chemicals are released into the environment via water waste at the production stage of linen, this has potential to impact aquatic and other wildlife.

But, if closed loop processing is used, this can be reduced.


Practical Benefits Of Linen

Traits Of Flax/Linen Fibre

In this guide, we outline the traits and practical benefits of some different common fibres such as linen/flax.


Economic Impact Of Linen/Flax

Value Of The Flax Industry

In value terms, global flax fiber imports stood at $682M in 2017 (


Economic Benefits Of Natural Fibre Crops In General

One source indicates that fibres coming from crops and other plant based fibres provide a number of potential economic and practical benefits.

Plant and crop based fibres like flax may be the only type of fibre that can be produced in some regions of the world, and might offer other benefits too, such as being able to be grown alongside or in rotation with another plant, crop, or other agricultural product.


What About Organic Flax/Linen?

Organic flax and linen may be grown on organic farms, not use pesticide or herbicide, not have soil or product residues, and may use water retting.

There is also traceability possibilities for flax fibers from farm to product.


What Is Organic Flax & Linen?

Flax is also grown on organic converted farms … without synthetic products (fertilizers, herbicidesfungicides and regulators are prohibited)

[This] ensures a complete absence of residues of these [organic linen] products in the fiber and the soil after harvesting. 



From … to be certified as organic, it’s generally necessary for flax fiber to be water-retted [but this increases cost, and also restricts access to consumers]


How Much Organic Flax Is Grown

Todaynearly 200 acres of organic flax are grown in France … (



… international specifications ensures the traceability of fibers from organic flax cultivation to final consumer (GOTS label) (


Overall Sustainability mentions that ‘100% organic flax linen and GOTS certified organic cotton might be some of the most sustainable, but also durable, best looking and best feeling fabrics’



























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