Soap & Detergents for Silk: Essential Washing Guide

Silk has a reputation for being a high maintenance fabric that requires special cleaning methods.

This is for good reason – its fragile fibers can easily be damaged by harsh detergents and aggressive treatment.

Selecting a gentle, silk-appropriate soap is crucial to avoid ruining your luxurious silk pieces. The wrong soap can cause issues like:

  • Fraying and shredding
  • Loss of color
  • Weakening of fibers
  • Felting or puckering

I used to just toss my silk into the washing machine with whatever detergent was on hand. Let’s just say I had a few silk disasters that way!

The purpose of this article is to educate you on the specialized soaps, detergents, proper techniques, and care required to wash silk safely.

Follow my tips below to keep your silk looking sensational for years to come.

silk fabric hand wash using basin

Understanding Silk Fabric

Silk fabric is made from the natural protein fibers produced by silkworms. This gives it a beautiful sheen and soft, luxurious feel.

But it also makes silk extremely fragile and vulnerable to damage from harsh detergents.

Here’s a quick overview of silk’s care requirements:

  • Silk fibers are very fine and delicate. They fray easily when agitated or rubbed too vigorously.
  • The fibers are prone to shrinking, felting, and losing their shape if exposed to high temperatures or rough treatment.
  • Silk dyes tend to bleed and fade rapidly when washed in very hot water or treated with harsh detergents.
  • Silk is easily weakened and even dissolved by alkaline soaps and cleaning solutions.

It’s clear why silk needs special handling and can’t simply be tossed in the washing machine! Let’s look at recommended soaps that are gentle enough for this fabric.

elegant beige silk fabric on wooden table

Recommended Soaps and Detergents for Silk

Silk-Specific Detergents

There are detergents made specifically for delicates like silk that are safe, effective, and won’t cause damage. Here are some top options:

  • Heritage Park Detergent (link to Amazon): This detergent uses a soy protein cleaning base, produces little suds, and is chemical-free. It gently removes soil and deodorizes while protecting silk fibers. Suitable for hand washing or use in front-loading washers.
  • Slip Detergent (link to Amazon): A made-for-silk washing solution with a luxurious jasmine scent. It contains natural enzymes and silicones to lift dirt without drying out fibers. Safe for hand or machine washing.
  • Le Blanc Fragrance Free Silk & Lingerie Wash (link to Amazon): This ultra-gentle cleanser is specifically designed for delicates like silk, cashmere, and lace. The fragrance-free formula contains coconut-derived surfactants to lightly lift dirt and oils without stripping moisture.
  • Eucalan Delicate Wash (link to Amazon): A fragrance-free liquid detergent designed for delicates like silk, wool, and lingerie. It contains lanolin to retain moisture in fibers during washing.
silk fabrics cleaning with heritage park laundry detergent

Mild Liquid Detergents

Some common gentle liquid detergents for handwashing delicates can also work for silk:

  • Woolite Delicates Detergent (link to Amazon): A popular option, Woolite is designed for handwashing wool and delicates. It produces minimal suds to gently clean without agitating silk fibers. Go for the fragrance-free formula.
  • Tide Free and Gentle Liquid (link to Amazon): This dye-free, perfume-free detergent is suitable for handwashing sheer and delicate fabrics like silk. It rinses cleanly without residue.
  • Seventh Generation Natural Liquid Laundry Detergent: A non-toxic, plant-based option safe for delicates. It’s hypoallergenic, fragrance-free, and contains no dyes, chlorine, or brighteners.
  • The Laundress Delicate Wash: A specialty soap with essential oils designed for fine fabrics. It gently lifts dirt and odors without dulling vibrant dyes.

Natural Soap Alternatives

You can also handwash silk safely using natural soap alternatives like:

  • Baby shampoo: The extra-mild formulas are ideal for delicates. Look for fragrance-free, tear-free options. Dilute with water before use.
  • Marseille soap: Traditional olive oil-based French soaps like Savon de Marseille are mild enough for silk when diluted.
  • Castile soap: A vegetable-based soap that’s gentle on fibers. Dilute with water and avoid heavy scrubbing when washing silk.
  • Orvus Paste: A conditioning cleaner used by museums and collectors. It contains mild anionic surfactants to lift dirt without disturbing dyes or fibers.

No matter what you use, it’s vital to pre-test any new soap on a hidden part of the garment first to check for potential damage or color bleeding.

shampoo wash for silk materials

What Not to Use When Washing Silk

It’s just as important to know which soaps and detergents to avoid for silk fabric:

  • Regular laundry detergents: Most contain harsh surfactants, brighteners, and enzymes too strong for silk. This includes detergents like Tide, Gain, Persil, etc.
  • Dish soaps: Dawn and other dish soaps are much too alkaline and aggressive for delicate silk fibers.
  • Hand soaps and body washes: Formulas with moisturizers and fragrances will leave residue on silk that can discolor and stiffen the fabric over time.
  • Bleach: Never use chlorine bleach or oxygen bleach on silk. It will damage fibers and cause yellowing.
  • Fabric softeners: These coatings can cause stains, odor, and stiffness on silk over time. Use a vinegar rinse instead.
  • Dry cleaning solutions: Home dry cleaning kits contain perc, which can permanently mark, weaken, or discolor silk. Take silk pieces to a professional cleaner only.

I’ve analyzed OxiClean’s effects on silk fabrics in this detailed review.

washing silk with dawn

When in doubt, it’s always safer to stick to specialized silk cleaners or the mildest handwashing detergents. Harsher soaps will do more harm than good!

Step-by-Step Guide to Washing Silk

Follow these steps to properly handwash silk fabric at home:


  • Brush off any dry soil or debris from the silk using a clothes brush or lint roller. Avoid vigorous rubbing.
  • For heavily soiled areas, spot clean stains by dabbing gently with a diluted silk detergent solution before washing.
  • Check for colorfastness by wetting a hidden area of the garment with water first. If the water changes color, the dye may bleed – use a color catcher sheet.

Hand Washing

  • Fill a basin or sink with cool water and add a small amount of your chosen silk detergent. Less is more – over-sudsing can leave residue. About 1-2 capfuls of detergent per basin is sufficient.
  • Submerge your silk item and allow it to soak for a few minutes so the detergent can begin penetrating dirt and oils. Swish gently – do not wring, twist or scrub harshly.
  • Drain the dirty wash water and rinse the silk under cool running water. No hot water! Avoid pulling or stretching the item – support it carefully.
  • If needed, wash again with fresh cool water and detergent. For heavy soiling, the grime may take a few gentle washes to fully dissolve. But repeated harsh treatment will damage silk.
filling basin with water
hand washing beige silk in basin
hand laundering beige silk cloth
hand washing process for beige silk


  • Rinse until the water runs completely clear. This ensures no soap residue remains to discolor the silk.
  • For extra protection, you can give a final rinse with dilute white vinegar or fabric rinse aid to further remove traces of detergent and alkalinity.
  • Avoid fabric softeners and dryer sheets – these leave coatings on silk over time.

Drying and Ironing

  • Roll the silk item up in a colorfast towel to gently absorb excess moisture. Do not wring or twist wet silk.
  • Lay flat on a drying rack or mesh screen, smoothing out wrinkles. Allow to air dry fully.
  • If needed, iron silk garments inside out while slightly damp using a low heat silk setting. Use steam sparingly.
silk garment drying with absorbent towel
towel wrap for drying silk material
wet silk fabric drying naturally
ironing method for silk textile

By following these safe handwashing techniques, you can keep your silk looking sensational. 

Avoid machine washing silk or exposing it to heat – always allow it to dry naturally to prevent damage.

Special Considerations

For Sensitive Skin

If you have sensitive skin or allergies, choose a hypoallergenic silk detergent free of dyes, fragrances, and other irritants:

  • Ecover Delicate Wash Liquid
  • Puracy Natural Laundry Detergent
  • The Laundress Gentle Wash
  • Charlie’s Soap Laundry Powder
  • GrabGreen Naturally Delicate Laundry Liquid

Avoid detergents with added perfumes or essential oils. Stick to fragrance-free formulas made for delicates.

Caring for Different Silk Items

  • Dresses and blouses: Wash gently by hand using cool water and silk detergent. Dry flat on a mesh screen. Iron while damp inside out if needed.
  • Silk sheets and pillowcases: Follow the handwashing steps above. For stains, spot clean by dabbing diluted detergent. Tumble dry briefly on low then hang to finish air drying.
  • Silk ties and scarves: Handwash using a basin, then lay flat on a towel and roll up gently to extract moisture. Dry flat away from direct heat. Use an iron on silk setting if needed.
  • Silk upholstery fabric: Vacuum gently and spot clean stains immediately with mild soap and a damp cloth. Do not rub excessively. Call in a professional upholstery cleaner when necessary.

Discover effective methods in my article on removing oil stains from silk.

collection of silk fabrics on table

Always check the fabric content first, as many scarves, pillowcases, and upholstery may be silk blends or artificial silk rather than 100% silk.

This allows more leeway in washing but still requires gentle care.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Should I Wash 100% Silk Clothing or Fabric?

Handwash using cool water, a mild silk detergent, and gentle motions.

Thoroughly rinse detergent then allow to fully air dry on a flat surface away from direct heat. Never machine wash or bleach silk.

Can I Wash Silk Garments in Baby Shampoo?

Yes, a dilute solution of fragrance-free baby shampoo and cool water works well for handwashing silk.

Ensure it’s fully rinsed, then air dry the garment flat. Never wring or twist silk when wet.

What’s the Best Laundry Detergent Alternative for Washing Silk?

Try Marseille soap, Castile soap, or Orvus paste diluted in cool water.

Avoid regular laundry detergents, dish soaps, and hand soaps. Test for colorfastness first and rinse silk thoroughly after washing.

careful hand wash for beige silk dress

Can I Put Silk Clothing or Fabrics in the Washing Machine?

No, you should always handwash silk gently instead of machine washing.

The motion and friction inside a washing machine will likely damage, shrink, or felt delicate silk fibers, even on a delicate cycle.

Is It Okay to Wash Silk in Woolite?

Yes, the liquid Woolite detergent formulated for delicates can be used to handwash silk safely.

Just ensure it’s thoroughly rinsed from the fabric, as residue may cause yellowing over time. Never use the original cream Woolite formula on silk.

washing silk with woolite


I hope this guide has outlined everything you need to know about selecting the right soaps and properly handwashing silk items.

Always handle silk gently, use specialized detergents, avoid heat and friction, and never machine wash this delicate fabric.

With the proper care, you can keep your silk clothing, accessories, and home decor looking beautiful for many years to come! Let me know if you have any other silk washing questions.

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