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Essential Tips on Caring for Silk Clothing at Home

Go ahead and skip the cleaners.

Senior Home and Style Editor
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Photography by: Bryan Gardner

People tend to believe that delicates like silk and cashmere need to be shipped off to the dry cleaners. But you can care for your sensuous silky items at home, just as you can with your delicate wool. David Whitehurst, owner of award-winning Champion Cleaners in Birmingham, Alabama, gives us tips to keep these elegant staples looking their best with a little TLC at home. For more fabric advice, check out his blog.

 

Always test for colorfastness

Sadly, silk fades. Test your garment for colorfastness before washing. Dab an inconspicuous area, like the inside seam, with a damp clean cloth or q-tip. If the color bleeds, take your garment to the cleaners. Brights, dark-colored, and patterned items are also best left to the professionals. “These are likely to fade a little more when washed at home compared to dry cleaning,” says Whitehurst.  

 

Go gentle with the detergent

Silk is a protein that's a lot like your hair, so treat the fabric like you would your locks -- meaning no harsh detergents. Whitehurst recommends using a mild shampoo like Ivory or gentle detergent like Woolite.

 

How to wash silk at home

Put on the kid gloves -- silks require delicate care. You can toss your blouse in a gentle wash cycle, but Whitehurst says it’s best to wash these velvety soft items one at a time in the sink. Fill your basin with cool or cold water to help keep the color. Add a gentle detergent. Place the garment in the water, give it a stir, and let it sit for just a few minutes. “Silk releases dirt quickly, so the process doesn’t take long,” he says. Next, drain the soapy mix and rinse.

 

The best way to dry silk

Never wring your silk items -- and never toss them in the dryer, warns Whitehurst. To remove excess water, place the wet garment on a white cotton towel. Fold the towel over and gently blot. Then, using a padded hanger, hang the blouse or dress over the bathtub to drip dry. The drying process shouldn’t take more than an hour. Warning: Don’t hang sink items in the sun -- this accelerates fading.

 

How to treat stains

With silk, skip spot treating and instead wash the entire garment. DIY a mild stain-zapping solution: Mix two cups of lukewarm water with two tablespoons of lemon juice or white vinegar. “This recipe is especially good for deodorant and perspiration stains,” says Whitehurst. Test for colorfastness. Once you’re in the clear, fill a clean spray bottle with your mix and spray on the stain. Use a sponge or double the fabric and gently work the mixture into the area. “The key is to be gentle, rubbing can damage the fibers,” he says. After treating the spot, follow the washing directions from above.

 

[LEARN THESE: Golden Rules of Washing Delicates like Silk, Wool, and Lingerie]

 

How to get rid of wrinkles 

While steaming can be little tricky, Whitehurst prefers it to ironing silk. You'll also want to ensure your steamer is made for delicate fabrics, like the Rowenta Ultrasteam Garment brush. If you must press, turn your garment (it should always be slightly damp) inside out and choose a low setting. Use your steamer on a dry garment, being careful to not let the temperature get too hot. If the steamer drips and leaves a water stain, dunk the item in cool water and allow it to dry. The spot should disappear. 

 

What to tell the dry cleaners

Always point out stains when you drop your silk clothing off at the cleaners, says Whitehurst. Let them know about any home solutions you’ve tried, because that could affect the outcome. If you’ve had a problem with colorfastness, give them a heads up about that, too.

 

How to store silk

For everyday storage, hang silk items in your closet on fuzzy hangers to prevent silky items from slipping. Use a wide bar to hang pants across the legs or a clip hanger on the bottom hem. For longer-term storage, remember that moths love to feast on natural fibers like silk and wool, so always clean clothes before putting them away for the season.

 

From silk shirts to beyond -- see how to organize your closet to let each piece shine: