Caring for our silk is easy and YES you can machine or hand wash it - provided you use a gentle cycle, cold water and a delicate only washing detergent.

Not only is it more convenient and cost effective to wash garments at home than to head back and forth to the dry-cleaner, you can also pop them on a hanger to dry naturally and avoid using harmful chemicals involved in the dry-cleaning process. There are also some great eco-friendly or natural washing detergents on the market now to help you look after your silk garments.

What happens during the dry-cleanning process?

If you imagined that your garments were being individually washed at the drycleaner, think again. Dry-cleaning doesn't actually mean the clothes stay dry either, just that water is not involved. Water swells fibres, which can lead to shrinkage in the drying process. Solvents used in dry-cleaning avoid this problem. Garments are placed together in a machine where the clothes are soaked in solvents, the machine then drains the liquid and dries the clothing with heat. Garments are then steamed to remove creases, hung and covered in plastic. Not the most environmentally friendly process.

The most common solvent used in Australia by dry cleaners is tetrachloroethene, more commonly known as perchloroethylene or perc. Most dry-cleaners use these solvents under carefully controlled conditions due to government regulation. It is worth however understanding some of the concerns around using these toxins.

These chemicals are not absorbed through the skin but through inhalation that can cause short term damage to the nervous system such as dizziness, fatigue and headaches. Long-term exposure to perc is also known to cause liver and kidney damage. Workers repeatedly exposed to large amounts of perc in the air have experienced memory loss and confusion, which raises questions about protective clothing and masks for workers.

For the consumer the chemicals are locked in the fibres of the garments when you take them home, with some residual solvent removed during the steaming process. There have been few studies to determine just how much perc remains in clothing after dry-cleaning though and what impact this might be having on our health. 

The reality is that very few garments require dry-cleaning and it's up to you to decide what level of chemicals you are comfortable with. There are a growing number of chemical-free and eco-friendly dry-cleaners which would seem like a sensible alternative.

October 31, 2022