How To Wash Silk (Because Yes, It Can Be Done at Home)

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You’ve got a few nice silk numbers in your wardrobe and the care instructions on all of them read ‘dry clean only.’ What a drag. Or is it? We spoke to Hannah Yokoji, Brand Director of The Laundress, and found out that the hassle and expense of dry cleaning is not only totally unnecessary, but it can also actually leave silk feeling “stiff and crunchy.” Washing silk at home, on the other hand, can actually keep them looking better for longer. Of course, this is only true if you know how to do it right. Read on for the full scoop on how to wash silk, courtesy of an expert in all things laundry-related.

How to Handwash Silk

Believe it or not, the washing machine is an option for silk (more on that below), but Yokoji cautions that it’s not the best way to go as it can lead to snags and tears in the delicate fabric. Instead, she recommends handwashing as the safest route to care for any clothing or bedding made of silk. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to do it.

1. Pre-treat

If the silk item in question has no visible stains and simply needs a good old fashioned cleaning, you can skip this step. However, for blemished garments Yokoji suggests pretreating stains with a targeted treatment that’s formulated to be safe on silk. There are a number of different options out there, so you can shop around to find one that fits your particular type of stain and budget. (The Laundress Stain Solution, for example, works well on pigmented stains while their Wash & Stain Bar is formulated for oily stuff, like salad dressing and make-up.)

2. Soak

Fill a basin or tub with cold water and add a capful of a detergent that’s intended for delicates. (Think: Woolite or Delicate Wash.) Gently agitate the water to distribute the detergent and plunge your garment straight into the cold bath, where it will stay for roughly 30 minutes.

3. Rinse and drain

After the half hour has passed, remove your languishing silk from the soaking liquid and then rinse the piece under cold running water to remove any soapy residue. Once the garment is good and rinsed, Yokoji says to “press the item between your hands to get rid of any excess water...Do not wring it!” OK, but why? Per the expert, aggressive wringing of a silk garment  can warp and damage the fabric. Copy that.

4. Dry

Now it’s time to dry that sexy silk romper of yours so it’s ready for action. You might be tempted to throw the item in the dryer, but patience wins the race here. Instead, air dry that sucker by laying the item “in its natural shape on a drying rack, or a clean, dry towel.”

How to Wash Silk in the Washing Machine

Remember that you’ve been warned: Handwashing is the preferred way to wash silk at home, since this delicate fabric can be easily damaged by a washing machine. That said, you can get away with this method—particularly if you use a good quality garment bag and only rely on the washing machine on occasion. (You know, as opposed to every time you wear your favorite silk button-up.) 

1. Turn the item inside out and stuff it into a mesh bag—the kind designed for the express purpose of laundering delicate garments.

2. Add one capful of gentle detergent, as described above, to your washing machine.

3. Run the machine on the delicate cycle—it’s there for a reason, friends—with cool water and a low spin.

4. Remove the garment and air dry—again, on a drying rack or clean dry towel.

A Few More Things to Keep in Mind When It Comes to Silk

No matter how gingerly you lay your garment out to air-dry, the clean item might emerge with some unsightly wrinkles. Yokoji suggests using the gentle, moist heat of a steamer to deal with such creases, as there’s less risk of scorching your silk. The steam “can also help to boost the item’s natural luster,” she adds. Finally, the expert recommends you refrain from overwashing your silk clothing. In other words, you can definitely wear that blouse more than once before you give it a good hand wash, as you’ll get more wear out of your pricey silk garments this way. In other words, if your item is stain-free but smells a tad musty, your best bet is to give it a spritz with a linen freshening spray for delicates and save the wash for when it really needs it.

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Freelance PureWow Editor

Emma Singer is a freelance contributing editor and writer at PureWow who has over 7 years of professional proofreading, copyediting and writing experience. At PureWow, she covers...