How to Wash Jute and Burlap Fabric

  Thu Thai Thanh / EyeEm / Getty Images

Burlap drapes, burlap place mats, burlap purses and tote bags and burlap decorations of all kinds are all made from jute fibers. Learn how to care for these home accessories and remove stains.

How to Wash Jute and Burlap Fabric

Jute fiber's and woven jute fabric's most limiting factor is that they are greatly weakened by water. That's why you will often find jute combined with other fibers like cotton or polyester to add strength during cleaning.

Dry cleaning is recommended for any structured burlap garment or home accessory. If there are stains, take time to point them out and identify them to your professional cleaner to get the best results.

If you must wash jute items, hand wash separately in cool water using a mild soap. Jute fabrics or burlap can be brittle so it must be handled gently. Do not wring or twist the wet fabric. Burlap should always be washed alone because it can shed fibers that are difficult to remove from other fabrics especially terry cloth or any napped fabric. 

Stains should be treated following the specific stain removal tips for the type of stain. NOTE: any washing or stain removal steps may change the color of the fabric. Burlap should be air dried or line dried away from direct sunlight for best results. Jute can yellow in harsh sunlight.

If the piece needs ironing, it should be done while the burlap is still damp. Before ironing, stretch the damp garment, place mat or drapes to its natural size and shape. Use a low heat temperature for the iron and iron the piece on the wrong side to prevent any pressing marks and preserve the natural weave.

What is Jute?

Most of us are most familiar with jute as a backing for carpet, when it is made into twine and rope or woven into burlap fabric. Burlap is called Hessian fabric in much of Europe and crocus in Jamaica. Today, jute fibers are finding their way into clothing and table linens as a great looking breathable fabric that does not wrinkle as much as linen.

Around the world, jute is know as the "golden fiber" for both it's natural color and for its importance as a sustainable crop. Jute is second only to cotton as the most used fiber in the world due to its affordability and ease of cultivation. It has low fertilizer needs and grows quickly.

Jute plants are annuals that are grown in the hot and humid areas of India and Bangladesh. The fiber is derived from plants in the Corchorus genus. The fibers are stripped from the bark of the jute plant and then dried. Cultivation takes around 120 days and the plant requires no pesticides and fertilizers to thrive.

Jute fibers, which are composed of both cellulose and lignin, are long, silky and strong. The fibers can treated with caustic soda to increase softness and pliability. These refined fibers can also be combined with other fibers like wool, cotton or man-made fibers to increase breathability of fabrics. Left untreated, the resulting fibers are biodegradable but can be coarse and suitable for twine and rope, jute rugs and packaging for agricultural products.

The first jute fabrics were developed in Dundee, Scotland in the 1880s. In 1883 over one million bales of jute from India were unloaded in Dundee to be processed. By the turn of the century, more than 50,000 residents were employed by one hundred mills in the city to process jute. By the end of the 19th century British farmers began emigrating to Bangladesh to establish farms. The jute trade boomed during WWI when more than one billion jute sandbags were sent to defend the various allied fronts.  A Jute Museum at Verdent Works in Dundee celebrates the hey day of the jute industry.