Caring for Church Linens


General Care


Soaking the linen in cool water as soon as possible will remove most of the wine stains. Scrubbing gently with liquid dish detergent or stain remover will remove the lipstick marks.

Church linens may be laundered in mild, unscented detergent. Fabric softeners are not advised, and bleach and bluing may damage the delicate fibers.

Never dry by machine as the heat from the dryer may damage the delicate fabric. If necessary, excess water may be removed by rolling the linen in a terry cloth towel.


Place the damp linen in the refrigerator or freezer for a few hours or overnight. The chilled fabric will iron out to a gloss and crispness that is characteristic of fine linen.

Iron first on the wrong side (with steam if you wish) then finish without steam on the right side. This will keep the edges from ruffling.

Begin ironing at the embroidered symbol stretching it out lightly with your fingers. Then iron out to the edges. The area around the symbol will iron out more smoothly.

Purificators and Post Communion Veils

The smallest and largest (respectively) of the small linens, these are square and have an embroidered cross either in the center or on one hem. Finger fold into 9 equal parts, right side to the outside, ending with the cross on top.


Fair Linens, Retable Cloths and Credence Table Cloths

Arrange the damp linen in accordion pleats on a towel or sheet on the floor next to the ironing board. Iron wrong side from side to side keeping hems square. Then arrange the linen on the floor as before and repeat the process, this time ironing the right side. Make sure the linen is completely dry before rolling. Roll the linen onto a cardboard roller, "inside out", keeping slight tension as you roll to prevent wrinkles.

Wrap the roll in tissue paper and please write "Fair Linen", "Retable" or "Credence" on the tissue paper or tape so it may be easily identified.


Corporals look like post communion veils but are slightly smaller and have a more decorative design (matching the corresponding pall) embroidered on one hem.

Like purificators and post communion veils, corporals are folded into 9 equal parts. Unlike the others, however, they are folded inside out. There are two reasons: The first and most obvious is to catch any crumbs when the corporal is folded and removed to the sacristy, where crumbs should be shaken into the piscina or onto the ground outside. The second is so that, in those churches where the corporal is not placed on the altar before the service, the priest or deacon can open it on the altar with decorum - no flipping and turning!

Iron the corporal flat and lay it out, right side up, with the embroidered symbol on the edge nearest you. Fold in thirds, inside out, folding the top third down then the bottom third up. At this point the symbol will be on top. Press creases with your fingers. Next, flip the folded linen over so the symbol is underneath (against the ironing board). Fold in thirds again: right side in (to the left) and left side to the right. Again, press creases with your fingers.


Lavabo and Baptismal Towels


Lavabo and baptismal towels are the only rectangular (not square) small linens and are usually about 6" x 9". They are embroidered with a cross or a shell usually on one hemmed edge.

These linens are folded into sixths, right side out. First fold into thirds lengthwise, then fold in half so that the cross or shell is on top.


Palls are square embroidered linens stretched on a piece of cardboard or plastic.

Should the pall require cleaning, if it has a plastic backing it may be washed by hand in soapy water, rinsed thoroughly and placed on top of a water glass to dry. It does not need to be ironed as the linen, in drying, will stretch itself smooth on the plastic backing.

Helpful Tips

Wine - A long soak in cold, clear water is often all that is needed to remove wine stains. Spray n Wash also works well.

Lipstick - Pour a little liquid dish detergent on the stain and rub carefully until the grease-based mark is loosened and removed. Try soaking in club soda or use a pre-wash spray. If color persists, soak in a half and half mixture of 3% peroxide and ammonia, then rinse and wash.

Wax - If the wax is thick enough, scrape with a blunt knife to remove excess. Stretching the linen, wax side down, under hot running water usually works well. Or place the linen, wax side down on a white blotter, absorbent brown paper or paper towel and iron with a warm iron until the wax is absorbed by the paper. Then wash.

Ash Residue - Apply liquid detergent to the stain and rub gently and rinse. Repeat as necessary, then rinse and wash.

Rust - Apply cream of tartar to the stain and soak in hot water. Let the water cool, then remove the linen and wash.

Mildew - Wash with soap and water, rinse and place in the sun to dry. If the stain persists, soak the linen in 3% peroxide then wash.



Saint James Episcopal Church • Monkton, Maryland 21111 • 410-771-4466
© 2007 Saint James Episcopal Church