Can You Wash Silk with Shampoo? A Guide to Silk Care

As a lover of luxurious silk items, I often find myself puzzled over the best way to clean my delicate fabrics.

I want to keep my silk pillowcases, blouses, and scarves looking vibrant and new, but I also don’t want to damage them with harsh detergents.

So I asked myself: can you actually use regular shampoo to wash silk?

This article details my exploration into using shampoo as a silk wash, including the benefits, risks, techniques, and alternatives for this unusual cleaning method.

Read on to unveil the silk dilemma and learn how to safely wash your silks!

silk fabric wash with gentle shampoo

The Feasibility of Washing Silk with Shampoo

When researching shampoo as a silk wash, I first examined whether it’s even a realistic cleansing agent for delicate fabrics. Here’s what I discovered:

  • Shampoo is designed to gently cleanse hair and scalp oils. This makes it a potentially less harsh cleanser compared to some heavy-duty detergents.
  • The surfactants in shampoo produce a mild foam and emulsify oils and dirt. This cleansing action could have benefits for lifting away debris from silk fibers.
  • Shampoo contains fewer bleaches, brighteners, enzymes, and other harsh chemicals found in some laundry detergents. This makes it less likely to damage silk’s fibers.
  • Baby shampoo, in particular, has an ultra-mild formula that may be suitable for delicate silk items. The tears-free formulas are designed not to irritate skin or eyes.

However, there are some drawbacks to shampoo as a silk wash:

  • Shampoo is not formulated specifically for silk fibers and their unique properties.
  • It does not contain silk-specific agents like sericin, which is naturally found in silk fibers. This protein can help retain silk’s shine.
  • Shampoo may not rinse away fully due to formulation differences, leaving residues that can discolor silk over time.

Overall, shampoo has some properties that make it a potentially feasible silk wash. But it also lacks the custom formulation of true silk detergents.

Below I cover techniques to maximize shampoo’s benefits for silk while minimizing risks.

silk cleaning using gentle shampoo

Choosing the Right Shampoo for Silk

Not all shampoos are created equal when it comes to washing delicates. Here are tips for picking a silk-safe shampoo:

  • Seeking out gentleness: Prioritize super mild shampoos free of fragrances, oils, and chemicals that may irritate skin or silk. Baby shampoos are ideal.
  • Minding the pH: Shampoos with a pH similar to silk’s natural pH of 6.5-7.0 may be safest. Acidity can damage silk over time.
  • Picking the purest form: Shampoo in liquid form will rinse more cleanly than thicker gels or shampoo bars. Opt for a liquid formula.
  • Comparing ingredients: Look for the simplest shampoos with cleansing agents like sodium laureth sulfate instead of harsher sulfates.
  • Trying baby shampoo: Baby shampoo is the top choice for washing silk due to its ultra-gentle cleansing and rinseability.

With the right shampoo choice, you can minimize damage to your delicate silk items. Always test shampoo on an inconspicuous area first before washing the entire piece.

Here is a comparison table of potential shampoos that could be used to wash silk:

ShampooPros for SilkCons for Silk
Baby ShampooUltra-mild formula, tear-free, pH balancedNot formulated for silk specifically, can leave residues
Sodium Laureth Sulfate ShampoosGentle cleansing, good rinseabilityHarsher than baby shampoo, risks residues
Natural ShampoosPlant-based ingredients, fewer chemicalsEssential oils may stain, incomplete cleaning
Moisturizing ShampoosNourish silk fibersExtra oils leave residue, attract dirt
Clarifying ShampoosDeep cleaning ingredientsToo harsh, damages silk fibers
Color Treating ShampoosRetain dyes, specialized formulasSulfates strip natural silk color over time

Key Takeaways:

  • Baby shampoo is the top choice due to its gentle, tear-free formula. Rinses cleanly.
  • Sodium laureth sulfate (SLES) is a milder shampoo ingredient that still cleans effectively.
  • Natural shampoos use safer ingredients but may not rinse away fully.
  • Moisturizing, clarifying, and color shampoos contain additives that can harm silk.
hand cleaning silk material in basin

Step-by-Step Guide to Washing Silk with Shampoo

Once you’ve selected a silk-safe shampoo, follow these steps to gently hand-wash your silk pieces:

Pre-wash preparations:

  • Brush silk gently to remove any surface debris and lint. Pay special attention to armpit areas which may have extra body oils.
  • Dilute shampoo with cool water in a wash basin or sink at about a 1:8 shampoo-to-water ratio.
  • Have a clean towel ready to blot excess moisture after washing.
refreshing silk garments with baking soda

Washing steps:

  1. Submerge the silk item fully in the shampoo-water mix, massaging gently to distribute the shampoo evenly across all fiber surfaces. Avoid harsh twisting, pulling, or rubbing motions.
  2. Let the silk soak for 1-2 minutes so the shampoo can fully lift oils and dirt. For more soiled areas, gently massage again.
  3. Drain the water and refill the basin with just cool, clean water for rinsing. Repeat draining and rinsing until water runs clear.
  4. Gently squeeze out excess water from the silk fabric. Lay flat on a towel and roll up to blot remaining moisture.
gentle hand rubbing of beige silk

Drying recommendations:

  • Lay silk item flat or hang to dry. Avoid twist-tying or wringing silks when wet.
  • Dry out of direct sunlight to prevent fading. A fan can speed up drying time.
  • For wrinkle-prone items, roll in a clean towel while still slightly damp to help retain shape.
silk garment drying with absorbent towel
towel wrap for drying silk material
laying wet silk out for air drying

Potential Risks and Precautions

While mild, shampoo lacks the delicate touch of true silk detergents. To avoid damage when washing silk:

Watch for these signs of damage:

  • Fading, yellowing, or grays and duller colors – caused by harsh cleansers stripping dyes
  • Loss of sheen and luster – chemical damage erodes silk’s smooth surface
  • Snags, pulls, pilling – agitation can catch fine fibers
  • Weakened fibers – chemicals degrade structural proteins in silk over time

Take these precautions:

  • Hand-wash only – machine washing risks extreme agitation
  • Avoid wringing or twisting silk when wet – fibers become brittle until dry
  • Limit washing frequency – over-washing degrades silk fibers faster
  • Rinse thoroughly – residue-free removal prevents gradual damage
  • Blot gently – pressing and rubbing creates creases and pulls
  • Check labels – dry-clean only silks should not be hand-washed

With care, washing silk in shampoo should not cause harm. But improper care and handling during the wash process can lead to permanent damage.

collection of silk fabrics on table

Special Considerations for Different Silk Items

Not all silk is created equal – the proper care varies based on the silk item:

For silk pillowcases:

  • Focus on diligent rinsing to prevent shampoo residue on the face
  • Allow to fully air dry before re-using to avoid mildew
  • Use a lighter hand when wringing out water

For silk clothing:

  • Turn garments inside-out prior to washing delicate outer layers
  • Unbutton or unzip before submerging to allow water to flow through
  • Reshape while damp and lay flat to dry to avoid over-stretching

For very delicate silk:

  • Dilute shampoo further or switch to just water
  • Opt for an extremely gentle motions and handling
  • Skip soaking time and go straight to rinsing
  • Lay extra flat while drying to prevent creases from taking shape
elegant beige silk fabric on wooden table

The construction and purpose of your silk items should inform the ideal wash technique. 

Always err on the side of extreme care with heirlooms, antiques, or highly valuable silk goods.

Alternatives to Shampoo for Washing Silk

While shampoo can work, you may prefer using a cleaner formulated specifically for silk:

  • Liquid silk detergents – Brands like The Laundress offer concentrated formulas for hand washing fine fabrics.
  • Silk wash soaps – Delicate soaps like Savon de Marseille are designed for sheer fabrics.
  • White vinegar rinse – Dilute white vinegar helps restore silk’s pH balance after washing.
  • Dry cleaning – Some silk items like wedding dresses may warrant professional cleaning for best results.

I absolutely love Heritage Park Laundry Detergent (link to Amazon) for my silk clothes! It’s so gentle yet effective, leaving my silk garments beautifully clean without any damage.

manually washing silk fabrics in basin

You can also pre-treat stains safely using:

  • Mild dish soap – For isolated stains, applying a tiny drop of dawn directly to the spot can lift it before washing. Rinse immediately.
  • Salt – Make a paste with salt and water and gently rub into grease, sweat, or oil-based stains before washing silk.

With the right dilution, technique, and shampoo choice, washing silk in shampoo is doable. But specialty cleansers and professional services yield optimal results for treasured pieces.

Learn about the feasibility of using Dawn dish soap for silk laundry in my article.

What Temperature Water for Handwashing Silk with Shampoo?

Cool or lukewarm water is best when handwashing silk.

Hot water can damage delicate silk fibers and cause shrinking or warping. Stick to cool or gently warm water around room temperature.

Can You Dry Clean Silk Items Using Shampoo?

It’s not recommended to try and dry clean silk items at home using shampoo. Shampoo is not formulated for dry cleaning and may not effectively clean fabrics without water.

Instead, use clear alcohol or diluted white vinegar mixed with water to gently lift stains and revive fabrics. Test on an inconspicuous area first.

How Often Can Silk Items Be Washed with Shampoo?

To avoid degradation of delicate silk fibers over time, limit washing silk in shampoo to only once every 3-4 wears.

Over-washing causes gradual damage to the proteins and smooth surface of silk. Letting silk air out between wears also helps reduce odor and the need for frequent washing.

Explore eco-friendly methods in my article on natural ways to wash silk.

careful hand wash for beige silk dress


Through my research, I discovered that you can wash delicate silk items using basic shampoo in place of specialty detergents – but extra care is required!

The key is choosing an ultra-gentle shampoo, hand-washing with extreme care, and diligently rinsing to prevent residue.

For best results, investigate liquid detergents made specifically for delicates like silk. And of course, always refer to garment labels for recommended washing methods.

I hope these tips give you the confidence to gently clean silk items yourself without risking damage.

Proper care keeps silk looking stunning for many years to come. Share your experience washing silk with shampoo in the comments!

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