Does bleach ruin silk? If we’re talking about chlorine bleach, then the answer is an emphatic ‘yes’! While silk is a lot tougher than its delicate, ethereal appearance might suggest, it cowers in the face of even a drop of bleach.
Bleach can be used successfully on a whole heap of fabrics, but there are certain materials it shouldn’t be let within sight of. If a fabric is made of animal fibers (e.g., wool, cashmere, alpaca, angora, mohair, leather, and, you guessed it, silk), bleach will gobble it up as soon as look at it.
If you were hoping to freshen up an old or dingy looking silk with some bleach, prepare to be disappointed. Chlorine bleach and silk aren’t the best of friends, to put it mildly. Throw a lovely silk blouse into a bucket of bleach, and what emerges is going to be anything but lovely.
Bleach is way too caustic a substance to come into direct contact with silk, and will do nothing but disintegrate and weaken its fibers. But sure, you can bleach silk. The silk won’t survive, but technically, there’s nothing to stop you. Just don’t go into the process thinking anything good is going to happen.
All that being said, there are a couple of ways you can ‘bleach’ silk safely, effectively, and cheaply.
Hydrogen peroxide and sodium hydrosulfite can both be used as a readily available alternative to choline bleach; you’ll need to follow a particular method (more on which coming up) to get the best results, but providing you follow the guidelines, no harm should come to either you or the silk.
If you bleach silk using regular chlorine bleach, don’t expect a positive result. The bleach will quite literally eat away at the silk’s fibers, transforming it from a thing of beauty into a stained, fragile mess.
If you use hydrogen peroxide or sodium hydrosulfite as a bleaching agent, you can at least expect the silk to survive. Providing the silk is in good condition and you follow the bleaching instructions to the letter, you can expect much the same results as you would with chlorine bleach.
Typically, bleaching a solid colored fabric produces the most predictable results. If you’re dying a multi-patterned or multi-colored fabric, you’ll be left with a lighter overall result, but the peroxide may have a greater effect on some colors than others.
If you don’t like the color of a garment, you’ve typically got one of two options (well, three, but let’s discount the idea of throwing it in the trash for now): dye it or bleach it.
Dying silk is possible (albeit slightly challenging) but as with any dye job, you’ll essentially just be replacing one color with another. This can work if you’re dying the silk a stronger, darker color, but it can be less than successful if you’re hoping to lighten the shade up a little. Dying silk can also be problematic if the silk has any marks on it: even if you dye it a darker color, the marks will still show through.
Fortunately, there’s a solution, and that solution is…. Rit Color Remover.
Rit Color Remover is a type of non-chlorine, reductive bleach that’s perfect for fabrics that don’t tolerate chlorine bleach. Unlike chlorine bleach, Rit Color Remover won’t damage or weaken the fibers of a fabric. It will, however, do an admirable job of removing or reducing color.
Once you’ve treated silk with Rit Color Remover, you’ll essentially have a blank canvas to work with… one that’s ready and waiting to take any shade of dye you care to throw at it. If you haven’t any Rit Color Remover to hand, hydrogen peroxide makes a good alternative.
If you try bleaching a silk shirt with standard chlorine bleach, you’re in trouble. If you use a safe agent like Rit Color Remover (which is essentially a form of sodium hydrosulfite) or hydrogen peroxide, you’re in safe territory.
We’ll look at how to bleach garments with hydrogen peroxide shortly. In the meantime, here’s how to use Rit Color Remover to successfully bleach a silk shirt without damaging it in the process.
Silk flowers can be a beautiful, long-lasting alternative to real flowers, but what do you do when you want to change their look?
If you’ve changed your décor and want to update your flowers to match, you could try bleaching them with either Rit Color Remover (see the description of how to bleach a silk shirt for details) or with hydrogen peroxide (more on which coming up), before proceeding to dye them. You’ll need to carefully remove the tops of the silk flowers from the stems before starting, but otherwise, you should find both methods work well.
If your flowers are looking a little yellow but you’re otherwise happy with their color, leave the bleaching for another day and give this quick cleaning tutorial a whirl instead.
If your silk flowers are starting to look a little yellow and dingy, they might be in need of a bath. Before you resort to bleach, try treating them to some good old-fashioned soap and water. Test the method on a single petal or flower before proceeding with the whole batch. In case of any adverse reaction, stick to the commercial silk flower cleaner available in most florists.
Silk curtains might look beautiful when you first hang them, but after several years of sun exposure and the occasional encounter with a pair of small, grubby hands, they might be starting to look a little worse for wear.
Bleaching with chlorine bleach is obviously a no-no, but a cold bath of hydrogen peroxide should soon revive their lost luster.
To remove yellowing from silk curtains, simply add two cups of 3 percent hydrogen peroxide to a bath of cold water. Allow the curtains to soak for one hour. Rinse them thoroughly under cool running water, then dry by squeezing and towel rolling. Hang them outside until completely dry.
Bleaching silk with conventional chlorine bleach may be off the table, but bleaching with hydrogen peroxide is a good, safe alternative. Here’s what you’ll need to do:
As white silk starts to age, it can start to lose that fabulous luster. If your favorite white silk blouse is starting to look dull and dingy, you can restore its gloss by bleaching it using either Hydrogen peroxide or sodium hydrosulfite (Rit Color Remover being the most commonly available option). Once you’ve completed the bleaching process using one of the methods outlined in previous sections, try using an optical brightener to really make the silk look whiter than white. Of the products currently available, Rit Whitener & Brightener and Uvitex BNB offer some of the most consistent results.
If you’ve managed to spill a spot of bleach onto your favorite silk top, you’ve got a problem. As soon as undiluted chlorine bleach comes into contact with fabric, it almost instantly robs it of color, leaving a nasty yellow or white stain in its wake.
Bleach on silk is particularly troublesome; not only will it stain, but there’s also a very good chance it’ll eat through the fabric and weaken its fibers. If you want to avoid catastrophe, you’re going to need to act fast.
With the below steps, a bit of luck, and a fair wind, you might just save that top after all.
Neutralize - Start by neutralizing the bleach. Do this as soon as possible to stop the bleach eating through the fabric any further than it already has. Rinse the area under cold running water. Once you’ve removed as much of the excess bleach as you’re going to, spread a paste of baking soda and water over the offending area. Leave the paste to dry before gently brushing it off.
Restore - Next up, you’ll want to bleach the entire garment using a safe bleaching agent like hydrogen peroxide or Rit Color Remover. Once you’ve finished bleaching, proceed to dye the garment with a dye as close to the original color of the garment as possible. To finish things off, use a dye fixative to help the dye set.