Is Silk Ruined in the Washing Machine? Silk Care Guide

I’ve always loved the luxurious feel and drape of silk clothing. Silk dresses, blouses, and other garments just seem so elegant and timeless in my closet.

However, I used to be so nervous about properly caring for my silk pieces! I had heard horror stories about precious silk items being accidentally ruined in the laundry.

After ruining a couple of special tops from improper silk washing, I realized I needed to learn the ins and outs of silk fabric care.

Proper maintenance is essential for preserving the integrity and extending the longevity of silk clothing.

Through trial and error combined with research, I’ve discovered best practices for silk laundering, drying, ironing, and stain removal.

Follow my comprehensive guide to demystify silk fabric care and keep your cherished silk garments looking fabulous for many years to come!

red silk fabric washing machine care

Understanding the Nature of Silk Fabric

Silk has a reputation for being a very delicate and high-maintenance fabric to care for. And it’s true—silk is made from natural protein fibers that require gentle care.

However, don’t be intimidated! With proper handling, your silk clothing can remain in pristine condition.

First, let’s overview some key facts about silk fabric:

  • Silk is lightweight and breathable, with a soft, luxurious drape.
  • The fibers have an elegant natural sheen, known for draping beautifully on the body.
  • Silk garments should be hand washed or dry cleaned to avoid damage from machine washing.
  • Silk cloth is prone to shrinking, color loss, and texture damage when improperly laundered.

Now that you understand the delicate nature of silk, let’s clear up some common misconceptions:

Silk cannot get wetSilk can get wet and is often safe for gentle machine washing or hand washing with the right precautions
Silk cannot be ironedSilk can be ironed at a low heat setting
Silk stains are permanentMost stains on silk can be treated and removed, especially if addressed promptly with the right methods
Silk must be dry cleanedSilk can often be carefully hand washed at home

The Risks of Machine Washing Your Silk

I learned the hard way that tossing silk clothing into the washing machine can lead to big problems.

The harsh agitation and strong detergents found in most household machines wreak havoc on delicate silk fibers.

Here are some common issues that arise from machine-washing silk items:

  • Shrinkage – The fibers and sizing in silk garments shrink up, resulting in a misshapen, ill-fitting piece of clothing. This effect worsens over time with repeated washes.
  • Loss of sheen – The signature silk luster fades, resulting in a dull, lackluster appearance.
  • Snags and tears – Silk threads catch and snag on the interior of washing machines. This causes permanent rips and holes.
  • Color loss – Vibrant dyes wash out easily in machines, creating faded, lifeless colors.
  • Texture damage –  The soft, smooth handfeel of silk becomes coarser and stiffer after machine washing.
silk fabrics heritage park detergent mix

100% silk items face the most risk, as they contain zero stretch and are most susceptible to shrinking and distortion. But even silk blends can suffer from machine washing damage.

When in doubt, always opt for hand washing your silk garments to preserve their integrity and beauty over time.

How to Tell If Your Silk Is Ruined from the Washing Machine

We’ve gone over how machine washing can damage silk garments, but how do you know if your silk item is permanently ruined or if the issues are fixable?

Here are some signs to look for:

Minor Damage

  • Slight shrinkage, especially at the seams
  • Loss of up to 2 inches in length or width
  • Very minor snags or holes along seams
  • Slight loss of sheen throughout the fabric

Irreversible Damage

  • Severe shrinkage throughout, the piece becomes many sizes smaller
  • Shredding, major snags, or large holes/tears
  • Loss of 3+ inches in length or width
  • Extreme color fading – colors now appear washed out
  • Drastic change in handfeel and texture – silk now feels rough, stiff, or crunchy

If you notice any irreversible damage, the silk fabric itself has likely been compromised and the item may be too far gone to rescue.

But if your silk garment only exhibits minor damage, then it still has the potential to be restored with proper care!

silk apparel hand wash in basin

Best Practices for Washing Silk

I exclusively hand wash or dry clean all my silk now, but I know washing machines are a necessary evil sometimes. Here are my tips for safely laundering silk:

Hand Washing Method

  • Fill a sink or a basin with cool water and a gentle detergent like Woolite.
  • Allow the garment to soak for 3-5 minutes, gently swishing the water to dislodge stains.
  • Drain the dirty water and refill the basin, repeating the soaking process until the garment is clean.
  • Avoid harsh twisting, pulling, or wringing motions that can damage fibers.
  • Roll the item in a towel to gently press out excess moisture.
  • Dry silk flat on a towel or drying rack, out of direct sunlight.
hand cleaning beige silk in basin

Cautious Machine Washing

  • Choose a gentle, front-loading machine model if possible. Top loaders are very rough on silk.
  • Wash your silk on the Delicates cycle using cool water and a mild detergent.
  • Place the silk item in a mesh garment bag before washing it to prevent snagging.
  • Hang dry your silk after washing – never put silk items in the dryer! The heat damages fibers.
  • Use this method only for solid-colored, blend, or performance silk garments, not for delicate 100% silk.

I’ve detailed the safest approach in my guide on washing silk fabrics in a washing machine.

washing machine silk care with mesh bag

Choosing the Right Products

  • Detergent – Use a gentle soap designed for delicates, like Woolite or The Laundress Silk Wash. Avoid regular detergents.
  • Garment bag – Select a bag with a very fine mesh that won’t catch on silk threads and snag 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.

detergent silk fabrics heritage park use

Special Care Tips for 100% Silk

Pure silk garments have very particular needs when it comes to laundering. Here are my top tips:

  • Hand wash only – Do not risk machine washing 100% silk items even on the Delicates cycle.
  • Use cooler water – Lukewarm or cooler water is best, as hot water can damage proteins in silk fibers.
  • Roll gently in a towel to remove moisture – Avoid wringing or twisting motions.
  • Lay extra flat while drying – 100% silk is prone to retaining weird creases if not dried perfectly flat.
  • Dry away from heat – Room temperature drying is best to prevent shrinking. Never tumble dry or iron silk until completely dry.
  • Stretch it back out – For items that shrink slightly, gently stretch and block them back into shape while drying.

Get the ideal settings from my guide on the best temperature to wash silk.

Treatments for Accidental Machine Washing of Silk

We all experience laundry mishaps from time to time. If you’ve accidentally machine-washed a beloved silk blouse or dress, don’t panic! Here are some tricks to restore your silk:

  • Hand wash again in cool water to attempt to remove detergent residue and potentially reshape fibers.
  • For shrunken items, fill a basin with cool water and a hair conditioner. Soak the garment for up to an hour to help relax the fibers. Gently stretch and reshape the silk as it soaks.
  • Use a steamer to help smooth out wrinkles, creases, or areas with distorted shapes. Avoid hot ironing.
  • For snags and holes, apply a small dot of clear nail polish to prevent further unraveling. Use tweezers to gently adjust threads back into alignment.
  • Consult a professional cleaner for dye restoration if the colors appear very faded. Avoid redyeing at home.
iron care for blue silk material

When to Send Silk to the Dry Cleaner

While many silk garments can be hand washed at home, dry cleaning is preferred in certain scenarios:

  • Heavily soiled, stained, or smelly garments. Professional machines and chemical solvents remove tough odors and set-in stains.
  • Expensive designer or couture silk pieces with delicate embellishments and details.
  • Antique or vintage silk clothing prone to dye loss – dry cleaning is gentler.
  • Performance silks that blend silk with spandex or synthetics allowing machine washing. The dry cleaner helps preserve the integrity of the silk fibers over time.
  • Wedding dresses and formal silk gowns with long hems or trains. Dry cleaners carefully press and shape garments.
  • Sheer and ultra-delicate silk fabrics like charmeuse or chiffon that tear easily when hand washed.

When in doubt, ask your trusted local dry cleaner for advice on the best cleaning method for your particular silk item.

Additional Silk Care Tips and Tricks

Follow these extra recommendations for keeping your silk looking fabulous:

  • Freshen up wrinkled silk by steaming instead of ironing whenever possible. Iron at max cool setting only if needed.
  • Use a soft brush, like a clothes lint brush, to remove dust and pet hair from silk garments.
  • Spot clean stains on silk immediately with cool water and a gentle soap. Avoid aggressive scrubbing.
  • Allow silk to air dry fully before wearing or storing to prevent mildew and funky smells.
  • Wet a towel and place it in the dryer with your silk item on the Air Fluff cycle to quickly soften stiff, crunchy silk.
  • Store silk properly folded in breathable cotton or silk garment bags. Avoid plastic bags.
drying silk fabric hanging flat


Caring for your precious silk items doesn’t need to be intimidating or confusing.

By following the recommendations in this guide, you can feel confident washing, drying, storing, and repairing your silk clothing properly.

The key points to remember are:

  • Always opt for hand washing or professional dry cleaning over machine washing delicate silk garments.
  • Use only mild, silk-safe detergents and wash in cool water to prevent damage.
  • Air dry silk completely flat to avoid shrinkage issues. Never put silk in the dryer.
  • Know the signs of irreversible damage like extreme shrinkage, tears, or sheerness. Minor issues can often be remedied with restoration techniques.
  • Steam, spot clean, and store silk properly to maintain its beauty over many years of wear.

With some diligence, you can avoid permanently ruining your silk garments and enjoy them for seasons to come.

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