Nezapomněli jste na něco?

Shopping cart

Your cart is empty. Let's do something about that :-)

HINT: Browse our new arrivals

At a loss? Check out our blog

How to wash silk

Can you wash silk? What's the best way? We decided to settle the question once and for all, putting samples of every possible kind of silk fabric through the wringer, literally and figuratively. See the results of our great silk washing test.

Don't let silk scare you

More than any other fabric, silk is shrouded in myth about its supposed delicacy and difficult upkeep. 

"They say you shouldn’t soak it or even get it wet, that it must be dry cleaned, that your perfume will ruin it, the sun too, and ironing. In fact, don’t even look at it sideways."

Even our advice errs on the side of caution: Treat silk with care, especially the finer fabrics, and to take your really special silk clothing to a good dry cleaner.

At the same time, we know that you also want to use silk to make everyday pieces that are fairly easy to care for

Since we at Sartor pride ourselves on knowing what we sell, we regularly test our fabrics and for this article we’ve repeated our tests on a representative selection of our silk fabrics. Here is what we learned, complete with photos. Our results may surprise you.

Some silk fabrics are fairly easy to wash and care for. 

In fact, if you follow a few simple rules, you can care for the bulk of your silks at home. Even fine silk satin and silk chiffon came through the wash unscathed. For most of the silk fabrics we tested, washing softened them and shrank them just a bit – par for the course for more pedestrian fabrics like cotton and rayon. Here are a few general tips before you get started.

Silk care basics

Silk changes when you wash it

Nearly all types of silk fabric change after soaking in water. Most of them soften, some may shrink slightly or become less glossy, or stray filaments may rise from the surface. 

Of course, laundering changes any fabric. It’s just that when it’s a cotton t-shirt you kind of expect that the seams will creep and it will start to pill up. A silk blouse is different – you want it to look good for a long time. 

That’s one reason we recommend treating your special silk pieces with care and having them professionally cleaned.

Silk is more delicate when wet

Reduced tensile strength when wet is a general characteristic not just of silk, but of all protein-based materials (wool, cashmere, alpaca, etc.). For plant-based materials the opposite holds true. That’s why you can put cotton and linen in the high spin cycle and hang them on the line to dry. 

Wet silk is only 80% as strong as it is when dry, so its fibers can break more easily and stretch out of shape. That’s why you need to be so careful when washing, wringing and drying silk.

The garment itself may be delicate

You can’t judge the washability of a garment just by what fabric it’s sewn from. Washing (or even soaking) can also damage interfacing, ornamentation, and embroidery

Tailored items like blazers or formal dresses with complex cuts, are often shaped with an iron while sewing and interfacing of any number of woven or non-woven materials may have been stitched in. Even if the outer fabric came through the wash without any change, the garment itself may lose its shape for good. 

Better pieces deserve a trip to the dry cleaner, as do suits or wool coats.

Can you wash silk?

Can you hand wash silk? And can you wash silk in the washing machine? Let's look at the chemistry first. Since different fabrics are made of different materials, their pH value (their level of acidity) varies accordingly. You may have noticed that laundry detergents come with a variety of pH values. They can be alkaline or acidic. Most ordinary detergents are alkaline because most of the things we wear are made of plant-based materials like cotton and rayon.

What detergent is best for silk

Protein-based fibers like silk are sensitive to alkaline detergents. Most powdered laundry detergent is alkaline, as are washing soda, chlorine bleach, and some soaps. Alkalis weaken the silk filament, causing it to soften, lose its shine, and release stray fibers. 

Never wash silk in an alkaline detergent!

Use only laundry solutions meant specifically for silk or wool.

In a pinch, you can use a gentle silicone-free shampoo. Before using any laundry product, even those meant for hand washing, make sure that it is marked safe for silk and wool.

To test your laundry detergent, you can use litmus paper (pH indicator), which is available at most pharmacies and drug stores.

The bluer the litmus paper turns, the higher the pH (more alkaline and thus worse for washing silk). Ordinary laundry powder is highly alkaline (pH 11) whereas shampoo and laundry gel for silk both have a neutral pH (around 6). Classic laundry gel and hand laundering products are slightly alkaline (pH 7–8).

How to wash silk – laundry detergent pH test
Laundry detergent test

How to wash silk by hand

Be as gentle as possible when caring for silk – that means gentle detergents and gentle handling

Hand washing is best. Find a basin (or a clean bathtub) that will hold the garment with room to spare. Mix a bit of silk-safe laundry solution in tepid water (around 80°F / 25–30°C), submerge your garment and let it soak for 15 to 30 minutes. Then gently stir it around with your hands – don’t scrub or twist it

Drain the dirty water and add clean, fresh water (also tepid) and gently stir to rinse. Don’t use fabric softener – silk doesn’t need it and the film that it leaves on the surface will reduce the natural breathability and absorbency of your silk clothing.

How to wash silk by machine

Most modern washing machines have a gentle cycle that mimics hand washing, sloshing your clothes around in a fair amount of water. Go ahead and use it. Just make sure to set the temperature to a low setting (80 °F / 30 °C) and fill the machine to no more than half

Turn off the spin cycle entirely. 

If your washer has an extra water setting, use it. Water acts as a buffer between your silk clothing and the sides of the washing drum, so the more water, the less contact.

When machine washing especially delicate pieces, such as scarves and blouses, put them in a lingerie bag.

How to dry and iron silk

Never, ever, wring silk out. Don’t forget that silk loses much of its strength when it’s wet and wringing it out will damage it. 

Lay each wet piece on a clean, dry towel and roll it up. The excess water will soak into the towel. To finish drying, lay the garment flat. 

Press it while it’s still a bit damp. Damp silk is much easier to iron.

Try airing it out

Because silk has a natural self-cleaning property, sometimes hanging it out is enough. A dress or blouse worn for three hours to the theater may only want a couple of hours on a hanger – ideally out of doors (summer or winter but sheltered from rain and sun). 

A good airing can even get rid of the smell of cigarette smoke or strong perfume.

The great silk washing test

Here at Sartor, we put our silk fabrics to the test.  In several weeks of rigorous testing, we hand washed samples of all the basic silk fabrics we carry. Some of them we really put through the wringer – submitting them to harsh chemicals and rough treatment. Here’s how it turned out.

Washing silk chiffon

Chiffon is one of the finest silk fabrics around, prone to rips, tears, and snags even when it’s dry. 

The white chiffon we tested seemed to melt away the second it hit the water – you could just barely see it was there. Once it dried and had been ironed, however, it looked just the same as it had before, but had softened slightly. The camera didn’t capture this very well, but it had a noticeably softer hand and a tiny bit more drape than before. 

The moral of the story: If you want to soften chiffon, give it a gentle wash.

Take extreme care when washing chiffon. As our second test showed, if you handle chiffon too roughly (scrubbing it, wringing it dry) the weave will loosen in some spots leaving blemishes that can’t be fixed. On the other hand, however, we have to take our hats off to the toughness of silk – the weave may have loosened, but the fabric did not tear. And it’s not as if we didn’t try!

How to wash silk
Samples of silk chiffon: on the left, an unwashed sample, on the right, chiffon washed by hand. After washing, the silk chiffon softened and became more flowing.
How to wash silk chiffon
Scrubbing hard damaged the chiffon, leaving visible blemishes.

Washing silk georgette

Georgette washes up much the same way as crêpe georgette or crêpe de Chine. The twisted threads that it is woven from tend to twist even more with washing, which makes the fabric seem to shrink. The result is an enhanced crêpe structure, as you can see on the unpressed left edge of the laundered georgette in the photo below.

Ironing smooths out the fabric and restores its original size. Because georgette is matte already, there's no worry about loss of gloss. However, do be gentle when washing, as with any delicate fabric.

how to wash silk georgette
Silk georgette before washing (left) and after (right)

Washing silk organza and crepeline

Organza is a fine, yet stiff, fabric. We were curious whether it would lose its typical stiffness after washing. 

The answer is no. Organza’s stiffness is not a surface treatment, but rather an inherent quality of the material, it does not soften.

It does have a loose weave though, and repeated washing can make it lose its shape. After soaking it also loses any pleats or folds that have been ironed in and you’ll have to press it over again.

Crepeline is similar to organza but has an even looser weave and is not quite as stiff. It won’t soften with washing either.

When we tried wringing out these two materials, both developed slight fractures that we couldn’t iron out. You can see how our attempt to correct the situation with a warm iron (wool setting) and steam turned out on the crepeline sample pictured. We managed to smooth out the puckered strip but its fractured outline remained in the fabric sample for good.

For this reason we don’t recommend washing garments made of organza or crepeline if you want to preserve their original shape (puffy sleeves, structured skirts, sculpted bows). However, if have an organza or crepeline underlayer in a linen or cotton dress where some crimps won’t bother you, go ahead and risk washing.

Washing silk habotai

Though airy and lightweight, silk habotai aced our hand washing test. Laundering softened it slightly, otherwise it was unchanged. And habotai is easy to iron – a couple of passes with the iron removed all wrinkles.

So if you've got a silk scarf in this material, no fears. If it gets crumpled or needs a rinse, washing it is quick and easy.

how to wash silk habotai
Habotai before washing (left) and after (right)

Washing silk crêpe de Chine

For crêpe de Chine, as for other fabrics in the crêpe family (crêpe, georgette, crêpe georgette, crêpe back satin) a good wetting brings out the crêpe structure

Our sample went a bit wavy and shrank, in both directions, when we washed it because the water made the twisted crêpe yarns twist even more.

The good news is that ironing smoothed things out and the fabric even returned to its original size because the twisted silk yarns relaxed to their original state. 

The bad news is that our crêpe de Chine sample lost some of its original smoothness and luster

The choice is yours – if you have a simple summer dress made of crêpe de Chine where a slight change doesn’t matter to you, then washing is fine. Otherwise we recommend dry cleaning.

How to wash silk crêpe de Chine
Comparing crêpe de Chine samples – unwashed (left) and washed and ironed (right). A light source placed to the side picks up the contrast between shiny and dark surfaces and shows that ironing returned most of the sample’s original smoothness and luster. The recovery is not 100% though.
how to wash silk crepe de chine
The crêpe de Chine sample on top has been washed, but not ironed. The original, unwashed sample, is underneath. The washed sample has a rougher texture with a more pronounced crêpe structure.

Washing silk crêpe georgette

Matte crêpe georgette with its noticeably pebbly structure delivered similar results in our washing tests – it shrank a bit and its twisted threads we more noticeable

Matte crêpe fabrics like crêpe georgette have the advantage that they haven’t got any shine to lose. The only thing to worry about is an increased pebbly texture and a loss of shape.  

For crêpe fabrics it also holds true that you should avoid scrubbing and wringing out when washing because the resulting fractures may not iron out.

how to wash silk crepe georgette
The unwashed sample of crêpe georgette (left) next to the washed, but not ironed, sample (right). The washed crêpe georgette is rougher and has shrunk slightly so it does not hang as straight.
how to wash silk crepe georgette
The same two samples as in the previous photo, but the sample on the right has been ironed. In terms of drape the two samples are now practically the same.

Washing silk charmeuse and satin

Silk charmeuse is a lightweight and silk satin a medium weight glossy fabric that at first glance seems like it would be tricky to wash. To our surprise, it came through our hand washing test with flying colors – the only change was a slight softening. 

This is another case where to wash or not to wash is really your call. For structured garments where you want to ensure that the original shape holds up, your dry cleaner is the clear choice. But for pajamas, pillowcases, bedsheets, or a simple top – where softening does no harm and may even be a plus – feel free to wash.

how to wash silk charmeuse and silk satin
Samples of unwashed (left) and washed and ironed silk charmeuse (right). Can’t see the difference? Gentle washing does not damage satin charmeuse. It just makes it softer with more drape.

Washing silk duchesse satin

Duchesse is a stiff, glossy, deluxe satin of the kind used for formalwear and wedding dresses, though it also lends itself to use in household items like pillows or “cosmetic” pillowcases for skincare. The question is, can it be washed?
Our duchesse sample came through our hand washing test unblemished. It just got a bit softer. As with silk charmeuse, that may matter if you have a princess skirt that has to hold its shape, but for a pillowcase it doesn’t really make a difference. Just be careful when ironing – water will leave marks on satin’s shiny surface.

How to wash silk duchesse satin
Samples of unwashed (left) and washed and ironed duchesse satin (right). Duchesse softens when washed.
how to wash silk satin
Use a dry iron when pressing duchesse satin. The sample in the photo shows watermarks that were left by drops from a steam iron. The only way to remove them is by washing again.

Washing silk dupioni

Dupioni is sought after for its brilliant colors and the papery stiffness that makes it so great for sewing full, stiff skirts and gathered dresses. 

Our sample softened considerably with washing, giving this stiff fabric an almost supple drape. So, unless you want to intentionally soften it, we don’t recommend getting it wet. Even steam will have a softening effect on it, so it’s a good idea to use a dry iron on this fabric. 

If you decide to go ahead and wash your silk dupioni anyway, note that its deep, brilliant colors may bleed. So wash it separately.

how to wash silk dupioni
Silk dupioni that has never been washed behaves like paper. You can see how its stiff folds hold their shape and don’t drape.
how to wash silk dupioni
After washing, silk dupioni becomes a rather supple fabric. Compare this picture with the previous one. It now has a gentle drape, with folds falling straight and smooth.

Washing silk taffeta

Taffeta is a fancy, papery-stiff fabric, sought after for wedding fashions and eveningwear as well as jackets and dressy suits. We were curious whether washing would make it lose its stiffness as it does with dupioni. The water did cause it to soften slightly, but not as markedly as dupioni. It even retained its distinctive rustle (or “scroop”). When caring for taffeta, you should keep in mind the character of the garment.

how to wash silk taffeta
Samples of unwashed (left) and washed silk taffeta. You can’t really see the difference, but the washed sample feels softer.
how to wash silk taffeta
The same two taffeta samples from the previous photo, arranged this time into folds. The folds on the laundered sample (right) are smoother and the fabric less papery.

Washing silk serge

Silk serge came through our test by the skin of its teeth. It softened significantly, lost its rustle, and some obstinate wrinkles were just impossible to iron out.

It did maintain its gloss and smoothness.

Our recommendation: If you have an item where it doesn't really matter if it gets much softer and maybe loses its ideal shape – a silk lining, a neck scarf, a casual tunic – you can get away with washing. But better pieces – a formal dress, a blouse – should go to a good dry cleaner.

how to wash silk serge
Silk serge after washing
how to wash silk serge
Silk serge before washing (left) and after (right)

Washing noil silk

Noil, a nubby silk fabric made of spun-silk yarn, looks pretty durable. 

Our sample survived washing with no change in appearance, but shrank 8% in length. Paradoxically, this gave it a slightly sturdier feel

So if you’re using noil to sew a garment that you plan to be washing, be sure to pre-wash your fabric or at least give it a once-over with a steam iron.

how to wash silk noil
There is practically no difference in appearance between the unwashed (left) and washed noil samples. The washed noil has a bit more heft.

Washing matka silk

Matka silk looks pretty sturdy, but it doesn't handle washing very well. Laundering caused significant softening, made the surface a bit rougher (the fabric lost its surface treatment, which gives it a smooth finish), and resulted in shrinkage.

After drying, it was quite crumpled, but ironing fixed this and no permanent creases remained.

Matka's loose weave makes it prone to fraying; finish the edges before washing.

To wash or not to wash? The answer depends on your expectations. If it's a pair of casual pants that can you can live with being a little more worn in, go right ahead. If, however, you want the fabric to stay as-is, take it to a trusted dry cleaner.

how to wash silk matka
Matka silk after washing, but before ironing
how to wash silk matka
Silk matka before washing (left) and after (right)

Washing wild muga silk

When our swatch of wild muga silk had dried out after the wash, it was so crumpled, that we didn't think it had a chance.

But a hot iron repaired everything. The fabric was easy to iron out and all wrinkles disappeared without a trace.

Muga can even take a little steam, but with a light hand!

Washing made the fabric soften slightly and lose some of its sheen. If you want to preserve the fabric's sheen, take your garment to a good dry cleaner.

how to wash silk muga
Our swatch of wild muga silk after washing, before ironing
how to wash silk muga
Wild muga silk before washing (left) and after (right)

Washing wild eri silk

Washing didn't seem to affect our wild eri silk at all. Once it had dried, the fabric was a bit crumpled, but that ironed out easily. The only change we could detect after a thorough inspection of the sample, was a very slight softening.

Even the fabric's brilliant color was just as bright as before washing.

how to wash eri silk
Wild eri silk before washing (left) and after (right)

Washing silk cotton voile

If you have voile in a silk cotton blend, you can pretty much wash it without any worries as long as you don't mind the following two things:

  • Shrinkage – This fabric will shrink. If you need it to remain the same size and shape, don't wash it.
  • Wrinkling – This fabric will wrinkle and must be ironed well. For some garments, or parts of garments, this may pose a problem.

Voile scarves, summer dresses, curtains, and similar items should be no problem to wash. But still be careful to avoid mechanical damage – voile is a delicate fabric with a plain weave.

how to wash silk cotton voile
Silk cotton voile before washing (left) and after (right)

Washing silk knits

Mulberry silk knits are soft and flowy by their nature, so no additional softening is noticeable after washing. Our sample was not even wrinkled much after it had dried. In our experience, this is a surprisingly wrinkle-free fabric.

If you plan to use silk jersey for lingerie or a nightgown, it is perfectly easy to care for.

But remember, this is a very fine fabric and if it is not washed gently, it can suffer mechanical damage. So if you wash, take proper care.

how to wash silk jersey
Mulberry silk jersey before washing (left) and after (right)

Washing spun silk knits

Our spun silk jersey did not change at all after washing. Because it is soft by nature, it can't really get much softer. It also kept its drape and its appearance unchanged.

Due to the nature of spun silk thread, washing should be done gently to prevent a fine fuzz from rising on the surface of the fabric, much as for cotton or rayon. Though spun silk jersey looks pretty sturdy, it should be washed gently – no rough handling, no spin cycle, no machine drying.

how to wash spun silk knit
Spun silk jersey before washing (left) and after (right)

Washing silk – the bottom line

The practical tests that we submitted our silk samples to have shown that silk isn’t quite as finicky as it’s made out to be. It does change a bit with washing, however, and it’s important to follow certain simple rules. We cannot whole-heartedly recommend washing your silk fabrics. A good cleaner where they have experience with silk will take the best care of your special garments.

If you don’t mind the slight changes that washing silk can cause, let these test results be your guide. But before you toss your silk in the wash, test a small sample first. Better safe than sorry.

In any case, we do recommend that you label your silk creations with textile tags, which you can order from us free of charge with your fabric purchase. 

Our textile tags include care symbols to make sure that your clothing will be properly taken care of when you take it to the cleaners. (And they may just keep a spouse or roommate from tossing that beautiful, silk skirt into the wash with a load of cotton t-shirts.)


Kay Hallows 20 / 8 / 2023

This is a superb article. Thank you so much for putting this together, with all the photos and descriptions. This is very informative and I shall bookmark this as a resource.

1 response hide responses
31 / 8 / 2023

Reaction to: This is a superb article. Thank you so much for putting this together, with all the photos and descriptions. This is very informative and I shall bookmark this as a resource.

Thank you very much!

Get Sartor in your inbox

Subscribe to our newsletter and feed your creativity. You won't get any spam from us, just the sort of interesting and informative content that we'd like to receive ourselves.

By registering you agree to the processing of your personal data

Contact form close

Got a question? A dilemma?

(+420) 777 511 114




We use cookies to personalise content and ads, to provide social media features and to analyse our traffic. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners who may combine it with other information that you’ve provided to them or that they’ve collected from your use of their services.

Your cookies settings

Here you can enable cookies according to your own preferences.You can change those settings any time in the future by clicking 'Cookie settings' link in our website's footer.

Necessary cookies help make a website usable by enabling basic functions like page navigation and access to secure areas of the website. The website cannot function properly without these cookies.

Preference cookies enable a website to remember information that changes the way the website behaves or looks, like your preferred language or the region that you are in.

Statistic cookies help website owners to understand how visitors interact with websites by collecting and reporting information anonymously.

These cookies are used by advertising and social networks, including Google, to transmit personal data and personalise ads to make them interesting to you.