Secrets of how to wash a silk scarf

To wash or not to wash? That is the question we ask ourselves about our silk scarves when we see the ubiquitous ‘Dry Clean Only’ label so I’d like to share some thoughts to help you decide for yourself what to do. Generally it is fine to wash both plain and printed silk scarves because, if you think about it, washing is part of the printing process after the dyes have been set so your scarf has already been washed when it was first made. I dislike wearing a scarf that smells stale and unfortunately dry cleaning won’t remove odours. Also, if silk is dry cleaned too often it can lose its lustre and become brittle so, with due caution, I do wash my scarves.

So why do manufacturers put on ‘Dry Clean Only’ labels? Fabric manufacturers err on the side of caution because they don’t know the end use for their fabric. While dry cleaning may not be necessary for fabric that has been made into a scarf it may well be true for when the same fabric is made in to a garment because any shrinkage (natural fabrics can ‘tighten up’ on the first wash or two) could ruin the piece. A scarf is unlikely to shrink because it has already been washed after printing, but even if it did shrink a little bit it would not affect the cut of the piece. From the printers point of view they also err on the side of caution because they can’t know if the person washing the scarf will do it properly. So how do you do it properly? I’d best tell you about the exceptions first.

  • If the scarf is made of silk dupion where the warp and weft are of different fibres or colours.
  • Sometimes for cheaper quality scarves where the manufacturer has cut corners and the dye has not been properly
  • If the printed or dyed silk is stitched to another type of fabric which could shrink and lead to puckering.
  • If there is a particular stain on the silk that needs to be spot cleaned professionally and washing could inadvertently ‘set’ the stain.
  • If your scarf has a ‘glazed’ finish that would be affected by washing. With these provisos said here’s;


You will need:

A clean bath towel as least as large as your scarf ready to hand before you start.

Dish washing liquid (honestly, it’s best for removing grease)

A little laundry starch (I use Dylon but others are also available online and in some supermarkets) for the final rinse if you want. Washing tends to make silk softer so if you prefer your scarves crisp rather than soft a tiny amount of starch will give an ‘almost as new’ feel.
A clean sink or basin and plenty of cool or cold water.

Keep in mind that washing may well loosen the colour so the important thing is to not allow the colour to bleed into the surrounding areas so never soak your scarf and never ever leave it lying wet, even for a short while. Then, while it is drying you have to make sure that no part of the scarf touches any other part of the scarf otherwise you may get a faint overprint of the pattern on to another area. This is why you need to have the towel ready to hand in advance. Done with care you won’t have a problem and your scarves will be lovely and fresh to wear. The great thing about this method is that you can freshen up your scarves even when you are travelling. If you don’t have washing up liquid just use shampoo, so long as it is of the clear variety.


Use only cold or tepid water with some dishwashing liquid in. Keep the scarf moving in the water so that any colour that does come out, which may happen the first time or two you wash the scarf, doesn’t transfer to other areas. Any stubborn marks can have a bit of washing up liquid applied directly and be gently rubbed but not scrubbed. Rinse in cool water until all soap is removed. I like to put a little Dylon Wash-in Starch in the final rinse. It gives silk scarves a feel and handle that is almost like new and makes them sit well for styling. It also has a ‘freshly laundered’ delicate fragrance.


As soon as you have done the final rinse gently squeeze (never wring) the excess water out and lay the scarf out on the towel. Roll the towel up like a Swiss roll and (here’s the technical bit) sit on it to squeeze more water out of the scarf. Leave it in the towel rolled up for a few minutes and then unroll it and leave it to air-dry lying flat on top of the towel. If the hems have puckered at all stretch them out by holding two corners and pulling gently from edge to edge. When the scarf is almost dry, which may be within a few minutes if the silk is quite fine, you can iron it (or not) if you wish.


Ideally for ironing the silk will still be a little damp. Do make sure that the iron is empty of water and you have steamed off any excess water in the reservoir before you start, especially if your water is hard. Iron the scarf on the reverse side with the iron on the cool or silk setting. Never iron the edges of the scarf if they are rolled; we want to keep them nice and plump!

Treated well your silk scarves will give you years of enjoyment. You can see a selection of new and collectable scarves for sale at good prices at ITZAS collective


The above is my standard method but for more extensive information this is a good site –

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