Silk is a delicate and luxurious fabric that requires special care when laundering. Many silk garment tags recommend dry cleaning only. However, machine washing silk at home is possible if done correctly. When it comes to drying silk, high heat should always be avoided as it can damage silk fibers and cause shrinking.
This complete guide will provide tips on washing silk, how to dry silk without damaging it, signs that silk has shrunk, and how to stretch shrunk silk garments back to their original size.
Does Silk Shrink in the Dryer?
Yes, silk can absolutely shrink if machine dried, especially on high heat settings. The friction and agitation of a dryer combined with high temperatures will cause silk fibers to tighten and shrink.
Silk is a protein fiber produced by silkworms. When exposed to high heat, the protein structure of silk breaks down. The hydrogen bonds that give silk natural elasticity are altered and weakened. This causes silk fibers to lose their stretch and ability to return to their original shape.
To preserve the drape, sheen, and longevity of silk fabrics, air drying is always recommended over machine drying. If machine drying silk, the lowest heat setting should be used. However, even low heat can sometimes damage silk over time.
How to Dry Silk Without Shrinking
Here are tips for air drying silk items to prevent shrinking:
- Lay flat to dry on a drying rack or flat towel. Avoid hanging silk items as the weight can stretch them out.
- Use rust-proof pins to shape the garment as it dries. This helps minimize wrinkles and maintain the original silhouette.
- A fan or dehumidifier will speed up drying time. Keep air circulation around silk fabrics.
- Iron on a low silk setting while still slightly damp to further reduce wrinkles.
- For silk blouses, button up and flat dry with shoulder pads inserted to retain shape around the bust and shoulders.
- Roll silk garments in a towel to absorb excess moisture before laying flat to dry. Don’t twist or wring silk when wet.
- Dry cleaning is the best way to clean silk that requires urgent drying without risking shrinkage.
Using lower temperature settings in the dryer may be acceptable for some sturdy silks. But in general, air drying is the safest drying method.
Signs Your Silk Has Shrunk
How can you tell if your silk clothing or fabrics have shrunk after laundering or drying? Here are some telltale signs of shrunken silk:
- Tighter fit and measurements. Shrunken silk garments will feel snugger and shortened.
- Loss of stretch and ease. Silk will lose its fluid drape and ability to move over the body comfortably.
- New creases, wrinkles or puckering. Severely shrunken silk may have a wrinkled texture.
- Sheen is dulled. Overdried silk often loses its beautiful luster.
- Colors seem faded or dull. Heat damage can fade the rich colors of silk.
- Ripped seams. Seam allowances get stressed as silk shrinks, causing seams to split open.
- Distorted print or patterns. Prints and woven patterns look offset, skewed or misshapen when silk shrinks.
- Rougher handfeel. Shrunken silk feels less smooth and soft to the touch.
If your silk item seems tighter in spots or just slightly smaller all over, it has likely shrunk a bit from improper laundering or drying.
How Much Does Silk Shrink?
Just how much can silk shrink when dried with heat? Unfortunately, there is no single shrinkage percentage that applies to all silk fabrics. Silk shrinkage depends on:
- Fiber content – Silk blended with synthetics or other natural fibers will typically shrink less than 100% silk.
- Weave – Looser weaves like chiffon can shrink more than dense fabrics like shantung.
- Quality – Finer silk fabrics are more prone to heat damage than thicker, heavier silks.
- Drying method – Tumble drying causes more shrinkage compared to drying flat.
- Temperature – High heat shrinks silk far more drastically than low temperatures.
- Time – The longer silk is exposed to heat, the greater the shrinkage.
Under the worst conditions, silk fabric can shrink up to 8-10% of its original size when tumble dried on high. More moderate shrinkage of 2-5% is common if silk is air dried improperly using excess heat.
Delicate silks like charmeuse or crepe de chine are most vulnerable to drastic shrinkage of up to 8% or more if tumble dried. Thick silks like dupioni and habotai typically shrink 2-4% with exposure to high heat.
How to Unshrink Silk After Drying
Is it possible to restore shrunken silk back to its original size? While severe shrinkage is usually permanent, there are methods to relax and partially unshrink silk depending on how much it has shrunk:
Steaming is an effective way to stretch and smooth out shrunken silk. The moisture and heat will relax silk fibers.
- Lay the silk garment flat and hover a steamer just above the surface. Avoid direct steam contact.
- Slowly move the steamer across the entire piece, concentrating on tight areas.
- Reshape garments as you steam, coaxing the silk fibers to return to their original dimensions.
- Allow to fully dry flat before wearing. The silk should now have a more relaxed, loosened texture.
Soak in Conditioner
Soaking shrunken silk in conditioning products can help soften fibers and increase stretch.
- Fill a basin with lukewarm water and add a small amount of hair conditioner or fabric softener.
- Submerge the silk item and allow it to soak for at least 30 minutes so fibers absorb moisture.
- Drain the water and gently stretch the silk back to the desired shape and size.
- Roll it in a towel to remove excess water. Then dry flat away from direct heat.
Iron on Steam Setting
Use the steam function on an iron to help relax tight silk fibers.
- Lay the silk garment out smooth and dampen it slightly with a spray bottle of water.
- Run a warm iron on the steam setting over the surface, while gently tugging and stretching the fabric.
- Be careful not to let the iron directly touch the silk.
- Reshape details like collars, cuffs and seams as you iron.
- Allow to fully dry before wearing or the shrinkage may resume.
With patience, lightly shrunken silk can often be coaxed back close to its original size. But severe shrinkage is usually permanent. Always air dry silk garments going forward to prevent excessive shrinkage from ever happening again.
Can You Put Silk in the Washing Machine?
Silk has a reputation for being a delicate fabric requiring hand washing only. However, many silk garments and fabrics can safely be machine washed if proper precautions are taken:
Washing Machine Do’s and Don’ts for Silk
- Turn items inside out to protect embellishments and prevent snagging.
- Use a mesh wash bag for extra protection.
- Select the delicate or gentle cycle with cool water.
- Use a mild detergent or silk wash formulated for delicates.
- Pre-treat any stains by blotting or spot cleaning.
- Wash heavyweight silks like heavy satin or taffeta. The motion can damage them.
- Overload the machine, which prevents proper agitation.
- Use bleach or fabric softener which may discolor silk.
- Wash dark colored silk items with light colors to prevent dye transfer.
Allow Silks to Air Dry
It’s safest to lay flat or hang silk items to air dry after machine washing. Tumble drying, even on low, can risk shrinkage over time.
Iron silk garments while still slightly damp if needed to smooth out wrinkles. Then reshape and allow to fully dry flat before wearing.
With proper machine washing and air drying techniques, most light-to-medium weight silks can be refreshed safely at home between trips to the dry cleaner.
Can You Put Silk in the Dryer?
Ideally, silk should never be put in the dryer, even on the lowest setting. Tumble drying subjects silk to friction heat that can overdry fibers, dull silk’s sheen and cause shrinkage.
However, there may be exceptions or emergency situations where machine drying delicate silks becomes necessary. Here are a few guidelines for drying silk in the dryer:
- Select the low, delicate or air fluff setting. No heat is best.
- Use dryer balls or towels to cushion silk fabrics as they tumble.
- Set a timer and check silk every 5-10 minutes to monitor for issues.
- Remove immediately if any signs of wrinkling, puckering or pulling appear.
- Line dry the remainder if needed to prevent further damage.
- For added protection, place silk items in a mesh bag before drying.
- Don’t dry for longer than 15-20 minutes total.
- Never put heavy silks or silk blends in the dryer.
- Expect some shrinking; garments may need reshaped after drying.
- Avoid drying frequently as heat damage is cumulative over time.
While not recommended, very brief drying cycles may be acceptable for some thin, delicate 100% silk items in a pinch. But air drying is always the safest approach.
Does Silk Shrink When Hand Washed?
Hand washing is the traditional laundering method recommended for quality silk items. While less harmful than machine washing and drying, hand washing still requires a gentle approach to keep silk from shrinking.
Here are tips for hand washing silk without shrinkage:
- Use lukewarm water and limit soaking time to avoid oversaturating fibers.
- Add a small amount of mild detergent or soap formulated for delicates like silk and cashmere.
- Gently swish the silk item to clean. Don’t twist, wring or scrub harshly.
- Rinse thoroughly in cool water to remove all soap residue.
- Roll or blot silk in towels to absorb excess moisture, don’t wring.
- Reshape garments and lay flat on towels or a rack to air dry.
- For silk blouses, dry flat with shoulder pads in place to retain shape.
- Iron while still slightly damp if needed using a silk setting.
With proper hand washing technique, silk can be freshened up safely at home between trips to the dry cleaner. Allowing it to fully air dry is key to preventing unwanted shrinkage.
Common Questions About Washing Silk
Below are answers to some frequently asked questions about properly caring for silk clothing, accessories and home fabrics:
1. Can you iron silk?
Yes, silk can be gently ironed but always use the lowest silk/delicate setting. Ironing helps relax fibers and prevent creasing or wrinkling. Iron while still slightly damp and avoid direct contact between the iron and silk. An ironing cloth or steam function also helps avoid damaging silk with direct high heat.
2. Does silk go back to normal when wet?
Wetting silk temporarily returns it to a relaxed, flexible state allowing fibers to move and stretch easier. This makes wetting shrunken silk useful for reshaping it back to original dimensions. However, silk will shrink again as it dries if heat is applied. For permanent results, silk must be dried fully relaxed, flat and away from high heat.
3. Can silk be bleached?
Bleach is too harsh for silk fabrics and will weaken fibers causing damage. Instead pretreat stains by spot cleaning gently with a mild detergent. For whites and pale silks, hydrogen peroxide mixed with water may lighten some stains without bleaching the entire garment. But test first for colorfastness.
4. Can silk be tumble dried?
Tumble drying silk, even on low heat, is risky and can cause shrinkage, wrinkling or other heat damage over time. It’s best to always air dry quality silks garments laid flat or on a drying rack. Tumble drying is only an occasional emergency option for quick drying delicate silks.
5. Does silk stretch when wet?
Yes, wet silk becomes more elastic and can be gently stretched as water allows the protein fibers to move around more freely. This property can be used when steaming or wetting shrunken silk to coax it back to its original size before drying flat.
Silk Care Tips To Prevent Shrinking
Caring properly for silk will keep it beautiful for many years. Here are some key laundry and storage tips:
- Hand wash or use a mesh bag on the gentle cycle in cool water.
- Avoid friction and wringing when wet which causes creasing.
- Roll in towels or blot gently to absorb moisture before drying
- Always air dry silk flat away from direct heat or sunlight.
- Dry clean silk garments for best results and no shrinkage risk.
- Steam or lightly iron while damp to smooth wrinkles and shape garments.
- Store offseason silk properly folded in breathable fabric like cotton or linen.
- Never use chlorine bleach or fabric softener which can damage silk fibers.
- Avoid leaving silk wrinkled or bunched for long periods to prevent imprints.
- Spot clean stains promptly with mild soap and water using a soft cloth.
- Add non-chlorine Oxyclean to the wash cycle to brighten whites and colors.
With proper silk laundry methods and air drying, beautiful silk pieces can stay luxurious for many years without shrinking. Follow these tips and your silk will remain supple, vibrant and a joy to wear.