“Table linens” – For most people, the term conjures up images of an elegantly appointed dinner table. But for massage therapists, it refers to the collective term used when referring to sheets, face cradle covers, bolster covers and pillowcases used on massage tables. The table linens you choose will reflect who you are as a massage practitioner, and knowing more about what is available will help you to make wise choices.

Selecting Massage Linens: 5 Popular Choices

There are many considerations in choosing the fabric of massage linens. Not only is price important, but also the feel of the material and ease of care needs to be taken into consideration. Due to the high price and labor-intensive manufacturing involved with making linen (which is made from flax), the fabric is rarely, if ever, used in a massage practice. Though, it may still be used as a luxury sheeting material. Fortunately there are several other practical options.

  1. Cotton – Cotton is perhaps the most popular and economical of fabrics available. It feels soft and cool to the skin. The downside is that it wears out relatively quickly and can be difficult to clean, requiring stronger detergents and bleach which can ultimately damage the fiber. Non-organic cotton also requires a lot of fertilization, pesticides and insecticides to grow.
  2. Cotton/Synthetic Blend – The most well-known cotton blend is cotton/ polyester. While not quite as soft as pure cotton, they are more durable and tend to be easier to clean.
  3. Bamboo – Although bamboo has been around for a very long time, bamboo sheets are relatively new. The fabric itself has a soft, silky feel. Bamboo is an environmentally friendly and sustainable crop, which grows faster and uses less space than cotton crops. Japanese studies on the fabric show that bamboo’s mildly antibiotic qualities are still viable after 50 washes.
  4. Hemp – Every industrialized country in the world grows hemp commercially, except the United States. This means that while the manufacturing of sheets may take place in the U.S., the raw hemp itself must be imported, thus increasing the price. It is similar to bamboo in that it needs no pesticides, insecticides or fertilizers to grow. It is much stronger than cotton and, for that reason, was once used almost exclusively in the ropes used for mooring ships.
  5. Soy – Perhaps less known for its use in the making of linens, the fibers are derived from the discarded hulls of soybeans used for producing soybean oil. Unlike the other more well-known natural fabrics, items made from soy have a slight stretchy quality to them.

Bamboo, hemp and soy have natural antibiotic qualities and are highly absorbent. They are stronger and more resistant to insect infestation than cotton and can withstand the rigors of repeated washings. They can all be made into a smooth fabric, flannel or jersey knit and can be found in various colors and prints to match your office décor. As an alternative to cotton/polyester blend, some manufactures are now producing fabrics that offer the best of old and new options such as cotton and bamboo or hemp, and a bamboo/soy combination.

Caring for Massage Linens: 12 Tips

There is no getting around it. If you have a massage practice and you have clients every day, you will be washing sheets every day as well. Here are some tips to get you through the process:

  1. Wash newly purchased linens before using them. Manufacturers often use toxic additives in the final process that need to be washed out.
  2. Never use a sheet set for more than one client. Wash after each use.
  3. Wash sheets and other linens within 24 hours of use. If you wait longer the oils and other substances will set in and be much harder to get out.
  4. Using water dispersible oils and crèmes as massage lubricants will make stain removal easier.
  5. Washing sheets in warm water and rinsing in cold water will not only save energy, it also helps sheets to last longer. Hot water and a hot dryer will set in oil stains and make them smell like a fast food restaurant.
  6. Unless you work in a hospital setting, bleach is not needed to wash sheets. Warm water and detergent is enough to kill most common germs and bacteria. Bleach is ineffective in removing oil stains and shortens the lifespan of fabric. If you have a septic system, using excessive amounts of bleach will damage it. Try using a soap with tea tree oil added instead.
  7. Use only unscented detergent that is free of chemical additives.
  8. Rather than using fabric softener, which can cause allergic reactions, add ¼ cup of vinegar to the final rinse. Vinegar helps to eliminate odors, reduces lint, brightens colors and removes residual detergent. And, once dry, it leaves no vinegary smell.
  9. Presoak heavily soiled linens before washing. You can use commercially available de-greasers, stain removers, borax or even baking soda.
  10. To remove set-in oil from sheets, trying washing in automatic dishwasher detergent. It is slightly abrasive and made to dissolve grease. Do this only if it is a newly set stain and not often, as it greatly reduces the lifespan of sheets. (Note: Do not use the liquid soap you hand wash dishes with; they have additives that make an overabundance of suds.)
  11. Reduce the load on your dryer and hang sheets outside in nice weather. The sun and air offer a natural solution to whitening and freshening sheets. If you must use the dryer, toss in three or four clean tennis balls, as this will reduce drying time and lessen wrinkling.
  12. If you have a large number of clients or a busy multi-practitioner office, you may want to look into the feasibility of utilizing a reputable laundry service. The good thing is they usually supply the sheets. The bad thing is you may not have a wide selection of materials or colors to choose from. The sheets will most likely be a white cotton/poly blend.

If you are buying a new washing machine, go for a large capacity front loader. They use less water and clean more effectively than top loaders.

Depending on the fabric and quality, a sheet set can be as inexpensive as just under $20, or as costly as $100 or more. Look for sales and special offers for the best deals. It is generally advised that you have enough sheet sets on hand to last for two days’ worth of clients. For example, if you intend to see four clients per day, then eight sets of sheets would be adequate. More sheets can be added as needed and older sets replaced as they wear out.

What type of fabric used and how it is cared for, in your clients’ eyes, may be a reflection of how you also care for them. It indicates that you, the massage therapist, are concerned about both their comfort and health.