Is It OK to Get Silk Wet? Practical Guide for Silk Care

Silk is one of the most luxurious and delicate fabrics. The shimmery, smooth texture instantly elevates any garment or home decor.

But how exactly should you care for silk fabric, especially when it comes into contact with water? Can silk go in the wash or will water ruin it completely?

In this comprehensive guide, I’ll walk you through everything you need to know about silk’s interaction with water.

You’ll learn proper techniques to wash, handle, and repair silk that gets wet.

I’ll also debunk some common myths and give you pro tips for maintaining the quality of your silk items in the long run.

careful hand washing of beige silk in basin

Understanding How Silk Interacts with Water

Before we dive into the specifics of silk washing, let’s first understand the properties of this fabric and how it reacts when introduced to water.

This will give us the foundation to learn why water can be tricky with silk, and how to handle it properly.

Silk is a natural protein fiber, which comes from the cocoons of silkworms.

The salivary glands of silkworms produce this protein fiber. Here are some key things to know about the structure and nature of silk:

  • Silk consists mainly of fibers of sericin and fibroin proteins. The unique structure gives it a shimmery, glossy appearance.
  • Natural silk is very absorbent and holds dye incredibly well. This allows silk fabrics to come in a huge range of bright, vibrant colors.
  • Silk fibers have an unusual prismatic shape which allows refraction of light at different angles. This creates a natural sheen.
  • The protein fibers hold together with hydrogen bonds. Water can disrupt these hydrogen bonds.
  • Silk is sensitive to UV light damage. The proteins will break down over time with sun exposure.
washing red silk fabric by hand

Now the big question – what happens when this delicate protein fiber comes in contact with water?

Does Silk Get Ruined When Wet?

Silk has complex interactions with water. On one hand, water allows dyes to spread evenly during manufacturing for rich colors. But on the other hand, water can damage silk if not handled properly.

Here are some key points on how water impacts silk:

  • Heat is silk’s biggest enemy. Hot or even warm water can cause permanent damage. The heat weakens the protein structure.
  • Silk absorbs moisture readily. When soaked or washed in cool water, it takes a long time to fully dry.
  • Wet silk is extremely fragile. Vigorous motion while wet can stretch the fibers.
  • Allowing silk to sit wet causes yellowing stains from oxidation and bacteria. It will also smell awful!
  • Water washes away the protective sericin coat. This makes silk more prone to snags and breaks.

The good news is that getting silk wet does not necessarily ruin it! As long as you handle it very gently and dry it flat, silk can withstand a quick encounter with cool water.

However, there are still risks and silk requires great care when introduced to moisture. Follow the guidance in the rest of this article to keep your silk looking its best!

silk washing using diluted vinegar

Washing Silk Fabrics

One of the top concerns with silk is whether or not you can wash it. Let’s clear up some common questions about laundering silk fabrics:

Is Silk Ruined If You Wash It?

You absolutely can wash 100% silk fabric safely as long as you follow a gentle hand wash in cool water. Agitation and high heat are silk’s biggest enemies when wet.

Can Silk Go In Water?

Pure silk can get wet without damage, however it is very delicate when saturated. Make sure to handle wet silk with extreme care.

Here are some best practices for washing silk:

  • Always check the care label! Follow the recommended washing method. If it says dry clean only, follow that instruction to avoid damage.
  • Use a very gentle detergent like Woolite or Heritage Park Laundry Detergent (link to Amazon). Avoid regular laundry detergent.
  • Fill sink or tub with lukewarm water. Never use warm or hot water when washing silk!
  • Allow to soak briefly, for no more than 5 minutes. This lets the detergent penetrate fibers.
  • Handle very gently, don’t scrub, twist, or wring silk when washing.
  • Rinse thoroughly in cool clean water to remove all soap.
  • Roll in a towel to absorb water. Do not wring or twist silk when wet.
  • Dry flat on a towel away from direct sunlight or heaters. Let air dry fully before wearing or storing.
heritage park silk detergent silk clothes cleaning
silk garment hand washing in basin
hand washing beige silk in basin
basin used for hand washing beige silk
drying silk with towel
drying beige silk fabric with towel

Discover the gentle techniques in my guide on how to wash silk by hand.

What Happens When You Wash 100% Silk?

When washed according to the steps above, 100% silk will not shrink, stain, discolor or lose structure. Delicate handling while wet prevents damage to the fibers.

However, hot water and agitation can lead to irreversible damage:

  • Shrinkage – High heat causes silk fibers to tighten and contract
  • Yellowing – Heat oxidizes the proteins in silk
  • Snags & Tears – Vigorous motion damages the delicate wet fibers

As long as you are extremely gentle with silk during washing and drying, it will maintain its beauty and shine after cleaning.

Can You Hand Wash ‘Dry Clean Only’ Silk?

Many silk garments have a dry clean-only symbol on the tag. This is because the dyes often bleed when wet and cannot withstand agitation.

However, you can hand wash delicate silk items marked dry clean, as long as extra care is taken:

  • Select a dye-capturing sheet or towel to control bleeding
  • Use cold or room temperature water only
  • Handle with extreme gentleness when wet
  • Roll or pat dry, never wring or twist
  • Dry flat, away from direct heat
red silk care drying with towel

With these precautions, hand washing silk labeled dry clean only is possible.

However, understand that there is always a slight risk of bleeding. Test a hidden area first before attempting a full hand wash.

Handling Wet Silk

Accidents happen and silk can become unintentionally saturated with water.

Maybe you got caught in the rain wearing your new silk blouse. Or your silk pillowcases ended up soggy after washing your face.

While getting silk wet unexpectedly can be alarming, try not to panic in the moment. Here is what to do if you end up with an accidental silk emergency:

  • Stay calm – silk is durable if handled properly while wet.
  • Blot excess moisture with a dry towel. Avoid rubbing or twisting motions.
  • Lift and support wet silk gently to prevent stretching. Never wring or twist.
  • Lay flat right away on an absorbent surface. Reshape while damp if needed.
  • Allow to fully air dry before use, away from direct sun or heaters.
drying silk fabric hanging flat

How Long Can Silk Sit Wet or Soaked?

It’s best to dry silk as soon as possible. Extended soaking may cause damage regardless of the time frame.

Here is what happens if silk sits wet for too long:

  • 15 minutes – Silk will be fully saturated but no damage yet if handled gently.
  • 1 hour – Silk remains safe if rinsed and dried immediately after this point.
  • 2 hours – Risk of light yellowing stains. The fibers begin deteriorating.
  • 3+ hours – Permanent shrinkage, yellowing, smell, and damage. The proteins degrade and weaken.

Why Does Wet Silk Smell Bad?

Wet silk that sits for a while takes on a foul, rotten stench.

This is caused by the buildup of bacteria feasting on the amino acids in silk. Wet silk is the perfect home for microbes, which produce smelly waste products.

To get rid of the bad wet silk smell:

  • Rinse thoroughly in clean water and a mild vinegar solution
  • Allow to fully air dry
  • For stubborn smells, hand wash with gentle detergent

Getting silk fully dry quickly prevents bacteria from taking over. Be sure to rinse and air dry as soon as possible after getting the silk wet.

silk fabrics heritage park detergent mix

Repairing and Maintaining Silk

Even with the most diligent care, silk fabric will still gradually wear out over time.

Pilling, snags, and small holes are inevitable. But don’t despair! Here are some ways to repair damaged silk:

IssueRepair Method
Light snagsCarefully trim loose threads with small scissors.
PillingUse a fabric shaver gently across the surface.
Minor holesApply small amounts of fabric glue sparingly across the hole edges.
Major holes/tearsUse silk thread and tiny, neat hand stitches to close large openings.
Seam repairsUnravel and re-sew along seam lines by hand or with a sewing machine on the lowest tension setting.
Missing buttonsReplace using a sewing needle and silk thread. Match the original button style and color.

Does Silk Shrink Every Time You Wash It?

Quality, pure silk does not shrink with washing when proper hand-washing steps are followed.

However, heat can cause silk to shrink permanently on the first instance of exposure.

To prevent shrinkage over time:

  • Always hand wash in cool water below 30°C
  • Skip the dryer, air dry only
  • Store silk correctly – folded loosely in breathable fabric
hand washing technique red silk

Maintaining Silk’s Appearance and Durability

With proper maintenance, silk can remain soft, colorful, and lustrous for many years. Here are some care tips:

  • Steam or iron on low heat setting if wrinkled
  • Hang on padded hangers to avoid snagging
  • Store silk in breathable fabric like cotton or linen, not plastic
  • Dry clean occasionally if heavily soiled, ask for no hot finishing processes
  • Hand wash silk every 1-2 months to remove excess body oils and environmental pollutants

Learn the best practices in my guide on how to wash silk without causing wrinkles.

Silk Myths vs. Facts

Let’s clear up some common misconceptions about how silk interacts with water!

Silk becomes stronger when wetSilk is extremely delicate and fragile when wet. The fibers are weak and prone to damage until completely dry.
You can machine wash silk in cold waterThe agitation of a washing machine, even on delicate cycles, can stretch, tear, and damage silk. Always hand wash!
Ironing silk on the highest setting makes it shinierHigh heat damages silk fabric over time, causing yellowing and fragile fibers. Use low heat only.
Always air-dry silk only. Any heat can cause silk to shrink and become misshapen.No amount of dry cleaning can reverse the damage done by heat, agitation, and improper drying. Prevent damage by following proper care steps.
Dry cleaners can fully restore damaged silkNo amount of dry cleaning can reverse damage done by heat, agitation, and improper drying. Prevent damage by following proper care steps.

By understanding the unique properties of silk and avoiding misconceptions, you can keep your silk looking fabulous.

Always err on the side of gentleness when it comes to handling silk against moisture.

baking soda wash for silk fabrics

Caring for Silk Long-Term

To maintain your investment in silk for many years to come, incorporate these best practices into your long-term care routine:

  • Dry clean silk only 1-2 times per year request no hot processes
  • Hand wash with cool water every 1-2 months as needed
  • Use a steamer on low rather than an iron
  • Let silk fully air dry before storing or wearing
  • Store off-season silk properly – loosely folded in breathable fabrics
  • Repair snags and holes immediately to prevent enlargement
  • Be aware of risks in environments like saunas or hot tubs
  • Rotate silk items evenly to prevent uneven fading and wear

Does Water Impact Silk Over Time?

As long as silk is exposed to only cool water followed by gentle handling and air drying, it will remain undamaged over many years.

However, warm water and heat weaken silk fibers with each exposure.

Be vigilant about protecting your silk from unnecessary heat, and it can last a lifetime if properly cared for!

washing delicate beige silk in hand basin


After reading this comprehensive guide, you now have all the knowledge needed to keep your silk looking fabulous even with water exposure. Here are the key points to remember:

  • Always hand wash silk gently in cool water instead of machine washing or dry cleaning.
  • Handle silk cautiously when wet by never wringing, twisting, or scrubbing it.
  • Roll or pat silk dry in towels then air dry fully on a flat surface out of sunlight.
  • Wet silk can sit saturated for up to 2 hours but must be rinsed and dried properly afterward.
  • Repair any snags, holes, or damage promptly to maintain integrity.
  • Store silk in breathable fabric like cotton, not plastic.

By mastering these best practices, you can confidently handle silk around water. Your investment will pay off for many years to come with these proper care techniques!

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