How to Wash Silk Without Ruining It: A Comprehensive Guide

As someone new to silk care, you’re probably wondering how to clean your luxurious silk pieces without causing damage.

I totally get it! Silk has a reputation for being a high-maintenance fabric. But with the proper precautions, you can wash silk at home without any issues.

The key is using gentle techniques specifically designed for silk’s delicate nature.

In this guide, I’ll provide plenty of easy-to-follow instructions tailored for beginners so you can wash your silk with total confidence. Let’s get started!

using heritage park detergent for washing silk shirt

Pre-Wash Considerations

Before washing, there are a couple of things to keep in mind:

Always Check the Care Label

The first step is checking the garment’s care label. This will tell you if the manufacturer recommends dry cleaning or washing.

Some silks can be machine washed, while others need hand washing. When in doubt, go with the most gentle cleaning method.

Understand the Type of Silk

Not all silk is created equal! The two main types are:

  • Mulberry silk: Very fine and high-quality silk that requires extra care. Examples are charmeuse, chiffon, and crepe de chine.
  • Wild silk: Slightly coarser, textured silk that is a bit more durable. Examples are shantung, raw silk, and tussah.

Mulberry silk is more prone to damage, so take extra precautions when washing it.

silk washing using diluted vinegar

Hand Washing Silk

Now we’re ready to dive into the hand washing process. When done properly, hand washing is the safest cleaning method for delicate silk items.

Step-by-Step Hand Washing Instructions

Follow these steps for the best results:

  1. Fill a sink or tub with cool or lukewarm water. Avoid hot water!
  2. Add a small amount of mild, silk-safe detergent. Examples are Woolite or The Laundress Delicate Wash.
  3. Gently submerge the silk item and allow it to soak for no more than 3 minutes so the detergent can penetrate the fibers.
  4. Carefully wash the item by squeezing – never twisting or wringing! Rinse thoroughly.
  5. Drain the dirty wash water and refill with clean cool or lukewarm water for a second rinse cycle.
  6. Drain again. Gently press the excess water out of the silk with your hands, then roll the item in a towel to absorb moisture.
  7. Lay flat on a drying rack or towel. Do not hang silk items to dry!
silk garment hand washing in basin
beige silk hand wash in basin care
careful hand washing of beige silk in basin
drying beige silk with towel
drying beige silk fabric with towel

Choosing the Right Detergent

Always use a gentle detergent formulated for delicates and silk:

  • Woolite is a popular choice for hand washing silk safely.
  • Other options are Soak Wash, The Laundress Delicate Wash, Kookaburra Wash, and Eucalan Delicate Wash.

I’m really impressed with Heritage Park Laundry Detergent (link to Amazon) for silk care. It maintains the integrity of the silk while keeping it fresh and clean.

using heritage park detergent for silk washing

Avoid regular laundry detergent or bleach – these are too harsh for silk!

Hand Washing Techniques to Prevent Damage

Here are some of my top tips for washing silk by hand without causing harm:

  • Check seams and embellishments for loose threads. Tie ribbons/sashes in a bow.
  • Turn the garment inside out to protect the outer fabric.
  • Use a very soft cloth or your hands to gently clean. Never scrub or twist silk.
  • Rinse extremely thoroughly until all suds and detergent residue are removed.
  • Smooth out wrinkles and shape the garment while still damp.
  • Always dry silk flat to prevent stretching.

Machine Washing Silk

Machine washing is only recommended for very durable silks like shantung. Follow these precautions:

When Machine Washing is Safe

Machine wash silk only if the care label specifically says “Machine Wash.” Even then, use the delicate cycle.

Some silk items that can go in the washing machine are:

  • Silk blouses, shirts, and tunics made of shantung, challis, or habotai silk
  • Silk pillowcases and bed sheets
  • Silk garments without embellishments like beading or embroidery

Detailed Machine Washing Instructions

If machine washing, use the gentlest cycle and low spin speed. Here are the steps:

  1. Turn silk garments inside out. Use a wash bag for extra protection.
  2. Wash on the “Delicates” cycle in cool water on a short wash cycle.
  3. Use a mild detergent made for delicates, silk, and wool.
  4. Consider washing by hand first to remove body oils and perfume, then machine wash.
  5. Line dry or dry on the lowest heat setting, removing promptly.
delicate cycle for silk in washing machine
mesh bag for silk garments in washing machine

Preventing Shrinkage and Damage

To avoid shrinkage, only machine-wash silk items labeled “Machine Washable.” Other tips:

  • Skip the wash and rinse cycles that use hot water. Stick to cool or cold water.
  • Line dry instead of machine drying to prevent heat damage.
  • Use a mesh garment bag to prevent pulling and snagging.
  • Wash dark silk items separately to prevent dye transfer.

Post-Wash Silk Care

Once your silk is washed, there are a few more things you can do for best results:

Maintaining Silk Softness

  • Use silk-specific fabric softener in the rinse or final soak water. Options are Downy Fabric Softener, Eucalan Delicate Fabric Wash, or The Laundress Fabric Fresh.
  • For items prone to static, use a fabric softener spray after washing.

Addressing Stiffness

If silk emerges from washing slightly stiff, try these fixes:

  • Add a few drops of hair conditioner to the rinse cycle. Do not use fabric softener.
  • Put a few ice cubes in the rinse water for extra softening.
  • While damp, loosely roll up silk in a towel, then gently tug and stretch it.

My latest guide covers effective ways to repair silk post-wash.

wash silk with hair shampoo

Drying Techniques

  • Lay flat on a towel or mesh drying rack. Smooth and shape as needed.
  • For pillowcases or sheets, dry flat then put back on the bed while slightly damp to maintain shape.
  • Roll in a towel to absorb moisture, then air dry. Don’t wring or twist.

Never hang or tumble-dry delicate silk items! The agitation and heat will damage the fibers.

Dry Cleaning vs. Washing Silk

Some silk items like formal gowns, coats, and dresses may say “Dry Clean Only.” So when is dry cleaning preferable over washing?

Consider dry cleaning for:

  • Heavily embellished silks prone to snagging and pulling in the washer.
  • Silk with tapestry-style weaving that could shrink when wet.
  • Vintage, antique, or irregularly shaped silks.
  • Silks in clothes you want professionally pressed.

However, washing is fine for:

  • Sturdy silks like shantung, broadcloth, habotai, and challis.
  • Plain silk pieces without embellishments.
  • Newer garments with straightforward construction.

The water and agitation of washing risks more shrinkage and damage. But dry cleaning uses chemicals that can also weaken delicate silk over time. Evaluate each item and care label.

gentle hand wash for red silk

Troubleshooting Common Silk Washing Issues

Uh oh! If you’ve encountered any problems washing silk, here are some troubleshooting tips:

Silk scarf or blouse shrunkSoak in cool water with hair conditioner or fabric softener to try stretching it back to size.
Silk has yellow stainsWash with distilled white vinegar or lemon juice to help remove discoloration.
Silk is stiff and lost its drapeUse fabric softener and skip machine drying. Tug and stretch while damp.
Silk has snags or pulled threadsAvoid pulling on snags which can damage the fabric more. Trim loose threads.

How Do I Get Wrinkles Out of Silk After Washing?

Try hanging the silk item in the bathroom while showering or steaming the material with an iron or garment steamer.

The steam will help relax the fibers and smooth out wrinkles and creases.

You can also lay silk flat on a towel and gently stretch and iron it while still slightly damp. Avoid ironing silk at high temperatures.

Find out the right technique in my article on washing silk to avoid wrinkles.

iron care for blue silk material

Can I Wash Different Colors of Silk Together?

It’s best to wash dark-colored silk items separately from light colors. Washing them together can result in dye transfer, especially with bright or deeply saturated fabrics like red or black. 

For bright white silks, wash separately as well to prevent discoloration. Stick to washing same-colored silks together.

How Do I Dry Silk After Washing?

Never put silk items in the dryer! The heat can damage the fibers. Lay silk pieces flat on a towel or mesh drying rack to air dry.

For silk pillowcases or sheets, dry them lying flat and then put them back on the bed while still slightly damp to hold their shape.

Roll silk in a towel to absorb excess moisture before air drying.


I hope this guide gives you the confidence to finally wash your silk items at home! Just remember to:

  • Always check garment labels first
  • Hand wash when possible
  • Use gentle detergent for delicates and silk
  • Dry flat to avoid damage

With the proper care techniques, you can keep your luxurious silk clothing, bedding, and accessories looking sensational and lasting for many years to come!

For any other silk cleaning tips, feel free to reach out.

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