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Handwashing Silk

pegster | Posted in Fabric and Trim on

I have almost completed my daughters prom dress. It has gold silk for the main layer and a net overlay. The gold silk has some water drops on it and I don’t want to dry clean the dress because I am afraid it will ruin the netting. Have any of you ever just handwashed silk or will it ruin the silk?


  1. rekha | | #1

    All the time; good old soap flakes followed by fabric softener if you wish. Manufacturers cover their tracks, like pharamacologists, but there is sufficienct leeway before you could damage this material. After all, the coccoons are boiled to extract the silk!

  2. User avater
    fashionlizard | | #2

    Silk has been in use for 1000's of years. Dry-cleaners have only shown up recently. ;)
    There are a few things to remember about silk; it is a protein fiber and is sensitive to strong bases or alkalai and can be damaged by them; it also can be damaged by excessive heat.
    Some dyes used on silk will not be stable if washed in water, so take a piece of scrap material and test your soap solution first. I doubt you will have trouble with gold silk. Usually it is with reds and deep colors that you can lose color in the wash water. If you live in an area with mineralized water that tends to be a bit on the basic side, I would add a capful of white vinegar to the rinse water to restore the pH of the silk. This will help to extend the life of the silk, since soap residue will cause damage to the silk fibers. I actually do this even though I live in New England where the water is a bit on the acidic side.
    After rinsing the silk well, gently squeeze out the water (never wring!)and roll the silk in a towel to remove excess water. Handle wet silk gently, it loses ~10 percent of its strength when wet.
    With a prom dress, you might need more than one towel to remove excess moisture. Iron the silk when still damp, but not really wet (since you said that it water spots, then if it is too wet, you might have the same problem. Obviously, don't use the steam setting on your iron. If it spits, you will get spots. I hope your daughter enjoys the dress and the event!!

    1. pegster | | #4

      Thank you so much for your advice. My mind is at ease now.

      Edited 11/15/2005 9:23 pm ET by pegster

  3. mygaley | | #3

    Before you wash the entire dress, try spraying on the water spots lightly with spray starch.  This will appear to cause an even larger spot, but press on low with a press cloth;  often the spray starch will feather out the edges of the spots and they will become invisible.  If you must wash it, have confidence--I have washed silk many times and the previous messages have told you the best methods.  Mygaley

  4. offerocker | | #5

    I use a 'soap' product called "Orvis" for all of my natural fibers, especially wool, when handwashing.  When rinsing the wool, I add an inexpensive conditioner (for hair).

    I have also machine washed silk quite successfully in cold/cold with mild soap.  I do have a front-load machine, which is gentler on clothes.  As stated previously, silk is a natural fiber, as is wool and cotton.  They've been around for ages, and water will not harm any of them.  I can't remember when I last used a drycleaner.

    Off subject, but a 'helpful hint':  Fels Naphta bar soap is indispensible in my book.  It cleans most everything, and is a great pre-treater.  I've even used it to wash out dirty rags, and they come clean.  Also a perfect window cleaner, better than anything else.

  5. frizzygirl | | #6

    The dress sounds beautiful.  Fortunately silk is a very washable fiber.  I machine wash (and dry) most of my silks and never use the drycleaner anymore for anything.  I have a front loading machine with a hand wash cycle.  If the scrap you test does fine, then you should be fine.  You mention that you are also concerned about the netting -- is it silk, too?  In the future, I'd recommend that you prewash and dry your silks before making garments.  You can restore sheen to washed silk by removing the fabric from the dryer before it is completely dry, then pressing it with an iron until dry (press on the wrong side if there is one).  Test first, though -- I have had great results with silk knits, noil, jacquard, crepe, velvet, habotai, dupioni, etc., but haven't tried charmeuse.  Silk lasts much longer when you can keep it clean, and washing in water does a much better job than drycleaning.  Good luck.

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