How to Wash and Care for Silk Clothing, According to a Laundry Expert
If you make frequent trips to the dry cleaners to have your delicate garments cleaned by professionals, there's one fabric you can take out of the mix: silk. Though the smooth, thin material may feel like something that needs to be handled by experts, you can actually clean these pieces at home, so long as you're gentle.
Test for Colorfastness
Sadly, dyed silk fades, so test your garment for colorfastness before washing. Dab an inconspicuous area, like the inside seam, with a damp clean cloth or Q-tips. If the color bleeds, take your garment to the cleaners. Brights, dark-colored, and patterned items are also best left to the professionals, says David Whitehurst, the owner of award-winning Champion Cleaners in Birmingham, Ala. "These are likely to fade a little more when washed at home compared to dry cleaning," he says.
If you do bring your silk pieces to professionals, Whitehurst says to always point out stains and 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 Wash Silk at Home
1. Treat Stains
There's no need to purchase a specific stain fighter for silk. Instead, make a homemade solution by mixing 2 cups of lukewarm water with 2 tablespoons of lemon juice or white vinegar. "This recipe is especially good for deodorant and perspiration stains," says Whitehurst.
After testing for colorfastness, 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, since rubbing can damage the fibers," he says.
2. Hand Wash
While you can toss your silk pieces in a gentle wash cycle, 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, then add a gentle detergent that's free of harsh ingredients. Whitehurst recommends using a mild shampoo, like Ivory, or gentle detergent, like Woolite.
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 with cool, running water.
How to Dry Silk
Never wring out your silk items or toss them in the dryer, says 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.
Pro tip: Don't hang sink items in the sun—this accelerates fading. The drying process shouldn't take more than an hour.
How to Care for Silk
As stated, silk items are delicate. Beyond practicing care when washing and drying, you should also practice proper maintenance when dealing with imperfections, like wrinkles, and when storing your pieces.
Although steaming silk can be tricky, Whitehurst prefers it to ironing—so long as your steamer is made for delicate fabrics. If you only have an iron, turn your garment (it should always be slightly damp) inside out and choose a low setting. You can use a steamer on dry garments, but make sure the temperature doesn't 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.
For everyday storage, hang silk items in your closet on fuzzy hangers to prevent them 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 silk clothes before putting them away for the season.