How to wash silk bedding: rules to follow and common mistakes to avoid

Want to wash silk bed sheets or pillowcases? Here's how to do it without damaging or discolouring the fabric

close up of silk fabric
(Image credit: Susan Wilkinson on Unsplash)

Wondering how to wash silk bedding? Here's a handy guide. Silk can be an excellent choice for bedding, but it does require more care and effort to keep soft and in good condition. Rough handling, the wrong cleaning products, or even just direct sunlight can damage the fibres, make the silk toughen up, or cause discolouration.

Most of the bedding in our best sheets guide is made from fabrics you can just bung in the washing machine every week (yes, that is how often you should wash your sheets). Each fabric has its pros and cons – you can read about your other options in our cotton vs linen vs bamboo bed sheets comparison article for more on that – but silk bedding can be especially high maintenance. Treat your silk bedding well, though, and it can still be a great choice. 

The short version is as follows: hand wash your silk bedding if at all possible, or if it has to go in a machine, put it in on its own and use a mesh bag to protect it. Either way, wash in cold water (30C or below), with basic silk detergent and nothing else. Ease out the water with your hands and leave to dry out of direct sunlight – certainly don't put it into a tumble dryer.

This article runs down the golden rules for how to wash silk bedding in more detail. These guidelines come courtesy of James Higgins, CEO of sustainable bedding company Ethical Bedding. These are good general rules, but be sure to check the precise instructions on the bedding care label too. 

Can I wash silk bedding in a washing machine?

It's best to hand wash silk bedding if at all possible. If you must machine wash, pick a delicates cycle and select the lowest possible spin option. Avoid putting your silk bedding in with your other clothing, towels, or even other bedding. If you're putting it in the washing machine, use a mesh bag for extra protection. 

Can I wash silk bedding on hot?

No – silk bedding should be washed at 30C or below. Anything warmer and it could shrink. This is not hot enough to kill off dust mites.

What detergent do I use for silk bedding?

"To maintain the integrity of the silk and ensure fibres remain soft for as long as possible, look out for mild, toxin-free soap with a neutral pH, similar to what you’d use to wash wool," says James. "Because silk is a soft, natural fibre, picking the wrong type of detergent can cause the fibres in the fabric to harden, and you can also be left with potentially uncomfortable residue."

While we're here, you want to avoid using any kind of added extras you might usually reach for on wash day. You definitely shouldn't use chlorine bleach, as this will cause loss of colour and permanent yellowing, as well as dissolving the fibres and weakening the fabric. 

Optical brightener, designed to help fabrics retain their colour and vibrancy, won't have an effect on silk, but again it might cause the fibres to break down in the longer run.

Do I use fabric softener with silk bedding?

No – this falls into those laundry additives we just discussed above. Fabric softener is not necessary with silk bedding, because silk is naturally nice and soft. While it shouldn't weaken the fibres in the way that bleach or optical brighteners might, it can leave a residue that's not great for the fabric.

Can I tumble dry silk bedding?

No, you should never tumble dry silk bedding. The high temperatures and rough motion can easily damage the fabric, and you might even end up with tears. In fact, you want to avoid handling your silk bedding too roughly in general, which means you shouldn't wring it out either. Instead, see if you can ease the water out gently with your hands. 

With cotton bedding, drying in the sun is recommended because the UV rays can help kill lingering bacteria. However, this is a bad idea with silk. Leaving silk bedding in direct sun can lead to discolouration and again risks damaging the fibres.

How do I get rid of stains on silk bedding?

Whatever you do, don't rub it with a cloth – this can damage the fibres. Instead, you want to take a gentler approach. "Using your finger, gently blot the affected area with a stain solution. If you don’t have any to hand, you can create a simple solution out of a couple of tablespoons of white vinegar and lukewarm water. Afterwards wash your silk pillowcase as you usually would," says James.

Can I iron silk bedding?

"Once they’ve finished drying, your silk pillowcases will inevitably look wrinkled. Don’t worry; this is completely normal and easily fixed," says James. You can iron it, but opt for the lowest temperature setting and add a pressing cloth between the iron and the silk for added protection. A better option might be to use a handheld steamer to gently remove any creases.

Ruth Hamilton

Ruth is a lifestyle journalist specialising in sleep and wellbeing. She has tested more mattresses than her small flat can handle and will talk at length about them to anyone who shows even a passing interest, and has had to implement a one-in-one-out pillow policy for fear of getting smothered in the night. As well as following all the industry trends and advancements in the mattress and bedding world, she regularly speaks to certified experts to delve into the science behind a great night's sleep, and offer you advice to help you get there. She's currently Sleep Editor on Tom's Guide and TechRadar, and prior to that ran the Outdoors and Wellness channels on T3 (now covered by Matt Kollat and Beth Girdler-Maslen respectively).