Best Temperature for Washing Silk: Garment Preservation

Silk is one of the most luxurious and delicate fabrics around. But while the smooth, soft texture of silk may feel heavenly against your skin, caring for silk requires a gentle touch. 

The key to keeping silk looking and feeling its best is washing it at the ideal temperature. Too hot, and you risk damaging the fibers. Too cold, and oil and dirt won’t wash out properly.

In this beginner’s guide, I’ll walk you through everything you need to know about the best temperature for washing your silk items.

My goal is to help you maintain the quality and integrity of your silk clothes so you can enjoy them for years to come. Let’s dive in!

machine wash silk using delicate program setting

Understanding Silk’s Sensitivity

As a natural protein fiber produced by silkworms, silk has an extremely delicate molecular structure. This makes it vulnerable to damage from high temperatures.

Here are some ways that washing silk in water that’s too hot can affect it:

  • Silk fibers shrink and warp when exposed to high heat, causing garments to lose their shape and not drape properly. For example, silk blouses may end up tight and misshapen.
  • The smooth, soft texture of silk becomes stiff and rough after washing in hot water. This strips away the luxurious silk “hand” or feel.
  • Hot water can cause silk fabric to stretch out permanently, making seams distorted.
  • Vibrant dyes and prints on silk fade and bleed when washed in very hot water. The colors look dull and muted.

The bottom line? To keep silk looking and feeling its absolute best, you need to wash it at the proper temperature. Let’s discuss what that optimal range is.

Discover the dos and don’ts in my piece on whether you can wash silk in hot water.

Ideal Temperature Range for Washing Silk

According to fabric experts, the ideal water temperature for washing silk falls between cool and lukewarm. Specifically:

  • Between 65-85°F (18-29°C) is the recommended range for washing silk. This moderately cool temperature helps preserve silk’s delicate fibers and dyes.
  • Typically, 75°F (24°C) is ideal for washing most silk clothing and fabrics. This allows silk to get clean without risking damage from heat.

Washing in this cooler yet still effective range helps silk maintain its luxurious drape, softness, and vibrancy wash after wash.

It prevents shrinking, preserves the fabric’s shape, and retains dyes.

silk garment hand washing in basin

The Risks of Incorrect Temperatures

Now let’s explore what happens when you wash your silk at temperatures outside the recommended range:

Washing Too Hot

  • 85°F (30°C) or hotter – Silk begins to shrink, warp, and develop roughness at these hotter temperatures. White silk may yellow. Deterioration occurs.
  • 100°F (38°C) and above – Most silk fabric is irreparably damaged and shrunken at the temperature of hot tap water or hot washer settings. The fiber structure breaks down.

Washing in Cold Water

  • 50°F (10°C) and below – Oils from skin and products can remain stuck in silk fabric washed in very cold water. Stains may set.

The bottom line: Hot water ruins silk and excessively cold water prevents it from getting thoroughly clean. Stick to the 60-85°F/15-29°C range for the best results.

Washing Silk in Cold Water

Given silk’s finicky nature, can you ever wash it in straight cold water? The answer is yes, as long as some precautions are taken:

  • Use a specialty detergent made for delicates/silk. These are formulated to work in cool water.
  • Pre-treat any stains first. This helps remove them without hot water. Check stain remover labels and test on an inconspicuous area first.
  • Soak the garment first. Letting silk soak allows deep cleaning in cool water.
  • Add the gentlest wash cycle. Opt for delicate or hand wash on front-loading machines. Use a garment bag.
  • Air dry only. Line dry or lay silk pieces flat to dry.

For anyone with silk garments, Heritage Park Laundry Detergent (link to Amazon) is a must-try. It’s gentle on the fabric, yet powerful enough to remove any dirt or stains.

silk dress laundry with heritage park fine detergent

Machine Washing vs. Hand Washing

Can you put silk items in the washing machine? Here are some key points:

Machine Washing Silk

  • Use a mesh garment bag. This prevents snagging and pulling.
  • Wash on a delicate cycle in cool water with a mild detergent. This agitates minimally.
  • Skip the spin cycle to prevent damage.
  • Lay flat to dry – Avoid hanging, which can stretch silk out.

Uncover the truth in my exploration of silk’s resilience in washing machines.

using laundry mesh bag for machine washing silk

Hand Washing Silk

  • Use a sink or basin filled with cool, clean water and delicate detergent.
  • Agitate gently by moving the garment up and down. Avoid wringing or twisting.
  • Drain water and refill the basin to rinse with clean water.
  • Press water out gently. Do not wring! Shape garments and lay flat immediately.
basin hand wash for beige silk

Whichever washing method you choose, be extremely gentle with the silk’s delicate fibers when moving the item in and out of the water to prevent snagging. Handle wet silk carefully.

Drying Silk Post-Wash

It’s just as important to dry silk correctly as washing it at the ideal temperature. Here’s how to dry without damaging your silk:

  • Never put silk items in the dryer, even on low heat. The tumbling and heat damage silk.
  • Lay flat on a towel or drying rack. Reshape the garment to its natural dimensions.
  • Air dry only. Silk takes longer to dry than cotton but dries best this way.
  • Use a fan to speed drying if needed, but don’t aim it directly on the silk.
  • Dry out of direct sunlight, which can fade dyes. Indoors is ideal.

Take silk garments out of the drying area as soon as fully dry to avoid yellowing from excessive moisture. Iron while still slightly damp if needed.

hanging silk flat for drying

Tips for Washing Silk Without Shrinking or Damage

Follow these simple tips when cleaning your silk clothing, accessories, bedding, and other items:

  • Check clothing tags and only wash silk in cool, delicate cycles.
  • Pre-treat stains on washable silk instead of using hot water.
  • Use a mild detergent made specifically for delicates and silks. Avoid regular detergents.
  • Wash similar silk fabric colors together to prevent dye transfer.
  • Turn silk garments inside out prior to washing to protect the fabric.
  • Use mesh bags for machine-washing delicate silk pieces.
  • Hand wash solid-colored silk pieces separately to prevent dye bleed.
  • Avoid wringing wet silk; roll in a towel to absorb moisture instead.
  • Dry silk clothing fully laying down on a flat surface, out of direct sunlight.

Follow these simple silk washing guidelines, and your silk garments will maintain their vibrant colors, unblemished textures, and pristine shapes for many years to come.

What Temperature Should I Use to Iron Silk?

Iron silk on a low heat setting between 200-250°F. Higher temperatures can scorch or shine the fabric.

Always use the steam setting on your iron as well to help relax fibers. Iron silk on the inside if needed to avoid any shine marks showing externally.

smoothing blue silk with iron

Can I Wash Silk in Warm or Hot Water If I’m Trying to Sanitize It?

It’s best not to wash silk in warm or hot water even if trying to sanitize it. The high heat can damage silk fibers and cause shrinking.

For sanitization, use a gentle, antimicrobial delicate wash formulated for silk.

Soak in cool water with a capful of white vinegar instead of washing hot. The vinegar naturally kills bacteria.

How Can I Get Wrinkles Out of Silk Without an Iron?

To remove wrinkles from silk without an iron, hang the garment in a steamy bathroom while showering so the moisture can relax the fibers.

You can also lightly steam silk while shaping and smoothing it with your hands to remove wrinkles. Avoid excess heat from hairdryers or other devices.

Let silk hang overnight after steaming. The fibers will smooth out.

three silk fabric types


I hope this beginner’s guide gives you the confidence to start caring for the silk in your closet.

To keep your silk looking sensational, always wash it gently in cool water between 60-85°F. Avoid extremes of heat and cold that damage silk’s delicate protein fibers.

With the proper washing and drying techniques, your silk will retain its luxurious look and feel. Happy silk washing!

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