How to Wash Silk Clothing and Sheets at Home
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Yes, you can have nice things—and keep them nice with less effort than you think.
Silk is undoubtedly a beautiful, luxurious fabric, but it has a reputation for being tough to care for. If you’re hesitating to buy certain clothing or bedding because you don’t know how to wash silk, we’ve got good news for you: Many 100 percent silk items can be washed at home. You’ll just need to review the laundry symbols and special care instructions on the label first.
We asked silk care experts Daisy Wang of LilySilk and Michelle Shemilt of Numi for their tips on how to wash silk, including the best laundry detergent to use and how to keep your silk items looking like new. Turns out, learning how to do laundry with silk isn’t nearly as intimidating as most of us imagine. “You’ll discover that silk is actually quite simple to care for and requires only a bit of extra attention,” says Wang.
What to do before you wash silk
We’re going to repeat this because it’s so important: Always read the instructions on an item’s care label before washing it. It tells you exactly what you need to know about that garment’s specific laundry requirements and is your best defense against ruining it. Case in point: If you know how to wash dry-clean-only clothes at home, you might assume you can follow those steps for silk items. But you shouldn’t wash dry-clean-only silk.
Because silk can be a very delicate, Shemilt says it’s a good idea to test your garment for colorfastness before washing. “To do this, wet a light-colored cloth or cotton swab and dab the inside seam,” she says. “If color bleeds onto the cloth or swab, it should probably be professionally cleaned. Take it to the dry cleaner.”
Once you determine a silk item is safe for washing, separate your laundry. You’ll want to do a silks-only wash or, at the very least, only wash your silk items with other delicates. Don’t wash them with jeans, which are too abrasive and can damage silk.
How to wash silk in a washing machine
How often should you wash your sheets or clothing if they’re made of silk? As often as their non-silk counterparts. Just be sure you know how to wash silk pillowcases and sheets before you start laundering.
Without the proper care, silk can shrink in the washing machine, especially if it’s washed in hot water or it sits in water for a long time before washing. And while you can try to unshrink the clothes, there’s no guarantee your silk will stretch out. So be sure to follow the experts’ step-by-step process when learning how to wash silk.
1. Bag it up
Once you’ve determined from the care label that the item can be machine-washed, place it in a mesh bag to protect it from snags or getting damaged by the drum.
2. Adjust your settings
Be sure you’re aware of what temperature to wash clothes made of silk. Set your machine to a cold, delicate cycle with the shortest spin cycle—no longer than 30 minutes.
3. Add detergent
How to dry silk
A silk garment can shrink in the dryer, so unless the care label says differently, let it air-dry. If you’re washing silk sheets, hang them over your shower rod, on a drying rack, or on a clothesline. You can dry them outside, but keep them out of the sunlight to avoid discoloration.
How to hand-wash silk
If you’re dealing with delicate silk or the care label on your garment, sheet, or pillowcase features the laundry symbol for handwashing—a hand in the water—Shemilt and Wang suggest washing by hand. Follow the steps below to learn how to hand-wash silk clothes.
1. Fill a basin
Fill the sink, a tub, or basin with cool water.
2. Add detergent
Add a few drops of a mild detergent; the ones you’d use when machine washing will work here. If you’re traveling or don’t have a gentle detergent, you can safely wash silk with shampoo.
3. Swish around
Gently agitate the item in the water without twisting it.
4. Drain and repeat
Drain out the sudsy water and refill the sink with cold water to rinse. Again, gently agitate the item but don’t wring it out.
To absorb excess water, place the item on a clean white towel, then lay another clean white towel on top to blot it. Skip the dryer and let silk items air dry.
How to iron silk
“Steaming is the safest way to remove wrinkles from silk, but you can also use an iron on the lowest heat setting if necessary,” says Shemilt. “Just turn the garment inside out and use a specialty pressing cloth or clean towel to act as a barrier between it and the iron’s plate.”
If you don’t have a steamer, Wang suggests simply hanging the garment in the bathroom when you shower. Or, she says, hang it over a tea kettle (go with electric; don’t hang your clothes over the stove). Simply turn the kettle on and let the steam work its magic, she says.
How to care for silk clothing
“Always store silk in a cool, dry, dark place,” advises Wang. “This fabric is very sensitive to light and will develop discolored and faded areas if left unprotected. Do not store silk items in plastic because the fabric needs to breathe.”
Give your silk shirts a longer life by using padded hangers, which will protect them and keep them from slipping.
How to remove stains from silk
You’ve cleaned your silk clothing—hooray! But there will come a time when, despite your best efforts to the contrary, you stain them.
“Silk stains very easily, and it can be challenging to remove red wine stains, blood stains, or pretty much any stain,” warns Shemilt. “That’s one of the reasons [Numi] developed sustainable silk, which has a stain-repellent technology so stains just roll off. But if you do get a stain on your silk garment, it’s important to treat it as soon as possible.”
She and Wang follow the stain-removal process below when treating silk items.
- Blot it out. Using a paper towel or cotton wool, blot the area gently to remove as much of the stain as possible.
- Whip up a DIY stain remover. Make a gentle stain remover by mixing a couple of tablespoons of white vinegar or lemon juice with a couple of tablespoons of lukewarm water.
- Test. Use the solution on a small, hidden spot on the item to make sure it’s colorfast. If not, take it to the dry cleaner as soon as possible.
- Dab the area. Use a clean white cloth to dab the stain. Do not rub, and never use bleach on silk.
- Follow washing instructions. Wash as usual, according to instructions on the care label.
Once you understand the basics of how to wash silk, you’ll realize caring for the fabric won’t automatically land your clothing in the donation pile. “Silk is a beautiful fabric,” says Shemilt. “You should be able to enjoy wearing it and sleeping on it, knowing you can care for your silk pieces at home.”
- Daisy Wang, operation specialist of at LilySilk
- Michelle Shemilt, founder of Numi