Washing four-ply silk

bigdogloverApril 9, 2010

I have several dresses made of stretch silk (it is silk that feels like four-ply silk and has that same thickness, but has a tiny percentage of lycra or spandex in it, so it stretches a little). I had these made, have had them for five to six years, and have always washed them in the machine, cold, with Woolite. I put them in the dryerr on extra low for three minutes to warm up the wrinkles, then take it out and hang it dry. The dresses have never been harmed, they feel just as slippery and silky and pliable as ever. (Mind you, I washed the yardage before having the item made, so any shrinkage was taken care of then.)

I can't find stretch silk anymore, so have had a dresss made of four-play silk. But when I washed it (same as above) it got very stiff and no longer feels silky etc. etc. I didn't notice at first so had the item made up, and the stiffness and dullness gets worse every time I wash it.

Did I just get a bad piece of silk, or is this what I can expect with four-ply silk? Any thoughts about another way to wash it? It was pretty expensive fabric ($50/yard) from a very reputable store.

I wear these dresses regularly so the ability to wash rather than dry-clean is a wonderful thing.

Thanks in advance for your help.

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There are 2 kinds of silk and some is washable and some isn't. Also, the new silk might have some rayon added (which some is washable and some isn't as well).

So it might have to do with fiber content of the new silk. Also, the fact that it isn't the stretch silk might play into it. You didn't mention the fiber content of the new silk you purchased. If it is four ply silk, it also is a different weave to the fabric which the weave plays into it a lot on how the fabric reacts when it is washed.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2010 at 10:10AM
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Thank you, xhappyx, I think you must be right about the different weave. The new (four-ply) silk is 100% silk. The old silk is 100% silk, less the little bit of stretch content that's in it.

The only thing is that the store where I purchased the new four-ply has it in several colors and they've taken a bolt of it (in a different color than the one I bought) and washed it, and are selling it washed and unwashed. It seems to have worked out fine for them, nice and soft and silky, but they've only washed it once... maybe this is something that happens over several washings.

I have washed it again in Tide, since someone at the store suggested maybe that would help break down the fibres, but it is just as stiff as ever.

Since it is so expensive I am reluctant to buy any more from them, either that or I have to resign myself to dry cleaning!

If you can think of anything else that might be the culprit -- the kind of wash machine I have? (Kenmore Oasis, which is a top loading "sort of" HE machine, but it has an agitator.) (Although this hasn't happened to the old stretch silk, washed in the same machine.)

Thank you again for your response.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2010 at 11:47AM
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I have many silk items and I wash them by hand in almost cold water in woolite or ammonia.Never had any problem untill I washed my cardigan- some knitted stretchy silk and it faded and got scratchy and little stiff. I don't worry much b/c I buy clothes in discount stores but in your case I would probably try to wash few inches of fabric few times before you buy more.
I myself saw that some fabric (slinky) in different color felt differnt in the hand and my sewing machine would refuse to work on couple of colors!. It was so weird. So I think it is possible that weave could make a difference. And so the dye too.
Try rewash it in ammonia, see what hapens.
Other thing I read somewhere, water hardness combined w/certain detergents causes to siff up silk too. I would try soft water and ammonia. I didn'ttry it w/my cardigan,I threw it away.
I always use splash of vinegar in the rinse, it seems that my silks tend to bleed and I use softener in the last rinse too.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2010 at 6:12AM
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You could always try to wash it without any detergent -- if you see suds, then it was built-up soap making it stiff. If not, then no harm done.

Just make sure you aways wash silk and wool in detergents that have NO enzymes in them -- protein-based fibers can literally be eaten up by the enzymes in most detergents.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2010 at 1:15PM
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czechchick2 -- Ammonia! OK, I will do that, along with a little dash of Calgon, which I'll have to go buy. Will report back.

mysteryclock -- I washed it in plain water. No suds. No difference in being stiff. I didn't know that about enzymes and silks/protein-based fibers. Is protein-based fiber any fiber that is natural? Cotton, for example?

Thanks all, I really appreciate your help.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2010 at 11:42PM
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Not all natural fibres are protein based, cotton, linen and hemp are cellulose (plant cell wall, IIRC). Protein based fibres are animal fibres, silk and the animal hair and wool fibres such as cashmere, lambswool, angora, alpaca and the like.

The protease enzyme in some detergents "eats" proteins - useful on protein stains like egg but bad news for protein fabrics like silk and wool.

Have you tried ironing your dress as this may make the fabric feel better - low temp and iron on reverse side. Some silks don't like steam ironing, so try dry first. If that does not work well, try steam on an offcut or try ironing the dress whilst still slightly but evenly damp. Don't spray local areas with water before ironing as this may make ring marks.

A very good detergent for silk is Tenestar if you can get it. Its sister brand Tenemoll is good on wool and cashmere. Not affiliated, just have had good results with these.

I don't know if any fabric softeners are safe on silk - could try researching that as a possible alternative got to be easier than ironing.

You can buy stretch silk 4 ply on line, so may be a good route for future dresses.

All the best.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2011 at 7:00PM
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On silk, you run the risk of the color bleeding when you wash it. Same with wool. Definitely test, test, test. If that's not a concern, you can use baby shampoo on silk & wool, as well as Orvus paste (livestock shampoo) which is usually found at farmers' co-ops.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2011 at 8:22PM
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