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How to wash silk pillowcases

Many people are unsure of how to wash silk pillowcases. Knowing how to do this correctly will preserve the benefits of your silk pillowcases and extend their life. With just a little effort, you’ll get to enjoy your silk pillowcases for longer and get the most out of them.

Silk pillowcases are a luxury item and need to be cared for and washed the right way. Most people feel a little intimidated by silk, thinking it’s fragile and going to require a lot of upkeep. While it’s true that silk does require a little work, it really isn’t that onerous. By taking a little care or your silk pillowcases and washing them correctly, you’re going to get to maintain that silky feel, maintain their colour and enjoy them for longer.

Silk has become more available and more affordable, and no longer limited to royalty and nobility. But even though it’s not as rare as it once was, silk is still something that should be prized for its beauty, lustre and hand feel. Not only is it amazing to sleep on, it adds a touch of class to any decor.

Where does silk come from?

Silk fabric is woven from filaments from the cocoons of domesticated silkworms, mainly from the Bombyx mori species. The silkworms are typically bred commercially in controlled conditions.

A silkworm will feast for about 30 days on mulberry leaves before constructing a cocoon around itself made of silk fibres. The silkworm transforms into a pupa and then a silkworm moth, which emerges from a tiny spit-covered opening at the bottom of the cocoon.

After the cocoon has been spun, it usually takes 10-14 days for the silkworm to emerge as an adult moth. However it’s life as a moth is brief — only 5-10 days.

When silk is made, however, the life of the pupa is cut short. To preserve the quality and length of the silk thread, the pupa is killed. About 3000 silkworms die to make about 450g of silk. Given the pupa has been robbed of its ability to become a moth, silk should be treated as a precious fabric.

What’s special about silk?

Silk is valued not only for its gorgeous look and feel, but also for its many beneficial properties for hair and skin. You can read all about these benefits in our blog article Benefits of a Silk Pillowcase for Hair and Skin so I won’t go into them here. By caring for your silk pillowcases correctly, you’ll be able to better preserve their special qualities and give them a longer life.

Silk feels unbelievably soft against the skin because silk is woven from filaments that are incredibly fine and smooth. These filaments can be woven into beautiful fabrics that are impossibly sheer and luxurious — such as chiffon, georgette and organza — as well as more tighter and heavier weaves that are more durable and suitable for pillowcases, duvet covers and sheets. The most common fabric weaves for these are silk satin and silk charmeuse. These create a fabric that not only looks and feels amazing, but will also wear well.

But make sure you’re buying silk of the right momme (weight) to ensure longevity. While a 17 momme mulberry silk may be suitable for a fine silk blouse, it won’t stand up to wear as a silk pillowcase.

Silk filaments are so fine and delicate they can be woven into very lightweight, sheer fabrics that make beautiful evening wear. But be careful, as these fabrics can also catch, pull and rip when caught on jewellery and rough surfaces. Most silk pillowcases are made from mulberry silk and woven into silk satin or silk charmeuse. These fabrics are denser and heavier in weight, but still wonderfully light.

Silk satin and silk charmeuse are very similar and both have a shimmery front face and flat back face, silk charmeuse is considered to be the queen of silks with its almost pearlescent shine. Even though these types of silk are better wearing, you do need to remove any jewellery you may be wearing at night to prevent it damaging the fabric. After all, you don’t want pulls and tears.

When cared for correctly, silk pillowcases are durable.

Is silk washable?

Silk often comes with instructions to dry clean only.

Most silk can be washed at home, with care. For many years, we were all told that silk had to be dry cleaned. The expense put many people off wanting to buy silk.

It’s true that many labels on silk say “dry clean only”, this is simply brand preference. Care labels on garments are only required to state one method of washing and the brand may simply choose to specific dry cleaning because it limits complaints from customers when they didn’t follow directions correctly and ruined that silk dress.

But, the thing is, dry cleaning can be harsh and damaging to silk, and I’ve always found that correct washing at home has kept my silk looking at its best longer than taking it to the dry cleaner. Silk is a lightweight fabric and it really doesn’t enjoy being thrown in with heavier fabrics and being constantly tossed and turned in commercial machine drums to wash it and dry it. The exception, however, is patterned and colourblock silk, as it may run when washed.

Nor does silk like ordinary detergents, which are too harsh and will fade its colour and wear its fibres. Use a liquid detergent specific for silks or a wool wash.

While it’s best to wash silk by hand, this certainly isn’t very practical when it comes to sheets. These can go into the washing machine, so long as you do this the right way and follow my instructions below.

And, a final word, don’t be tempted to put silk pillowcases and sheets in the dryer. You’ll need to line dry them in the shade, away from direct sunlight.

Silk is the result of the hard work of industrious silkworms that toil furiously to create one continuous thread. Their lives are cut short to create silk. Respect that and care for your silk so that it gives you the longest life and most enjoyment.

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How to wash silk pillowcases like a pro

Some people feel a little intimated when it comes to caring for silk, thinking that it’s delicate and high maintenance. Silk fibres are strong and durable when you care for them correctly.

But you will need to buy a quality silk at the right momme – thick enough to be durable but thin enough to be soft and smooth. Silk that’s poor quality and too lightweight won’t stand up to the wear it gets subjected to as bedding. Skimping on your purchase will end up costing you more rather than saving you money.

Silk is more expensive than other fabrics, but that’s the case with any luxurious product! When considering that it serves you for about eight hours a night for 365 days of the year, you’re getting your money’s worth. If you look after your silk pillowcase correctly, you should get as much life, if not more, than a regular cotton one.

Silk does need a little upkeep, but it really isn’t that onerous.

Here are my top 11 tips on how to wash silk pillowcases. This will extend their life, ensure you enjoy them longer and save you money.

Before washing your silk pillowcases, check the manufacturer’s instructions. You want to ensure they’re washable and colour fast. Silk takes dye very well and allows for vibrant colours, but printed silks can be prone to bleeding.

If you’re not sure, you can wet a small area of the corner and then dab gently with a cotton swab or cotton bud. If there is significant colour transfer, then you’ll need to take them to the dry cleaner. Next time, ensure you buy silk pillowcases that are colour fast and washable. This will make them easier to care for and less expensive to maintain.

11 tips to wash silk pillowcases

  1. Do not soak or bleach your silk pillowcases.
  2. If you have any marks that need removing, spray with a colourfast stain remover and allow it to penetrate for several minutes before washing. Gently dab if you need to, but don’t rub or be aggressive.
  3. Turn your silk pillowcases inside out and wash by hand.
  4. Alternatively you can put them in a soft laundry bag and put it on a gentle cycle in a front-load washing machine. Avoid using a top-load washing machine as it will pull and tug at the silk fibres and eventually separate them and excessively wear fabric.
  5. Use a mild liquid detergent, such as a wool wash, rather than a washing powder.
  6. Select a cool water temperature of not more than 30 °C.
  7. Wash only with other delicates, not heavy clothing, towels or bedding.
  8. Do not use fabric softener.
  9. Roll up the silk pillowcases in an old towel to remove moisture or use a low spin cycle on your washing machine. Avoid wringing or twisting.
  10. Smooth and dry on a line or drying rack, indoors or outdoors, away from direct sunlight. Do not place them in a dryer.
  11. Iron your silk pillowcases on a silk setting on the inside of the fabric or use an ironing cloth.

How to store silk pillowcases

Now that you know how to properly wash and dry your silk pillowcases, it’s important to also know how to correctly store them in-between use.

Silk should be stored in a cool, dark and dry place with adequate air circulation. Being a natural fibre, silk needs to breathe. If you tightly seal it or store it in plastic bags, you will trap moisture and this may lead to yellowing, discolourations and staining.

Never store silk without cleaning it first. Dirt marks, stains, perspiration and skin oils on silk will likely worsen and become permanent and deteriorate the fabric, if you don’t treat them first. Perspiration, for example, can be removed easily if you attend to it quickly but, if you leave it, it will darken and become impossible to remove.

Whether you just use silk pillowcases or silk pillowcases and sheets, remember that silk is a wonderful luxury that we can all enjoy these days. But being more accessible shouldn’t mean it gets treated as something disposable.

Silk is a beautiful indulgence that needs to be respected and valued. Do this and it will reward you with a long life.

Now that you know how to wash silk pillowcases like a pro, you will be able to get the most out of them and enjoy the many benefits of this remarkable fabric.

Yours truly in better skin

Anna Marie - Founder of Skin Clinica - The Skin Experts