Is It OK to Soak Silk Fabrics? Washing and Care Guide

We’ve all been there – spilled some coffee on a silk shirt or wanted to freshen up a silk dress after a long day.

Your first instinct may be to just throw it in some water to soak out the stain or odor. But stop right there! Silk has a delicate structure that requires special care when wet.

So can you actually soak silk fabrics? The short answer is yes, but you need to follow specific guidelines to prevent ruining the silk.

My goal is to provide clear instructions on the best practices for soaking silk safely. Let’s start by understanding why silk and water don’t always mix well.

beige silk garment washing in basin

Understanding Silk Fabric

Silk has a unique protein fiber structure that gives it a luxurious drape and shimmery appearance.

But this protein makeup also makes silk extremely sensitive when wet. Here are a few reasons why silk and water can be a tricky combination:

  • Silk fibers weaken when saturated. Too much moisture causes the proteins in silk to break down.
  • Dyes can bleed or spread. Many dyes used to color silk aren’t set, so they can run when wet.
  • Silk stains easily. Spills permeate the porous fibers quickly, making stains hard to remove.
  • Shrinkage happens. Excessive moisture exposure causes silk to shrink up and lose its shape.

So clearly you can’t treat silk like other fabrics when it comes to washing and soaking.

But does that mean you should never get silk wet? Not exactly. With the proper precautions, you can soak silk successfully. Let’s look at the right and wrong ways to do it.

silk apparel hand wash in basin

The Dos and Don’ts of Soaking Silk

First, here are some definite DON’Ts when it comes to soaking silk:

  • DON’T soak silk for long periods. It’s best to limit soaking to 30 minutes to prevent deterioration.
  • DON’T agitate or scrub silk forcefully. This damages the delicate fibers.
  • DON’T use hot water. High temperatures set stains and cause silk to shrink.
  • DON’T wring out silk or twist it to dry. This causes creases and rips.
  • DON’T leave wet silk bunched up. Lay it flat or hang to dry to maintain the shape.
hand washing red silk fabric

Not following these precautions can lead to disastrous results. Your silk may end up with irremovable stains, get holes, lose its sheen and drape, and become misshapen.

Unfortunately, once silk is damaged from improper soaking, it can be difficult or impossible to restore.

Now let’s discuss the safer DOs of soaking silk:

  • DO use lukewarm or cool water. This prevents bleeding and shrinking.
  • DO soak for short time periods, ideally no more than 15 minutes for delicate silk items.
  • DO lay silk flat while soaking. Weight it down so it absorbs water evenly.
  • DO support heavy silk garments. Use a mesh wash bag or linen towel.
  • DO rinse thoroughly after soaking. Get all soap residue out to prevent staining.
  • DO dry silk flat or hanging. Never wring, twist, or bunch wet silk.

Discover the intricate relationship between silk and water in fabric care.

basin rinse for hand washed beige silk
silk drying by flat hanging

Following these guidelines will allow you to soak silk safely so it maintains its beauty and drape. Next, I’ll go over the best step-by-step method for soaking different types of silk items.

Best Practices for Soaking Silk

The proper technique for soaking silk depends on the type of item and how dirty it is. Here are some best practices to follow:

For a silk blouse or shirt with a small stain:

  • Fill a sink or basin with cool water and a very mild detergent or soap.
  • Lay the silk shirt flat in the water and let it soak for 15-20 minutes.
  • Gently swish the shirt around and lightly rub the stain. Don’t scrub!
  • Carefully lift the shirt from the water and rinse under cool running water.
  • Lay flat on a towel and reshape while still damp. Allow to fully air dry.
hand washing silk fabric in basin
hand washing beige silk in basin
careful hand washing of beige silk in basin
drying silk with towel
drying beige silk fabric with towel

I’ve outlined some easy steps for hand washing silk safely in my latest article.

For heavy silk pants or jackets with odor:

  • Fill a bathtub with lukewarm water and a capful of white vinegar.
  • Place the silk item in a mesh wash bag and lower it into the tub to soak for 20-30 minutes.
  • If heavily soiled, very gently swish the bag around halfway through.
  • Remove from water and rinse the silk thoroughly under running water.
  • Lay flat on towels and reshape while damp. Air dry completely.

For an evening silk dress that needs freshening:

  • Fill a sink with cool water and 2-3 drops of mild soap.
  • Lower the silk dress into the water using a linen towel to support its weight.
  • Gently move the dress around to disperse the water without agitating.
  • Soak for 10-15 minutes then lift out and rinse well under cool water.
  • Lay the dress flat on towels and gently reshape it while damp. Allow to fully air dry.

A few important notes:

  • Check silk care labels as soaking times may vary. For example, charmeuse and chiffon typically soak for less time than more durable silks.
  • If in doubt about colorfastness, soak in plain cool water first to test dye bleeding before adding any detergent.
  • For stubborn stains, do not exceed a 30-minute total soak time, and rinse very thoroughly after.

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s look at some special cases you may encounter when soaking silk items.

Special Considerations for Soaking Silk

While the best practice is to soak silk briefly in cool water with mild soap, there are some exceptions. Here are a few:

Can You Soak Silk in Vinegar?

Yes, white vinegar is safe to use with silk. Add 1⁄4 cup of white vinegar per gallon of lukewarm water and soak for 20-30 minutes to freshen smelly silk clothing.

Rinse thoroughly. Don’t use other types of vinegar.

cleaning silk with white vinegar

Is It OK to Soak Silk in a Washing Machine?

Only front-loading washing machines on the most delicate cycle without agitation.

Use a mesh bag and a quick 10-minute soak with mild soap in cool water. Lay flat to dry. No machine drying!

delicate cycle for silk in washing machine
using laundry mesh bag for machine washing silk

Comparing the Soaking Duration of Silk to Other Fabrics

Here is a table comparing recommended soaking durations for silk versus other fabric types:

FabricMaximum Recommended Soaking Time
Silk15-30 minutes
Cotton1-2 hours
Linen1-2 hours
Wool15-30 minutes
Cashmere15-20 minutes
Rayon15-30 minutes
Polyester30-60 minutes
Acrylic15-30 minutes
Nylon15-30 minutes

As you can see, silk requires a brief soaking time, typically no more than 15 minutes, to prevent damage. Going over this risks damage to the delicate protein fibers in silk fabric.

Can I Soak Silk Overnight?

Avoid soaking silk for more than 15-20 minutes, even for heavily soiled items, to prevent damage. Soaking overnight has a high risk of damaging silk fibers beyond repair.

As you can see, it’s very important to follow the recommended time limits, temperatures, and handling methods for soaking silk safely.

Now let’s go over what to do if your silk does suffer some water damage.

washing delicate beige silk in hand basin

Troubleshooting Common Silk Issues

Even if you follow the best practices, silk can still end up with issues like stains, shrinkage, and lost shape after soaking. Here are some troubleshooting tips:

  • Stains – For light stains, re-soak for 10-15 minutes in cool water with a drop of mild soap, then rinse. For stubborn stains, consult a professional cleaner. Avoid bleach and spot removers which can damage silk.
  • Shrinkage – To stretch silk back to shape, wet a towel with cool water, wring it out thoroughly, and gently press and shape the silk while damp. Never use heat. For severe shrinkage, a professional may be able to re-block the silk.
  • Lost shape – Reshape while damp as described above for shrinkage. Use light weights or pins to hold the shape as it dries. You can also use a garment steamer on the coolest setting. Avoid ironing.
  • Ruined silk – If silk is severely damaged from improper soaking, the options are limited. Re-dyeing may mask some issues. Severely shrunk or stained silk may need to be repurposed creatively or discarded if remedies don’t work.

With some patience and experimentation, you may be able to revive silk from minor mishaps.

Preventing problems in the first place by following the proper technique is always best.

Maintaining the Quality of Your Silk Items

Caring for your silk extends beyond soaking and washing. Here are some tips for keeping silk in top condition day-to-day:

  • Store silk properly – Hang items or fold neatly away from direct light in breathable cotton or linen. Never use plastic bags.
  • Avoid rough handling – Pull silk garments over your head gently, don’t tug hems, and unbutton instead of pulling over your hands.
  • Keep silk away from direct heat – Position away from sunny windows and avoid ironing or drying with heat.
  • Wash minimally when needed – Most silk only needs an occasional gentle soak in cool water.
  • Dry clean cautiously – Take lightly soiled silk pieces to a reputable dry cleaner familiar with silk.

With proper storage, limited washing, and delicate handling, your silk items can last for many years looking fabulous.

silk fabric basin hand washing process

Key Takeaways for Soaking Silk Safely

So in summary, here are the key guidelines to follow when soaking silk fabrics:

  • Always use cool or lukewarm water – never hot!
  • Limit soak time to 15-30 minutes maximum for most silk fabrics.
  • Avoid agitation and wringing – handle silk gently.
  • Dry flat and reshape while still damp – no twisting or high heat.
  • Soak minimally and follow silk clothing care labels.
  • Seek professional help for major stains, shrinkage, or other damage.


I hope these tips give you the confidence to soak your silk items safely and prevent heartbreak over damaged silk!

Always remember silk is a luxurious but delicate fabric that requires specialized care when wet.

With some precautionary measures and proper technique, you can keep your silk fashions looking sensational for many years.

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