Silk clothing requires special care when washing to avoid damaging the delicate fibers. Unlike cotton or synthetic fabrics, silk can easily lose its shape, color and luster if washed improperly. Follow this complete guide to learn the proper techniques for hand and machine washing silk, along with tips for drying, ironing and storing your silk items.
Things to Keep in Mind Before Washing Silk
When preparing to wash your silk clothing, keep these key things in mind:
Check the Care Label
- Always check the garment’s care label for specific washing instructions. This will indicate if the item is machine washable or must be hand washed only. The label may also provide details on water temperature, cycles and drying methods suited for that fabric.
Use a Gentle, Mild Detergent
- Harsh soaps, detergents with dyes, bleaches or other additives can damage silk fibers. Opt for a gentle, non-detergent silk wash like Eucalan or Soak. Baby shampoo or Woolite are also good options for hand washing.
Never Use Fabric Softener
- Fabric softeners and dryer sheets will coat the silk fibers, causing them to look dull and feel stiff. Always skip the fabric softener when washing or drying silk.
Wash Similar Colors Together
- Wash light and dark colored silk clothing separately to avoid any dye transfer issues. Be extra careful when washing bright or saturated colors with paler garments.
Turn Garments Inside Out
- Flip silk clothing inside out before washing. This prevents the outer side of the fabric from getting scrubbed or snagged during the wash and helps maintain the look and feel.
Close Zippers, Hooks and Buttons
- Secure all closures like zippers, hooks, buttons and ties so that they don’t catch on the fabric during washing. This protects both the garment and your washing machine.
Use a Mesh Laundry Bag
- For machine washing, place the silk items inside a mesh laundry bag. This prevents excess agitation and friction. A pillowcase tied shut can work too.
Wash by Hand if Unsure
- When in doubt about the care requirements, go with hand washing. This is always the safest cleaning method for delicate silk clothing.
How to Hand Wash Silk
Hand washing silk clothing allows you to gently clean the fabric without risk of damage from machine agitation. Follow these steps:
Step 1: Fill Sink/Tub with Cool Water
- Fill a sink, basin or bathtub with enough cool or lukewarm water to submerge the silk clothing. The ideal temperature is about 86°F or 30°C. Water that is too hot can cause silk to shrink or bleed color.
Step 2: Add Silk Detergent
- Add a small amount of mild silk wash, no-rinse detergent or baby shampoo to the water, about 1-2 capfuls. Swish the water gently to create suds. Too much detergent can leave residue.
Step 3: Soak the Silk
- Place the silk garments fully submerged in the soapy water. Let them soak for at least 15 minutes so the detergent can penetrate the fibers. For heavily soiled areas, gently massage and rub the fabric together.
Step 4: Rinse Thoroughly
- Drain the dirty wash water and refill the tub with fresh cool or lukewarm water. Rinse each silk garment gently by soaking and draining until the water runs clear. Repeat as needed to remove all soap. Take care not to twist, wring or scrub the fabric.
Step 5: Roll or Press Out Water
- Do not wring wet silk clothing, as this can stretch and damage the fibers. Instead, gently roll them up in a towel to blot out excess moisture. Or you can lay items flat on a towel and gently press with another towel.
Step 6: Lay Flat to Dry
- Lay the silk clothing flat on top of fresh, dry towels or a drying rack. Reshape the garments to their original dimensions. Allow them to air dry completely out of direct sunlight.
How to Machine Wash Silk
Many silk garments are labeled machine washable, although proper precautions should still be taken. Follow these tips for safely machine washing silk:
Use a Mesh Bag
- Place the silk items inside a mesh laundry bag and zip or tie it closed. This minimizes excess agitation during the wash cycle.
Choose a Gentle Cycle
- Opt for the delicate or gentle cycle on your washing machine. This uses a low water level, shorter agitation time and slower spin speed.
Wash in Cool Water
- Wash silk clothing in cool water, around 86°F or 30°C. Hot water can cause silk to shrink. Always check the care label – silk georgette and some other fabrics require hand washing only.
Use a Mild Detergent
- Add a small amount of mild silk detergent without dye or fragrance, or use baby shampoo, Woolite or another gentle soap. Too much detergent may leave residue.
Skip Fabric Softener
- Do not use any fabric softener, dryer sheets or other chemical additives when washing silk. They will leave an unattractive coating on the fabric.
Spin on Low Speed
- After washing, use the lowest spin speed on your machine to minimize friction and prevent damage. Or, skip the spin cycle completely and roll items in a towel to absorb moisture.
Dry Flat or Hang Immediately
- Lay silk clothing flat or hang up immediately after washing. Avoid leaving wet silk balled up in the machine, as wrinkles can set.
Tips for Drying Silk Clothing
It’s important to dry silk clothing flat to maintain the shape and texture. Here are some do’s and don’ts for drying:
- Lay flat on top of dry towels or mesh drying rack
- Reshape garments while still damp
- Dry out of direct sunlight
- Allow silk to dry completely before wearing or storing
- Hang silk items by the shoulder seams
- Use clothes pins or clips on the fabric
- Machine dry silk clothing
- Expose silk to heat sources like dryers or radiators
- Leave silk crumpled up wet
If hanging silk items to dry, use large plastic hangers to better support the weight of the wet fabric. Place a towel over the hanger edges to prevent imprints on the garment.
For severely wrinkled silk clothing, you can use an iron on the lowest setting while the item is still slightly damp. Take care not to iron directly on any beading, rhinestones or other embellishments.
Tips for Ironing Silk Fabric
Ironing silk correctly helps restore its beautiful, smooth appearance after washing. Here are some key tips:
- Use low heat – Silk scorches easily, so always opt for the lowest temperature setting. Use a cool iron if needed.
- Iron on the inside – Flip garments inside out so you’re ironing on the backside. This prevents damage to decorative elements on the outer fabric.
- Use steam – A steam iron is ideal for silk as the steam allows gentle smoothing without harsh pressing. Hold the iron just above the fabric.
- Iron delicately – Avoid rubbing or pressing the iron firmly on the silk. Use light motions and let the iron hover over details like pleats.
- Iron while slightly damp – The remaining moisture in just-washed silk makes it easier to press smooth without damaging dry fibers.
- Use a press cloth – Place a piece of cotton muslin or silk organza over the garment when ironing to create a barrier against heat damage.
- Don’t over-iron – Once silk is smooth, stop ironing. Overdoing it can flatten the texture and cause shine loss.
- Check trims – Test iron heat on any embellished trim first to ensure it won’t melt or discolor at that temperature.
Storing and Caring for Silk Clothing
Special measures for storage and ongoing care will keep your silk items looking their best over time. Here are some useful tips:
- Hang silk garments on wide, padded hangers in the closet. This maintains the shape.
- Stuff shoulder pads or tissue paper under shoulder seams to prevent hanger marks.
- Wrap very delicate silk clothing in acid-free tissue paper before hanging.
- Store silk in cool, dark places. Light and heat can cause fading and yellowing.
- Refold silks regularly if stored in drawers to prevent permanent creasing. Use acid-free tissue between folds.
- Spot clean stains on silk immediately with cold water and mild soap. Avoid vigorous rubbing.
- Use a fabric shaver to gently remove any pilling on the fabric surface.
- Steam or iron silk clothing before wearing to freshen up wrinkles.
- Turn garments inside out before ironing to avoid damaging decorative elements.
- Bring silk clothing to the dry cleaner for deeper cleaning a few times per season. Request they do not use harsh chemicals.
- Store silk in breathable garment bags or containers, not airtight plastic, to prevent mildew.
With proper precautions for washing, drying, ironing and storage, your silk clothing can maintain its vibrant color, soft texture and elegant drape for many years to come. Handle the fabric gently, use mild soaps and detergents, watch water temperature and lay flat to dry for best results.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are answers to some common questions about washing silk clothing:
1. Can you put silk in the washing machine?
Many silk garments are machine washable if you use a mesh bag, gentle cycle, cool water and mild detergent. Refer to the clothing label to check if machine washing is allowed or if hand wash only is required.
2. Does silk shrink when washed?
Silk can shrink if washed in hot water or machine dried. Use cool water below 90°F and lay flat to dry to prevent shrinkage. Pre-treat any stains to avoid harsh scrubbing during washing which can also cause shrinking.
3. What happens if you wash silk in hot water?
Hot water can cause silk to shrink, bleed dye, lose color and develop a stiff, coarse texture. Always use cool water under 90°F when washing silk to prevent damage. Check clothing labels as some silks require strictly hand washing in cold water.
4. Can you put silk in the dryer?
Never machine dry silk clothing, as the heat will cause irreversible damage. Lay flat or hang dry only. The friction of a dryer can destroy silk’s soft, smooth fibers.
5. How do you get wrinkles out of silk?
To remove wrinkles from silk, fill a spray bottle with water and lightly mist the fabric. Then, gently press with an iron on low heat setting or use a steaming function. The moisture helps relax the fibers without damaging dry silk.