Does Silk Shrink When Dried? Essential Tips to Avoid Damage

I absolutely love the luxurious look and feel of silk, but caring for my silk blouses and dresses has always made me a bit nervous.

I used to shy away from handwashing my delicate silks out of fear that they would shrink, lose their shape, or become damaged in the cleaning and drying process.

Through trial and error with my own silk pieces over the years, I’ve learned the keys to properly caring for silk to avoid ruining these precious garments.

By understanding silk’s delicate properties, following specific drying methods, and taking some preventive measures, you can keep your silk looking and feeling as amazing as the day you bought it.

soft detergent wash for beige silk

Does Silk Really Shrink When Dried?

This is the million-dollar question for silk care. The answer? Yes, silk can absolutely shrink if dried improperly or exposed to high heat.

The technical reason lies in silk’s molecular protein structure which is activated and broken down by excess heat.

Silk contains a natural protein fiber called fibroin which gives the fabric its gorgeous drape and sheen. 

When this protein fiber is exposed to high heat and moisture, the molecules shift and linkage breaks down causing the silk to shrink up.

Some instances where heat damage and shrinkage can occur:

  • Tumble drying silk on high heat
  • Ironing damp silk on the steam setting
  • Exposing silk to direct sunlight to dry

I made the mistake of tossing a 100% silk blouse in the dryer once on medium heat and watched in horror as it shrunk a whole size down!

The fabric also lost its signature silk luster after abrasion from the tumbling.

Key Takeaway: Always air dry silk clothing and textiles to prevent shrinkage and damage to the delicate protein fibers.

My investigation into what happens to silk during the drying process has been quite revealing.

hanging beige silk to air dry

Risks of Drying Silk in a Dryer

I’ll get right to the point here – dryers are silk’s worst enemy! Here’s what happens when you toss silk items in a warm tumbling dryer:

  • Shrinkage – The heat causes the fabric’s fibers to tighten and contract = shrunken silk that won’t fit right.
  • Damage – The tumbling motion leads to friction and abrasion damage. Silk fabric can become pulled, ripped, develop holes, and lose sheen/luster.
  • Matting – The combination of heat and tumbling causes the delicate fibers to matt/felt together resulting in a rough, dull look.

I have a $200 100% silk tee in my closet that now resembles coarse sandpaper after an unfortunate incident of mixing it in with the cotton laundry. Not a gamble worth taking!

Bottom line: Drying silk in the machine dryer is a definite do not in silk laundry care.

pure luxury silk material

Proper Drying Techniques for Silk

Caring for your precious silks doesn’t have to be scary or risky when you follow some simple guidelines for air drying:

Step 1: Handwash or Gentle Machine Wash in Cool Water

Always opt for a gentle cold water wash to prevent shrinkage and damage right off the bat. Gently swish the silk pieces by hand or use the delicate cycle on your washing machine.

Pro Tip: Add a few drops of hair conditioner or vinegar to the rinse water – this helps further preserve silk’s fibers and sheen!

delicate hand wash white silk scarf
white silk scarf careful soaking

Step 2: Gently Roll in a Towel to Remove Excess Moisture

After washing, avoid wringing or twisting silk which can stretch the delicate material. Carefully roll garments in a clean, dry towel to blot out the excess moisture.

towel press drying white silk scarf
white silk scarf careful towel dry
pat dry white silk with towel

Step 3: Reshape & Lay Flat to Dry

Gently smooth out any wrinkles or distortion in the fabric and lay perfectly flat over a drying rack or on top of a clean towel.

Important notes:

  • Don’t hang silk items – the weight can pull and misstretch the fabric
  • Keep out of direct sunlight to avoid further fiber damage
natural breeze drying white silk scarf

Step 4: Allow Silk to Fully Air Dry

Be patient and leave the silk pieces untouched until 100% dry. For larger pieces like dresses, rotate/refold once fully dried on one side.

Drying times:

ItemApprox. Drying Time
Silk blouse1-2 hours
Silk dress2-4 hours
Silk sheets4-6 hours

And voila, your silk garments are fresh, clean, damage-free, and ready to wear again!

indoor air dry beige silk shirt

Can You Dry 100% Silk Items?

For super delicate 100% silk garments, exercise even more caution when laundering and drying to prevent irreparable damage.

Follow the same air drying methods outlined above, but allow for a longer drying time. Pure silk takes more time to dry than silk-blended fabrics.

Here are some additional 100% silk drying tips:

  • Dry on a perfectly flat surface – any hanging/suspending can warp shape
  • Avoid direct sunlight and heat sources to prevent color fading and fabric weakening. Instead, opt for a well-ventilated, shady spot.
  • Invest in silk undergarments like slips or camisoles to protect outer silk garments

With a little more diligence, pure silk pieces can still be safely hand washed and air dried at home. Personally, I dry clean any 100% silk garments more than 3-4 times per year just to be safe!

I puzzled over why my silk sometimes feels dry and sought out reasons and solutions.

fine pure silk weave

Fixing Silk That Has Accidentally Shrunk

Oh no! If you’ve accidentally shrunk your favorite silk blouse or dress, don’t panic. Here are some tricks to attempt to restore the original size and shape:

  • Fill a sink or tub with lukewarm water. Immerse the silk garment for 30 minutes allowing the fibers to gently re-expand. Reshape while still damp.
  • Iron very gently while damp on silk/delicate setting while gently tugging and stretching areas that have shrunk.
  • Repeat the soak and reshape method 2-3 times if the silk doesn’t return to its original size on the first try.
  • For tightly shrunken areas like cuffs and collars, wrap with a damp heated towel for several minutes before Ironing and gently pulling.
beige silk shirt careful handwashing
cotton press cloth silk ironing strategy

While results vary item by item, I’ve had luck reducing shrinkage with silk pieces that have shrunk mildly. But once the protein fibers are truly damaged, the shrinkage can be permanent.

For silk items that don’t bounce back you can consider taking to a specialty alterations tailor to add design elements like cuffs, collars, and darts to adjust to your new shrunken silhouette. Make it fashionable!

Preventative Measures to Keep Silk From Shrinking

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure when it comes to keeping your silk garments looking their best. Here are my top preventative measures against shrinkage:

  • Invest in a portable garment rack for air drying delicate clothing like silk.
  • Wash silks in cold water inside out using a silk/delicate laundry wash bag.
  • Limit washing silk to only 2-3 times per year when possible to preserve fibers. Spot clean stains when you can.
  • Use silk storage bags and padded hangers to keep garments protected.
  • Bring silk blouses, shirts, and dresses into the dry cleaner 2-3 times per year for professional steaming and shaping.

Can You Dry Silk in the Sun or Is Sunlight Bad?

I would not recommend drying silk clothing or fabrics in direct sunlight.

While the UV rays can act as a natural bleaching agent to brighten and remove stains from silk over time, they can also weaken and damage silk fibers causing brittleness.

It’s best to dry silk in indirect natural light.

shade air drying beige silk

How Do You Soften Stiff, Crusty Silk That Has Been Air Dried?

To soften crisp or stiff silk that has hardened during air drying, fill a sink with cool water and add a few glugs of fabric softener.

Immerse the silk pieces for 20-30 minutes to allow the fibers to absorb moisture and the softeners. 

Then reshape the garment by gently stretching and smoothing it by hand before air drying flat once again.

Can You Speed Up Silk Air Drying with a Fan or Is Blowing Air Bad?

Using a circulating fan is an effective way to cut silk air drying times in half compared to still air. Position your fan 6-10 feet away from the laid-flat silk pieces for gentle indirect airflow.

Rotate pieces halfway through. Just take care not to aim the direct fan stream right on damp silk which could overly dry sections.

hair dryer silk unwrinkling

Keeping Silk Looking Beautiful For Years

I certainly don’t consider myself a laundry expert, but I’ve learned a lot about caring for special fabrics like silk through firsthand experience.

I hope these tips help you feel more confident about keeping your silk pieces protected so you can enjoy their uniqueness and luxury for many years!

The key principles to remember are to protect the protein fibers from heat damage, always air dry, and take some preventative storage measures in between wears.

Be gentle and patient with silk, and your beloved items will remain in great shape for seasons to come!

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