Everything about silk from purchase to maintenance is expensive. When you have a silk tie that isn’t the most important part of your accoutre, you might consider cutting the cleaning costs by attempting to wash it at home.
But is it safe to wash silk ties at home? In the washer or by hand?
Silk ties are preferred to be soaked and hand washed in a solution of wool or silk detergent and cold water, instead of being scrubbed. Scrubbing affects silk by disorienting its fibers which causes distortion of the material. It can also loosen dyes and weaken fibers.
When it comes to the washer, you can use it, but with the ease of washing silk ties by hand, and the potential risk of damage associated with machine washing, it’s best to always opt for hand washing.
Silk is sensitive, so dry cleaning is the best option!
One of the reasons why it’s not advised to wash a silk tie at home is because the filaments that make up silk are sensitive to water. Silk has a chemical constitution that makes it weaker in water. And because of this, little agitation or aggression can cause disorganization of the chemical structure which translates to distortion, wrinkles and creases.
So one of the main problems with washing silk at home is actually water. If we can find a way to clean silk without submerging it in water, and then agitating at the same time, then silk will always be fine, and that’s what dry cleaning does!
Silk ties can have meticulous stitching
Another problem with cleaning silk ties is their meticulous format of stitching. These can get destroyed in the washer even with cycles as gentle as the silk or delicate cycle. It can also get destroyed with hand scrubbing.
You should always spot clean
The best way to maintain silk ties is actually to spot clean them. When you think of it, silk ties barely make contact with the skin, and so there really isn’t a lot going on, on the surface of the fabric. Because of this, spot cleaning silk ties whenever they pick up stains (and immediately) is always the best option without all the risks of damage.
So how do you spot clean silk ties? When you have solid food residue on silk, scrape that off with the dull end of a knife and use a cotton swab moistened with water to gently lift off stains that are water based like fruit spills, drinks, etc.
For stains like grease, blot them up with a paper towel as they form, then sprinkle baking soda or cornstarch over the spot and let it sit for 2 hours.
Blow off the sprinkled powder off the surface of the stain and the oil should be absorbed completely, if not, repeat the process all over again and let the soda sit for longer.
If you’re dealing with stains like ink, you want to treat it with rubbing alcohol. But first, when dealing with ink, let it sit until it dries completely as trying to get rid of ink stains when wet will only drive to other areas of the tie. Next, moisten a cotton swab with a little bit of rubbing alcohol and use the moistened swab to lift off the stain from the spot.
For stains that are not coming off, or tie pieces that are expensive or constructed with complex designs and structures, don’t tamper with them too much, and simply take them to the dry cleaners or a professional stain remover to tackle the stains on them.
Trying to remove the stains at home can end up causing damage to the silk ties. And a word of warning, as much as possible, avoid scrubbing on so ties when treating stains as described above as it will cause a destruction of the fibers!
Try hand washing
If the stain on your tie is a bit prominent, or you feel it has lost its freshness, then a quick bath in the kitchen sink isn’t a bad idea.
When hand washing silk, make sure to really avoid scrubbing. When you scrub silk, the beta-configuration polymers slide past each other and set in their new position. This is what is seen as distortion, and you don’t want that on your silk. So only rely on soaking to freshen up the tie for you.
So, in a clean bucket, create a solution of water and a gentle detergent. If you don’t have a gentle detergent, use one specially formulated for wool or even silk itself.
Soak the silk tie in it for no more than 10 minutes, then gently rub the surface of the silk with your fingers to help loosen some dirt that is trapped on the surface fibers.
Remember, do not scrub silk, rather, gently rub the surface to remove soil. When you’re done, rinse it out properly using fresh water and then take it outside to air dry on a clothes rack or hand it on the shower curtain rod. Don’t place silk directly under the sunlight as it will fade or discolor!
Another technique you can use to facilitate soil removal is to simply toss the tie around in the wash water or pull and plunge it continuously in the wash water.
Machine washing is the grey area
As far as machine washing is concerned, avoid it for silk as much as you can simply because hand washing them is really easy.
Machine washing, now matter how delicate the cycle is, disorients the polymer structure of silk because the fibers are naturally weakened by their immersion in water. Now this keeps happening on a micro level, until it translates into a big deal!
Almost every silk material that you put in the washing machine will have this kind of distortion happening. It only takes time, probably months of continuous washing to be able to see the effect on the broad scale.
So having known this, here’s how to wash silk ties in the washer.
First, using cold water as hot water can cause hydrogen and peptide bonds to break on a chemical level thereby causing discoloration of the silk. Use a gentle detergent also as those containing harsh chemicals can be destructive to the appearance of silk.
Make sure to opt for the gentlest cycle possible and reduce the cleaning time to half the original.
Because silk is a delicate material, it is best to dry clean it. Dry cleaning doesn’t wet fibers the way water does, and as a result, many fabrics that are delicate or affected by water can be cleaned safely using dry cleaning fluids.
Silk happens to be one of these fibers that are affected by water. In fact, silk loses about 20% of its strength when submerged in water, and this is what presents the agitation in the washer with the opportunity to cause a disorientation of the structure of silk on a chemical level, resulting in distortion on a physical level.
That’s why spot cleaning is advised for silk ties, and when you really have to submerge silk in water, to avoid agitation as much as possible.