How to Clean and Care for Silk Scarves

Woman on a vespa with her scarf in the air
Adie Bush / Getty Images

A fabulous silk scarf can be pricey, but it can be worn for decades. Vintage silk Hermes scarves with their hand-rolled and hand-stitched hems and motifs ranging from equestrian themes to ancient maps to coats of arms are still must-have items for anyone who is fashion-forward.

However, they only last if you take care of them properly, which means hand-washing the delicate garment. Do not attempt to clean silk scarves in a washer, even on the gentle cycle, because excessive agitation may damage the fibers.

How to Wash Silk Scarves
Detergent Gentle
Water Temperature Cool
Cycle Type Do not machine wash
Drying Cycle Type Do not machine dry
Special Treatments Hand wash only
Iron Settings Low

Project Metrics

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. You can use the same instructions to wash silk pillowcases.

Working time: 15 minutes

Total time: 45 minutes

Skill level: Beginner

What You’ll Need

Supplies

Tools

  • Sink

Instructions

  1. Pretreat Stains

    If you can see stains like makeup or oil on the scarf, you will need to pretreat 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 15 minutes before you continue washing the entire scarf.

  2. Fill a Sink With Cool Water and Detergent

    Swish the detergent through the water to evenly distribute it.

  3. Submerge the Scarf

    Add the scarf and gently squeeze the cleaning solution into the fabric. Avoid excessive rubbing even during hand-washing because it can break the silk fibers and dull the finish. Rinse the scarf carefully in cool water.

  4. Whiten With Oxygen-Based Bleach (Optional)

    If you have a white scarf that needs to be whitened or brightened, mix a solution of oxygen-based bleach 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.

  5. Remove Excess Moisture

    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.

  6. Allow Scarf to Air-Dry

After you have removed as much moisture as possible with the towels, air-dry the silk. 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.

Never place silk in an automatic dryer, even on low heat. Don't place silks near any source of heat and do not hang silks in the sun because it can cause fading. However, 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.

Restore the Shine to Damaged Silk

If you have mishandled washable silk, it can feel scratchy, stiff, and lose its sheen. However, 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 1/4 cup of white distilled vinegar per gallon of lukewarm water and mix well. Completely submerge the scarf and swish around to thoroughly soak the fabric. Remove it from the vinegar water and rinse several times in clean water. Do not wring the fabric.

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. Allow to air-dry. Repeat the process if the scarf still feels stiff.

Tips for Washing Silk Scarves

  • Never wash silk with chlorine-based bleach, which can damage the natural fibers. If you need to whiten a silk scarf, use an oxygen-based bleach.
  • Before submerging your scarf, test it for colorfastness. Dab the scarf with a wet white cloth to see if any color comes off.
  • If you must wash the silk scarf in a washing machine, put it in a mesh bag and wash on a delicate cycle. Do not machine-dry, as the heat will ruin the fabric.

Ironing

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.

Storing Silk Scarves

Always store a silk scarf in a dry place. Be sure the scarf is completely clean before storage. Use lavender-filled sachets to repel insects that 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.