How to Clean Silk
Cleaning and Caring for Silk
One of the most popular fabrics in use around the world is silk. Most people in the modern world have or do own a garment made from the fibers, whether it is a silk tie, silk scarf, silk blouse, silk turtleneck, silk jacket, silk dress, or simply a silk shirt. It is a truly versatile fabric. And it is used to make many, many different forms of garments.
Its popularity is due to the myriad positive traits it has: tensile strength, versatility in weave, minimal weight, luminous appearance and luxurious texture. When properly cared for, the fabric is long-wearing and will look wonderful for years to come. That is where the secret lies – properly caring for your silk apparel.
Silk is a natural protein fiber typically crafted by the mulberry silkworm as it makes its cocoon for its transformation into a moth. These silkworms are raised in captivity for the purpose of harvesting the fibers of the cocoons intact. The fibers of silk are triangular in shape, creating a prism-like structure and allowing the cloth made from the fibers to refract incoming light at different angles and produce different colors.
While the cultivated silks make up the majority of silk in use, there have always been other “wild silks” that have been produced by caterpillars other than the mulberry silkworm. These have been gathered and used in making fabrics since ancient times throughout China, South Asia and Europe.
Wild silks differ from domesticated silks in both color and texture, and are comparatively rare. The rarity makes wild silks more expensive than its cultivated counterpart. Silk became a staple of pre-industrial international trade, and its production has been traced as far back as 3500 BC. It spread via trade throughout Asia, Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.
• Silk is one of the strongest natural fibers, but loses as much as 20% of its strength when it is wet.
• It has poor elasticity and if stretched even a small amount, it will remain stretched.
• Silk will weaken if it exposed to sunlight for prolonged periods.
• Silk is a poor conductor of electricity, and thus susceptible to static cling.
• Because it is a natural protein, it can be attacked by some insects, especially if it is left soiled.
It’s this last fact that makes the care and cleaning of silk so important. The oils and soils from our bodies attract insects that feed on natural fiber fabrics. Of course, the other facts come into play when it comes to cleaning silk, too. So, with these facts in mind, let’s discuss cleaning silk garments in more detail.
General Silk Care Guidelines:
Always check your silk garment’s label before attempting to clean it yourself. Some silk fabrics can only be dry-cleaned. This may be for any of a number of reasons. The garment may be of a particularly delicate weave that cannot stand up to machine agitation, or it may be that the fabric was not pre-shrunk and washing in traditional manner could cause shrinking. It may even be that the fabrics and dyes used in creating the garment were not colorfast.
Because silk is a natural protein fiber, you should never use chlorine bleach on silk fabrics; the bleach will damage the fibers. This also applies to cleaning products containing enzymes and brighteners. Likewise, alcohol and substances containing alcohol will also damage silk, so apply perfumes and hairspray before you get dressed, and allow them to dry fully before donning your silk garments.