Household laundry: A guide to cleaning silk fabric

Caring for silk doesn’t involve as much maintenance as some would think.If you follow just a few simple guidelines, your silk garments are bound to last a long time.
Silk is not only the oldest natural textile known to man; it’s also one of the strongest. Because of its smooth texture and rich color, it’s considered quite luxurious. Don’t let its luxury scare you away, though. Even though it appears to be a very delicate material, caring for silk is actually quite easy and doesn’t involve as much maintenance as some would think. In fact, if you follow just a few simple guidelines, your silk garments are bound to last a long time.

Household laundry: A guide to cleaning silk fabric

Silk is a protein fiber not unlike human hair. Since you wouldn’t use harsh detergents and chemicals on your own hair, it’s a good idea to treat silk fabric in much the same manner. Perspiration, sunlight, perfumes and deodorants are all damaging to silk. In fact, when wearing any garment made from silk, it’s best to use your alcohol-based products prior to getting dressed. One should either make sure the products on your skin are completely dry before putting on silk clothing, or wear a smock or towel to protect your clothing while applying these products. Underarm shields are also recommended to protect your silk blouses from perspiration and deodorants. If venturing out into inclement weather, make sure your clothing is properly covered. Rain and snow will cause silk to stain.

Always check the label for care instructions. In most cases, especially with raw silk, dry cleaning is recommended. When at all possible, however, you should hand launder your silk. Over time, the constant dry cleaning will cause the material to fade and look dull. If you should stain your clothing, don’t spot clean with plain water, as water can stain. If your garment has a greasy stain, try sprinkling a bit of corn starch or baby powder on the offending mark. Let it sit for a few minutes, then gently brush off with a clean dry cloth. Most other stains can come out with a bit of gentle cleaning.
Silk is a very absorbent material. This is the reason for the richness of the color of most silk fabrics. This is also the reason most silk fabrics will run when washed because excess color may have been absorbed during the dyeing process causing some of the stronger colors to bleed. Reds are especially prone to running and fading. In light of this, silk should be washed separately in order to protect your other clothing. After the first couple of washings, the bleeding should stop. You can try adding a pinch or two of salt to cold rinse water, which is said to help the dyes to set, and keep the bleeding to a minimum

Most silk garments don’t even need the washing machine, as hand washing will give you the best results. Very cold or very hot water can weaken silk so one should use only cool or lukewarm water when laundering. Strong detergents can also weaken the fibers. A mild soap or shampoo is best. Soaps and shampoos containing wax or petroleum products aren’t recommended as they can cause spotting, and it’s never a good idea to use bleach, which can yellow the fabric. For lightly used silks, a little lime juice in the water will work just as well as a mild soap. When rinsing, add a quarter of a cup of vinegar per two gallons of water to remove the residue left behind by soap. Rinse one more time using only cool water to get the vinegar out of the fabric.

Never wring out any item made with silk. This will weaken the fibers. Instead, roll the item into a towel and remove excess water that way. If you’re machine drying your silk garment, remove the item when it’s still slightly damp. Hang it on a hanger, smoothing out as many wrinkles as possible. Over drying can cause the fabric to wear out and shrink. It can also cause the elastic to deteriorate.

Make sure you store your silk away from direct sunlight as the sun weakens natural fibers. It’s for this reason that silk is a bad choice for drapery fabric. If you’re putting away silk items for a few months or longer, store then in a pillowcase or other breathable fabric. Never store in plastic, which traps moisture and will cause mildewing and yellowing. A cool dry place works best.

Caring for silk apparel doesn’t have to be a daunting task. As long as you keep it away from the elements and avoid harsh chemicals and detergents, it should last a lifetime. Why not treat yourself to a little luxury? Now that you know how to care for silk, there’s no reason you shouldn’t have a closet full!

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