How to Wash and Care for Silk Clothes

How to Wash and Care for Silk Clothes


It’s a short word for a textile that once thread together legendary trade empires. Spun from the natural fibres of bombyx mori silkworms, the process of creating silk is unhurried – and expensive. A featherweight textile once exclusively draped upon the shoulders of royalty, dignitaries and the aristocracy, silk remains a synonym for luxury. Even today, silk garments are reserved for milestone moments, from wedding dresses to boardroom blouses and neck ties, to ceremonial sashes. Its distinctive luster and shine drape elegantly and despite silk’s reputation as a precious commodity, it is surprisingly durable (technically, the world’s strongest natural textile) and has industrial applications.

Why do people get nervous about washing silk?

Silk is often described as “delicate” and “high maintenance,” causing some silk owners anxiety when it comes to laundering their garments. Why exactly? Silk loses some of its durability when wet (by some approximations, 20 per cent), excess heat will cause shrinkage and a handful of factors can reduce the vibrancy of colour dyes.

Does silk have to be dry cleaned?

First, it is critical that the item’s fabric care label is consulted. Here’s a cheat sheet to decipher all those symbols.

Most commonly, silk garments will require dry cleaning—but not all. Some apparel and accessories can be hand- and even machine-washed. For what it’s worth, water is not the culprit; dry cleaning still renders clothing wet. Instead of using water and a detergent, a liquid solvent is applied which evaporates at a much quicker rate than water.

How to hand-wash silk

If the fabric care label permits, fill a basin with cool or warm water, adding a gentle laundry detergent that is labelled “silk safe.” Note: all-purpose detergents and stain removers may not be mild enough – always perform a test first.

Each garment should be washed separately to avoid agitation and colour bleeding.

  • Turn the item inside out and submerge it in the water.
  • Do not scrub, stretch, rub or over-agitate the silk; this will cause the item to warp. (Silk has low elasticity so items can permanently misshapen.) Instead, stir gently and allow the item to soak for up to 30 minutes.
  • Drain the basin and gently run cool water over the garment until all suds have disappeared.
  • Press or squeeze the excess water from the item without twisting or wringing.
  • Lay flat on a towel and then hang when semi-dry, taking care to affix to a hanger on the proper seams.

How to wash silk in a washing machine

Again, if the fabric care label allows, wash silk items on a delicate cycle.

  • First, turn the item inside-out and place in a protective mesh wash bag to avoid snags or over-agitation.
  • Select a delicate, cold-water cycle with a slow spin speed.
  • Add a mild, “silk safe” detergent.
  • At the end of the cycle, promptly remove from the bag to avoid wrinkling
  • Lay flat on a towel and then hang when semi-dry, taking care to affix to a hanger on the proper seams.

Can you iron silk?

The short answer is yes, with caveats and of course, when the fabric care label permits. Before reading any further, it’s worth noting a steam wand is the better option. Ideally, the item is hung upright and wrinkles are released using downward, vertical sweeping motions.

  • Use the silk setting on the iron.
  • Do not spray with water or use the iron’s traditional steam function button.
  • Turn the item inside-out.
  • Consider using a cloth to create a barrier between the iron’s plate and the silk item.
  • Avoid dragging the iron which may excessively stretch or pull the fabric.

How to treat stains on silk fabric

Whether it’s wine spilled during a congratulatory speech or a boardroom presentation that triggers a nervous sweat, you’ll want to treat stains as promptly as possible, before they set.

When treating a stain on a conventional fabric, massaging a solution into the stain typically lifts the blemish. However, abrasive friction is bad for silk’s sheen, colourfastness and texture. Instead, gently work the solution into the stain without rubbing or scratching.

What you use to treat the stain will depend on the composition of the spill. (For example, whether it’s oil-, wax- or water-based.) And remember, an “all purpose” stain solution may not be gentle enough. In a pinch, use that “silk safe” laundry detergent to create a concentrate that has a paste-like consistency. If you're using a Tru Earth eco-strip, first tear the strip into small pieces and place in a small bowl, adding a teaspoon (5ml) of tap-hot water to begin dissolving it. Stir with a spoon to form a paste, adding small volumes of water as needed.

If all else fails, bring the item to a dry cleaner who can apply a specialized silk cleaning solvent.

Colour care tips for silk clothing

  • Never wash with chlorine bleach.
  • Never hang in direct sunlight; the sun’s rays can cause premature fading.
  • Never tumble dry in a dryer. Even on low, excess heat can cause silk’s natural fibres to contract, shrinking the garment.
  • Before treating, hand- or machine-washing for the first time, always test a small, unexposed portion of the item for colourfastness. If the dye run is excessive, it’s probably best to leave the laundering to the professionals.
  • Apply perfume, cologne or deodorant before donning a silk garment.
  • Think twice before spraying an aerosol hair product while wearing silk.

How to store silk clothing at home

  • Hang in a dry, cool place.
  • Avoid storing where the item may be exposed to direct sunlight.
  • Silk is a natural fibre and responds best to breathable storage; avoid keeping garments in tightly bound spaces or plastic containers.
  • Silk garments are vulnerable to moth damage. Consider moth traps or natural remedies to prevent damage.
  • Periodically check on silk items to see if oil or sweat-based stains emerge over time.

Can I use vinegar to treat silk?

According to some websites, vinegar can be used to reduce lingering odors and to recover the vibrancy of tired silk textiles.

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