I love the feel of silk but have a busy lifestyle. Most of my clothes are washed by machine and thrown in a dryer. Can silk withstand that kind of treatment? Does silk shrink in the dryer or when washed?
Silk can shrink in the dryer and when washed. The main cause of silk shrinkage is heat. Dryers and hot water will cause the fibers in silk fabric to pull closer together. This tightening of the weave reduces the space between the yarns, making the garment smaller. Loose weaves will tighten more and show more shrinkage.
In this article, we’ll take a look at why silk shrinks. We’ll explore the reasons behind silk shrinkage and look at how to prevent it. Does silk shrink in a dryer or when washed?
Does Silk Shrink?
The short answer is yes, silk shrinks. It’s not quite as simple as that, though. Silk doesn’t shrink in the same way other natural fabrics do. With cotton, for instance, it’s normally the fibers of the material that shrink. In silk textiles, it isn’t the fiber that shrinks, it’s the weave.
Silk differs from its natural cousins due to its construction. Unlike cotton, silk isn’t a fiber extracted from a plant. It’s a long continuous strand spun by the silkworm to create their cocoons. This strand is known as a filament.
Being filament-based makes silk unique in the world of natural fabrics. Most filament fabrics tend to be synthetic. In fact, silk is the only natural filament fiber. It’s this subtle difference that makes silk behave differently when it comes to shrinking.
Silk filaments contain a substance called sericin which acts like glue to hold the cocoon together. It also protects the cocoon and the silkworm inside from damage.
Sericin is only partially removed when silk is produced. The amount left behind varies depending on the silk fabric being made. For instance, wild silk from the tussah silkworm retains all its sericin. It’s rough silk with a golden hue. In contrast, higher-quality silks from the mulberry silkworm have more of their sericin removed. These silks are softer and lighter in color.
When water, particularly hot water, comes into contact with sericin, it softens and releases its grip on the filaments. This allows the filaments to be harvested and formed into the silk fabric.
The main drawback with sericin is it’s water intolerant. Residual sericin in a silk fabric will soften when it comes into contact with water. This can be a problem as it allows the filaments within the textile to move.
Silk can be woven into tight weaves and loose weaves. In loose weaves, there are gaps between the filaments. When water reacts with sericin, the filaments have newfound freedom to escape their loosely woven bonds. They move closer towards their neighbors, tightening the weave as they go. This tightening of the weave makes the silk appear as though it has shrunk.
The amount of tightening or shrinkage depends on the type of silk you have. Combine a loose silk weave with a high sericin content, and you get a lot of shrinkage. While a tight weave and low sericin level will result in shrinkage so minimal, you probably won’t notice it straight away.
Does Silk Shrink in the Dryer?
Yes, silk can shrink in the dryer. Exposure to heat, particularly prolonged heat, causes silk to shrink. As dryers use warmth, this can be disastrous for silk, especially if the dryer is set on too hot a temperature.
It’s not just the heat from a dryer that can be bad news for silk. As a delicate fabric, silk can be damaged simply by being tossed into one. Any rough treatment like being rotated inside a dryer can cause silk to snag, rip, or tear. Couple that with being thrown against any other garments in the dryer. Your silk will be having a really bad day.
When it comes to silk, allow your garments to air dry. It is the safest option and the kindest solution for your silk.
Does Silk Shrink When Washed?
Silk shrinks when it comes into contact with water and heat. Washing your silk in water that is too hot will result in your silk garment shrinking.
Washing machines can cause the most shrinkage. Depending on your machine, your silk could be immersed in water for a prolonged period, even on a delicate setting. The longer the sericin in silk is in contact with water, the more shrinkage can occur.
Another danger with washing machines, they can end up on the wrong setting. Particularly if you have other garments to wash and the silk slips in unnoticed. This could mean your silk blouse gets doused in a hot wash. Both you and your silk will be devastated.
Hand washing is a slightly safer option. However, you do still need to keep an eye on the time. You should only soak the silk for 2-3 minutes at the most.
Again, the water temperature will make a difference in the amount of shrinkage. Cold water is best for the silk but not great for your hands so go a little warmer than completely freezing. Lukewarm or hand-hot should be fine.
How Much Does Silk Shrink?
The amount of shrinkage in silk depends on several factors. For a high level of shrinkage, your silk will need to be made with a loose weave and contain a large amount of sericin. Less shrinking occurs in silks with lower levels of sericin and tighter weaves.
Time is another shrinkage indicator. Exposure to heat will affect any silk fabric. Regardless of whether the heat is from a dryer or hot water, or even a mixture of both. But, the length of time the silk is in contact with high temperatures and moisture will dictate the amount of shrinkage.
So, if your silk is high in sericin, a loose weave, and in hot water for longer than 3 minutes, the level of shrinkage could be extreme. It does depend on your silk and how you’ve treated it.
All things considered, how much silk shrinks is a bit like asking how long is a piece of string. Until you cut the string, or rather take the silk out of the wash, you aren’t going to know how much shrinkage you’re dealing with.
However, we can put a ballpark figure on it. On average, you’re looking at a shrinkage rate of between 10-15%. But that does depend on the type of silk you have. Some silks may shrink less than that; others could shrink more.
Dupioni, raw silk, and crepe will shrink more than other silks. Raw silk, in particular, is infamous for its shrinking capacity. It’s made from Tussah silk, a wild silk and has much of its sericin left intact through the processing procedure. These types of silk are normally dry clean only because of the extent of the shrinkage you could be faced with.
Sometimes silk fabrics are washed as part of the manufacturing process. You’ll find silk that has been prewashed before being turned into a garment will have a lower shrinkage rate.
How to Shrink Silk
There are times when you might need to shrink silk on purpose. Maybe your blouse is too big. Or you want to make sure your silk dupioni fabric shrinks before you make a garment out of it.
The good news is, silk is one of the easiest fabrics to shrink. All you need is a heat source and some water.
Water temperature will differ depending on why you want to shrink the silk. If all you need is a prewash on your unused yardage of dupioni, no warmer than your hands for a couple of minutes will suffice. Simply wash the silk either by hand or in a washing machine. Then allow the fabric to dry naturally.
For a more intense shrink, try raising the heat a little. Soaking silk in the water of any temperature will activate the sericin making it separate from the filaments. Using hot water will speed up the process. So too, will keep the silk in the water for longer. Leaving your silk in hot water for at least 20 minutes will shrink it.
To add to the shrinking, you can dry your silk in a dryer. A quick word of warning here, silk is fragile when wet, so a spin in a dryer could rip it. Make sure it’s the only garment in the dryer and try putting it in a pillowcase to prevent damage from the dryer’s drum. Set your dryer to a moderate or hot setting for around ten minutes.
Be aware your silk might not shrink as much as you want it to. Remember, silk shrinkage relies on the amount of sericin and the type of weave your silk has.
Can You Unshrink Silk?
You can unshrink silk, but it’s not guaranteed to work. It relies on pulling on the delicate silk fabric while it is damp or wet. This may damage the fibers rather than a return to normal size. You may find you won’t be able to unshrink the silk enough to return it to its original size or shape. But it’s worth a try. Especially for a much-loved garment.
You will need:
- Sink or bowl
- Lukewarm water
- Mild hair conditioner
- Baby shampoo
- Bath towels
- Heavy objects
Fill your sink with enough lukewarm water to completely submerge your garment.
Add 1 tablespoon of hair conditioner to the water. Gently swirl it around to mix the two. You can use baby shampoo instead of a hair conditioner if you want.
Place the garment into the water and allow it to soak for no longer than an hour.
Remove the clothing from the water and lay it on a large bath towel. Don’t be tempted to wring or squeeze your silk, as this will damage the fibers. Simply roll the silk and towel into a log shape. The towel will soak up the water from the silk. Allow the roll to do its job for around 15 minutes.
Check to see how wet the garment is by gently unrolling the towel. If it is still soaking wet, change the towel and repeat step 4. You want the silk to be damp, not sodden.
When you’re happy your silk is damp rather than wet, remove it from the towel roll. Lay it flat on another clean, dry bath towel. Starting at the shoulders and working down towards the hem, grab each side of the garment and gently pull small sections of the garment upwards, downwards, or outwards. The way you stretch depends on which direction you need the silk to unshrink in.
Don’t pull too much, just a little stretch in each point. You should work on adjacent areas as you move down the garment. Avoid jumping from shoulders to hem and then back again.
When you have completed the desired stretching in each area, use a heavy object to hold that portion of the garment in one place. Then move on to the neighboring section. The heavy object will prevent your stretched part from moving as you stretch the next.
Leave the weights in place as the garment dries. Do not add any heat to speed up the drying process, as this will cause it to shrink.
Can You Prevent Silk Shrinking?
Although silk is easy to shrink, you can take steps to prevent it from happening. The first thing you should do is follow the instructions on the care label of the garment. Clothing manufacturers will have tested the best and safest methods for caring for your silk. So trust them and take note of how they say you should care for it.
If it doesn’t have a care label, you should follow the recommended care instructions for all silks. As silk is known to be a delicate fabric, especially when it’s wet, you should handle it with care.
Hand washing is the preferred option for silk as it’s easier to time how long it is exposed to water. It’s also easier to ensure a cool temperature. A short dip in water no hotter than your hands can help save your silk from the dreaded shrinking syndrome.
Some silk can’t be washed. Dupioni and raw silk don’t play nicely in the water of any temperature. Garments made from these silks are normally always dry clean only. So make sure you know what kind of silk you have before submerging it in any water.
If you are in any doubt about the safety of your silk garments in the wash, don’t wash them! Seek the help of a professional cleaner.
Can You Prevent Damage to Silk in the Wash?
Silk is easily damaged when it’s wet. Water softens the sericin, so it detaches from the filaments leaving the fabric vulnerable to damage. Knowing when silk is at its most delicate gives you an advantage that will help you protect it in the wash.
You need to remember silk likes to be handled with kid gloves. The softer, the better! Any kind of rough treatment, like the agitation action of a washing machine or being thrown around in a dryer, are enemies to silk. So too is heat.
Just when you think that’s all you need to consider when washing silk, there’s more. The time your silk is submerged in water will also cause shrinkage. Even the shortest washing machine cycle could be too long for delicate silk filaments.
That’s why it’s safer to wash silk by hand in cold or lukewarm water. Your hands can only withstand a certain amount of heat before scalding. If it’s a temperature comfortable to your hands, it’ll be better for the silk. Not only that, but you don’t have the same strength as a machine, so the washing process will be less intense.
You’ll also be able to time the water contact better. By avoiding heat and lengthy machine cycles, your silk has a better chance of surviving the wash intact.
Go easy when you remove the excess water after washing. Do not be tempted to wring a silk garment. Wringing will twist and turn the fibers and damage them in the process.
Gently push the silk against the side of the sink. Or better still, roll the silk in a large towel and allow it to stand. The water will soak into the towel, leaving the silk undamaged.
Another way to ensure your silk’s longevity is to only wash it when necessary. Washing silk after every wear increases the risk of damage. You can leave your silk to the air after wearing it. This will remove any mild odors and kill off the likelihood of bacteria build-up. Only wash silk when it’s really dirty or incredibly smelly.
You should never put silk in a dryer after washing. Heat and the turning action of the drum aren’t good for silk. Instead, allow your silk garment to air dry. On a fine summer’s day, a gentle breeze outside will do it a world of good. Just keep it out of direct sunlight to avoid any excess heat.
If you need to wash silk, make sure to do so separately from other garments. This is another reason why hand washing is best. Running a washing machine for one item isn’t economical or practical. You need to keep silk away from other clothing to prevent it from snagging on things like zippers and buttons.
Sometimes silk can get a little crinkly in the wash. So much so, you might need to iron it. Do so with care, on the lowest possible heat setting. Make sure the silk is still damp. Being damp rather than sodden helps protect the silk.
A good way to protect the fabric is to use a mild detergent designed specifically for delicate materials, something like Woolite Delicates is ideal for this.
Silk is an easy fabric to shrink. It will shrink in the dryer and when you wash it. Always check the care label to make sure your silk survives a trip to the laundry room. Following the hints and tips in this article will also help you wash your silk safely.
Have you washed your silk recently? Did it shrink? What steps did you take to prevent any damage? Let me know in the comments.