How to Wash Silk Gowns: Safely and Effectively

Silk gowns are luxurious yet delicate items that require special care when it comes to washing. Improper cleaning can lead to shrinking, fading, and even damage.

As the proud owner of a silk gown, you’ll want to learn how to properly care for your investment while preserving its beauty.

This comprehensive guide will walk you through everything you need to know about safely and effectively washing silk gowns.

natural beige silk texture

Pre-Wash Preparations for Silk Gowns

Before washing your silk gown, there are a few key steps to take beforehand. Proper pre-wash preparations will set you up for silk cleaning success!

Check the Care Label Instructions

The first thing you’ll want to do is read the care label on your silk gown. The instructions on the tag will often specify if the item is:

  • Dry clean only
  • Hand wash recommended
  • Gentle machine washable

Follow the care label guidance closely, as this comes directly from the manufacturer. Here are some examples of what you might see:

  • Dry clean only – Take to a professional dry cleaner. Do not machine wash.
  • Hand wash cold – Use a gentle detergent and wash by hand in lukewarm water.
  • Machine wash gentle cycle – Use a gentle detergent and wash on the delicate or silk cycle in your machine.
silk fabric washing label

If your gown does not have a care tag, err on the side of caution and either hand wash or take it to the dry cleaners.

Pre-Treat any Stains

Check your silk gown for any visible stains or soiled areas. It’s best to pretreat these before washing so they don’t set in. Here are some recommendations:

  • Oil-based stains – Gently dab with a silk-safe stain remover and wash as normal. The soap will help break up grease.
  • Food or makeup stains – Lightly spray with a silk-safe pre-wash stain remover or dab with a mix of lukewarm water and vinegar.
  • Perspiration stains – Rub a small amount of baking soda on the area before washing.

Be careful not to excessively rub or scrub stains as this can damage delicate silk fabric.

visible stain on silk textile

Choose the Right Detergent for Silk

Picking the proper detergent is key for keeping silk safely clean.

Steer clear of regular laundry detergents, as these can contain brighteners and harsh chemicals that dry out silk fibers.

Look for a gentle, silk-safe detergent without dyes or fragrances. Some options include:

  • Heritage Park Laundry Detergent
  • Laundress Silk Wash
  • Soak Wash For Silks
  • Eucalan Delicate Wash
  • Kookaburra Luxury Silk Wash
  • The Laundress Delicate Wash

I recommend the Heritage Park Laundry Detergent (link to Amazon) because it’s specifically formulated to preserve silk’s natural oils during cleaning.

heritage park silk detergent silk clothes cleaning

When in doubt, avoid detergents with the words “brightener” or “whitener” on the label. Stick to gentle, plant-based, and fragrance/dye-free formulas.

Hand Washing Silk Gowns

Now that you’ve prepped your silk gown, it’s time for the main event – washing!

Hand washing is the gold standard method for keeping silk garments looking fresh and new. Follow these steps for the best results:

Step-by-Step Hand Washing

  1. Fill a sink or tub with lukewarm water and add a small amount of your chosen silk detergent. Agitate the water to create suds.
  2. Gently place your silk gown into the water, moving it around to fully soak. Allow it to sit for 3-5 minutes so the detergent can work.
  3. Very lightly agitate and massage any especially soiled areas, taking care not to vigorously scrub. Silk fibers are delicate.
  4. Drain the water and refill your tub with fresh, cool water for rinsing.
  5. Lift your gown in and out of the tub to rinse away all soap residue. Rinse until the water runs clear.
  6. Roll your silk gown in a towel to remove excess moisture, then lay flat to dry.
filling basin with water
beige silk care hand washing
careful hand wash for beige silk dress
gently patting silk with towel to dry
silk garment drying with absorbent towel
towel wrap for drying silk material

Tips for Gentle Handling

  • Handle silk delicately during washing – no wringing, pulling, or twisting.
  • Support heavy areas like skirts as you move the gown in and out of the water.
  • Keep hand movements gentle, using your fingertips to lightly massage in detergent.
  • Take your time and don’t rush the process. Silk responds best to patience.

Rinsing and Drying Techniques

Proper rinsing and drying are key to keeping silk looking fresh and new after washing. Here are some methods to use:

  • Rinse until all traces of detergent are gone. Remaining soap residue can damage silk over time.
  • Roll in a towel to blot moisture then lay flat on a drying rack or over a wide rod. Hang to fully dry.
  • Lay your gown on a clean bath towel and roll up to gently press out moisture. Unroll and reshape to dry flat.
  • Air dry out of direct sunlight, which can fade colors. A climate-controlled indoor space is ideal.
  • Avoid using a hairdryer on silk. For faster drying, place near a fan on a cool setting while gently smoothing and reshaping the gown.

Take extra care while silk is damp – it’s most vulnerable to stretching and snagging during the drying process. With some finesse, your freshly washed silk will dry as good as new!

This guide provides insights on the proper way to wash silk jackets.

beige silk cloth elegance

Machine Washing Silk Gowns

While hand washing is ideal, there are circumstances where machine washing your silk gown is possible. Take a cautious approach and follow these guidelines.

When Machine Washing Silk is Safe

Machine washing is gentle enough for silk items that are:

  • Specifically labeled “Machine Washable” on the care tag
  • A silk blend containing at least 50% silk content
  • A heavier or more densely woven silk fabric, like dupioni
  • Decorative silk clothing details like collars or cuffs

Lighter silk fabrics like chiffon, charmeuse, or crepe de chine are too delicate for the machine. When in doubt, opt for hand washing instead.

Washing Machine Setup for Silk

If machine washing your silk, take steps to create the gentlest wash possible:

  • Wash setting – Select the Delicates or Silk cycle at lukewarm temp. Some machines also have a designated Silk cycle.
  • Load size – Wash your silk gown separately – no other items in the load.
  • Detergent – Use a mild, silk-safe formula.
  • Wash bag – Place your gown inside a mesh garment bag for the wash and spin cycles.
delicate cycle for silk in washing machine

This setup mimics the gentle nature of hand washing for your silk item.

Ideal Detergents and Cycle Settings

Look for detergents labeled sensitive or delicate, like:

  • Heritage Park Laundry Detergent (mentioned earlier)
  • The Laundress Delicate wash
  • Soak Gentle Wash
  • Kookaburra Sensitive

Set your machine to a Delicates cycle with cool water temp and reduced agitation. If possible, skip the spin cycle – silk responds best to air drying.

Understand how to wash a silk wedding dress to keep it pristine for years.

best silk detergents

Dry Cleaning vs. Washing Silk Gowns

You may be wondering – when is dry cleaning necessary for silk gowns vs. washing at home? Let’s compare the two methods.

When Dry Cleaning is Best for Silk

Dry clean only silk garments that are:

  • Labeled “Dry Clean Only” on the tag
  • Heavily beaded, sequined, or embellished
  • Made of extremely delicate silk-like charmeuse
  • Have intricate pleats or draping that require pressing
  • Are vintage or antique items that need special handling

Delicate detailing and ornate embellishments do best with professional dry cleaning. Trust your gown to the experts if the label specifies dry clean only.

Comparing Home Washing and Dry Cleaning Silk

Here’s a handy table outlining the main pros and cons of each method:

Home WashingDry Cleaning
Pros– Better for the environment
– Cost-effective
– Preserves natural silk oils
– Professional pressing
– Safe for “dry clean only”
– Expert stain removal
Cons– Wrinkling without pressing
– No stain treatment
– Chemical residue
– Risk of shrinkage
– Expensive over time
luxurious white silk fabric

Specifics for Washing Different Silk Garments

While techniques are similar overall, slight adjustments to your washing method may be needed for different types of silk garments.

Variances in Washing Silk Dresses, Robes, and Gowns

  • Silk dresses – Hand wash using mesh wash bags for gowns and shape retention. Roll in a towel and reshape while drying.
  • Silk robes – Robes can usually withstand more agitation. Massage detergent through the fabric. Rinse thoroughly.
  • Silk gowns – Support heavy skirts when lifting in and out of wash water. Dry flat on a towel or rack.
  • Silk lingerie – Opt for hand washing with gentle squeezing and rolling in a towel to remove moisture. Lay flat to dry.

Adjustments Based on Garment Style and Fabric

  • Heavy silks (dupioni, shantung) – Should generally be dry cleaned, but can be hand washed if labeled washable.
  • Sheer silks (chiffon) – Require delicate hand washing or dry cleaning. Handle very gently when wet.
  • Intricate silks (beading, embroidery) – Dry clean to avoid snagging delicate embellishments during washing.

Get to know the unique properties of your silk item, and tweak your methods accordingly. The proper specialized approach preserves the health and beauty of your silk.

refined beige silk fabric

What to Avoid When Washing Silk Gowns

Now that you know the right way to wash silk, let’s also talk about what to avoid. Skipping these common mistakes will keep your gown gorgeous for the long run.

Harmful Washing Mistakes

  • Hot water – Always use cool or lukewarm water when washing silk. Heat damages delicate fibers.
  • Vigorous scrubbing – Aggressive washing causes pilling and tears in silk fabric. Handle with care.
  • Wringing or twisting – Never wring or twist silk to remove water. Roll in a towel instead.
  • Bleach or other harsh chemicals – Stick to gentle silk detergents only. Harsh formulas deteriorate silk over time.
  • Extended soaking – Don’t allow silk to soak for more than a few minutes, which can loosen dyes.
  • Rough handling when wet – Silk is most fragile when wet. Move gown slowly and gently.

Harmful Products to Avoid

  • Regular laundry detergents – Too harsh for silk, strip natural oils.
  • Fabric softeners – Can leave residue, and attract dirt over time.
  • Whitening detergents – Cause yellowing and damage to silk fibers.
  • Dry cleaning solvents – Shrink and discolor silk when improperly used.
  • Stain removers with bleach – Weaken and destroy silk material.
washing silk with bleach

Using the wrong products can seriously damage your silk gown. Always reach for specially formulated, silk-safe formulas only.


I hope this comprehensive guide has equipped you to keep your precious silk gowns sparkling and pristine for years to come!

With the proper techniques, a bit of patience, and the right products, washing silk at home can be safe, effective, and cost-efficient.

Here are my top tips to remember:

  • Always follow the care label instructions first
  • Pre-treat stains and use specialized silk detergents
  • Hand wash with extreme care or opt for dry cleaning delicate items
  • Avoid heat, scrubbing, wringing, and harsh chemicals
  • Handle silk gently when wet and reshape while drying

By mastering the delicate art of silk washing, you can feel confident caring for your investment pieces.

Treat your silk gowns with love and they’ll remain your treasured glamorous garments for a lifetime!

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