Silk Smell After Washing: Understanding and Eliminating Odor

As a fan of silk clothing, nothing is more frustrating than taking a freshly washed silk blouse or dress out of the laundry and catching an unpleasant musty, or sour odor.

Why does silk sometimes smell after washing, and what can be done to prevent and remove odors?

In this article, I’ll share tips from my own experience caring for silk garments along with expert advice for keeping your silks fresh.

Follow along for the full scoop on understanding and eliminating silk smell!

silk fabric hand wash using basin

Why Does My Silk Smell Funny After Washing?

Silk has a reputation for being a delicate fabric that requires special care. Unlike synthetic fabrics, silk is sensitive to changes in temperature, detergents, and drying methods.

If not washed and dried properly, silk can take on a foul odor. Here are some of the common causes of silk smell:

  • Moisture – Silk holds onto moisture easily. If not fully dried, damp silk can become a breeding ground for mildew and bacteria that cause stinky odors.
  • Heat – High heat, like that used in machine drying, can damage silk and cause it to smell.
  • Agitation – The churning action of a washing machine can damage silk fibers leading to odor. Handwashing is best.
  • Detergents – Harsh detergents strip silk of its natural oils and disrupt its delicate protein fibers. This makes silk more prone to odors.
  • Body Oils & Sweat – Silk readily absorbs sweat, skin oils, and perfumes. Washing alone may not remove these odor sources from silk fabric.
  • Chemical Reactions – Combinations of body oils, detergents, and even tap water minerals can react with silk fibers and cause unpleasant smells.

The main point is that silk is a sensitive, delicate protein fiber that requires gentle care. If washing and drying techniques disrupt silk’s structure, unwanted odors can result.

Follow my tips below for keeping silk fresh!

beige silk material laid out on table

Best Practices For Washing Silk

Caring for silk properly starts with gentle washing practices that maintain the integrity of the silk fibers:

  • Handwash only – Always handwash silk or use the delicates cycle in your washing machine. Agitation and friction from regular washing can damage silk and lead to smells.
  • Cool water – Use lukewarm or cool water when washing silk. Hot water can cause silk to become brittle and prone to odors.
  • Gentle detergent – Choose a mild detergent like Woolite or a specialty soap for delicates. Harsh detergents strip away silk’s oils.
  • Avoid chlorine bleach – Never use chlorine bleach on silk as it will break down the fibers. Opt for an oxygen-based bleach if needed.
  • Gently squeeze – After washing, avoid wringing silk garments. Gently squeeze out excess water instead. Wringing can stress and damage silk fibers.
  • Dry flat – Always lay silk garments flat to dry. Hanging silk while wet can stretch the fabric out of shape.
laying wet silk out for air drying

Top Detergents For Washing Silk

Picking the right laundry detergent is key for keeping silk odor-free. Here are some great options:

  • Woolite Delicates (link to Amazon) – This gentle cleanser is specially formulated for delicates like silk. It cleans without stripping oils or disturbing fibers.
  • The Laundress Delicate Wash – A plant-based detergent designed for fine fabrics. Gets silk clean without harsh chemicals.
  • Soak Wash – An eco-friendly detergent that uses plant and mineral ingredients. Gentle enough for silk.
  • Kookaburra Wash (link to Amazon) – Contains Australian tea tree oil renowned for its antibacterial and antifungal properties that deter odors.
  • Eucalan Delicate Wash – A biodegradable formula safe for silk. Contains a natural lanolin softener.

I absolutely love Heritage Park Laundry Detergent (link to Amazon) for my silk clothes! It’s so gentle yet effective, leaving my silk garments beautifully clean without any damage.

Discover the ideal choices in my post about the best washing detergents for silk.

silk wash with heritage park specialized detergent

No matter which detergent you choose, avoid options with brighteners, whiteners, or heavy perfumes. Stick to gentle, clear formulas designated for delicates or silk.

Expert Tips For Drying Silk

Drying is one of the trickiest parts of preventing smells in silk. To dry silk properly:

  • Lay flat on a towel – Never hang or tumble dry silk. Lay garments flat on absorbent towels.
  • Dry in shade – Direct sunlight can damage silk over time. Dry indoors or in the shade.
  • Smooth while damp – Gently smooth out silk pieces while still slightly damp to prevent wrinkles and maintain shape.
  • Avoid heat – Skip the hair dryer or iron which can scorch silk. Air dry only.
  • Check for dampness – Ensure silk is completely dry before putting it away to avoid mildew.

With a little care, you can keep silk smelling fresh and clean by following these simple practices for washing and drying.

Next, let’s go over some DIY solutions for removing existing odors from silk.

Home Remedies For Removing Silk Odor

Sometimes a silk item picks up an unpleasant smell despite your best efforts. Before you resign it to the donate pile, try these homemade odor-removal solutions:

  • White vinegar – Mix 1 cup white vinegar with 2 cups cool water. Soak silk for 30 minutes, then rinse in clear water. The vinegar kills bacteria.
  • Vodka – Pour some vodka into a spray bottle and lightly mist over smelly silk. Let dry fully. The alcohol kills odors and sanitizes.
  • Freezer – Place silk in an air-tight plastic bag and freeze for 24-48 hours. Freezing kills odor-causing bacteria. Be sure the silk is fully dry first.
  • Lemon juice – Fill a bowl with cool water and stir in the juice of 1-2 lemons. Soak silk for an hour, rinse, and air dry. Citric acid eliminates odors.
  • Baking soda – Make a paste of 3 parts baking soda to 1 part water. Gently rub the paste onto smelly areas of silk. Let sit before rinsing – baking soda absorbs odors.

Discover the secrets to fresh-smelling silk in my article on odor removal from silk.

silk wash using baking soda
silk fabric baking soda wash
baking soda treatment for silk
refreshing silk garments with baking soda

With some experimentation, you can find a homemade remedy that works to banish unpleasant smells from your silk clothing.

Getting professional dry cleaning is also an option if home treatments don’t cut it.

How To Wash 100% Silk Items

Caring for clothes made of 100% silk fabric requires extra special handling. Here are my top tips:

  • Pretreat stains – Use a prewash stain remover or diluted mild detergent to gently pretreat any visible stains on silk before washing. This prevents setting in odors.
  • Use a mesh bag – Place silk items in a mesh garment bag before washing to avoid stretching and friction damage.
  • Cool water – Stick to cool or lukewarm water temperatures for pure silk. Hot water causes irreversible damage.
  • Gentle cycle – Select the delicates setting on your washing machine. The agitation should be very minimal to prevent harm to silk fibers.
  • Light detergent – Skip the heavy-duty detergents that can strip pure silk of its natural oils and cause breakage.
  • Lay flat to dry – Never wring, hang, or tumble dry 100% silk items. Always lay flat on towels until fully dry.

With a delicate touch, you can safely hand wash and dry costly silk pieces to keep them feeling and smelling like new.

Storing Silk Correctly

Proper silk storage between wears helps keep odors at bay:

  • Hang silk garments on padded hangers in your closet to allow air circulation.
  • Use cedar blocks or linen sachets in drawers for a light scent.
  • Fold silk tightly in acid-free tissue paper if packing away for seasons. Avoid plastic which traps moisture.
  • Store silk out of direct light which can cause fading over time.
  • Consider enclosing silk items in a breathable garment bag for extra protection from dust and moisture.
gentle hand washing of silk in basin

Maintaining Fresh Smelling Silk

With some basic maintenance, you can keep silk smelling lovely for years:

  • Air out silk garments fully between wears.
  • Steam or iron on low heat setting if wrinkles appear between washes.
  • Spot clean as needed with cool water and mild detergent.
  • Periodically freshen silk by hanging outside in fresh air or using an odor absorber like baking soda.
  • Handwash silk every 3 to 5 wears or as soon as odors arise. Over-washing silk can cause damage.

I Aired My Silk Blouse After Washing, but It Still Has a Slight Musty Smell. What Should I Do?

Musty odors happen when silk is not completely dry. Even a little dampness left in the fabric can breed mildew and bacteria leading to odor.

Check your silk garment carefully and allow it to fully air dry before wearing it again. You can also try spot-cleaning problematic areas with a mix of lemon juice and water.

My Silk Sheets Have a Persistent Chemical Smell After Washing. How to Remove It?

Some detergents can leave residues on silk that produce chemical-type odors, especially if the detergent contains optical brighteners or heavy perfumes.

Try rewashing your silk sheets in cool water with a mild natural soap and then rinse very thoroughly.

White vinegar added to the rinse water can also help eliminate detergent residue smells.

silk cleaning in basin using heritage park detergent


Caring for delicate silk requires a gentle approach, but the effort pays off in beautiful garments that last. To recap:


  • Handwash or use delicates cycle
  • Use cool water
  • Select a mild detergent
  • Lay flat to dry away from direct sun
  • Store silk properly between wears


  • Use hot water or regular detergent
  • Hang, wring, or tumble dry
  • Wash silk too frequently
  • Let silk sit wet or damp
  • Use chlorine bleach
  • Dry clean silk regularly

With the proper techniques for washing, drying, storing, and maintaining your silk clothing, you can keep them fresh smelling, and looking beautiful.

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