How to care for silk


Let there be no doubt, silk has a special look and feel about it. It's sheen, shimmer, and sensuous touch make it a particularly uniqe and sought-after material throughout the world. Prized for its softness and insulating properties, silk is a natural fabric, making it all the more special.

Learning how to care for silk is simple. As with any fine fabric, there are a few things to keep in mind that will help preserve its original condition.  Follow the advice in this article and you will be able to appreciate your silk for years to come.

Origin of silk

As with many of the things we take for granted today, silk originated in ancient China. It is obtained from the cocoon of the silkworm—actually a caterpillar—which feeds on mulberry leaves. The fiber is unwound just before the adult hatches out. Unfortunately, the silkworm itself must be destroyed to prevent it from chewing its way out and destroying the fibers. The filament can then be spun into cloth.

The silk-making process was a well-guarded secret for thousands of years. China exported the luxurious textile along the trade routes. Eventually, the secret got out and the industry made its way to India and the West, where it was perfected in Italy.


Silk is a strong fiber, but certain circumstances or substances cause the fabric to weaken. Silk can be damaged by perspiration, sunlight, and chemicals. It is also weaker when wet. Common offenders are hairspray, deodorants, nail polish remover, and harsh detergents.

Silk takes dye well, but some dyes will bleed when wet.

Silk do's and don'ts

  • Wear garment shields
  • Cover garment when using hair spray
  • Handle fabric gently
  • Iron on the reverse side


  • Wear a soiled garment
  • Attempt to remove stains yourself
  • Wash different colors together

Should you hand wash your items or take them to a dry cleaner? It depends on the type of silk, the dyes, and the style of garment. Hand or machine washing and drying carry the risk of shrinking the item. Dry cleaning leaves the smell of chemicals in the garment. Hand washing refreshes the fiber and may give the fabric a better drape.

Machine washing will expose the garment to abrasion from the paddles and other clothing. In the machine, you should use the woolen setting with a short spin cycle. Washing in a bag can minimize the potential for damage. Products with more than one textile or with a lot of detail should not be machine washed.

Some sheets and pillowcases may be washable. Large items like comforters or duvets are best sent to the dry cleaners. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Washing the garment

Wash garments before they become too soiled from wearing. Since dyes may run, different colors should be washed separately. Test the washing process on a small inconspicuous part of the garment. The inside of the back hem is a good spot. Some inexpensive or poorly woven garments may loose their luster when washed. If the fabric was not preshrunk, you can expect some shrinkage. Do not use presoak products or bleach.

Use a mild detergent made especially for hand washing, such as Woolite or Ivory Snow. You may also use a mild shampoo. Use warm, not cold water. Gently work the suds through the garment. Do not twist or wring. Fibers are weaker when wet. Rinse thoroughly with clean water. Rinse a second time to remove all traces of soap. Adding ¼ cup of white vinegar to the second rinse can help remove salts and neutralize the soap residue. Rinse again to remove the vinegar smell.

Wrap in a large absorbent towel to remove excess moisture. You may prefer to use your dryer rather than toweling dry. Use the no heat setting. Dryer heat can cause shrinkage. If air drying, place on a padded hanger away from sunlight. You may also lay flat to dry.


While still damp, iron on the wrong side of the garment. Use warm or “silk” setting on the iron. A steam iron can be used if it does not “spit.” Splatters of water can leave stains on the cloth. For touchups on the right side of the garment, use a press cloth.

Removing stains from silk

Never attempt to remove stains with water. This can set the stain. You may also create a ring that cannot be removed. It is better to take the garment to a dry cleaner right away. Show him where the stain is. Tell him what was spilled on it and how long it has been there. These are all factors that will help him determine how to remove the stain.

If you have a product designed to remove stains from silk, you may attempt to remove stains at home. Food and beverage stains are best removed when still wet. Spots that have dried on may be impossible to remove on your own.

Your favorite garment

Keeping your silk items soft and lustrous will make them a joy to wear. Learning how to care for silk is not difficult. In general, gentle treatment when wearing and laundering the garment will keep it fresh and attractive for years to come.