How to Wash and Care for Silk Clothing

Removing Stains Is Easier Than You Think

A stain on a silk garment

​The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 10 - 30 mins
  • Total Time: 2 hrs - 1 day
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $0 to $10

Silk is such a luxurious, beautiful fabric that it may surprise you to learn that you can remove stains and wash silk clothing rather easily, using everyday supplies. The key is to use very gentle techniques and avoid heat. While hand-washing is always preferable, some silk items can be machine washed if placed in a protective mesh bag and washed on a gentle cycle. Before getting started, read your garment's label to make sure it is washable silk, and remember to never use a harsh stain remover or bleach on any kind of this delicate fabric.

Learn how to wash silk clothing, refresh aging silk, and store your favorite silk garments to maintain their smooth shine in this simple guide.

Can You Wash Silk Clothing?

If the garment label says to "dry clean," this is the manufacturer’s recommended cleaning method, but even if this label is present, you may be able to 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, try two quick tests to determine if you can wash the garment at home:

  • 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 risk ruining the garment).
  • Next, test the colorfastness of your silk garment. Dampen the fabric on an inside seam. Wait a few minutes, 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.
Someone reading a care label

The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

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Click Play to Learn Silk Clothing Care and Cleaning Tricks

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Sink, large wash bowl, or bucket
  • Washing machine (optional)
  • Mesh lingerie bag (optional)

Materials

  • Water
  • Gentle liquid laundry detergent
  • Distilled white vinegar (optional)
  • Towels

Instructions

Various materials to clean silk clothing
The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska
How to Wash Silk Clothing
Detergent Gentle
Water Temperature Cold
Cycle type Hand-washing strongly suggested
Drying Cycle Type Air-dry only
Special Treatments Test before washing
Iron Settings Low or silk setting

Hand-Washing Silk Clothing

  1. Pretreat Stains With Delicate Detergent

    If you see specific stain spots, apply just a dab of gentle detergent marked "delicate" (like Studio by Tide or Woolite) directly to the stain. 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.

    A silk garment with a pottle of stain remover
    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska 
  2. Hand-Wash in Cold Water

    When you're ready to hand-wash, mix cold water and a very small amount of gentle liquid laundry detergent in a sink, large wash bowl, or bucket. Use a soft touch when washing, and don't scrub.

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

    Add 1/2 cup distilled white vinegar to the rinse water. It'll help the garment keep (or regain) its luster. Rinse thoroughly, Be gentle—silk fibers are weaker when wet—and do not wring the fabric.

    Someone adding vinegar to the rinse
    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska
  4. Dry the Garment

    Lay out the garment flat on a dry towel and roll to absorb excess water. Hang on a clothes-drying rack to air dry. Depending on the garment or the air humidity, this can take anywhere from two to 24 hours.

    If ironing is necessary (see below), make sure the garment is fully dry before ironing at a low (delicate) temperature setting.

Machine-Washing Silk Clothing

  1. Use a Mesh Bag

    Silk is a delicate fabric that can easily be damaged in the washing machine, so it's important to always start with a mesh bag or a pillowcase tied securely on the open end. Turn your piece of clothing inside out and place it inside the bag before washing. When washing, never wring or twist silk fabric because fragile silk fibers can break.

    Black silk fabric placed in mesh bag for machine washing

    The Spruce / Ana Maria Stanciu

  2. Load the Machine

    Load your silk inside the mesh bag into your washing machine. Choose the delicate cycle with cold water. Use mild detergents formulated specifically for silk or delicate clothing, or choose a baby shampoo for another delicate option. Never use bleach (oxygen- 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.

    Mesh bag with silk fabric placed inside washing machine

    The Spruce / Ana Maria Stanciu

  3. Dry Your Garments

    Remove the garment immediately after the wash cycle is done and towel-dry it before air-drying. Don't dry silk clothes in a tumble dryer (even on low heat) or in direct sun. If the garment doesn't fit snugly on a hanger, dry it flat or well-supported on a drying rack to prevent any stretching.

    If ironing is necessary (see below), make sure the garment is fully dry before ironing at a low (delicate) temperature setting.

    Black silk fabric rolled into white towel to dry

    The Spruce / Ana Maria Stanciu

Refreshing Dull Silk Clothing

If you've mishandled washable silk, it can lose its sheen and become dull thanks to a whiteish film that envelopes the entire garment. You can restore some of its original shine in a few steps.

  1. Soak in a Vinegar Solution

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

    Someone submerging a 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 it up to absorb the water. Keep moving and repeating the steps with clean dry towels until much of the water is absorbed.

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

    Hang the garment to air-dry using a plastic shaped or molded hanger, as wood can stain silk clothing. Don't hang silk over direct heat or in the sun.

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

What Is Silk?

Silk is a natural protein fiber produced as certain caterpillars spin cocoons before entering their pupal phase. Most commercial silk uses fibers spun by the mulberry silkworm, whose fibers have a unique ability to refract light and produce a shimmering effect. A synthetic substitute, known as "artificial silk" or "synthetic" silk is made from especially fine plant fibers (soybean or bamboo is often used).

Treating Stains on Silk Clothing

Never use a commercial stain remover on silk. Spot treating with stain removers can result in damage to the color and finish. 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 a solution of equal parts white vinegar and water. Gently rub it over the stain with a clean cloth, rinse with another clean cloth, and air-dry.

Ironing

Avoid extremely high temperatures when ironing—they can scorch silk, wool, and other protein fibers. Scorching or yellowing may occur as the fibers begin to burn. Such fibers cannot be revived.

Most wrinkles in silk can be steamed out, either by a steam iron or by hanging the garment in a steamy bathroom. If you choose to iron the garment, turn your silk garment inside out, then iron it while it's still damp. Use the lowest heat setting on your iron as well as a pressing cloth to prevent any water spots or heat from harming the silk. Never wet the silk when ironing, or water stains may develop.

Silk Clothing Care and Repairs

Silk clothing may fray or rip at the seams. If you choose to repair such seams yourself, hand-stitch the rip, then finish with an anti-fraying product or a no-sew fabric adhesive product found at fabric stores. Apply it to the stitched repair. 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 it by pulling the snag back to the other side of the fabric.

Storing Silk Clothing

Silk has a reputation for wrinkling and creasing, so proper storage is important. Avoid folding silk or leaving it balled up. Store silk items in a breathable fabric (not plastic) bag to keep the garments dry. Hang or store them 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.

How Often to Wash Silk Clothing

Wash silk after every few wearings unless it needs freshening and stain removal. Remember that washing your silk clothes at home may put the garments at risk of color fading if cleaned too often. Dry cleaning usually doesn't fade the color of silk clothing as fast as home washing.

Tips for Washing Silk Clothing

  • Avoid getting deodorants, perfumes, and other chemical products on silk garments, as these products can damage or badly stain silk.
  • Whenever possible, opt for gentle hand-washing rather than machine-washing for silk fabrics. While machine-washing these garments in a mesh bag on a gentle wash cycle will generally work, a garment treated this way repeatedly will almost certainly show more wear than one gently washed by hand.
  • Brightly colored silk fabrics may bleed the first time they are washed. If machine-washing, wash these items individually, not in a load that includes other garments.
  • If needed, a gentle fabric softener can be added to the rinse water to soften silk garments.
  • Don't wring out silk garments after rinsing. Instead, blot them on dry towels and hang them up to dry. Wringing wet silk will cause them to dry with wrinkles.
FAQ
  • What is the difference between silk and nylon?

    Silk is made from natural protein fibers from caterpillars, while nylon consists of thermoplastic fibers derived from petroleum. Nylon was originally conceived as an artificial silk and was first used in commercial products during the 1930s. Nylon came into wide use during World War II when natural silk from Asia became difficult to obtain. Nylon became an inexpensive substitute fabric for military parachutes, as well as for clothing. Today, most natural silk sold commercially is once again produced in China or India.

  • Can I use baking soda on silk clothing?

    It's best to avoid baking soda with silk fabrics. While baking soda is an effective material when deodorizing and removing stains from many fabrics, it is an abrasive material that can damage fine silk fabrics.

  • Is it better to dry-clean silk garments?

    Silk garments that have multiple bright colors or strong patterns are often better cleaned by a professional dry cleaner who will use special chemicals that will prevent the colors from running together. Darker colors sometimes bleed when washed in water, and may be better suited to dry cleaning. But with light, single-color silk garments, gentle washing at home is just as good as dry cleaning.