How I WASH & CARE for my SILK clothes

washing and cleaning silk

Silk is my all time  favourite  fabric – for silk scarves, silk dresses, silk slips, silk skirts, silk sarees, silk tops – the list is endless. I can wear anything in silk.

But at one time I used to stop myself from buying silk fabric thinking about the difficulty in maintaining it – brittleness, splits, discoloration, and powdering of the yarns – all nightmares of silk damage.

It is the same with a lot of people I know. Because you are reading this, maybe for you too.

Otherwise, silk is so beautiful, the texture the greatest and the luster – I could go on and on.

I knew an aunt who always was decked up in silk clothes and immaculate to boot. So I asked her the secret. Here are the tips she was kind enough to give me.

Can silk be washed?

This is the fabric care label you will usually find on silk clothes.

silk wash care label

Can you wash silk that says dry clean only?. That is the beauty (Duh) of silk garments. Almost all of them say ‘dry clean only’. The manufacturers are playing safe. But think of the dry clean bill we have to pay. This is in addition to the bill we paid for the expensive garment. And  at what environmental cost! 

Makes one go off silk for a while – till we see the next absolutely gorgeous silk dress.

But some claim that dry washing ‘too’ frequently can make the silk go dull. Silk lasts longer if hand washed.  (Some hand wash because they prefer the soft dull look).

Caution : Some silk like Dupioni silk and some inexpensive silks can change somewhat if you handwash,  so see to it that you are ok with this. Silks like Taffeta, brocade, velvet, metallic, some chiffon silks, Silk charmeuse, silk satin and crepes are all recommended to be dry washed, strictly by the manufacturers.

How did people of yore keep their silk clothes intact – silk was discovered some 4000 years ago!

Ensure that you have the best quality silk; Here are some questions you should ask when buying silk 

Caring for Silk clothes at home.

Dry Cleaning

If you are dry cleaning your silk, ensure that the dry cleaner knows that you are giving precious silk. This ensures that special care is given.

When to Dryclean silk ?

Some garments made in silk/silk fabric are best left to care of professionals. If you have a tailored silk dress with complicated design elements hand washing may destroy the appeal of the dress. Garments with complicated construction, lining and trim are also better to be cleaned at the dry cleaners.

Brightly colored, brilliantly colored, dark colored, and patterned silks are better left to the dry cleaner. Another case in point is if the silk has many different colours, including light and dark colours interspersed in the same fabric – if you hand wash this it is a disaster waiting to burst on you. The colours will definitely intermingle in washing and destroy the look of the fabric. This is also better left alone with the dry cleaners. Sometimes you have to think about your looks, not your purse.

Most silk fabric can be hand washed at home if done with care but it is better not to wash Duponi silk at home. You can actually handwash silk dupioni but handwashing reduces the sheen and changes the texture somewhat. It also depends on the type you have. Just wash a small inconspicuous section and see if it is alright. 

As said Dupioni silk is best cleaned using chemicals, but some like to handwash this too. Hand woven silk, brocade silk also will retain their texture best with dry clean. Crinkled or textured silk is also better to be dry cleaned to maintain their texture. Silk Noil shrinks a lot if it has not been prewashed so it is better to dryclean to prevent this shrinkage.

Tailored silk suits with shoulder pads or dresses with interfacing are all candidates for dry cleaning to maintain their structure intact.

When you have a dirty spot on the silk fabric from food spilling or grease which looks impossible to remove with mild washing, the fabric may have to be drycleaned.

Even if you plan to hand wash your silk, it is better to dry clean the first few times, may be two cleans. The dyes of the silk fabric will run and redeposit on adjoining sections when you wash it the first few times.

Hand washing silk

The experts say that silk can be washed at home. So who am I to argue. But only hand wash. The washing machine is too rough and tough on the gentle fibers of the silk fabric.

Unless the silk fabric is dirty you do not have to wash the silk after every wear. Just store it following the directions given below and wear them one or two times more before washing.

But if the silk is dirty definitely clean it pronto.

Dust, and dirt, will eventually expand and contract with changes in temperature and humidity. If the dust or dirt becomes wet, it could act as a dye and penetrate and stain the fabric. It can then become impossible to remove.


How to hand wash silk clothes ? 

  Step 1 Brush

It is a good idea to brush the silk garment with a soft brush so that any dried dirt will be removed from the fabric. 

  Step 2 Test

If you are sewing with silk and you have the fabric in hand, cut out a small square piece from a corner. Test wash this piece in the detergent you have – so that you do not destroy the whole fabric in wash. 

  Step 3 Prepare the water

Hardwater is not good for washing silk. So soften the water before cleaning silk. You can add a spoon of borax to the water before washing silk.

You can handwash silk with cold water (or even lukewarm water) and the mildest non alkaline Soap you have. Better use mild baby shampoo. Ensure that the shampoo is dissolved in water (a cup of water) before using it on fabric.

Do not soak silk in water more than 5 minutes. If you find a stain in the silk garment soak the cloth in water mixed with a spoon of vinegar for 10 minutes (at your own risk)

If you are sewing with silk, definitely prewash . The silk has a tendency to shrink.

Checkout this post on handwashing clothes, which has all the relevant points you should follow in hand washing silk also. One important thing is not to mingle all silk fabrics together and wash. Separate coloured silk fabric and whites.

  Step 4 Rinse

Rinse the silk several times in clean water till all the soap is removed.

My aunt advised me to use a spoon of vinegar in the final rinse water to make sure that all the soap is washed off. Vinegar neutralizes any remaining soap, and allows it to rinse out completely restoring the fabric’s natural sheen. It also leaves a clean smell, which was surprising to me as I do not like the vinegar smell. For white silk vinegar prevents that dreaded yellow color.

If you find that the silk fabric is bleeding even after several rinses, add one teaspoon of salt to the final rinse water. This will somewhat set the dye. 

Silk is a natural fiber, just like your hair. So your hair conditioner added to the final rinse water can give it the same luster and softness that it gives to your hair

If you notice a stain remaining on the silk, do not do anything with it -no  DIY stain removing or homemade stain remover trials.  Take it to a dry cleaner. 

What detergent is best to wash silk ?

Ensure that any detergent you use has no bleach at all. Bleach destroys silk fibers.

A  very mild detergent, non-alkaline preferably liquid detergent or soap is to be used for washing silk. A mild shampoo is best. Ensure that it doesn’t have any brighteners in the detergent. Check out this post on the different types of detergents and soaps for cleaning clothes.

Get a mild baby shampoo or soap which is the best detergent for washing silk. Dilute before use. 

Does silk shrink ?

Yes, silk does shrink in wash, even so far as 5-10%. Some even shrink 15%. Some even continue to shrink after the first wash. Which is why drycleaning the first two washes is a good idea.

Silk fabric shrink because the woven fibers are tightened after the wash. Also, I have read that a natural glue present in the silk fibers gets activated in the wash – so shrinking is a done thing, especially for Silk Crepe, Raw silk, 2 ply silk and Silk dupioni. So plan accordingly when you buy fabric or silk garments.

Using soap instead of detergent to clean silk also reduces shrinkage.

How to spot clean silk ?

Sometimes you do not want to clean the whole garment, just that spot where that tasty curry drop found its way to. But spot cleaning is difficult for silk.

Your best bet is – As soon as the spot is noticed, wipe the dirt away with a dry towel and wash the full garment at home or dry cleaners.

If you wet a towel and spot clean, this will cause water spots in silk which is very unattractive. (Do not worry too much if you spot the water mark. It will go away with a full wash and clean. )

Do not even think of applying chlorine bleach – even on white silk, chlorine will yellow the fabric. Chlorine destroys silk.

For maintaining white silk as white some books recommend using Hydrogen Peroxide and Ammonia – this is added to the wash.

How to dry silk after the wash ?

Do not twist or wring out silk fabric to take out water after handwashing . When wet silk fibers are very fragile. Gently squeeze the water and hang out to dry. 

Forget about machine drying silk. The wrinkles may set in permanently and will weaken the fabric. The heat in the dryer is also disastrous for silk.

Best way to is to roll the cloth in a towel to remove the water and then lightly stretch back to place. Hang to dry out in the open where there is mild sunlight. Take the fabric  to iron before the fabric is fully dry . 

If there are heavy design elements in the silk garment , dry on a flat surface. The heavy trims/ designs may  cause the area to sag, especially when wet and is heavy.

how to clean silk

Ironing Silk

Minor silk wrinkles should disappear if the garment is hung overnight. Better yet, hang your silk garment in the bathroom during a shower or after a warm shower. Humidity will remove the wrinkles for you. This is a technique used by many to iron out small wrinkles in silk shawls and such.

But if the silk fabric is very wrinkled you will have to iron. Do it before it is completely dry ( damp). Make sure that the iron setting is on SILK. Turn the garment inside out and then iron. Using a steam iron is also a good idea. 

Some delicate silk will have to be ironed with a pressing cloth between the iron and the fabric. Just keep the cloth on top of the fabric and press. 
Excess heat will cause puckering in most silk, so be very careful.

how to store silk

Dos and Don’t in Storing and Caring for Silk

Do store silk in a clean, dry, dark area ALWAYS.

Do not leave the silk fabric in the sun. The colour will fade fast and the silk fabric will disintegrate with time. Sunlight deteriorates silk fabric.

Do not store silk even in fluorescent light. Bright household lighting is damaging to the fabric. Ensure those lighting fixtures away from where you hang / store your precious silk garment.

If you are thinking of getting silk curtains for your romantic bedroom which gets lots of sun- Do not. 

Do store silk clothes in a safe wardrobe away from the moths. Leaving potpourris or moth balls to make the moths stay away is the thing to do. Moth made holes are a regular threat to silk. But do not keep moth balls near (touching) the silk. Keep it covered or away from direct contact with the fabric

Do not use hairspray or deodorant or perfume containing alcohol on silk. If you are using them, do so before you are dressed in silk. Silk fabric cannot take alcohol. The fibers will disintegrate. You can use an underarm shield to protect the garment from the deodorant

Do store your precious silk garment in tissue paper away from any dampness or water leakages. Do not use newspaper to store silk. You can make bags made in light cotton muslin cloth. This is best for storing silk sarees and gowns

Never store heavily worked silk in plastic covers as it can cause darkening of the work.

Do spot clean silk fabric if you find any food spillage spot before keeping it in storage. Ants and moths will somehow find your garment and make holes

Do not hang silk on iron hangers ( even if it is painted outside). The iron may seep out and damage silk.

Do take out the silk garment, fabric or saree from the wardrobe, open it out and change the fold every once in a while ( every 6 months or so) . This is necessary because the silk being very delicate may disintegrate on the folded portion, if left alone for long periods. 

Caring for silk  involves a lot more labour than other clothes. No tossing into the washing machine and forgetting about it. It is also expensive if you count all the dry clean bills which add up after the first buying expense.

But if you can learn to care for it at home nothing like silk. Worth all the trouble to be able to dress in silk clothes

Related post : What is Silk and How is it made?; 50+ different types of Silk fabrics; How to sew with silk

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *