Should Silk Be Washed or Dry Cleaned? Expert Care Insights

As the proud owner of silk garments, you want to properly care for these luxurious and delicate items.

But should you dry clean or wash your silk clothes? It’s a common dilemma faced by silk aficionados.

In this article, I’ll provide clear guidance on the best practices for keeping your silk looking fabulous.

basin method for hand washing silk

Understanding the Unique Properties of Silk Fabric

Silk has unique characteristics that require special care and handling. Here are some key things to know about silk fabric:

  • Silk is made from natural protein fibers produced by silkworms, making it extremely delicate and susceptible to damage.
  • The fibers have an irregular triangular shape that refracts light and gives silk its beautiful sheen.
  • Silk is one of the strongest natural fibers, though it loses strength when wet.
  • The fabric is prone to shrinking, color-bleeding, and water spotting when improperly washed.

So in summary, silk is a fabric that requires gentler cleaning methods than your typical cotton t-shirt. Now let’s explore those methods in detail!

Washing Silk Garments by Hand

While dry cleaning is commonly recommended, you can safely hand wash your silk items at home. Here is a step-by-step guide:

Supplies Needed

  • Mild liquid detergent or soap, like Woolite
  • Large basin or sink for washing
  • Clean towels
  • Garment rack for drying
silk fabric hand wash using basin


  1. Fill your sink or basin with cool water. Warm or hot water can cause silk fibers to relax and stretch.
  2. Add a small amount of a mild detergent without dyes or perfumes. Recommended options are Eucalan, Soak Wash, Kookaburra Luxury Silk Wash, or the Heritage Park Laundry Detergent (link to Amazon), which I currently use.
  3. Gently submerge the silk item and swish it around. Let it soak for a few minutes so the detergent can penetrate the fibers.
  4. Rinse thoroughly with cool water until all the soap residue is removed. This prevents staining or discoloration.
  5. Roll the item in a clean towel to blot moisture. Do not wring, twist, or scrub the silk.
  6. Lay flat on a drying rack or towel away from direct sunlight. Silk should air dry to prevent damage from heat.
water flowing into basin
hand laundering beige silk cloth
hand washing process for beige silk
silk garment drying with absorbent towel
towel wrap for drying silk material
silk clothes drying in open air

Handy Tips

  • Check garment tags – some silks can be machine-washed on a delicate cycle. But when in doubt, hand wash.
  • Use color catchers to prevent faded dye from bleeding onto your silk item.
  • For stains, spot treat with a diluted gentle cleaner before washing.
  • Wash colors separately to prevent color transfer.
  • Iron silk only if needed, on low heat using a steam iron or silk press cloth.

So in summary, hand washing with care allows you to safely clean silk at home while preserving the quality.

Dry Cleaning Your Silk Garments

Dry cleaning is another safe cleaning method recommended for silk garments. Here’s an overview of the process:

  • Silk items are placed in a solvent-based machine that cleans clothes without water. Common solvents are hydrocarbon and silicon-based.
  • The solvent dissolves grease and oil-based stains and permeates the fabric to loosen dirt.
  • Clothes are tumbled and agitated gently to remove soils but minimize friction.
  • Detergents maybe added to help lift stains. The solvent is filtered and recirculated.
  • After cleaning, items are transferred to a dryer to evaporate any residual solvent.
elegant beige silk fabric on wooden table

When choosing a dry cleaner, look for ones experienced in handling silk. Ask about their cleaning methods. A reputable cleaner will:

  • Use a gentle solvent deemed safe for silk.
  • Offer light or no pressing for silk to prevent damage from heat.
  • Return items in a breathable garment bag, not plastic.

With proper methods, dry cleaning should not cause silk to shrink, discolor, or become misshapen.

However, take care of older or more delicate silks, which may still show wear and tear over time.

Key Differences: Washing vs Dry Cleaning Silk

So when should you opt for washing or dry cleaning? Here is a helpful comparison:

WashingDry Cleaning
Uses water, detergentUses chemical solvents
Allows pretreating stainsBetter for oil-based stains
Hand wash gives total controlNo labor required
Can thoroughly rinse out detergentsSome solvent residue may linger
Longer air dry timeQuicker drying process
Risk of shrinkage or color transferLow shrinkage risk
delicate hand wash for beige silk

In general, thicker or heavier silks can be hand washed, while extra delicate items are better dry cleaned.

Silk blouses, scarves, and lingerie are often hand-washable. Formal dresses, gowns, suits, and antique silk may require professional dry cleaning.

Check garment tags – dry clean only silks should be taken to a professional.

However, gentle hand washing is possible for washable silks that are labeled dry clean only. Test a hidden spot first.

Learn the best home techniques for silk care in my guide on home cleaning for 100% silk.

When to Choose Dry Cleaning Over Home Cleaning

While many silk items can be carefully washed by hand, there are some instances where professional dry cleaning is the better option:

  • Dealing with odors – Dry cleaning uses powerful solvents that penetrate the fabric and neutralize odors that simple washing cannot. For smoke, body odor, or musty smells, dry cleaning has an advantage.
  • Damaged fabric – Harsh rubbing or handling risks further damaging weakened silk fabric. The gentle tumbling of dry cleaning puts less stress on fragile silk items.
  • Delicate designs – Intricate beading, lace, sequins, or embroidery are vulnerable to snagging during handwashing. Dry cleaning avoids any handling that could loosen or rip delicate accents.
  • Frequently worn silks – Rather than repeat handwashing that may gradually degrade the fabric, dry cleaning extends the life of silk pieces worn often, like dress shirts or blouses. The solvents refresh without as much wear.
  • Treating stubborn stains – Silk is prone to watermarks and oil-based stains. The chemical solvents and agitation of dry cleaning lift out stains that gentle handwashing may not fully remove.

Discover the truth about fabric care in my guide on whether 100% silk is dry clean only.

visible stain on silk textile

For irreplaceable heirloom silks or frequently worn garments, the cost of professional dry cleaning is worth preserving their condition and integrity over time.

Special Considerations for Caring for Silk

Follow these additional tips to keep your silk items looking their best:

  • Store silk properly – hang or fold loosely, never bunch tightly. Keep away from direct light.
  • Spot clean stains immediately with water or delicate soap. Avoid vigorously rubbing.
  • Steam or lightly iron inside out to prevent shine damage. Use the lowest heat setting.
  • Take extra care with embellished silks – avoid solvents or detergents that may damage beads, sequins, or dyes.
  • Limit washing frequency to preserve the fabric – air out or spot clean when possible.
  • Repair any snags or holes promptly to prevent bigger damage.

With the proper gentle care, your silk garments can last and retain their beauty for many years to come!

Avoid extremes, follow garment labels, and when in doubt, err on the side of caution. With these insider tips, you can be confident in keeping your precious silk items looking fabulous.

Can You Put Silk in the Washing Machine?

While some silk garments say machine washable, I recommend washing delicate silk items by hand.

The agitation of a washing machine can be too rough on the fibers, causing tears, seam breaks, and overall wear.

Handwashing allows you to gently clean silk without damage.

mesh bag for silk garments in washing machine

Does Silk Shrink When Washed?

Silk can shrink slightly when washed if exposed to high heat or agitation.

To prevent shrinkage, use cool water temperatures and avoid vigorous scrubbing or soaking for long periods.

Wash on delicate and skip the dryer to air dry silks – high heat can damage fibers. With proper gentle care, washable silk shouldn’t shrink excessively.

Can You Bleach Silk Fabric?

No, do not use chlorine bleach or other harsh chemicals on silk.

This can damage, discolor, or dissolve the fibers. For stain removal, spot clean gently with a mild detergent, paying special attention to avoid scrubbing.

For whites, a very dilute non-chlorine bleach alternative is an option, but test first.

spritzing silk for stain cleaning

How Do You Wash Silk Sheets?

Follow the handwashing steps outlined earlier using a very gentle detergent, cool water, and minimal agitation.

Roll sheets in a towel to remove moisture, then lay flat on a drying rack out of direct sunlight. Use delicate care to prevent snagging delicate silk threads.

Is Silk High Maintenance?

Compared to fabrics like cotton, silk does require more meticulous care and handling to prevent damage.

But the extra effort pays off in the long run through years of use and enjoying silk’s luxurious feel and drape.

Follow proper garment labels, wash gently by hand or dry clean, and store silk properly to get the most out of its beauty and longevity.

showcasing beige silk on table


I hope this overview has helped shed light on the timeless question – should you wash or dry clean your silk clothing and accessories?

While dry cleaning is commonly used for silk, gentle hand washing is also a safe option if done properly for washable silks.

Take the time to understand your garment’s specific needs. With the right methods, you can keep your silk looking and feeling amazing for years of use.

Key Takeaways:

  • Silk has a delicate protein fiber that requires special care when cleaning.
  • Hand wash with a mild detergent for washable silk items using cool water and air dry.
  • Dry cleaning with a proper solvent is also safe for most silks.
  • Know your garment – check labels and fabric condition to guide the cleaning method.
  • Avoid heat, sun exposure, and harsh handling to prevent silk damage.
  • With careful, gentle cleaning silk can provide lasting beauty and enjoyment.

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