How to Wash Silk Scarves at Home

How to Wash a Silk Scarf
Adie Bush / Getty Images

An investment in a fabulous silk scarf can be pricey but if cared for correctly that scarf can be worn for decades. Vintage silk Hermes scarves with their hand-rolled and hand-stitched hems and motifs that range from equestrian themes to ancient maps to coats of arms are still must-have items for anyone who is fashion forward.

Whether you buy a new Chanel, Hermes, or Valentino or a silk scarf from an open-air market in the Far East, it's important to learn how to keep it looking great and feeling silky smooth.

How to Keep a Silk Scarf Looking Its Best

  • Apply makeup, lotions, and perfumes and allow them to dry completely before you put on your scarf.
  • Always store a silk scarf in a dry place. Be sure the scarf is completely clean before storage.
  • Use lavender-filled sachets to repel clothes eating insects which can attack the natural fiber silk.
  • Use non-acid tissue paper to soften the folds of a scarf and prevent severe creases which can break fibers.

How to Wash a Silk Scarf

You may find a care tag on the scarf that recommends that the scarf be dry cleaned only. While some structured silk clothing should be taken to a professional cleaner to keep it looking its best, most scarves can be washed by hand and still maintain their classic beauty.

What You Need

  • Cool water
  • Gentle detergent or wool wash
  • Oxygen-based bleach

Do not use regular bath soap for washing silk because the alkalines will damage the fabric. Instead, use a mild detergent like a wool wash and cool water to hand wash silk. Do not attempt to clean silk scarves in a washer, even on the gentle cycle, because excessive agitation may damage the fibers.

If you can see stains like makeup or oil on the scarf, you will need to do some pretreating of those areas before hand washing. Apply a dab of the mild detergent directly onto the stained spot. Work it into the fabric with your fingers. Allow the detergent to work for at least fifteen minutes before you continue washing the entire scarf.

Fill a sink with cool water and add the detergent, swishing it through the water to evenly distribute the detergent. Add the scarf and gently squeeze the cleaning solution into the fabric. Even during hand washing, avoid excessive rubbing because it can break the silk fibers and dull the finish.  Rinse the scarf carefully in cool water. To remove excess moisture, place the scarf between two absorbent white towels. Pat or gently roll the towels to remove as much moisture as possible. Do not wring or wrinkle the silk any more than necessary.

If you have a white scarf that needs to be whitened or brightened, mix a solution of oxygen-based bleach (OxiClean, Clorox 2, Country Save Bleach, or Purex 2 Color Safe Bleach are brand names) and cool water. Follow the package directions as to how much product per gallon of water. Completely submerge the scarf and allow it to soak for one hour. Check the color. If it is white again, wash as recommended. If it is still yellowed, mix a fresh solution and repeat.

How to Dry a Silk Scarf

After you have removed as much moisture as possible with the towels, the silk should be air dried. Never place silk in an automatic dryer even on low heat. Do not hang silks in the sun because that can cause fading or place them near any source of heat, but do dry them as quickly as possible. Rapid drying in front of an electric fan prevents the formation of watermarks and helps retain the glossy finish.

I Washed My Scarf and Now It is Scratchy and Dull. Can It Be Saved?

If you have mishandled washable silk, it can feel scratchy, stiff, and lose its sheen. By following these steps, you can restore some of the shine. The luxurious feel may not be exactly what you remember but the improvement will be noticeable.

In a large sink or bucket, add one-fourth cup of white distilled vinegar per gallon of lukewarm water. Mix well. Completely submerge the scarf and swish around to completely soak the fabric. Remove it from the vinegar water and rinse several times in clean water. Do not wring!

Spread the scarf on a heavy clean white towel and roll up to absorb the water. Repeat with clean towels until most of the water is absorbed. Hang to air dry using a plastic hanger. Never use a wooden or metal hanger that can stain or leave rust on the fabric. Do not hang over direct heat or in the sun.

Repeat the process if the scarf still feels stiff.

How to Iron a Silk Scarf

Silk should be slightly damp when pressed. Use a warm-never hot-iron and press the scarf on the wrong side using a piece of clean white cloth between the silk and the iron.