Should you wash silk fabrics in the washing machine?

If the care label permits, silk clothes can be machine washed on a delicate cycle with cold water settings. For safety, you can place your silk clothes in a mesh laundry bag and then put the bag inside the washing machine.

Silk is a delicate and fragile fabric that may shrink, stretch, and even lose its color if machine-washed without proper care.

So, in order to avoid damaging a delicate fabric like silk, it is best to read the care label first.

In most cases, the care label will have all the cleaning and caring instructions.

That being said, if the care label is missing or faded and you are not sure about the right way of washing and caring for silk fabric, it is best to use the dry cleaning method or simply hand wash in cold water.

Key Takeaways

  • Silk is a delicate and luxurious fabric that requires special care when it comes to cleaning and maintenance.
  • It’s best to hand wash or dry clean the silk garments in order to make them last for a long time.
  • Always read the care label before washing your silk garments, as this will ensure that you are using the correct cleaning methods along with the right kind of detergent for the fabric.
  • Silk fabrics should be handled with care, from pre-washing to storing them in your closet or wardrobes.
  • Use warm or cold water and a gentle detergent to wash your delicate silk fabrics.

Before we start with the appropriate ways to wash silk garments, let us understand what silk is as a fabric, how it is made, and a few common types.

What is silk fabric?

Silk is a natural fabric that is made from fibroin, a type of protein fiber. It is a lightweight fabric that is well known for its durability, shine, and luxurious feel.

Silk is one of the oldest and most luxurious fabrics in the world, with a history that dates back to ancient China.

Silk has always been seen as a sign of wealth and luxury, but the price of silk fabrics has gone down in recent years.

Technology and mass manufacturing have made silk more affordable than ever.

The best-known type of silk is produced by mulberry silkworm Bombyx mori larvae raised in captivity in their own cocoons (sericulture).

How is silk made?

There are many different types of silk, but they all start with the fiber from the cocoon of a caterpillar. To make silk fabric, the fibers are woven together.

The most common type of silk is mulberry silk, which is made from the caterpillars of the mulberry tree.

The caterpillars are raised in the initial phase of the silk production process.

They are fed a diet of mulberry leaves until they spin their cocoons.

Once the cocoons are spun, they are placed in hot water to loosen the fibers.

The fibers are then combed out and threaded onto a loom to be woven into cloth.

Silk fabric is smooth and has a shine because of its protein content.

It is also strong and durable, making it ideal for clothing that needs to drape well, such as dresses and blouses.

However, different types of silk materials may have different care requirements, as each type has its own unique properties (below are some of them).

Silk chiffon

Chiffon is a lightweight fabric that is often used in evening wear, skirts, and dresses.

It is made using a combination of silk, cotton, or synthetic fibers such as polyester that are tightly twisted to give a crepe-like appearance.

Silk georgette

Silk georgette is a light, airy crepe-like fabric made of pure silk and synthetic fibers like rayon, viscose, and polyester.

Silk organza

Organza is a crisp, sheer fabric that is often used for wedding dresses and formal wear.

It is made from tightly woven silk fibers, which give it a stiffer appearance.

Silk taffeta

Taffeta is a silky, crisp fabric that is often used for evening dresses and formal attire.

In order to achieve its signature texture, look, and feel, the fabric is woven from high-quality, fine-thread silk yarns that have been firmly twisted together.

Also, taffeta silk is well-known for its sturdiness and durability and its resistance to wrinkles and creases.

No matter what type of silk fabric you own, make sure to wash it according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Advantages of Washing Silk Fabrics in Washing Machine

Time-saving: Washing machines help save time as they go through the wash cycle automatically. Even if the washer is a manual one, it still saves more time than hand washing.

Less Stress on the Fabric: Most modern washers have different wash settings depending on the fabric type. So, when the right settings are selected, the fabric is not strained, stretched, or damaged during the washing process.

More Efficient Cleaning: Washing machines are more effective at cleaning than hand washing as they are equipped with various features such as a wash cycle, spin speed control, temperature control, etc. that help in removing the dirt effectively from the clothes

Convenience: Washing machines are more convenient to use than hand washing as they require less time and effort.

Disadvantages of Washing Silk Fabrics in Washing Machine

Damage to Delicate Fabrics: The abrasive nature of washing machines may damage the delicate fabric silk. Silk does not go well with the high-speed agitation of a washing machine and could easily tear, fray, or twist during the washing cycle

Possible Fading or Discoloration: Silk fabrics may lose their original color or fade when laundered in a washing machine, especially in hot water wash cycles.

Possible shrinkage: Fabrics may either shrink or stretch in a washing machine, depending on the kind of cloth and the water temperature. So, it’s extremely important to go through the care label once before washing any garment.

Possible Damage to Embellishments: Beads, sequins, and other decorations may break or fall off of clothing in the washing machine, therefore damaging both the fabric and the washer (avoid washing fabrics with embellishments in the washer).

How to wash silk fabrics in a washing machine?

Washing silk fabrics in a washing machine is incredibly simple and does not require any special treatment.

Just check the care label on your silk clothes to ensure they can be machine-washed safely.

Once you have figured out that your garment can be machine washed, follow the below step-by-step instructions.

Step 1: Pre-Treatment

Start by spot-cleaning any areas of your silk garment that are stained.

You can either use a fabric-safe commercial stain-removing solution or a homemade stain-removing solution made from vinegar and water.

So, if you are using a commercial stain remover, follow the instructions on the pack and the care label of your garment.

And if you are using a vinegar and water solution, then mix equal parts vinegar and water in a bowl and gently dab the stained area with a clean cloth dipped in this solution.

Next, rinse the stained areas thoroughly with cold water before proceeding with the next steps.

Step 2: Put the silk garment in a laundry mesh bag

After you are done pre-treating the stains, the next step is to put the garment in a laundry mesh bag.

Step 3: Place the garments in the washing machine

Turn the washable garments inside out and place them in a mesh laundry bag before loading them into the washing machine.

Step 4: Add suitable laundry detergent to the washers detergent tray

Now add a suitable laundry detergent to the washer’s detergent tray, if applicable, or simply pour the detergent directly into the washing machine.

Note: Always use a gentle soap or a mild detergent meant for delicates, and you should avoid bleach or fabric softeners.

Step 4: Washer settings

Set your washing machine to a delicate cycle and make sure to use cold water.

Usually, delicate cycles run at low spin speeds, however, if your washer allows you to manually adjust the settings, set it to the lowest possible spin speed.

Also, you should avoid using excessively hot water, as this can cause the silk to shrink. Instead, opt for lukewarm water.

Step 7: Air Dry

After the wash cycle completes, remove the silk garment promptly and let it air dry or lay flat to dry naturally.

It’s best to avoid using a clothes dryer, as this can damage delicate silk fibers.

Note: Be sure to hang your silk garment up to dry as soon as the wash cycle ends to minimize wrinkles

How to wash silk garments by hand?

To hand wash silk garments:

  • Start by filling a sink or basin with cool water and a mild detergent designed for delicate fabrics.
  • Gently swirl the silk item in the water until it is fully soaked, then leave it submerged for up to 15 to 20 minutes. 
  • If the item is heavily soiled then after soaking, gently rub the fabric together to loosen any dirt or debris, followed by rinsing thoroughly in cool water. While rinsing, do not use a laundry brush over silk garments.
  • Once the garment has been rinsed, carefully squeeze out any excess water (do not wring) and lay it flat on a clean towel to dry.

You can also line dry over a clothesline or using a hanger; however, when drying, avoid direct sunlight or heat sources, which may damage silk fibers.

Why does silk shrink during the wash?

Silk is a protein fiber, which means that it’s composed of long chains of amino acids. These amino acids can bond with water molecules, causing the fabric to weaken and be damaged.

Furthermore, using non-suitable detergents can also cause the amino acids to react negatively with the water, making the fabric lose its shape and strength.

So, if you soak a silk garment in water for too long before washing, the fibers may get tight and twisted.

Final Thoughts

Washing silk garments can be a tricky process, but if done correctly, it can help keep your garments looking vibrant and beautiful for years to come.

It is important to read the care label before washing silk garments.

Most silks can be washed by hand or machine using a gentle cycle, but some may require dry cleaning.

If you are washing silk by hand, avoid wringing or twisting the fabric, instead, press out excess water with your hands or wrap it in a towel.

Silk can usually be washed in a machine, but make sure to use the gentle cycle and a mild detergent.

If in doubt, it’s best to reach out to a professional dry cleaner in order to get it cleaned without causing any damage to the fabric.

Frequently Asked Questions

How to safely wash silk garments?

It is best to either hand wash your silk garments in cool water with a gentle detergent or simply get them dry-cleaned. You can also machine wash as long as the care label specifies.

Can you use hot water to wash silk garments?

Hot water can damage the delicate fibers in silk, causing them to shrink or become misshapen. It’s best to stick to cool or lukewarm water when washing silk clothing.

How can I keep the silk from shrinking during the washing process?

In order to prevent shrinkage during the wash, it’s important that you wash your silk items in cold water with mild detergent. Additionally, you must avoid using any harsh cleaners, like bleach, as it may ruin the fabric. Also, avoid using fabric softeners while washing your silk garments. Lastly, do not dry the silk items in direct sunlight or at high temperatures.

How often should you wash silk garments?

The ideal frequency to wash your silk garments depends on how often you wear them, how heavily they are soiled, and the fabric type. So, you should wash your silk garment as and when needed. That being said, it is recommended to wash silk fabric every two to four times you wear it. However, for silk fabrics that are used frequently, such as bedding, it is recommended to wash them every one to two weeks.

Manish Singh is an expert in electrical engineering with a Diploma in the field. With over 12 years of experience, he specializes in repairing music systems, washing machines, dryers, and other laundry-related appliances. His in-depth knowledge in electrical repairs and decent knowledge about garment care makes him a trusted authority in the field of appliance repair and laundry related topics. If you have any questions or need assistance with your appliances, you can reach out to Manish through email: manish.singh (at)