How to wash silk – including pillowcases, by hand and in the washing machine

From how to wash silk pillowcases to pyjamas, we have good news: washing silk is easier than you think

how to wash silk - a bed with silk pillowcases and headboard - dunelm_1307915
Image credit: Dunelm
(Image credit: Dunelm)

Want to know how to wash silk? Figuring out how to do laundry seems pretty complex but the good news is, it's not as fiddly as you might have previously thought. 

Martha Stewart (opens in new tab) says, 'People tend to believe that delicates like silk and cashmere need to be shipped off to the dry cleaners, but you can actually care for your sensuous silky items at home, just as you can with your delicate wool items.'

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 only needs a mild detergent. 

So, with that in mind, these are our top tips for washing your silk favourites.

how to wash silk - a bed with silk pillowcases headboard lights - dunelm_1307912

Image credit: Dunelm

(Image credit: Dunelm)

How to wash a silk pillowcase

  • Turn silk pillowcases inside out before laundering, and place the pillowcase in a mesh laundry bag or even an old pillowcase to protect the silk from tearing and pulling in the washer.
  • A mesh wash bag will help protect your sheets from damage.
  • We recommend a cold or lukewarm (up to 30 degrees) delicates wash.
  • Use gentle laundry detergent without enzymes or bleach.
  • Line dry avoiding direct sunlight.

A pink washing basket with grey towel in a white tiled bathroom and plant - Muuto Restore Round BaSket

(Image credit: Muuto)

How to hand wash silk

Need to learn how to wash silk by hand? 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. 

Martha Stewart explains, 'Fill your basin with cool or cold water to help keep the color, then add a gentle detergent. This point is important: Silk is a protein that's a lot like your hair, so treat the fabric like you would your locks-meaning no harsh detergents.'

Here's how to hand wash silk: 

  • 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.

laundry room ideas - a white washing machine in a white tiled laundry room - GettyImages-1188826574

(Image credit: Getty)

How to wash silk in the machine

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. 

  • Need to debunk your washing machine's care symbols? Here's our guide to washing symbols for every type of washer.

how to wash clothes by hand - a laundry room with ironing borard and washing machine - GettyImages-1097712510

(Image credit: Getty 1097712510)

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, or even better steam it instead with a good garment steamer.

The right detergent to wash silk

Want to know how to wash silk? This is by far the most important step in achieving the best results when washing silk. Silk has extremely smooth fibers, which is what gives it its natural sheen. 

This type of fiber 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 (opens in new tab)

(opens in new tab)

The Laundress Delicate Wash, Amazon (opens in new tab)

This 100% natural allergen-free detergent, is made with renewable resources. Free of petroleum, SLS, phosphate, phthalates, and dye, it is gentle enough to use on your precious silk pillowcases, clothes and more.

Choosing the right silk wash 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. 

*Lead image: 100% Mulberry Silk Luxury Pillow Case (opens in new tab), Etsy

Common myths about washing silk

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 and make sure you understand your washer's wash symbols.
  • 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. 

Anna is Content Editor at Real Homes. She moved to the world of interiors from academic research in the field of English Literature and photography. She is the author of London Writing of the 1930s and has a passion for contemporary home decor and gardening. At Real Homes, she covers a range of topics, from practical advice to interior and garden design.