Silk fabrics have been treasured and worn for centuries due to their luxurious feel and beautiful finishes. You may have steered away from silk clothes because you thought silk is too expensive or hard to care for. You might just be surprised to find you can remove stains and wash silk at home.
Before You Wash Silk Clothes at Home
Always start by reading hang tags and care labels on silk garments or any clothes before cleaning or attempting to remove a stain. If the label says “Dry Clean,” this is the manufacturer’s recommended cleaning method. But, it may not be the only cleaning method that works. Silk clothing can often be hand washed successfully. If the label says “Dry Clean Only,” however, believe it. The garment may have inner structure materials like interfacings that will be ruined by hand-washing.
Before you hand wash silk, try this: squeeze the silk 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.
Silk fibers are made of protein and can react differently when treated with stain removal products and during cleaning. It's important to heed these tips if you decide to wash and iron silk yourself.
Tips for Caring for Silk at Home
- Always Test For Colorfastness. Before washing colored silk, test for colorfastness by dampening 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. Head to the dry cleaners!
- No Spot Treating. For almost any other fabric, spot treating stains can often remove a stain and save washing the entire garment. Not with 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.
- Skip All Beach. There is no bleach — oxygen or chlorine — that is safe to use on silk. Silk fibers actually dissolve in chlorine bleach. Even dilute solutions of chlorine bleach will cause permanent yellowing, color loss, and weakening of silk.
- Pretreat Stains. If you see specific stain spots, apply just a dab of the gentle detergent directly to the stain. Work in the detergent with your fingers and allow it to work for at least fifteen minutes before you hand wash the entire silk garment.
- Use Only Cold Water. When you're ready to hand wash, use only cold water and a very small amount of a gentle liquid laundry detergent. Use a soft touch when washing, no scrubbing, and rinse well. If you decide to machine wash, place the garment in a mesh lingerie bag and choose the delicate, cold-water cycle.
- Add Some Vinegar. Adding 1/2 cup of distilled white vinegar to the rinse water can help silk keep its lovely sheen.
- No Twisting. Do not wring or twist the fabric. When silk is wet the fibers are fragile and can break. Squeeze out water or roll in a clean white towel to remove moisture.
- Skip The Dryer. Do not use a tumble dryer even on low heat. Dry silk clothes flat if possible or well supported on a drying rack.
- Use Low Heat Iron and Skip The Steam. 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. Always use the lowest heating setting on your iron when pressing silk and a pressing cloth to prevent any water spots from harming the silk.
- Store Correctly. Prevent creasing and wrinkles by hanging silk garments on sturdy, padded hangers. For folded items, don't create sharp creases that can break fibers. Roll or pad with acid-free tissue paper to protect the silk. Silk neckties and scarves should never be left tied.
How to Restore Dull Silk Clothes
If you have mishandled washable silk, it can lose its sheen and become dull. You can restore some of the shine by following these steps:
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 around to completely soak the fabric. Remove from the vinegar water and rinse several times in clean water. Do not wring!
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. Hang to air dry using a plastic shaped or molded hanger—no wood that can stain. Do not hang over direct heat or in the sun.
Iron the garment on the wrong side while still damp using a very low heat.