Does Silk Shrink When Washed? (How to Shrink Silk Easily)

Silk, a natural fiber, is made by the silkworm cocoon. The cloth obtained from silk is manufactured into various types of textiles, often used as rugs, cloth to paint on, garments, linen, etc. The practice of breeding silkworms to make silk is known as sericulture.

A lot of the time, one tries one's best NOT to shrink one's clothes, but sometimes, one may want to downsize a notch; perhaps a garment has gone out of shape, or a person has been on a successful diet and lost weight.

Whatever the reason may be (that's not what this is about), the main purpose of this article is to exhibit ways to shrink silk. It will act as an informative resource for those wanting answers to queries like, "How much does silk shrink?", "Is it OK to put silk in the drier?" etc, etc.

Silk has a mind of its own. Let's see whether silk shrinks at all.

Does Silk Shrink When Washed?


Yes, it does shrink, but hang on...there's a difference to how it shrinks. Silk doesn't shrink as other fabrics do; the shrinkage of silk is largely dependent on the type of silk cloth.

If the fiber isn't woven tightly, washing silk will tighten the fiber; so lighter weaves of silk cloth, like crepe de chine, will shrink. A tighter weave of silk cloth will shrink the cloth, but a lot less than lighter woven fabric. Whatever the fiber may be, silk will likely shrink if the cloth hasn't been washed before the garment manufacture process.

Why Does Silk Shrink?

Silk can be thought of, very much, like human hair. It doesn't shrink the way other fabrics do. When silk is being produced by the silkworm, a glue, called sericin, is also created. During the processing and manufacture of silk fabric, only a small portion of sericin is lost.

When the fabric is washed, and depending on the fabric (loosely or tightly woven) and how it is washed, the cloth may shrink. This is largely due to the glue being activated by the application of water.

Do Different Weaves of Silk Fiber Shrink Differently When Washed?


Yes, they do. For example, silk chiffon, in an unwashed state, may shrink up to 8% due to the fiber. Tissue silk cloth shrinks even more as it is made into a gauze-like textured fabric. Silk has a smooth texture but is very low on elasticity.

It can be made weak if it is exposed to sunlight or a dusty atmosphere. Some experts believe that silk doesn't actually "shrink", but only "shifts"; the cloth fibers just move around, forming a closer lock.

From a technical viewpoint, it is thought that silk is the most shrink-resistant of all-natural fibers. The only fabrics that come in a close second are pre-washed cotton and linen.

On to other aspects of silk…

So now that one is sure that washing silk causes the fiber to "tighten", and hence the garment to shrink, let's move on to other features of the handling of the fabric; those that will help one manage one's way of washing silk garments or any other products made from silk. Besides knowledge on the preservation of silk, one will consequently be exposed to the factors that cause the shrinkage of silk.

Now for some answers. Here are some explanations to some common mind-boggling questions on the shrinkage of silk.

Does Silk Shrink in Hot or Cold Water?


Silk is a natural material made out of protein fibers. Any kind of heat applied to it, especially after soaking it for a lengthy period, will lead to it shrinking. The moment silk is dipped in hot water, especially near-boiling water, the fiber takes less time to contract.

One can place the garment in a hot water tub, remove it after a few moments, let the garment cool off, then hang it out to dry. Hand washing it in cold water with a mild detergent will not cause silk to shrink. Alternately, one can use the washing machine, at a delicate cycle, then hang the garment to dry.

Does Silk Shrink When Hand Washed?


Yes, silk can shrink when hand washed, depending on the kind of silk and the temperature of the water. It always shrinks when washed in hot water, especially boiling water, irrespective of the type of silk.

When hand washed in cold water with a mild detergent, silk will not shrink. Silk garments can be soaked in cool water for up to 30 minutes and then rinsed in cold water; this won't shrink them.

Can Silk Shrink in Dry Cleaning?


It's always a good idea to refer to the care label on a garment before one decides how to clean it. Several labels on silk garments are dry clean only, but many can be hand washed too. Unless the label on the garment suggests dry cleaning, it should be hand washed; dry cleaning will shrink a lot of kinds of silk.

You'd think that this isn't possible as "dry cleaning" means exactly that - dry. Nonetheless, it happens. When clothing is dry-cleaned, it is put into a machine that has a liquid cleaning agent. Heat is then used to dry the fabric (this may cause the silk to shrink).

Though the cleaning technique is completely devoid of water, the machine is attached to a water source. In the event of a leakage, water may seep out during the heat cycle and shrink the silk). In the case of silk dupioni though, only dry cleaning is the recommended form of cleaning; otherwise, the texture's crispness is severely altered and the garment often loses its shine.

Some More About the Shrinking of Silk

What Happens If You Put Silk in The Washing Machine?


If one puts a silk garment in a washing machine, it may damage the fabric or cause it to shrink if it isn't washed at cool water temperature. Since silk bleeds, it should be washed with like colors (unless one wants a rainbow of clothing coming out of the washer!).

A mild detergent like Woolite is usually used to maintain silk garments as they are being washed in a washing machine. The silk garment is protected if one washes it on a gentle cycle.

Is It OK to Put Silk in The Dryer?

Unless one wants silk garments to get damaged, one shouldn't put them in a tumble dryer. Too much heat dulls the fabric and may also shrink it. Within the drum, the dryer may cause snags and white streaks on the fabric. It is best to let silk clothes hang to dry. It is not advisable to wring them either. While ironing silk, its best to iron on slightly damp silk, rather than let it dry out completely before ironing.

Does Silk Shrink Over Time or Only Once?

Silk can shrink up to 10%. Some folks claim that silk fabric can shrink up to 15% as well. Silk garments may shrink after they have shrunk in the first wash, up to two or three washes more.

The frequency of shrinkage is largely dependent on the type of silk and the way one washes it or both, in some cases. Some experts recommend that silk garments should be dry cleaned for the first two washes, provided the label on the garment says so. Crepe silk, raw silk, and silk dupioni will continue to shrink unless dry cleaned.

How Much Does Silk Shrink?

When silk is pre-washed for an amount of time exceeding five minutes, it will shrink. Allowing silk to soak in a tub of hot or boiling water will get the job done, most often than not.

The fiber in the weave of the silk cloth will tighten and twist, resulting in contraction. As is the case with denim, silk tightens when it comes into contact with water. So it shrinks.

Garments of good quality silk will have minimal shrinkage; merely 2% to 5% after the first wash. This is when the fabric has been pre-washed and pre-steamed before the process of manufacturing it. Without these techniques, shrinkage could go quite a bit higher.

What to do if silk shrinks?

One can undo the damage caused by washing silk the wrong way (applying too much hot water), or by drying it incorrectly (in the tumble dryer). There are many suggested ways to get one's favorite clothes back to their original shapes and sizes. Often, the remedies that work for wool, jersey, etc. tend to work for silk as well.

Can You Unshrink Silk?

Before one thinks that one has to donate one's silk clothes to the local charity, or worse still, toss them into the bin, one can try to relax the fibers of the cloth. What has one to lose? The first thought was to throw it away anyhow! So here goes... you will need the sink, water, mild hair conditioner, a couple of large bath towels, many heavy books. The following steps should help:

  • Fill up the sink (plugged) with lukewarm water. Pour in the mild hair conditioner - in the ratio of each quart of water=1 tbsp of conditioner. You may use baby shampoo as an alternative to the mild hair conditioner. The relaxing effect of these substances on hair have the same results on fiber!
  • Soak the garment in the water completely, for 30 minutes to an hour.
  • ​Remove the garment, but do not rinse or wring it.
  • ​Place the garment flat on a large bath towel. Now roll up the towel (like an egg roll). The garment is the filling of the roll. This roll should sit for about 10-15 minutes. The garment should be damp, but not wet through.
  • ​Remove the garment from the roll and lay it out on another large bath towel. Target one area of the garment and grip gently from both sides (for example, one may grip both sides of the hem area, or grasp at the shoulders and wrist area). Hold the areas to be "unshrunked" and pull gently till in place. Stretching should be done for a few seconds till the cloth is in place. One must take care to work systematically, in a coordinated fashion, so that the stretching is carried out in proportion.
  • As soon as one has achieved the size (shape) one desires, place that portion flat on the towel and put a heavy book or paperweight on that part. This will ensure that the part stretched is held in place. Whatever weight is used, it should be kept in the same position until the garment has totally air-dried.
  • The texture may change in the process, but one can wash it before use.

The way to shrink:

After that whole process of "unshrinking", one might wonder why one is about to write about actually shrinking clothes. Since this piece has to do with varied features, let's take a look at how to shrink garments.

How Do You Shrink Silk Clothes Easily?

This is easily answered and has been pointed out in an earlier section. The method is to place a garment in very hot water.

Shrinking a Silk Shirt or Blouse

One can place the garment in hot water or wash it in a washing machine on a "hot water" cycle. A silk shirt will also shrink if it is dried in a hot drier.

Can You Shrink a Silk Shirt or Dress?

Yes. One can do this by using the same process outlined above.

Some Words of Caution

When one is "shrinking" or "unshrinking" a garment, especially one that is made of fabric as delicate (and costly) as silk, one should ideally think twice before taking the leap. The garment may still not fit after it shrinks (you may have to still put on a few pounds or throw it away!); or it may not fit after you spend all of a good afternoon "unshrinking" it (you may have to still go on that dreaded diet!). Thinking optimistically, it's worth a try.

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