How to Wash and Care for Silk Pillowcases

silk pillowcases

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 20 - 30 mins
  • Total Time: 3 hrs - 1 day
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $0 to $10

Silk pillowcases, like other silk bedding and silk garments, feel so delicate to the touch that dry-cleaning might seem mandatory. But in reality, silk pillowcases, like other silk items, can usually be washed at home. Unless the item's care label carries a "dry clean only" warning, it can be successfully washed at home if you use cold water, a gentle detergent made for delicate fabrics, and if you avoid using heat to dry the items. But "dry-clean only" pillowcases are rare unless the item contains delicate additional stitching or beading. Even if the care label says "dry cleaning recommended," you probably can successfully hand-wash it at home without causing problems.

Here's a foolproof method for washing silk pillowcases effectively and safely, either by machine or by hand washing.

Before You Begin

Admittedly, it may be difficult to fit an entire wash cycle dedicated to your silk pillowcases into your schedule. If you are in a rush and have an HE front-loading washing machine, you can sneak a silk pillowcase in a "normal" cold water cycle, so long as you use a mesh laundry bag. This trick will save a lot of time hand-washing and wasted water from running a load of laundry for only a few delicates and unmentionables.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Washer or sink
  • Mesh laundry bag (optional)
  • Drying rack
  • Iron (optional)


  • Gentle detergent
  • Distilled white vinegar


How to Wash a Silk Pillowcase
Detergent Gentle
Water Temperature Cold
Cycle Type Gentle, or hand-wash
Drying Cycle  Air-dry
Special Treatments Wash in a mesh bag
Iron Settings Coolest setting
How Often to Wash Weekly
materials for washing a silk pillowcase
The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

How to Wash Silk Pillowcases

  1. Review the Care Label

    Despite their seemingly delicate nature, silk pillowcases seldom require dry cleaning—except in the rare event that the care label says "Dry Clean Only." This caution usually is found only if the pillowcase has some kind of exceptionally delicate decorative stitching or beading.

    All pure silk items normally respond quite well to hand-washing, and many can be machine-washed on a delicate cycle with cold water without a problem.

    Follow whatever advice is recommended on the pillowcase's care label.

    hand-washing a silk pillowcase

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  2. Pretreat Stains

    You may find makeup or bodily fluids on your silk pillowcase, so always check for stains before you wash. Simply work a tiny dab of mild detergent into the stained area with your fingers. Let the detergent work on the area for at least 15 minutes before washing. This will give the pretreatment time to break apart the stain molecules.


    Skip the chlorine bleach. This chemical can be very harmful to silk and will permanently damage the fibers. Silk can actually dissolve in chlorine bleach. Try to also avoid stain removers that may contain bleach or that work by enzyme action. If used, you may encourage yellowing and breakage of fibers.

    pre-treating stains on a silk pillowcase

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  3. Prepare to Wash

    Silk can either be washed by hand or in the washer. If you decide on using the washer, set the machine to the gentle cycle, and place the silk pillowcase in a mesh laundry bag. This will protect it from snags or rough spots in the machine.

    Some detergents are simply too harsh for silk and will leave it feeling rough and scratchy. Choose a gentle detergent specified for washing delicate fabrics, which will clean well while protecting the fibers.

    When hand-washing, fill the sink or wash basin with cold water, and mix in about 1 teaspoon of gentle laundry detergent for a single item; if washing more than one item, 2 tablespoons to 1/4 cup can be used.

    using cold water to wash a pillowcase

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

    filling the sink with water and detergent

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald


  4. Wash the Pillowcase

    If washing by machine, start the washer (make sure it is set on the delicate cycle and cold water). For pillowcases that are especially delicate, you may want to stop the machine before the spin cycle, which can cause creases and wrinkles.

    If washing by hand, go for a gentle touch with no twisting or wringing. Silk fabric is strong when it's dry, but much weaker when fibers are wet.


    Turning the pillowcases inside out before washing will protect the fibers and may extend the life of the fabric.

  5. Add Vinegar to Rinse Water

    If washing by machine, add about 1/2 cup of distilled white vinegar to the fabric softener dispenser as the washer begins its rinse cycle. The vinegar will help remove any soapy residue in the silk fibers and leave it silky smooth.

    If hand washing, drain the sink of soapy water, then refill with fresh cold water, adding about 1/4 cup of vinegar to the rinse water. Gently agitate the pillowcases to remove all soapy residue. You may need to drain and refill the sink two or more times to completely rid the items of soap.

    adding vinegar to the rinse

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  6. Dry the Pillowcases

    Silk and high temperatures are not compatible, so the best way to dry your pillowcase is on a drying rack, away from direct heat sources and sunlight. It can take as much as a full day for the pillowcases to dry fully.

    If you are in a hurry, tumble dry on the lowest heat setting of your dryer, and remove the pillowcases while still slightly damp. Let it finish by air-drying on a clothesline, drying rack, or by laying them flat on an absorbent towel.

    line-drying a silk pillowcase

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

What Is Silk Fabric?

Silk is a natural fiber produced by silkworms that feed on mulberry leaves and then spin a cocoon made of long, lustrous fibers. The cocoons are boiled in water to release the fibers that are then spun into thread for weaving. Silk fabrics are strong, resilient to wrinkling, absorbent, hypoallergenic, and can be woven to a smooth finish. Those qualities make silk fabrics perfect for bedding.

As a natural fiber, there are fewer chemicals involved in the production of the fabric than for man-made fabrics like microfiber, which is made from petroleum-based materials. Because it is a natural fabric, silk fibers can help the skin retain moisture, which can help prevent dryness. And the smooth finish of silk helps reduce hair breakage and tangling.

Treating Stains on Silk Pillowcases

Silk pillowcases can be prone to staining from skin and hair oils, skin-care products, and lipstick and other types of makeup. If simple spot-treating with ordinary mild detergent prior to washing doesn't do the trick, then try using a cotton ball soaked with hydrogen peroxide or rubbing alcohol. A mixture of 2 parts water to 1 part household ammonia can also work.

Silk Care and Repair

Silk pillowcases can last for many years, but with time, they may fray at the edges or the seams may loosen. Loosened seams can be resewn with a matching thread. Frayed edges should be treated with an anti-fraying liquid or fabric adhesive.


If you feel your pillowcase is overly wrinkled, it can be ironed on the lowest temperature setting on your iron. Always use a pressing cloth or a clean, white cotton cloth between the iron and the silk to prevent scorching. Burned fibers cannot be restored. Always iron flat, and never press in sharp creases.

Storing Silk Pillowcases

When storing silk pillowcases, never fold them into a tight square with sharp creases. This can weaken fibers. Create a soft fold or roll the pillowcase before placing it on a shelf where it will not be crushed.

How Often to Wash Silk Pillowcases

Sleep can be a dirty business. Every skincare product you use and the soil on your face and hair are transferred to your pillowcase. Even if you shower before bed, you should still wash your pillowcase weekly. More frequent washing should be done if you have problems with acne or other skin conditions, or if you are suffering from a cold or another virus. Having extra pillowcases on hand is a great idea for busy weeks when laundry days can get delayed.

Tips for Washing Silk Pillowcases

  • Occasional machine-washing will be tolerated by most pillowcases, but avoid doing it too often—and avoid it altogether if you have a top-loading machine with an agitator. Although silk is sturdier than you think, silk pillowcases do not appreciate constant washing by machine.
  • When washing by hand, it may be necessary to refill and rinse the pillowcases several times, especially if you are washing several items at the same time.
  • Do not use fabric softeners, as these products leave a residue on the fibers and can actually make the fabric less "silky."
  • When drying wet pillowcases by hand, never wring them. Instead, press them against a dry towel to remove excess moisture.
  • How can I whiten silk pillowcases that have yellowed?

    Never use bleach to whiten pillowcases, as chorine can actually cause silk to become even more yellowed. Instead, presoak the pillowcases in a sink or basin filled with cool water with 1 tablespoon of white vinegar mixed in. The same method can remove odors from pillowcases.

  • Can I use a steamer to remove wrinkles?

    A steamer is much better than a clothes iron if you are intent on having pillowcases that are perfectly wrinkle-free.

  • Can I use enzyme detergent to wash pillowcases?

    No. Enzyme-based detergents or spot removers work by dissolving proteins, and over time, these products can begin to break down the proteins in silk fibers. Make sure to choose enzyme-free detergents when washing silk. Products marketed as "wool wash" or "silk wash" will be safe.

Article Sources
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  1. 12 Tips to Combat Acne. Rush University Medical Center.