How to Wash Silk Clothes and Make Them Last

Easy does it with these hand and machine washing instructions.

A stain on a silk garment

​The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 10 mins
  • Total Time: 1 hr
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $10

Silk has a luxurious feel and a beautiful finish. If you have silk clothing, you might be surprised to find out that you can easily remove stains and restore its luster at home with everyday supplies. 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.

Pre-Wash Silk Tests

If the garment label says to dry clean, this is the manufacturer’s recommended cleaning method. Sometimes, even with this label, 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, 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

1:09

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 Clothes
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

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" (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 Only 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.

    Warning

    If you decide to machine-wash the silk garment, place it in a mesh lingerie bag, and choose the delicate, cold-water cycle.

    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.

    Someone adding vinegar to the rinse
    The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

How to Machine Wash Silk Clothes

  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 the fragile silk fibers can break.

  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 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.

  3. Dry Your Garments

    Remove the garment once 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.

How to Refresh Dull Silk Clothes

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

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. Such 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, 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.

Storing Silk Clothes

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.

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.

Treating Stains on Silk Clothes

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.

How Often to Clean Silk Clothes

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.