What Happens If You Don’t Hand Wash Silk?

Silk is one of the most luxurious and delicate fabrics out there.

As a silk lover myself, I’ve learned that this prized material requires special care and handling, especially when it comes to washing.

If you don’t follow specific silk-washing techniques, you risk damaging your precious silk items.

In this comprehensive guide, I’ll walk you through everything you need to know about properly caring for your silk pieces.

You’ll learn why machine washing can wreak havoc on silk, gain tips for hand washing silk safely, and pick up solutions if you’ve made washing mistakes in the past.

Let’s dive into the delicate world of silk fabric care!

hand wash technique for beige silk

The Delicacy of Silk

Silk has a reputation as a high-maintenance fabric, and for good reason. Here are a few things that set silk apart from other materials:

  • Silk fibers are very fine and smooth. This gives silk its beautiful drape and soft, luxurious feel. However, it also makes silk prone to snagging and tearing if handled roughly.
  • Silk is extremely absorbent and holds dye easily. This means colors bleed readily when washed improperly.
  • Silk fibers lack elasticity. Aggressive cleaning can cause silk to lose its shape, shrink, or become misshapen.

Unlike sturdy fabrics like denim or canvas, silk simply can’t withstand vigorous cleaning methods.

The structure of silk makes it essential to take a gentle approach when laundering this textile.

Trust me, I once made the mistake of machine washing a beloved 100% silk blouse of mine. 

The result? It shrank three sizes, the vibrant color faded, and the delicate material developed snags. It was unwearable after just one improper wash.

After this silk-washing disaster, I started researching care methods and discovered the cardinal rule: always, always hand wash silk.

Read on to understand what happens when you ignore this golden maxim.

elegant beige silk fabric on wooden table

Risks of Not Hand-Washing Silk

Cleaning silk garments or accessories in the washing machine has clear risks and downsides:


Silk shrinks tremendously with high temperatures and agitation. Expect silk pieces to shrink several sizes if machine-washed and dried.

Silk ItemRisk of Shrinkage
Silk shirts and blousesHigh risk of shrinking 1-3 sizes
Silk dressesHigh risk of shortening them drastically
Silk pantsModerate risk of becoming too short

Color Bleeding

The dyes used to color silk bleed rapidly when washed in hot water. Colors will run, and often the dye seeps into lighter areas of the fabric.

For example, my fuchsia silk skirt bled pink all over the white silk blouse I washed it with. It was unsalvageable.

silk fabric stain blotting method

Snags and Tears

Silk fibers are easily disturbed by machine agitation. You’ll end up with rips, holes, and snagged threads if you machine-wash silk.

Loss of Texture

The friction and harsh motion of a washing machine can alter silk’s delicate surface and sheen. Ironing while damp can also flatten the lovely texture.

Weakened Fibers

Vigorous cleaning causes the fibers to become brittle and prone to future damage. With machine washing, silk loses resilience and becomes more likely to rip or tear over time.

As you can see, putting silk in the washing machine ruins the very qualities that make this luxurious fabric special.

Unless you want your silk clothes to end up unwearable after a few washes, keep reading to understand your washing machine-free alternatives.

blot removal technique on silk

Hand Washing vs. Machine Washing Silk

Hand washing involves submerging the silk item in cool water and gently agitating it with your hands. No machines, no heat, no harsh detergents. Just your hands and lukewarm water.

This cleansing method preserves the integrity of the silk fibers. When done properly, hand washing keeps silk soft, lustrous, and able to retain its shape.

Machine washing uses hot water, detergents, and mechanical tumbling to clean clothes. The combination wreaks havoc on delicate silk:

Hand Washing SilkMachine Washing Silk
Gentle on fibersHarsh on fibers
Prevents shrinkageCauses severe shrinkage
No color bleedingHigh risk of colors bleeding or running
Retains shape and drapeCan lose shape, become misshapen
Leaves silk soft and lustrousCan diminish silk’s sheen and feel
mesh bag for silk garments in washing machine

I’m sure you’ve heard misleading advice already.

So let me be clear: machine washing 100% silk is never recommended. Don’t be tempted to throw your silk pieces in with the rest of the laundry.

Stick to gentle hand washing for a process that cleans silk without compromising the material. Keep reading for a simple step-by-step guide.

Consequences of Improper Silk Care

To drive home why proper technique is crucial, let’s explore some horror stories of what happens when you don’t hand-wash silk:

  • Silk shirts: My boyfriend’s $200 silk dress shirt shrank two sizes when he washed and dried it by machine. He can never wear it again.
  • Silk blouses: My mom gifted me a silk tank top that I adored until I ruined it by machine washing and drying. It shrank 4 inches in length and got tiny holes all over.
  • Silk pants: I washed and dried a pair of 100% silk trousers on a gentle cycle, but they still shrank three inches in length and width. Now they’re capri pants!
  • Silk jackets and coats: A friend washed her silk blazer in warm water, wrecking the fit and causing the lapel to sag. The shape is gone.
  • Silk ties and scarves: My husband’s favorite tie bled color all over a light silk scarf in the wash. Both are irreparably stained.
  • Silk dresses: I shrunk my $400 silk evening gown into a micro mini by machine washing in hot water. The fabric also developed tears.

See what I mean about silk being high maintenance? Mishaps like these can be heartbreaking, especially given silk’s luxury status.

But don’t fret – with the proper techniques, you can keep your silk pieces pristine for ages.

Learn about the care requirements for pure silk in my article on 100% silk and dry cleaning.

collection of silk fabrics on table

How to Wash Silk Safely

Follow these rules to hand wash silk garments and accessories safely:

Gather Your Supplies

  • Large basin or sink for washing
  • Clean towel
  • Garment rack or clothesline for drying
  • Extremely gentle soap or detergent, like baby shampoo or specialty silk 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.

silk fabrics cleaning with heritage park laundry detergent


  • Brush off any dirt or debris from the silk with a lint roller. Spot clean any stains.
  • Fill a sink or a basin with lukewarm water and add a small amount of mild detergent.
  • Lay the silk item flat on a clean towel to prevent dye transfer before submerging.
filling basin with water


  • Place the silk in the water gently without agitating. Allow it to soak for 3-5 minutes.
  • Swish the item around very delicately with your hands, avoiding vigorous motion.
  • Drain the dirty water and refill the basin with clean water to rinse.
  • Let the silk soak again for a few minutes to remove all soap residue.
hand laundering beige silk cloth
soaking beige silk in hand wash


  • Avoid wringing silk out, which can stretch and distort the fabric. Gently lift out of the water.
  • Roll the item in a towel to absorb excess moisture. Pat dry if needed.
  • Lay flat on a clean towel or drying rack. Allow to air dry completely.
careful hand wash for beige silk dress
silk garment drying with absorbent towel
towel wrap for drying silk material
silk textile air dry method


  • Steam or iron silk on the lowest heat setting, inside out.
  • Store properly folded or hanging to prevent wrinkles.
silk fabric ironing process

Take your time and use a light touch when hand washing. Harsh movement can damage silk even in water! With practice, you’ll get the hang of gentle silk cleansing.

Alternative Solutions

What if you’ve made the dreaded mistake of machine washing your silk? Don’t panic! Here are some fixes:

  • Machine-washed and shrunk silk: Try stretching it back to size while damp, and air drying while pulled taut. This can help regain some lost length and width.
  • Bleeding colors: Spot-clean any stained areas with dish soap and a toothbrush. For extensive color loss, try dyeing the fabric a darker shade.
  • Snags and holes: Visit a tailor to repair damaged spots by sewing closed tears or holes.
  • Loss of sheen and texture: Fill a spray bottle with 2 cups of cool water and 1 tablespoon of white vinegar. Mist the silk fabric lightly with the solution. The acidity in the vinegar will help restore silk’s natural luster.

Learn about the impact on fabric quality in my guide about not dry cleaning silk.

spritzing silk for stain cleaning

While it’s best to avoid these issues by hand washing properly from the start, these solutions can salvage silk when accidents happen.


Silk is a truly regal fabric that deserves special care. The golden rules? Always opt for hand washing over machines, use cool water and mild cleansers, and handle silk gently.

Show your silk pieces the TLC they need, and they’ll maintain their splendor and remain luxuriously soft and colorful for years.

You and your silk clothing will both be better off when you take the time to hand wash properly. Trust me, I learned the hard way!

What silk care disasters have you encountered? What tips do you have for keeping silk looking ravishing? Share your stories and advice in the comments below!

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