How to Remove Odors from Silk: A Practical Guide

Having silk items that smell fresh and clean is so satisfying. But nothing is worse than pulling out your favorite silk blouse or dress only to get hit with a musty, sour odor.

Silk’s delicate nature makes it prone to retaining smells. The good news is that with proper care, you can keep your silk smelling as lovely as it looks.

In this article, I’ll cover the common causes of odor in silk and effective techniques to remove smells and prevent their return. You’ll learn how to:

  • Air out, spot clean and wash silk to tackle odors
  • Choose the right detergents for washing silk
  • Address specific odor issues like body odor and mothball smell
  • Implement preventive measures to avoid silk-absorbing odors
  • Properly store cleaned silk to maintain freshness

Follow these practical tips, and you’ll be able to keep your elegant silk items odor-free for years to come. Let’s get started!

spritzing silk for stain cleaning

Understanding Silk and Odor Retention

To understand how to remove odors from silk, it helps to first understand why silk is prone to retaining smells in the first place.

Silk fibers are extremely fine and smooth. This allows odor molecules to easily adhere to and penetrate the fibers.

Additionally, silk is hydrophobic, meaning it repels water while readily absorbing oil-based substances – like many odor molecules.

Here are some examples of why silk may retain odors:

  • Body odors from sweat and skin oils adhere easily to silk. The heat from your body as you wear the item also helps odors absorb into the fibers.
  • Musty, damp smells can develop if silk is stored improperly in humid environments. The moisture gets trapped in the fibers.
  • External smells like food, smoke, and chemicals can transfer to silk quite readily. The same goes for strong-smelling storage items like mothballs.

So silk’s smoothness, hydrophobic properties, and delicacy are what make it prone to holding onto odors. But not to worry – with the right washing methods, you can keep your silk fresh.

beige silk cloth spread on table

Common Causes of Odor in Silk

Before we get into removal methods, let’s go over the most common causes of silk odor so you know what you might be dealing with:

  • Body Odor: Skin secretions, especially sweat, are rapidly absorbed by silk. Odors build up over time with wear.
  • Musty, Damp Smell: Develops when silk is stored in humid, poorly ventilated areas. Also caused by getting silk wet and not drying it fully.
  • Mothball Smell: Transfers from cedar balls/blocks or mothballs used to protect stored woolens. The smell lingers in silk.
  • Smoke Odor: Residue from cigarettes, incense, or fireplace smoke seeps into silk fibers.
  • Mildew Odor: Results from exposure to moisture and dampness.
  • Stale or Sour Odor: Develops when silk is kept packed away for a long time without air circulation.
  • Cooking Odors: Frying, grilling, and other cooking smells easily transfer to and cling to silk.
  • Chemical Smells: From fragrance, hairspray, and products like carpet cleaners or bleach.

Now that you know where these common silk odors stem from, let’s look at how to tackle removing each smell.

silk fabric stain removed

Removing Odors without Washing

For mild odor issues, you may be able to freshen your silk without a full wash. Here are some simple odor-removal methods to try first:

Airing Out Silk

This is the easiest and safest option to try with delicate silk clothing and fabric.

  • Hang or lay the silk item outdoors or near an open window. Direct fresh air circulation helps dissipate odors.
  • Placing silk in sunlight also helps – the UV rays and heat help break down odor molecules. Just make sure to avoid direct sun exposure to prevent fading.
  • Allow at least several hours of airing out time. Leaving overnight is best for strong odors.
silk textile air dry method

Using Odor Absorbers

You can place odor-absorbing items near or inside the silk. These help trap and neutralize smell molecules.

  • Activated charcoal pouches work great – they actively pull odors from the air and fabric.
  • Baking soda boxes or open dishes of baking soda or vinegar also help absorb odors over time.
  • For musty smells, place crumpled newspaper inside to help wick away moisture and odor.
  • Cedar blocks, lavender sachets, or coffee grounds may help mask odors.

Spot Cleaning

For more targeted odor removal:

  • Lightly sponge problem areas with rubbing alcohol or vodka to help kill bacteria causing body odor. Use about 2 tablespoons of rubbing alcohol or vodka for this purpose.
  • Spot clean musty underarm areas with a diluted white vinegar solution. Mix 1 part white vinegar with 4 parts water for the solution.
  • For smoke or food odors, make a solution of hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, and water. Combine 1/2 cup of hydrogen peroxide, 2 tablespoons of baking soda, and 1 cup of water for this solution.
washing beige silk garment in water

Always test cleaning solutions on hidden parts of the silk first to check for discoloration or damage. And avoid over-wetting silk when spot cleaning.

Washing Silk to Remove Odors

If airing out and spot cleaning doesn’t do the trick, washing may be required to fully remove stubborn silk odors.

Take care to wash silk delicately – harsh cleaners and high agitation can damage fibers.

Hand Washing

This is the most effective and gentlest washing method for silk items. Follow these steps:

  • Fill a sink or tub with lukewarm water. Test temperature on your wrist – it should feel neither hot nor cold.
  • Add a small amount of mild, pH-neutral liquid soap like Woolite or liquid Castile soap. Avoid using too much soap as it can leave residue on silk.
  • Gently submerge and soak the silk for a few minutes, moving it around to release odors. Don’t rub, twist, or agitate it.
  • Drain the dirty water. Rinse the silk in clean lukewarm water until the water runs clear.
  • Lay flat or hang to air dry out of direct sunlight. Iron while slightly damp if needed to remove wrinkles.
water flowing into basin
beige silk textile hand wash
soaking beige silk in hand wash
wet silk fabric drying naturally

Washing Machine

If needed for heavy soiling, you can wash silk in the machine but take precautions:

  • Use a mesh wash bag to prevent snagging. Close zippers, hooks, etc.
  • Wash on the delicate cycle with cold water and a mild detergent.
  • If possible, pause the washer mid-cycle to check for tangles. Refill with water to finish rinsing.
  • Lay flat or hang to dry; avoid heat drying.
delicate cycle for silk in washing machine
using laundry mesh bag for machine washing silk

Choosing Detergents

Stick to gentle cleansers like:

  • Liquid Castile or baby soap
  • Specialty silk soaps and shampoos
  • Mild synthetic detergents labeled “Safe for Silk”
  • Non-alkaline soaps without added perfumes or dyes

If you cherish your silk items as I do, you’ll love Heritage Park Laundry Detergent (link to Amazon). It gently cares for the fabric, preserving its natural beauty and prolonging its life.

heritage park silk detergent silk clothes cleaning

Avoid regular laundry detergent, dish soap, wool wash, and hand/body washes as they can contain harsh ingredients.

Addressing Specific Odor Issues

Certain types of odors like body sweat and mothballs can be tricky to remove from silk. Here are some targeted solutions:

Removing Body Odor

  • Presoak and wash affected areas with diluted white vinegar or vodka. This helps kill odor-causing bacteria. Use a solution of 1 part white vinegar or vodka to 4 parts water for presoaking.
  • Baking soda can help deodorize – add 1⁄4 cup to the wash water to avoid potential residue.
  • For arm areas, apply lemon juice and let dry in sunlight before washing. The acid cuts the odor.
  • Use an enzymatic cleaner or detergent booster that attacks protein-based stains – effective on sweat and body oils.

Eliminating Mothball Smell

That distinctive, headache-inducing mothball odor can cling to silk but there are ways to tackle it:

  • Soak in a bath of white vinegar diluted with water – the acetic acid cuts through the smell. Use a ratio of 1 cup white vinegar to 4 cups water for the bath.
  • Wipe down with rubbing alcohol or lemon juice. Apply a small amount, about 2 tablespoons, on a cloth or sponge for wiping.
  • Sprinkle liberally with baking soda before packing away – it’ll absorb any lingering mothball odor. Use about 1/4 cup of baking soda for a medium-sized item.
  • After washing, allow the silk to air dry for several hours to allow all traces of the smell to fully dissipate.

Find out the reasons in my article on why silk smells after washing and how to fix it.

vinegar wash for silk fabrics

Removing Smoke Odor

Smoke odor is challenging to remove given how porous silk fibers are. Try these steps:

  • Soak in a solution of mild detergent and cool water before washing. Avoid using oxygen-based bleach like OxiClean as it can be harsh on silk.
  • Add baking soda and lemon juice to the wash – together they help neutralize smoke smells. Use about 1/2 cup of baking soda and 1/4 cup of lemon juice for a standard load of laundry.
  • Air dry in sunlight rather than machine drying – the heat and tumbling can set the smell.
  • As a last resort, have the item professionally dry cleaned with an odor-removing solvent. Let them know it’s smoke damaged.
  • Commercial ozone treatment can also help eliminate stubborn smoke smell from silk fabric.
  • For slight smoky food odors, try spraying vodka or lemon juice, letting sit, then airing outside. The acid cuts through the smell.

No matter the odor, inspect the silk carefully after washing.

Ensure all traces of smell are fully gone before wearing or storing – odors left behind will only intensify. With silk, patience pays off.

Explore my tips on how to deal with tea stains on silk fabrics.

Preventive Measures to Avoid Odor

Prevention is just as important as removal when it comes to keeping silk odor-free. Here are some tips:

  • Allow silk to fully air and dry out between wears – don’t let moisture and body oils linger.
  • Dry clean sparingly, as the chemicals can leave residue that attracts odors over time.
  • Store cleaned silk in breathable garment bags, not airtight plastic.
  • Use cedar blocks, not mothballs, to guard against insects when packing silk items away.
  • Wash silk regularly, even after minimal wears to prevent odor buildup.
  • Avoid spills by not eating or drinking while wearing your silk garments. Accidents happen!
  • Hang silk clothing on rust-free hangers and space out items in the closet. This allows air circulation.
  • Keep silk in a climate-controlled environment – avoid humidity, heat, and rapid changes in temperature.

With diligent care and cleaning, you can prevent odors from taking hold in your silk items.

elegant beige silk fabric on wooden table

Aftercare and Storage for Odor-Free Silk

The way you handle silk post-cleaning also helps prevent the return of odors:

  • Allow washed silk to fully air dry rather than machine drying to prevent heat damage and shrinkage. For sarees and heavy fabrics, lay flat initially, then hang to finish drying.
  • Steam or gently iron while still slightly damp using a low heat setting – excessive heat can damage silk fibers.
  • Store silk loosely folded or draped – don’t pack it tightly into closets or drawers. Trapped air leads to odors.
  • Use unscented anti-humidity packets in storage containers and closets to keep the air dry.
  • Periodically air out stored silk by removing it from storage and letting it hang outside for a while.
  • Keep stored silk garments in breathable cotton muslin bags rather than plastic – plastic traps odors.

Follow these aftercare steps, and your silk will retain that just-cleaned freshness for months to come!

showcasing beige silk on table


With its smooth textures and elegant drape, silk is a luxurious fabric to wear and own. But its delicate nature also makes it prone to retaining odors.

Body oils, environmental smells, storage scents, and other odor culprits can grab onto silk fibers and be difficult to remove.

Luckily, there are many techniques you can use to safely lift odors from your silk items.

Mild washing, air drying, odor absorbers, and spot treatments allow you to tackle smells without risking damage to delicate silk fabric.

And with preventive care, you can stop odors from taking hold in the first place.

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