How to Clean and Care for Silk Clothes

stain on a silk garment

​The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

Silk fabrics have a luxurious feel and beautiful finishes. You may have steered away from silk clothes or pillowcases because you thought silk was too expensive or hard to care for. You might be surprised to find out that you may be able to easily remove stains and restore luster to your silk clothing from home with household supplies. Two important things first, read the garment label to make sure it is washable silk and never use a harsh stain remover or bleach of any kind on silk.

Always start by reading hangtags and care labels on silk garments. If the label says “Dry Clean,” this is the manufacturer’s recommended cleaning method, and sometimes, you can wash the silk by hand. However, when the label says “Dry Clean Only,” believe it. The garment may have inner structure materials like interfacings that will be ruined by hand-washing.

Before washing silk, however, it's best to go a step further and try two simple tests. The tests will help you further determine if you can wash the garment at home or take it to the dry cleaner:

  • First, squeeze the dry silk garment in your hand and then let it go. If the fabric smooths out quickly, it is high-quality silk and will hold up well to hand-washing. If not, take it to a dry cleaner or else risk ruining the garment.
  • The second silk test is one for colorfastness. Dampen the fabric on an inside seam. Wait a few minutes and then wipe the spot with a white cloth or cotton swab. If the color comes off, the dye will run during washing, so take that garment to the dry cleaner instead.
person reading a care label
The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska
How to Wash Silk Clothes
Detergent Gentle laundry detergent
Water Temperature Cold
Cycle type Hand-washing is strongly suggested
Drying Cycle Type Air-dry only
Special Treatments Do a silk test before washing
Iron Settings Low or silk setting

Project Metrics

  • Working Time: 10 minutes
  • Total Time: 1 hour
  • Skill level: Beginner

What You'll Need

Supplies

Tools

  • Washing machine (optional)
  • Mesh lingerie bag (optional)
materials to clean silk clothing
The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

How to Hand-Wash Silk Clothes

  1. Pretreat Stains With Delicate Detergent

    If you see specific stain spots, apply just a dab of gentle detergent marked "delicate" directly to the stain (brand names are Studio by Tide or Woolite). Work in the detergent with your fingers and allow it to work for at least 15 minutes before you hand wash the entire silk garment.

    pretreating the garment with detergent
    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska 
  2. Hand-Wash Only in Cold Water

    When you are ready to hand-wash, use only cold water and a very small amount of gentle liquid laundry detergent. Use a soft touch when washing and no scrubbing.

    hand-washing a silk item
    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska 
  3. Use a Vinegar/Water Rinse

    Add 1/2 cup of distilled white vinegar to the rinse water. It will help the garment keep (or regain) its luster.

    adding vinegar to the rinse
    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

How to Remove Dullness From Silk

If you have mishandled washable silk, it can lose its sheen and become dull. It is not a stain, but more like a whiteish film that envelopes the entire garment. You can restore some of the garment's original shine in a few steps.

  1. Soak in a Vinegar Solution

    In a large sink or bucket, add 1/4 cup of white distilled vinegar to each gallon of lukewarm water. Mix well. Completely submerge the garment and swish it around to thoroughly soak the fabric. Remove from the vinegar water and rinse several times in clean water. Do not wring.

    submerging the garment in a vinegar rinse
    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska
  2. Gently Towel Dry the Item

    Spread the garment on a heavy clean white towel and roll up to absorb the water. Keep moving and repeating the steps with clean dry towels until much of the water is absorbed.

    gently towel-drying the silk item
    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska 
  3. Air-Dry

    Hang to air-dry using a plastic shaped or molded hanger—wood can stain silk clothing. Do not hang silk over direct heat or in the sun.

    hang drying the silk item on a hanger
    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

    Ironing

    Extremely high temperatures when ironing can scorch silk, wool, and other protein fibers. The scorching or yellowing occurs as the fibers begin to burn. Burned fibers cannot be revived.

    Most wrinkles in silk can be steamed out, either by a steam iron or by hanging in a steamy bathroom. If you choose to iron the garment, always turn your silk garment inside out and iron while still damp. Always use the lowest heating setting on your iron when pressing silk. Also, always use a pressing cloth when ironing to prevent any water spots or heat from harming the silk. Never wet the silk when ironing or water stains may develop.

    Storing Silk Clothes

    Silk has a reputation for wrinkling and creasing so proper storage is important. Avoid folding silk or leaving it balled up for too long. Store silk items in a breathable fabric (not plastic) bag to keep the garment dry. Hang or store in a cool, dry, dark closet. Silk fibers tend to attract moths, so use a small amount of natural moth repellent, such as lavender or cedar balls, if you prefer.

    Repairs

    Silk clothing may fray or rip at the seams. If you choose to repair frayed or ripped silk seams yourself, hand-stitch the rip, then finish with an anti-fraying product found at fabric stores that stops fraying. Apply it to the stitched repair. Or, use a no-sew fabric adhesive product, also found in fabric stores. Remember that most repairs to silk are not invisible due to the delicate nature of the fabric.

    To fix a snag in silk, use a needle and thread matching the color of the fabric. Fix by pulling the snag back to the wrong side of the fabric.

    Treating Stains on Silk Clothes

    Never use a commercial stain remover on silk. Spot treating with stain removers can result in color and finish damage. Wash the entire garment and allow it more time to soak to remove food stains. For dark or heavy stains, take the piece to a dry cleaner. Be sure to tell the dry cleaner what the stain is so it can be appropriately treated.

    If you have a fresh stain on silk, quickly handle it by gently blotting it up with a clean, damp cloth (don't scrub too hard), then air-dry. Remove perspiration stains on silk with an equal white vinegar and water solution, gently rubbed over the stain with a clean cloth, rinsed with another clean cloth, and air-dried.

    Tips for Washing Silk Clothes

    • If you decide to machine wash, place the garment in a mesh lingerie bag and choose the delicate, cold-water cycle.
    • Never use bleach—oxygen-based or chlorine-based—on silk. Silk fibers will dissolve in chlorine bleach. Even diluted solutions of chlorine bleach will cause permanent yellowing, color loss, and a weakening of the silk.
    • When washing, never wring or twist silk fabric or fragile wet silk fibers can break.
    • Do not dry silk clothes in a tumble dryer, even on low heat.
    • If you don't have a proper hanger, dry silk clothes flat or well-supported on a drying rack.