Hand Washing Silk: A Comprehensive Guide for Beginners

As someone who loves wearing silk, I know how delicate and high-maintenance this fabric can be.

While dry cleaning is an option, I prefer hand washing my silk pieces to better preserve their color and texture.

However, washing silk by hand can seem daunting for beginners.

In this guide, I’ll walk you through everything you need to know about hand-washing silk, from start to finish.

You’ll learn proper techniques, the best products to use, and tips for keeping your silk pieces looking their absolute best. Let’s get started!

washing beige silk by hand in basin

Understanding Silk and Its Care

Before we jump into the washing process, let’s go over some of the unique properties of silk that require gentle care:

  • Silk fibers are smooth and fine, which means they can snag easily. Any pulling or friction can damage the fabric.
  • Silk isn’t very elastic. If handled roughly, it can stretch out permanently.
  • The dyes used to color silk tend to bleed easily when exposed to water and friction.

For these reasons, silk garments need to be hand-washed very gently using mild detergent. 

Hand washing allows you to thoroughly dissolve detergent and gently clean the fabric without damage.

While dry cleaning is another option, the chemicals used in the process can cause silk fabric to yellow over time. Hand washing is gentler and helps preserve the color and sheen of silk.

silk cleaning with baking soda method

Below is a comparison of hand washing vs. dry cleaning for silk:

Hand Washing

  • Gentler on fabric
  • Preserves color better
  • Allows pre-treatment of stains
  • Less potential for shrinkage
  • No risk of chemical damage

Dry Cleaning

  • Convenient drop-off service
  • Professionally cleaned
  • Harsher chemicals may damage fabric over time
  • Potential for discoloration and shrinkage
  • Expensive compared to hand washing

When it comes to washing silk, it’s generally best to stick to hand washing for delicates like blouses, shirts, and pillowcases.

Save dry cleaning for heavier silk pieces like jackets, coats, and gowns that are hard to maneuver at home.

Learn about silk’s reaction to water in my guide on the impact of getting silk wet.

gentle hand wash for red silk

Common Misconceptions About Washing Silk

Before we get started, let’s clear up some common misconceptions about washing silk:

  • Silk shrinks when washed – Not true! Silk will only shrink if exposed to high heat or agitation during washing. With a gentle hand wash, silk retains its shape.
  • Silk can’t get wet – Silk can absolutely get wet as long as you use the proper technique. In fact, washing silk helps remove dirt, oils, and perspiration that can break down fibers over time.
  • Hand washing takes too long – While it does require more time than throwing clothes in the machine, hand washing silk is quick and easy once you get the hang of it!

Preparation for Hand Washing Silk

Follow these tips when preparing your silk garments for hand washing:

Choosing a Detergent for Silk

Avoid regular laundry detergents, which can contain dyes, brighteners, and harsh chemicals. The best detergents for washing silk are:

  • Woolite or other mild liquid detergents labeled for delicates
  • Baby shampoo – extra gentle on fibers
  • Laundry soap flakes, like Ivory Snow – gentle cleansers that dissolve easily
  • Mild soap like Castile – contains natural oils that condition fabric

I always recommend Heritage Park Laundry Detergent (link to Amazon) for silk items. It’s amazing how it preserves the fabric’s softness and color, making my silks look as good as new.

heritage park silk detergent silk clothes cleaning

Checking Colorfastness

Do a colorfastness test before washing a silk garment for the first time:

  • Dampen a small hidden area of the fabric, like an inside seam.
  • Rub the wet spot with a white cloth. Check the cloth for any color transfer.
  • If the white cloth shows color, the garment may not be colorfast. Only hand wash in cool water.

Pre-treating Stains and Problem Areas

  • For oil-based stains, dab corn starch or talcum powder on the spot to absorb grease, then gently brush away.
  • For general stains, mix a mild laundry detergent with warm water in a spray bottle. Lightly spritz stain and let sit for 5-10 minutes before washing.
  • Avoid vigorously rubbing stains as this can damage the silk. Be patient and let the detergent do the work.

Step-by-Step Guide to Hand Washing Silk

Follow these steps when hand washing delicate silk garments:

  1. Fill a sink or a tub with cool water. The temperature should be lukewarm, not hot.
  2. Add a small amount of your chosen delicate detergent, like a teaspoon of Woolite (link to Amazon). Agitate the water lightly with your hand to dissolve the detergent.
  3. Submerge the silk item and allow it to soak for 3-5 minutes so the detergent can penetrate the fibers.
  4. Very gently move the item up and down in the water to evenly distribute the detergent through the fabric. Do not wring, twist, or scrub the silk.
  5. When finished washing, carefully lift the item from the water and drain the sink/tub. Do not wring excess water from the silk.
  6. Refill with cool, clean water to rinse the item thoroughly. Change the rinse water several times until all detergent residue is removed.
  7. Roll the item in a clean towel to absorb excess moisture. Avoid wringing or twisting the fabric.
  8. Lay flat or hang to dry. Refer to the drying guidelines in the next section.
silk garment hand washing in basin
hand washing beige silk in basin
beige silk hand wash in basin care
basin hand wash for beige silk
drying beige silk with towel
drying beige silk fabric with towel
silk garment drying flat hang

Additional Tips for Delicates:

  • Washing by hand allows you to be extremely gentle with fragile items. Take your time and handle the fabric carefully.
  • Turn delicate items inside out prior to washing to better protect embellishments and designs on the fabric exterior.
  • Use extra care when moving lightweight silk like camisoles and slips, which can tangle easily.

Here is a table providing practical tips on hand washing different silk items:

Silk ItemHand Washing Tips
Silk dressWash inside out to protect exterior fabric and embroidery. Use a wide hanger to prevent shoulder indentations when drying.
Silk shirtUnbutton completely before washing to clean the collar and cuffs. Wash cuffs separately if more soiled than the rest of the shirt.
Silk sheetsWash one sheet at a time to control agitation. Air dry completely before making bed to avoid mildew.
Silk pillowcaseHand wash pillowcases separately from the pillow. When drying, stuff with towels to retain shape.
Silk tieClip to skirt hanger using clothespins while drying to prevent creases. Use rolled-up towel inside to retain shape.
Silk scarfDon’t soak; gently dab soiled spots with a damp cloth. Smooth out edges with fingers while damp.
Silk blouseHand wash right after wearing; don’t let stains set in. Dry on a flat mesh rack to prevent stretch.
Silk pajamasCheck seams for color fastness as rubbing can bleed. Hang top and bottom separately to dry.
silk fabric basin hand washing process

100% Silk vs. Silk Blends

  • 100% silk requires even more delicacy as the fibers are more prone to snagging. Limit water agitation when hand washing.
  • Silk blended with sturdier fibers like cotton can typically handle a bit more movement when washing. But still, stick to gentle motions.

Washing ‘Dry Clean Only’ Silk

Many silk garments come labeled ‘dry clean only’. However, with care, you can hand wash silk marked for dry cleaning:

  • Double-check for colorfastness and pre-treat any stains.
  • Use cooler water temperatures and minimal water agitation when washing.
  • Skip the soak time to limit excess water exposure.
  • Lay extra flat while drying to prevent stretching the fabric.

I’ve had great success hand washing silk pieces marked ‘dry clean only’ by taking these extra precautions! It saves time and money.

Find out the dos and don’ts in my post on whether it’s okay to soak silk.

Can You Machine Wash Silk?

Occasionally, you may come across a silk item labeled machine washable. In these cases, machine washing is OK but should still be done with care:

  • Use a mesh garment bag to prevent snagging and friction damage in the washer.
  • Wash on a delicate cycle using cool water and mild detergent.
  • Take the garment out immediately after the cycle ends – do not leave it to sit wet!
  • Lay flat or hang to dry; do not machine dry.
delicate cycle for silk in washing machine
laundry mesh bag silk washing in machine
washing machine silk care with mesh bag

I reserve machine washing for sturdy silk blends that specifically say ‘machine washable’. For delicate 100% silk, I always hand wash.

Alternative Washing Methods for Silk

While hand washing is best, here are a few other gentle cleaning methods:

  • Steaming: Lightly steaming silk can help freshen pieces between washes. Keep the steamer moving constantly to avoid damaging the fabric.
  • Spot cleaning: For small stains or pits stains, use a damp cloth with diluted detergent to gently blot the area. Avoid soaking the whole piece.
  • Hand washing with shampoo: For a super gentle clean, use a small amount of light shampoo instead of detergent when hand washing delicate silk. Rinse thoroughly.
wash silk with hair shampoo

I use these alternative methods sparingly when I need a quick refresh on a silk item I’ve worn once or twice. But for deeper cleaning, I find hand washing works best.

Drying and Aftercare for Silk

Proper drying and aftercare will keep your silk looking its best after washing:

  • Lay flat on a towel or mesh garment rack to air dry. This prevents stretching the fibers while wet.
  • If hanging silk pieces, use wide, plastic hangers to evenly distribute the weight and allow air circulation.
  • Avoid direct heat or sunlight when drying, which can damage and discolor silk.
  • Iron while slightly damp using silk setting and inside out. Use light pressure.
  • Store washed silk folded in breathable tissue, never plastic.
  • Hand wash silk every 2-3 wears to prevent oil and dirt buildup.

Here are some additional tips for maintaining your silk:

  • Avoid direct heat from dryers, irons, and steamers to prevent permanent marks.
  • Use silk bags or pillow protectors to prevent body oils from degrading the fabric.
  • Spot clean as needed between full washes to prolong the life of your silk pieces.
  • Limit exposure to harmful UV light which can fade and weaken silk over time.
iron care for blue silk material

Troubleshooting Common Silk Washing Issues

Mishaps can happen, even with the most careful washing. Here are some common issues and how to resolve them:

Your silk developed water spots after washing.Add a bit of white vinegar to cool water in a spray bottle. Lightly mist the spots and press dry with a towel. The vinegar will help dissolve any detergent residue.
A color has bled onto your silk item during washing.Rewash the item separately using cool water and a color-catching sheet. With luck, this should pull out any excess dye. Avoid washing with other items until the bleeding stops.
Your silk shirt has shrunk after washing.This is usually the result of heat exposure. Try gently stretching the fabric back to shape while damp and lay flat to dry. With patience, it should return close to its original size.

Accidental snags or tears can also happen during washing.

While not ideal, I’ve had decent results using fabric glue or even clear nail polish to lightly reinforce small holes and prevent additional fraying.

Don’t be too hard on yourself – silk can be persnickety!

silk apparel hand wash in basin


I hope this guide has helped demystify the process of hand washing your delicate silk clothing and home textiles.

While it does require gentle care, washing silk by hand isn’t difficult. Just be patient, use mild products, keep temperatures cool, and avoid agitation.

With the proper techniques, you can keep your silk pieces looking vibrant and luxe for many years to come.

No fancy dry cleaning is required! What silk items do you have that need a refresh? Give hand washing a try using this easy step-by-step guide.

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