Prewashing Silk Fabric

Silk Chiffon

Silk Chiffon

I have nearly three yards of this lovely silk chiffon – a beautiful remnant I got at Britex Fabrics in San Francisco. I’m thinking of using it for a skirt and pair it with a solid silk underskirt (cream or some other color). But before I start sewing it I need to prewash it or take it to the dry cleaners. Prewashing silk fabric in the washing machine may seem wrong but it’s not something you should automatically rule out. I’m trying to decide what I should do.

I’ve done a little research and here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

StephC of Sewing Cake patterns washes silk in the washing machine. Here’s what she says in “This Is How I Care for Silks” on her blog 3 Hours Past the Edge of the World:

This is how I care for silk fabrics:

  • Serge/overlock the raw edges of the length of silk fabric to be turned into a garment
  • Put into washing machine.  If desired, add a few other garments of similar weight and color.  Make sure to zip up any zippers.
  • Wash on a cool setting with a small amount of mild detergent.  I make my own.  DO NOT USE POWDER.  In a pinch, use a capful of shampoo.
  • I like to add a little bit of vinegar to the rinse water.  Try 1/4 cup.  It freshens the silk and removes any soap residue.
  • If desired, use fabric softener.  I think of it the same way as using conditioner on my hair.
  • Remove from the washing machine immediately.

Be sure to read the rest of her post for more of her experiences on washing silk.

I also tweeted (@csewsalot) for advice and StephC (@SewingCake) advised: “when in doubt, just wash a 10cm sq of fabric to see what happens. don’t use hot or cold water. Gentle cycle. Should be ok.” [Note: For the metrically challenged (like myself) 10cm is about 4 inches.]

I found this blog, How to Clean Stuff, which had this helpful post “How to Wash Silk.” Be sure to read the comments for more advice. This site has many, many posts on cleaning a variety of clothing and fabric, from “How to Clean Antique Lace” to “How to Whiten Yellowed Wool.”

I also called a local fabric store to see if they carried anything that you could use to wash silk. The woman I spoke to seemed a bit appalled that I would consider putting silk in the washing machine, suggesting that I dry clean it because washing it could really change the fabric. BUT she said if I really wanted to do that, I should use baby shampoo.

So I’ll definitely prewash a test swatch and see what happens to the fabric and then I’ll decide if I want to prewash all the yardage or just take it to the dry cleaners. I’ll be sure to post my results!



Author: Chuleenan

Chuleenan sews, collects hats and shoes, and is a fabric addict. She is also the organizer for the Bay Area Sewists Meetup group.

2 thoughts on “Prewashing Silk Fabric”

  1. Hello Chuleenan, this is very interesting & thanks for your links! Many of the links seem to be more relevant for heavier silks rather than chiffon.
    I’ve worked with silk chiffon and found it to be fairly delicate – though it could have just been my nervousness!

    What I noticed – the colour runs a lot, so perhaps washing in cold or cool water, initially at least, might prevent the black colour bleeding into the white.
    I hand washed my fabric in the bath with cool water and a little baby shampoo, No wringing or squeezing, then I line/air dried it. Steph’s advice about washing a square of fabric is excellent. As you have a good amount of fabric, maybe cut a few squares and treat them all very differently, then compare the results – that would be fascinating! (To me at least 🙂

    1. I’ll definitely try hand washing a swatch with baby shampoo. And I’ll try throwing a square in the washing machine too – as an experiment. I need to accumulate a load of lights first – wouldn’t want to waste all that water. ;o)

      Thank you for your comments!

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