How to Clean and Care for Silk Scarves

Silk scarves in a laundry basket

The Spruce / Erica Lang  

Overview
  • Working Time: 15 mins
  • Total Time: 45 mins
  • Skill Level: Beginner

A fabulous silk scarf can be pricey, but it can be worn for decades. Vintage silk Hermès scarves—with their hand-rolled and hand-stitched hems and motifs ranging from equestrian to ancient maps—are still must-have items for anyone who's 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.

You may find a care tag on the scarf that recommends that the scarf be dry-cleaned or dry-cleaned only. The "dry-clean" label is a suggestion, but take the "dry-clean only" directive seriously, however. While some structured silk clothing should be taken to a professional cleaner to keep it looking its best, most scarves with a label that says just "dry-clean" can be washed by hand and still maintain their classic beauty. You can use the same instructions to wash silk pillowcases.

How Often to Clean a Silk Scarf

Silk scarves worn close to the face or around a bare neck should be cleaned more frequently than items worn away from the face or neck. If you have a favorite silk scarf you wear weekly, clean it at least once a month to eliminate dead skin cells, smudged cosmetics, or food particles.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Sink

Materials

  • Cool water
  • Gentle detergent
  • Oxygen bleach (optional)
  • White towels
  • Plastic hanger

Instructions

Ingredients for washing silk scarves
The Spruce / Erica Lang 
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
  1. Pre-Treat Stains

    Pre-treat makeup or oil stains on the scarf before hand-washing. Apply a dab of 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.

    Someone pre-treating a stain on a silk scarf
    The Spruce / Erica Lang 
  2. Fill a Sink With Cool Water and Detergent

    Swish the detergent through the water to evenly distribute it.

    Someone pouring detergent into a sink
    The Spruce / Erica Lang  
  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.

    Someone submerging a scarf in a sink
    The Spruce / Erica Lang 
  4. Whiten With Oxygen Bleach

    If you have a white scarf that needs to be whitened or brightened, mix a solution of oxygen bleach and cool water. Follow the package directions as to how much product to use 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.

    Someone adding oxygen bleach to a sink
    The Spruce / Erica Lang  
  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.

    A scarf being dried between two white towels
    The Spruce / Erica Lang 
  6. Allow the Scarf to Air-Dry

    After you've removed as much moisture as possible with the towels, air-dry the scarf by hanging it on a plastic hanger. Never use a wooden or metal hanger, which can stain or leave rust on the fabric.

    Never place silk in an automatic dryer, even on low heat. Don't place silk scarves near any source of heat or hang them 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.

    Silk scarves on a drying rack
    The Spruce / Erica Lang 

Ironing

Silk should be slightly damp when pressed. Use a warm—never hot—iron setting. Press the scarf on the wrong (opposite) side of the fabric 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 storing. Use lavender-filled sachets to repel insects that can attack the natural silk fiber. Use non-acid tissue paper to soften the folds of a scarf and prevent severe creases, which can break fibers.

Repairs

A small rip in the scarf or on a satin banded hem can be fixed with a light-handed touch using a fine needle and silk thread. Repair a larger rip using fusible interfacing (found at fabric and craft stores). Place it on the wrong side of the scarf to fuse the tear. Fusible interfacing may be able to stop fraying edges of a silk scarf, but it takes a deft hand to get it just right, and you may want to find a silk-savvy tailor who can fix the fraying.

Treating Stains on Silk Scarves

Treat an ink stain on a silk scarf by putting a clean white towel or paper towel underneath the stain to absorb as much ink as possible. Spray with an alcohol-based hairspray, or put rubbing alcohol on the stain. Don't let the spray or alcohol dry. Immediately dab gently at the stain with a clean cloth until the ink stain lifts. Don't rub the ink stain. Use a blow-dryer to dry the spot quickly.

You may need to restore the shine to a silk scarf if it was mishandled during washing and resulted in a dull, scratchy, stiff finish. Fill a large sink or bucket with 1/4 cup white distilled vinegar per 1 gallon lukewarm water, and mix well. Submerge the scarf, and swish it around to soak. Remove the scarf from the vinegar water, and rinse several times in clean water. Do not wring the scarf. Spread the scarf on a heavy, clean white towel; roll it up to absorb the water; repeat until most of the water is absorbed; and then air-dry. Repeat 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 instead.
  • Before submerging your scarf, test it for colorfastness. Dab the scarf with a wet white cloth to see if any color comes off. If it does, it's not colorfast.
  • If you must wash the silk scarf in a washing machine, put it in a mesh bag, and wash it on a delicate cycle. Do not machine-dry, as the heat will ruin the fabric.
  • To get rid of a sticky residue on the scarf, gently dab the area with rubbing alcohol or white vinegar to dissolve the residue. Before you do this, test an inconspicuous part of the scarf to make sure the liquid won't affect the color.