My Top Tips for Cleaning Silk
Pure silk is expensive and you will probably want to treasure your silk for ever. It is for this reason that I would always recommend dry-cleaning, when time and money allows. You’ll probably see the words Dry Clean Only on the care label, and The UK Silk Organisation recommends dry-cleaning as the safest way to clean your silk items. And, of course, dry-cleaners have insurance should something go wrong.
Although manufacturers legally have to advise you to dry-clean, it is often the case that a stain is only noticed at the last possible moment or that you want to respond quickly to prevent staining if a spill occurs.
Emergency response – dealing with a spill on your silk
When immediate action is required, resist the impulse to soak your silk with water (or detergent) as this can cause the colours to change and/or leave a distinctive ring around the affected area. First port of call is to try using a knife to lift off any excess. If you must dab (never rub), make sure to use dry cotton fabric rather than tissue which can disintegrate, pill and damage the texture of the fabric.
Be aware that if you notice a blob of food as you’re taking the garment off, this can attract moths, so ensure any residue is completely gone using the methods above before returning items to the wardrobe.
A cautionary word on wine spills, and one that’s worth repeating:
don’t try and ‘neutralise’ red wine with white
I’m sorry to say that’s something of a myth and will only result in two stains for a cleaner to treat (and there are only so many chemical treatments that silk can take).
SOS, I’ve just noticed a stain and I have to wear it now!
1. – Find a clean sink or bowl
I don’t want to fall into ‘teaching grandma to suck eggs’ territory, but you are about to clean an expensive piece of wearable art, you don’t want to make the stain worse by picking up any additional soiling from a less-than spotless basin.
2. Do not use hot water directly on silk
Although it might make intuitive sense to scald the stain away with hot water, cold or lukewarm water is best. If the water temperature is too warm it can cause the dyes to run on some silks and, common to all silks, is the risk of damaging the fabric’s natural lustre.
3. Be gentle when you wash silk
I add a small amount of detergent to a bowl or basin filled with water and swoosh it lightly so that the detergent (always one specifically for delicates) starts to break down. Then I take my silk – one piece at a time – and plunge it in and out of the water a few times, keeping my movements gentle and never rubbing, which can damage the structure of the silk. I’ll do this for around three to five minutes and then rinse very thoroughly in cold water. Don’t be tempted to leave it to soak, your silk will not thank you.
4. Drying Silk After Washing
First up, the big ‘Don’t’ – whatever you do, don’t try to wring or twist out the water as this can damage the shape of the garment and the fabric. Instead, use a (clean!) towel and press very gently to remove excess water from the fabric. You can do this a few times – using a number of towels, if you have them available. Once you’re confident that no more water can be absorbed using this method you can hang your piece or lay it flat to dry.
Be mindful of a couple more ‘Don’ts’: don’t put it on a washing line or leave it in direct sunlight as the colours can fade and, equally, don’t tumble-dry silk. You've invested in a delicate, natural fabric and the high temperatures of the tumble dryer could cause shrinkage or damage the structure of your garment.
5. How to iron silk safely
Whilst the fabric is still very slightly damp, you can iron it carefully to ensure it is wrinkle free. Always check surface of your iron to make sure it is clean. Any residue from your iron can pass onto your silk and this will cause permanent damage.
Most irons come with either a delicate or silk function but if yours doesn’t, simply put it on the lowest setting. I use a white cotton sheet (any other light, natural colour will be fine) and lay this on the ironing board to make sure there is no leaching of colour from my ironing-board cover which, again, could cause permanent staining as it will be ‘set’ by the heat from the iron.
I also use a press cloth to cover the area I’m ironing to prevent any potential damage (yes, belt and braces all the way). A small piece of thin cotton cloth such as a handkerchief would be ideal to use as press cloth.
Your silk will probably have two sides – one shiny, the other more matte. Iron on the matte side and go slowly, one small area at a time.
Hopefully, once laundered and ironed correctly your silk can be restored to its luxurious, lustrous glory.