Is 100% Silk Dry Clean Only? A Guide to Silk Garment Care

Silk is one of the most luxurious and delicate fabrics, which is why many silk garments come with “dry clean only” labels.

But is dry cleaning truly necessary for all silk clothes? Or are there safe at-home methods for caring for your precious silk items?

In this article, I’ll explore the unique properties of silk fabric, discuss the pros and cons of dry cleaning, and provide tips for washing silk safely.

My goal is to help you make informed choices about keeping your silk garments looking their absolute best.

beige silk cloth spread on table

Exploring the Nature of Silk Fabric

Silk has a reputation for being a high-maintenance fabric that requires special handling. But while it does need gentle care, silk is not as fragile as many believe.

Here are some key facts about silk fabric:

  • Silk consists of natural protein fibers produced by silkworms. This gives silk a smooth, luxurious feel.
  • The fibers have an oblong, triangular shape that refracts light differently, giving silk its signature sheen.
  • Silk is very strong considering how fine it is. An individual filament of silk is stronger than a filament of steel of the same diameter.
  • However, silk fibers have little elasticity. Too much pulling or stretching can cause them to break.
  • Silk absorbs moisture easily, but also dries quickly. It does not hold stains well.
  • Heat and abrasion can damage silk fibers over time.

So while silk requires gentle care, it is not as high maintenance as often assumed.

By understanding its properties and following proper care methods, silk can be safely cleaned at home in many cases.

showcasing beige silk on table

Dry Cleaning 100% Silk

Dry cleaning has traditionally been the default recommendation for silk care. There are some benefits to professionally dry cleaning silk garments:

  • Avoids water exposure: Since over-wetting silk can cause damage, dry cleaning avoids this risk entirely.
  • Uses gentle solvents: The solvents used in dry cleaning are designed to be gentle on fabrics. They clean effectively without being harsh.
  • Professional handling: Trained dry cleaning staff are experienced in properly caring for delicate fabrics like silk.

However, dry cleaning does have some downsides:

  • Not environmentally friendly: The solvents like perchloroethylene used in traditional dry cleaning have raised health concerns and are not eco-friendly.
  • Risk of color loss: The chemicals sometimes used in dry cleaning can fade or bleach silk fabrics over time.
  • Potential shrinkage: Dry cleaning methods that use heat for drying or ironing could cause silk garments to shrink slightly.
  • Repeated cleaning wears fabric: The agitation of professional dry cleaning can weaken silk fibers gradually with repeated cleaning.

So while dry cleaning is a safe option, it may not be ideal for all silk items, especially those worn frequently. Next, let’s look at how to hand wash silk safely at home.

Uncover the best fabric care practices in my article about washing vs. dry cleaning silk.

basin method for hand washing silk

Alternatives to Dry Cleaning

Many silk garments labeled “dry clean only” can actually be gently hand washed at home without risk of damage. Here is my recommended method:

Supplies Needed

  • Mild, pH-neutral liquid soap or specialty silk wash
  • Large sink or tub filled with cool or lukewarm water
  • Soft towels
  • Garment drying rack or flat surface for laying flat to dry

Heritage Park Laundry Detergent (link to Amazon) is my go-to for silk items. It’s incredibly gentle on the delicate fabric, ensuring that my silks last longer and stay gorgeous.

manually washing silk fabrics in basin

Step-By-Step Instructions

  1. Pre-treat any stains: Use a stain removal pen or pre-wash spray to pretreat any food, makeup, or perspiration stains on your silk garment. This will prevent setting them during washing.
  2. Mix soap with water: Fill your sink or tub with cool or lukewarm water. Mix in a small amount of your chosen mild soap. The water should feel slick, but not overly soapy.
  3. Submerge garment: Gently place your silk item in the water, moving it around to fully saturate. Do not rub, twist, scrub, or press on the fabric. Let it soak for 2-3 minutes.
  4. Drain soapy water: Drain the soapy water out. Do not wring or twist the item to remove water. Support the weight of the wet garment as you transfer it.
  5. Rinse thoroughly: Fill again with clean cool water to rinse out all soap. You may need to rinse multiple times if heavily soiled.
  6. Roll in a towel to absorb moisture: Lay the garment flat on a towel. Gently roll up the towel and item together to press out excess moisture. Unroll and reshape the item.
  7. Lay flat to dry: Lay the garment flat on a drying rack or towel. Smooth out the fabric to its original shape. Allow to fully air dry. Iron on low heat if needed after drying.
spritzing silk for stain cleaning
water flowing into basin
hand laundering beige silk cloth
soaking beige silk in hand wash
laying silk on towel to dry
silk cloth drying on towel
silk clothes drying in open air

Key Tips for Washing Silk at Home

  • Always check care labels first and test wash in an inconspicuous area if unsure.
  • Stick to cool or barely lukewarm water temperatures to avoid damaging fibers.
  • Use a very minimal amount of mild detergent to avoid residue on the fabric.
  • Handle silk gently and avoid agitation when washing and drying.
  • Lay flat to dry to maintain the garment’s shape and avoid stretching.

By following these instructions, you can safely hand wash many “dry clean only” silk items at home.

The key is gentle handling. Now let’s look at what can go wrong if proper care is not used.

Find out the consequences in my post on what happens if you don’t hand wash silk.

Risks of Incorrect Silk Care

Silk is a delicate fabric that requires proper handling. If care instructions are not followed closely, there are a few risks to be aware of:

  • Shrinkage – Exposing silk to high heat either during washing or drying can cause the fibers to shrink up and tighten.
  • Snags and tears – Silk filaments are smooth and fine. They can catch on jewelry or rough surfaces, resulting in pulled threads and tears.
  • Water stains – Allowing water to pool on silk instead of drying flat can leave permanent ring stains on the fabric.
  • Color loss – Using hot water or harsh detergents strips the dye from silk fibers faster, causing fading over time.
  • Weakened fibers – Aggressive scrubbing and twisting silk when wet weakens the fibers causing them to break down faster.
  • Loss of sheen – Improper handling that damages the surface fibers removes silk’s signature shine.
visible stain on silk textile

The most common silk care mistakes that lead to these issues include:

  • Washing in hot water temperatures
  • Using regular laundry detergent instead of specialty silk soap
  • Scrubbing and wringing out silk garments when washing
  • Failing to lay silk flat or hanging to dry instead
  • Ironing silk at the highest heat setting

With the proper gentle approach, these risks can be avoided. Next, let’s go over some best practices for keeping silk looking its best.

Preventing Damage and Prolonging Silk Garment Lifespan

Here are my top tips for maintaining your silk clothing and extending its lifespan:

  • Read and follow all care instructions – This is essential to understand proper washing methods, ironing temperatures, and other care needed. When in doubt, default to more delicate handling.
  • Wash infrequently and spot clean when possible – Limiting washing preserves the fibers. Spot treat stains instead of full washing whenever you can.
  • Use proper storage methods – Keep silk garments in breathable garment bags or tissue paper inside closets. Never use plastic bags.
  • Avoid friction and pulling – Prevent snags by keeping silk away from velcro, zippers, buttons, and jewelry during wear and cleaning.
  • Limit sun exposure – Direct sunlight can fade and weaken silk fibers. Keep silk garments out of prolonged bright light.
  • Smooth out wrinkles gently – When needed, use an iron on the lowest silk setting or steam wrinkles instead of high-heat ironing.
  • Pre-treat stains immediately – This prevents the setting and spread of stains. Use a stain removal pen or dilute mild soap in water to lightly pretreat stains.
  • Take silk items to a trusted cleaner – For heavily soiled items, an experienced silk specialty cleaner is safest. Verify they use gentle methods without harsh chemicals.

By incorporating these care practices into your routine, you can keep silk looking fabulous and prevent damage.

elegant beige silk fabric on wooden table

Can I Use Bleach or Color-Safe Bleach When Washing Silk?

No, you should never use any bleach products on silk fabrics.

Bleach is much too harsh and will damage the silk fibers, causing weakening, yellowing, and fading. Always stick to mild liquid detergents labeled as safe for silk when cleaning.

How Can I Get Wrinkles Out of Silk Clothing?

If silk clothing becomes wrinkled from wearing, the best method is to use hot steam from an iron or garment steamer held above the item.

Avoid directly touching the silk with the iron.

The steam will relax the fibers. You can also hang the silk item in a steamy bathroom to relax wrinkles. Only iron silk on the lowest heat setting as needed.

iron press for silk fabrics

Can I Put Silk Items in the Washing Machine or Dryer?

It’s best to avoid the washing machine and dryer for silk clothing. The agitation of a washing machine drum can damage silk fibers over time.

The heat of a dryer, even on low settings, can cause silk garments to shrink.

For the safest results, silk should be hand-washed and laid flat to air dry only. If machine washing, use a mesh bag and air dry.


While silk does require gentle care, it is not as high maintenance as its reputation suggests. 

Now that you understand silk’s unique properties and how to care for it properly, you can feel confident washing many silk garments safely at home.

The keys are using lukewarm water, mild detergent, delicate handling, and proper drying methods.

By avoiding heat, friction, and over-washing, you can help silk maintain its integrity and keep it looking beautiful for many wears.

With the proper care, your silk blouses, dresses, and other garments can stay vibrant and last for many years to come.

Just be sure to follow fabric care labels and err on the side of gentleness whenever you clean, wear, or store your silk item.

Leave a Reply

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