The secret to maintaining silk clothing is to follow the instructions printed in bold on the care label. Silk isn’t any regular fabric that you can get away with ditching red warnings! You’ll regret it almost immediately!
If the care label of your silk material says you can machine wash, feel free to do so using cold water and the gentlest cycle possible. Nowadays, washers even come with a cycle dedicated to silk materials, and you can use that instead. When the care label warns against machine washing however, avoid the washer like the plague and clean the piece of clothing as instructed on the label.
Below, we’ll discuss how to clean a silk item that says “machine washable”.
Check the care label
Some silk materials (like silk blends with cotton) can be machine washed. But to be 100% sure the specific type of silk you have can be put in the washing machine, check the fabric care label tucked in somewhere inside the garment.
Care labels are typically attached to the seam at the neck region or at the side of shirts.
If you find the “machine washable” instruction printed on the label, feel free to put the silk in the washer.
If however, you see something like “hand wash only” or “dry clean only”, make sure to steer clear of putting the fabric in the washing machine as that can cause problems that we’re going to be discussing below.
How To Wash Silk In The Washing Machine
Cleaning silk in the washing machine must be done with care and attention. The washer has an agitator that can easily present problems for your silk.
Silk by nature is very strong because of its linear beta-configuration polymers (lined parallel to one another) as well as the crystalline system. These two structural definitions of silk permit the formation of a continued hydrogen bond that makes silk appear super strong.
Now these hydrogen bonds when in contact with the molecules of water become hydrolyzed, and as a result, makes the entire silk fabric appear weaker.
This is how silks go from sturdy to weak upon submersion in water. Because the material is now weakened, any little agitation can cause the beta-configuration polymers to slide past each other and disorient, causing the silk to appear distorted.
And this is exactly what happens in the washing machine. When you subject silk to rough agitation (even the delicate cycle of your washing machine can stretch a weakened silk in ways you can’t imagine), you’ll have a shift in the polymer orientation that ends up creating permanent wrinkles, creases and distortion.
That’s why soaking (as opposed to scrubbing) is always recommended for silk during hand washing.
If you want to clean silk in the washing machine, then make sure to use the gentlest cycle possible, and also reduce the soaking and cleaning time to half the original or slightly more than half, or perhaps, opt for a silk cycle programmed to clean silk materials.
Remember, you’re reducing the time because you want to minimize the contact time of silk and water as much as possible, to prevent weakening of the fibers even more! When it comes to silk, the lesser the duration of time it’s submerged in water, the better.
In the washer also, use cold water, and avoid anything warm or hot. Hot water breaks hydrogen and peptide bonds, and also salt linkages in the polymer system of silk and therefore cause discoloration. Too hot of a water will cause an accelerated weakening of silk, therefore intensifying in folds, the havoc normally presented by agitation!
Now, when it comes to the kind of detergent to use on silk, opt for gentle detergents or those specially formulated for wool or silk. Silk and wool are nearly similar in how delicate they are! So you can get away with washing either of them using a detergent specially formulated for either of them.
Avoid detergents packed with many different chemicals like brighteners, bleach alternatives, scent boosters, stain removers etc.
These can do more harm than good to silk. Additionally, you want to steer clear of using chlorine bleach on silk because it weakens the fibers as well as cause discoloration. It’s also not a good idea to use fabric softener because it reduces the breathability of silk and can also cause discoloration.
When you’re done washing your silk in the washer, ditch the dryer and opt for air drying. The dryer is your silk’s worst enemy. Everything agitation and hot water does to your silk in the washer is intensified by folds in the dryer!
The best way to dry silk is to air dry it by hanging it outside in a shaded area. Avoid drying silk directly under the sun because it can cause yellowing or fading.
If you can, hang silk from the curtain rods of your shower after a nice hot bath. The steam would help iron out any wrinkles and creases that form on your silk.
Silk can be washed by hand and also by machine. But make sure the fabric care label of your item advocates for either of the techniques first before trying them out.
And speaking of trying out, you don’t just put silk in the washer and call it a day! You have to follow specific rules and instructions set out in this article to stay guided. Go through the article to find out what they are!