How to wash silk

Wondering how to wash silk? We have good news: it's easier than you think

how to wash silk: 100% Mulberry Silk Luxury Pillow Case, Etsy
(Image credit: Etsy)

Want to know how to wash silk? The good news is, it's not as fiddly as you might have previously thought. Depending on which source you consult online, you'll read about all sorts of complicated methods for washing silk, but the truth is: silk is a fabric that doesn't like to be agitated too much and likes a mild detergent. So, with that in mind, these are our top tips for washing your silk favourites. 

For more advice for more fabric types, read our guide on how to do laundry.

1. How to wash silk: choosing the right detergent

This is by far the most important step in achieving the best results when washing silk. Silk has extremely smooth fibres, which is what gives it its natural sheen. This type of fibre is easily damaged by harsh chemicals or abrasive washing powders, but it equally dislikes being overloaded with moisturisers. So, whether you wash your silk by hand or in the washing machine, always wash it with specially formulated silk-friendly detergent. It will be Ph-neutral and creamy, but without overly heavy fabric softeners. We've had particularly good results with The Laundress Delicate Wash

2. How to wash silk: hand washing

Some people prefer hand washing their silks, not trusting the washing machine to be gentle enough. If this is your preferred method, you will still need to use the mild detergent described above. Fill a bathtub/sink with lukewarm water, add the detergent and gently massage your silk garment. Avoid rubbing. When you've rinsed out the detergent, gently squeeze the garment; never wring. Silk is fine to dry hanging, unless it's a blend, in which case flat drying might be best. Read more about how to handwash in our guide.

3. How to wash silk: machine washing

Many high quality, newer washing machines have a silk cycle, but if yours doesn't, just choose the most delicate, shortest cycle with the lowest spin. This last part is very important: silk will tear easily on very fast spin cycles, and will wrinkle. Avoid washing silk with cotton clothing and towels, although you should be able to wash it together with wool without any problems. Laundry bags are only necessary for smaller items such as lingerie and sleep masks. 

4. How to wash silk: choosing the right temperature

Some care labels will tell you to wash your silk cold, but this is a precaution on the part of the manufacturer. Silk is fine to be washed in 30ºC water – though not much warmer than that. Although silk does not get as dirty as cotton clothing, it does absorb sweat and body lotion, and cold water might not cope. If you are hand washing, the water should feel lukewarm, never hot to the touch. 

5. How to wash silk: common myth busting

Silk is an expensive and delicate material, and it's worth putting in the effort to wash it correctly. Having said that, it doesn't require nearly the amount of fuss sometimes suggested, and some of those tips might actually do more harm than good. The following common silk washing myths fall into this category:

  • Myth #1: 'Read the label'. Clothing care labels will often say 'do not wash', or 'dry clean only', or 'machine wash cold'. If your garment is 100 per cent silk, there's simply no reason to follow any of those guidelines, and they're there mainly because the manufacturer hasn't tested their garment for colour fastness and/or shrinkage. That said, we'd always, always suggest caution for a precious item.
  • Myth #2: 'Spot clean your silk': this could do more harm than good, leaving a bigger spot that'll be even more difficult to remove. Never spot clean your silk or use a stain remover; always wash the whole garment.
  • Myth #3: 'Use baby soap to clean your silk': Soap is made with lye and plant fats that can wreak havoc with your silk, removing its sheen and leaving a residue. Do not use soap to wash your silks.
  • Myth #4: 'Silk contains natural oils and doesn't need washing'. This is confusing silk with wool. There are no 'natural oils' in silk, and any oils and sweat it absorbs from your skin do need to be washed out. Do wash your silk garments regularly. 

Can you iron silk?

Yes, you can iron silk but you must use your iron's lowest heat setting to avoid damaging it. If your iron has a silk setting, even better. Ideally, use a clean, cotton press cloth over the silk to protect it further.

*Lead image: 100% Mulberry Silk Luxury Pillow Case, Etsy

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