How to Wash (Vintage) Silk, Rayon, and Cashmere

vintage care tips

A little disclaimer before the tutorial:

Washing delicate fabrics like silk, rayon, or cashmere can be quite a daunting task. Usually, the question of “To dry clean or not to dry clean?” can be immediately answered by the garment’s care instructions. If the label says, ‘dry clean’ that means the manufacturer suggests you dry clean the garment, but that doesn’t mean you have to, you can hand wash it too and everything should turn out all right, that is granted you understand the fabric and know how to wash it (more on that later). However, if the label says, ‘dry clean only’ that means the manufacturer is imploring you to dry clean ONLY! The reason so much stress is put on that last four letter word is because if for some reason you chose not to listen, which admittedly I have done in the past, and the garment ends up shrinking or getting wrinkled beyond repair after being washed, then they can always say, “Hey, don’t say we didn’t warn you!” Fair enough, I guess, except that that ‘only’ isn’t as written in stone as they would really like you to believe.

Before we continue however, here are some examples of when you should listen to the label:

a) The garment is not colorfast, or in other words, when the garment is washed, the colors fade or bleed onto one another. This holds especially true for prints with red and white. To test for colorfastness, test an inconspicuous spot on the garment by rubbing it with a damp white cloth like an old T-shirt. If the color rubs off, it is not colorfast.

b) The garment in question is expensive and/or is for fancy cocktails or formal occasions. Don’t risk it on something precious enough for you to decide to blow the bank on it.

c) The garment is of sentimental value to you and irreplaceable.

d) You’re a novice at hand washing delicate garments. The more you hand wash different types of fabrics and clothing from different eras, the better you become at predicting what will happen when you use different sorts of cleaning products, water temperatures, etc. If you haven’t yet built up that experience and are afraid to try, most likely for the reasons preceding this one, I suggest using caution and maybe skipping doing the cleaning on your own until you feel more comfortable.

So back to this dry clean vs. dry clean only business because this is where it all gets a bit tricky. I’ve hand washed silk that said ‘dry clean only’ on the label and it turned out looking exactly how I had bought it. I’ve hand washed items that said ‘dry clean’ and ended up shrinking or permanently wrinkling my garment. Are you totally confused? I completely understand. After all, I titled this post, ‘How to Wash (Vintage) Silk, Rayon, and Cashmere’, but mostly I’ve been giving you reasons as to why it may not be such a good idea in the end. As soon as I started writing this post I realized it’d be sort of a long one because based on my experience with cleaning vintage clothing for my shop, I’ve learned my fair share of what not to do and I definitely wouldn’t want you to experience that devastating feeling of buying something you absolutely love only to ruin it by washing it. Trust me though, it is possible to wash certain silk, rayon, and cashmere items, vintage or new. I’ve done it plenty of times and in a bit I’ll show you how I do it in the gentlest way possible. It just may take some time for you to decipher what types of silk, rayon, and cashmere you can hand wash at home, but once you do, it’ll be totally worth it! Just think of all that extra money you can save!

If at this point you’re still reading this and I haven’t scared you away with what may or may not happen, then hurrah, you’re ready to hand wash! So, let’s get to it shall we?

 

 

  • A basin, or your bathtub, or sink will work just fine too
  • A teaspoon
  • Eucalan no rinse delicate wash*
  • Two towels
  • Padded hangers or hangers with rounded edges (optional but preferred)
  • Pressing cloth (optional)
How to wash silk:

1. Fill your basin, tub, or sink with tepid water. Add 1 tsp of Eucalan to 1 gallon of water.

2. Soak your garment in the water and lightly agitate the water with the garment a little bit. This will mix the Eucalan into the fibres.

3. Let soak for a minimum of 15 minutes. Typically, I like to leave my garments in for 30 mins. to an hour.

4. Lift the garment out of the water. Let the excess water drip out. You can lightly squeeze the garment but do not wring.

5. Lay it out on a towel. Roll up the towel with the garment inside. Lightly squeeze the towel to absorb most of the water. Unroll and roll it up in the second towel if it’s still dripping wet.

6. Iron the garment while very damp on the silk setting (medium heat).

7. Hang to dry. Using a padded hanger or a hanger with rounded edges will avoid unwanted dimpling at the shoulders.

How to wash rayon:

1. Wash as you would a silk garment (above).

2. Lay it out on a towel. Roll up the towel with the garment inside. Lightly squeeze the towel to absorb most of the water. Unroll and roll it up in the second towel if it’s still dripping wet.

3. Hang to dry. When nearly dry, press the garment on the wrong side using a low to medium setting. Rayon has a tendency to wrinkle when wet, so this helps to prevent that. Also, it’s important to iron on the back or “wrong” side of the garment because some rayon garments develop a sheen when ironed.

4. If there are still wrinkles when the garment is dry, try using a damp pressing cloth on top of the garment (on the wrong side) while pressing with the iron.

How to wash cashmere:

1. Wash as you would a silk and rayon garment (above).

2. Lay it out on a towel. Roll up the towel with the garment inside. Lightly squeeze the towel to absorb most of the water. Unroll and roll it up in the second towel if it’s still dripping wet.

3. Lay flat to dry, reshaping while damp.

4. Once dry, iron on the wrong side with the wool setting, preferably using a pressing cloth in between.

 

 

 

What is Eucalan and why do I use it?

*Eucalan is a gentle, no rinse cleaner. Using Eucalan is just my suggestion, but you can definitely substitute your favorite mild cleaner instead, like Woolite, for example. The reason I recommend using Eucalan, especially for vintage textiles, is because excessive washing can cause a lot of wear and tear over time. In order to preserve most of your vintage treasures you will want to get away with as little washing as possible. That means the less water you use, the better, so using a product where you can skip the rinse cycle all together is a very good one indeed! I can’t remember how I found out about Eucalan, but I’ve been using it for quite a while now and it’s definitely been a wonderful tool in my cupboard for spot cleaning and using on delicate fabrics, such as washable silk, rayon, and cashmere. As you can see, all you have to do is soak and then air dry. It is concentrated, so a little goes a long way and another bonus is, it uses natural ingredients, such as eucalyptus and lavender, which aside from smelling wonderful, are organic repellents of those pesky insects that like to dine on your clothing when you’re not watching. Pretty good, right?