Does Silk Shrink in the Wash? Tips You Should Know

If you own any silk clothing or accessories, you’ve probably wondered whether you can safely wash them at home.

As a longtime silk enthusiast myself, I totally get the dilemma. Silk has a reputation for being a super delicate fabric that requires special handling.

So can silk shrink if you wash it? What temperature water is silk washable in? Does silk shrink in the dryer?

In this article, I’ll share my tips for washing silk without causing it to shrink. My goal is to give you the knowledge and confidence to care for your silk items properly.

With the right precautions, you can safely launder silk garments and linens while preserving their beauty. Let’s dive in!

machine washing red silk garment

The Nature of Silk and Washing Concerns

First, a quick Silk 101.

Silk is a natural protein fiber produced by silkworms. It is prized for its smooth texture, beautiful drape, and lustrous sheen.

However, silk’s protein structure also makes it vulnerable to damage from improper washing.

The biggest concern is shrinkage. When washed wrong, silk fibers can tighten and cause garments to shrink.

Excess agitation can also create snags or tears in the delicate silk fabric. That’s why many silk items have strict “Dry Clean Only” labels.

But dry cleaning isn’t cheap! And it eventually causes wear and tear too. So understanding how to wash silk correctly allows you to safely clean silk at home.

How Much Does Silk Shrink When Washed?

The amount of shrinkage depends on a few key factors:

  • Temperature – Hotter water causes more silk shrinkage.
  • Agitation – Vigorous motion damages silk fibers.
  • Detergent – Harsh soaps strip sericin, silk’s protective coating.

With the right precautions, silk shrinks minimally in home washing.

In my experience, a silk blouse or scarf might shrink about 1-2% when hand-washed in lukewarm water with mild soap.

Here’s how silk shrinkage compares in different wash scenarios:

Washing MethodEstimated Shrinkage
Hand-washed in cold water with silk detergent1% or less
Machine washed on delicate in warm water2-3%
Machine-washed in hot water with regular detergentUp to 5%
Machine washed and machine dried on high heatUp to 8%

As you can see, high heat and agitation dramatically increase silk’s shrinkage risk. But when washed with care, silk shrinks minimally.

My guide on whether you can wash silk in cold water offers some valuable insights for fabric care.

Machine Washing Silk: Risks and Precautions

Can you put silk in the washing machine? I don’t recommend it. The motion of a washing machine, even on delicate settings, can damage silk’s fibers.

However, for washable silk blends or very sturdy silk, like shantung or dupioni, machine washing is possible if you follow these precautions:

  • Use a mesh wash bag to prevent snagging.
  • Wash on the delicate or hand-wash cycle with cold water.
  • Skip the wash and rinse spin cycles to limit agitation.
  • Lay flat or hang to dry; never machine-dry silk!
using laundry mesh bag for machine washing silk

With these safeguards, silk might shrink slightly in the machine, but likely less than 3%.

For best results though, I suggest hand washing finer silk fabrics like charmeuse or habotai. 

Take your time massaging in soap gently with your hands. This gives you control over the motion.

The Role of Temperature in Silk Care

When it comes to washing silk, temperature matters. Hot water causes more vigorous agitation between silk fibers, leading to greater shrinkage.

Here are my recommended water temperature guidelines:

  • Delicate silks like charmeuse or habotai: Cool or lukewarm water
  • Twill weave silks like shantung: Warm water
  • Sturdy silks like dupioni: Warm to hot water

Use your best judgment based on the silk’s thickness. Thin, lightweight silks are more vulnerable to heat damage.

Heavier silk can better tolerate warm, even hot water in some cases. But when in doubt, err on the side of coolness.

delicate cycle for silk in washing machine

The Drying Dilemma: Can Silk Shrink in the Dryer?

Putting silk in the dryer is a surefire way to shrink it. The tumbling motion damages fibers, while the heat causes fibers to tighten.

Air drying is always best for silk. Lay flat on a towel or hang items to maintain shape. Low heat from an iron or blow dryer can speed drying time if needed.

If you do accidentally shrink silk in the dryer, all hope is not lost! Here are some tricks to try restoring shrunken silk items:

  • Steam while gently pulling and stretching the fabric.
  • Fill a spray bottle with warm water and lightly mist the silk while gently tugging it into shape.
  • For severe shrinkage, try rewetting the silk and reshaping it on a towel while still damp.

With patience, you can often relax shrunken silk back close to its original size.

Explore my tips on how to intentionally shrink 100% silk for a perfect fit.

Post-Wash Silk Care: Restoration and Maintenance

Once washed, proper finishing steps help silk keep its sheen and drape. Here are my tips:

  • Avoid harsh brushing or wringing when wet – this stretches fibers.
  • Roll silk in a towel to absorb moisture, then lay flat to dry.
  • Iron on low heat if needed once completely dry.
  • Use silk press cloth between iron and fabric to prevent shine.
  • Steam while ironing to relax fibers.
red silk hand drying with soft towel
safe drying of red silk with towel

Gentle handling maintains the luxurious look and feel of silk. Proper storage is also key for washable silks:

  • Fold and put silks away promptly after ironing.
  • Use breathable garment bags or tissue paper in drawers.
  • Avoid hanging silk items on wire hangers long term.

With some TLC, your silk will stay beautiful wash after wash!

Identifying and Rectifying Damaged Silk

Uh oh, is your silk ruined after washing? Look for these signs of damage:

  • Excessive shrinkage, distortion of shape
  • Snags, pulled threads, tears
  • Dull, lackluster appearance
  • Stiff, rough texture

Severe shrinkage may be irreparable. But you can repair small snags and tears at home. Here’s how:

  • Apply a small dot of clear nail polish on the tear to prevent unraveling.
  • Place iron-on silk repair tape behind the tear.
  • Lightly iron over the tape to bond it inside the fabric.

This quick fix is nearly invisible! For dull silk, try vinegar rinses to restore sheen and softness. Rewash and dry silk before wearing it again.

While not all damage is reversible, these handy tips can rescue many a silk item from the trash!

silk apparel hand wash in basin

Preventative Measures and Best Practices

Now that we’ve covered silk washing risks and fixes, here are my top tips for keeping your silk looking fabulous:

  • Pretreat stains by dabbing with mild soap and water.
  • Turn garments inside out before washing to protect the fabric.
  • Use a mesh bag for delicate items in the washing machine.
  • Wash by hand with cool water and specialized silk detergent.
  • Gently clean silk by soaking and rinsing rather than scrubbing.
  • Limit wash time to 3-5 minutes max.
  • Roll in towel and dry flat, outside out.
  • Steam press while still slightly damp.
  • Store silk properly folded or hanging in breathable bags.

Follow these best practices, and you can confidently wash silk at home without worry!

Special Situations and FAQs

You’ve got silk washing down pat. But here are answers to some common silk laundry questions:

Can Silk Shrink If Washed in Cold Water?

Yes, silk can still shrink a small amount (around 1%) even in cold water. The agitation from washing causes silk fibers to tighten slightly, even in cooler temps.

But cold water minimizes the shrinking risk significantly.

washing beige silk by hand in basin

How Long Does Silk Stay Shrunk After Washing?

The shrinkage is permanent, but with some time and effort, you can manually stretch silk back close to its original pre-wash size.

Gentle tugging techniques while steaming or spraying with water can help relax the tightened fibers.

Does Hand Washing Silk Prevent Shrinkage?

Hand washing greatly reduces the risk of shrinkage, but doesn’t completely prevent it.

With care, shrinkage should stay under 2% with hand washing. But delicate silks may still shrink slightly, especially if washed in hot water.

Can You Iron Silk to Unshrink It?

Yes, ironing damp silk while gently pulling and stretching the fabric is an effective way to shrink shrunken silk back to size.

The heat helps relax fibers while the tugging provides tension to return to its dimensions.

blue silk garment care ironing

Is Silk Ruined If Washed in Hot Water?

Not necessarily ruined, but hot water can cause extreme shrinkage and damage.

For any other silk questions, remember the rules of gentle temperature, minimal motion, and proper drying.

Armed with silk washing knowledge, you can clean your silks at home and keep them looking their absolute best.


I hope this guide gave you the silk-washing confidence boost you needed! While silk is delicate, common-sense precautions make home laundering possible.

With cool water, mild detergent, minimal agitation, and air drying, you can safely wash your silk without shrinkage or damage.

Remember to assess each item and adjust your approach accordingly.

Lightweight silks require more care than sturdy fabrics. But any silk can be washed at home with the right methods.

Caring for your silk properly extends its lifespan so you can enjoy it for many years to come. 

Put these tips into practice and say goodbye to costly dry cleaning. I’m cheering you on as you wash your silk at home.

Leave a Reply

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