How to Wash 100% Silk: Essential Tips for Care

Whether you just splurged on a luxurious silk blouse or inherited your grandmother’s vintage silk dress, caring for these delicate fabrics can seem daunting.

But have no fear! With some basic knowledge and the right techniques, you can keep your precious silk looking flawless for years to come.

In this beginner’s guide, I’ll walk you through everything you need to know to safely hand wash or machine wash 100% silk at home. You’ll learn how to:

  • Prepare your silk garments for washing
  • Choose the right detergents and water temperature
  • Handle wet silk to prevent damage
  • Dry silk properly after washing
  • Avoid shrinking and wrinkling

Follow these tips, and you can wash your silks with confidence!

hand cleaning beige silk in basin

Understanding 100% Silk: Characteristics and Care Needs

Before we dive into washing methods, let’s look at why silk requires such gentle care in the first place:

  • Silk fibers are extremely fine and delicate. When wet, silk becomes weaker and more prone to rips, pulls, and other damage.
  • The natural proteins in silk break down when exposed to harsh cleaners, hot water, and agitation. This leads to irreversible damage like yellowing, stiffening, and shrinking.

So while silk is a strong fiber, it still needs special handling, especially when wet.

With the proper precautions, however, silk can be safely washed at home without ruining the luxurious drape and sheen.

Pre-Washing Preparations: Ensuring Silk Safety

Follow these pre-wash steps to keep your silk safe:

  • Review care labels: Look for the garment’s washing instructions, fiber content, and any warnings. This will tell you if machine washing is recommended or if dry cleaning is required.
  • Do a colorfastness test: Dampen a hidden area of the garment with water and press with a white cloth. If any dye transfers, wash the item separately or get it professionally cleaned.
  • Use a mesh wash bag: Place the silk item in a mesh bag and zip it closed. This prevents snagging and tangling during washing.
  • Brush pills and lint: Use a garment brush or piece of masking tape to remove any debris that could get caught on the silk.
  • Empty pockets: Don’t forget to check pockets for tissues or other items that could leave residues!

Following these steps goes a long way in keeping silk fabric safe while washing.

silk cleaning in basin using heritage park detergent

Hand Washing Silk: Step-by-Step Guide

Once your silk is prepped, it’s time for the main event—washing! Here is my proven process for successfully hand-washing delicate silk:

Supplies Needed:

heritage park silk detergent silk clothes cleaning
  1. Fill a sink/basin with lukewarm water and add a small amount of detergent. Agitate water to dissolve.
  2. Submerge the silk item in the mesh bag and gently move it around to saturate it with sudsy water.
  3. Let soak for 3-5 minutes maximum. Oversoaking causes dye transfer and weakens fibers.
  4. Drain the dirty wash water and refill the basin with clean lukewarm water for rinsing.
  5. Rinse the silk by gently lifting and lowering the mesh bag in clean water. No squeezing, wringing, or twisting!
  6. Drain all rinse water. Repeat the rinse cycle if needed to remove all soap.
  7. Roll the silk item in a towel to gently absorb excess moisture. Never wring or twist silk when wet.

And that’s it! Allow your silk to air dry completely before wearing or storing it.

hand wash basin for silk clothes
washing beige silk by hand in basin
drying beige silk with towel
drying beige silk fabric with towel

Machine Washing: Is it Safe for 100% Silk?

While the gold standard is hand washing, machine washing 100% silk is possible in some cases. However, it’s always risky and I don’t generally recommend it.

Here are some precautions to take if machine washing silk:

  • Only use a front-loading machine, never top-loading. Agitators cause damage.
  • Wash on the delicates/gentle cycle with cool water and an extra rinse.
  • Use a mesh bag; select a low spin speed/no spin if possible.
  • Remove silk immediately after washing; don’t let it sit wet.

Even with these safeguards, machine washing can still stress silk fibers. It’s best to stick to hand washing if you want your silk to last.

delicate cycle for silk in washing machine

Drying Silk: Best Practices

Drying is just as crucial as washing when it comes to preventing silk damage. Here are some dos and don’ts:


  • Roll in a towel, then air dry flat on a drying rack or layered on towels. Never hang silk garments to dry!
  • Speed up drying with a fan blowing indirect air over the silk.
  • Iron while slightly damp on low heat if needed after drying.
flat hang drying technique for silk


  • Tumble dry – high heat destroys silk! The dryer motion also causes pulls.
  • Hang to dry – suspended while wet, silk fibers get stretched out.
  • Over-iron when too damp or use excess heat – causes permanent wrinkles.

Take your time and let silk dry naturally to best maintain its lovely drape and sheen after washing.

Special Cases: Washing ‘Dry Clean Only’ Silk

You may come across 100% silk garments with ‘dry clean only’ labels. This doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t be hand washed, but take extra care:

  • Test wash a hidden area first – check for shrinkage, dye bleeding, etc. after drying. If any problems, send to a professional.
  • Skip pre-soaking – it often causes excessive dye transfer on dry-clean-only items.
  • Line dry flat – the garment may have sizing or finishes vulnerable to hanging/heat.

When in doubt, go ahead and dry clean. But with care, washing delicate silk labeled dry clean only is doable.

Maintenance and Longevity: Preventing Shrinkage and Wrinkles

To keep your silk looking its best:

  • Wash infrequently – only if stained or smelly. Too-frequent washing weakens silk.
  • Use low heat when ironing; don’t over-press.
  • Store folded or hanging, not scrunched; use padded hangers.

Preventing shrinkage:

  • Soak briefly, 3-5 minutes max.
  • Rinse in similar temperature to wash; don’t shock with hot or cold.
  • Don’t wring, twist, or pull silk when wet.
  • Dry flat; reshape while damp if needed.

Avoiding wrinkles:

  • Hang to dry or use sweater dryer to retain shape. Don’t scrunch!
  • Lightly steam instead of ironing if possible.
  • Don’t let silk sit crumpled in hamper or when storing.

Learn the right way to maintain your garments by reading my tips on washing a 100% silk shirt.

smoothing blue silk with iron

Troubleshooting Common Silk Washing Issues

Mishaps happen! Here are some common silk-washing snafus and how to fix them:

Stained silk:

  • For light stains, dilute mild laundry detergent up to 1 tbsp per gallon of water and spot test on the stain.
  • For tough stains, take to a professional cleaner. Home remedies can set stains on silk.

Rigid, stiff silk:

  • Rewash with gentle soap and conditioner or hair conditioner diluted in cool water.
  • Add a few drops of hair conditioner to rinse cycles.

Wrinkled silk:

  • Steam while slightly damp or iron on low while still slightly damp.
  • For stubborn wrinkles, have professionally pressed.

Loose, stretched out silk:

  • Work conditioner through in a bath and reshape garment while still wet.
  • Use sizing applied with an atomizer to add the body back to the silk.

With some tweaking of your technique, you can get even finicky silks looking beautiful again.

iron care for blue silk material

How Can I Prevent 100% Silk from Wrinkling When Washing?

Wrinkling happens when silk fibers get bent out of shape while wet. To minimize wrinkles, don’t wring, twist, or crush silk while washing.

Roll in a towel to absorb moisture rather than squeezing water out.

Dry flat on a towel or mesh rack, gently smoothing out the fabric. Use a sweater dryer or silk drying frame to hold the garment’s shape as it dries.

What Kind of Detergent Should I Use on Silk?

Opt for a liquid delicate or silk laundry detergent, never regular detergent which is too harsh. 

Specialty detergents for silks and delicates have mild, non-damaging formulas that lift soils without fading dyes or irritating fibers.

Choose an option labeled as pH-neutral and enzyme-free.

Is It Okay to Use Fabric Softener on Silk When Washing?

Avoid using traditional liquid fabric softeners on silk as they can leave behind a coating that dulls silk’s natural shine.

If you want to soften silk, add a few drops of hair conditioner or mild creamy soap to the rinse water instead.

This will help silk retain its luxurious drape without a waxy residue. Always thoroughly rinse out any conditioner.

hand washing red silk fabric


I hope this guide has shown that with the proper care and handling, you can safely hand wash your delicate 100% silk items at home.

While it does require some special attention, protecting your silk garments from water damage, shrinking, and dye transfer is totally doable.

Here are my top tips to remember:

  • Always check garment labels and pre-test for colorfastness
  • Use lukewarm water and mild detergent made for delicates
  • Avoid oversoaking, twisting, and rough handling when silk is wet
  • Dry flat and shaped, never hanging or scrunched

Treat your silks with care, and they’ll retain their gorgeous drape and luster for many wears to come. Don’t be intimidated to give hand washing a try. Your wardrobe will thank you!


  1. Great job.

    Before I read your tips, I did dry in dryer for 5 -10 minutes w other clothes inside out. It was slightly damp when removed. I hung on soft edged hanger overnight. And just low heat iron touchups. No problem.

    I am 76 now, but when was 22 I bought a beautiful white silk top with red handmade embroidery. I lowered it into a cold water bowl and it ran from the embroidery. I’m still sad at ruining this beautiful piece of art.

    1. Glynis,
      Thank you for sharing your silk care wisdom! I loved hearing how you care for your silks – washing inside-out, air drying, and light ironing sounds like an effective approach. I’m sorry to hear about the embroidered top you lost to dye runoff. It’s clear you learned a great deal from that experience though. I appreciate you taking the time to comment and share your knowledge. Keep enjoying those silks!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *