How to Care For Silk

Silk, the lustrous queen of natural fibers, is a protein fiber that is extruded by the silkworm when constructing its cocoon. With individual strands sometimes over a mile in length, it is the only natural filament fiber used in the manufacturing of fabric. As it remains today, silk has been known as a high-class, elegant fabric dating back hundreds, even thousands of years. Let’s dive into how to care for silk, and the best practices for maintaining the popular fabric.

Where to Install Silk

While silk is coveted for its long-lasting elegance, texture, and luster, it is vital to consider the location of your silk fabrics. Lighting is a critical factor to consider when using silk either as a floor covering or upholstery fabric.

Dyed silk has a tendency to fade in both direct and indirect sunlight. Thus, the beautiful robin’s egg blue sofa that is exposed to light pouring in from the windows might change to a shade of light gray. Pictures hung on a vibrant dyed silk wall covering exposed to sunlight cannot be moved without revealing that the rest of the wall has taken on a different shade.

White silk tends to become yellow with age, which is sometimes referred to as a “natural patina.” This change is accelerated by exposure to natural light. The yellow/tan color that can come from light-induced silk fading can ruin the essence that was originally created by a luxurious white silk sofa. Consequently, rooms with less natural light exposure are the best options for these pieces, and the utilization of drapes and other window coverings are recommended to increase the sustainability of silk fabrics.

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UV-Resistant Treatments

Fiber-Seal continues to receive information about “UV-inhibitors” or “fade resistant” treatments for upholstery fabrics.  As of this date, we have seen no information whatsoever to corroborate these claims. If you have information on a company that offers a fade resistant treatment and would like us to research it for you, we will be glad to help.  Simply contact your local Fiber-Seal Service Center and they will pass the information along to our laboratory in Dallas.

How to Clean Silk

Contrary to popular belief, silk is one of the most cleanable fabrics available. Though it is a delicate fabric and not necessarily recommended for high-traffic areas or areas for children, most silks can be either wet- or dry-cleaned. However, testing is a must, particularly if the fabric contains multiple finishes or colors. Embossed silk velvet, for example, can only be dry-cleaned. Water-based cleaners will cause the design to disappear with no hope of restoration.

Spot Cleaning Troubles

While cleaning the entirety of a silk sofa may not present many problems, spot cleaning a section of the same sofa can be extremely challenging. This is largely due to the ringing problems common with silk fabrics. Sericin, or “silk gum”, is a major contributor to the ringing problems. The sericin is drawn to and naturally dries at the outer edges of a cleaned area, often leaving a dark-colored ring or shadow.

Avoid Alkaline Chemicals!

Though silk is somewhat resistant to acids, alkaline chemicals can easily cause harm. Silk is completely dissolved by chlorine bleach, as are all protein fibers. Any cleaner containing lye, bleach, or other high pH contents will prove to be detrimental to silk fabric.

Caring For Silk

The first and most simple way of preserving silk upholstery is by rotating and flipping cushions. This will help any yellowing or fading occur in a more even manner, making it far less noticeable.

When spot cleaning with chemicals, areas should be “feathered” from seam-to-seam to prevent possible ringing. This just means to not only spray the problem spot with cleaning solution, but to also lightly spray the rest of the fabric on that particular side of the cushion or base of the upholstery from seam to seam — or edge to edge.

As a protein fiber, carpet beetles and moths are very fond of silk and can cause unsightly damage. Timely vacuuming and cleaning can prevent these tiny pests from becoming a big problem.

Did You Know?

The domesticated silk moth (Bombyx Mori) has been raised for thousands of years.  Ultimately, the moth has lost much of its natural coloration and its ability to fly.  The moth does not exist in the wild. 

In conclusion, silk is a very durable and sustainable fabric that can be enjoyed for many years when cared for properly. The soft hand and luster of silk have always been popular, but have never been completely duplicated, despite efforts from viscose/rayon manufacturers that have labeled their products as “bamboo silk” and “banana silk”. Rayon silks are man-made imitators that are much harder to care for than authentic silk, so before making a purchase, be sure to ask your designer or fabric retailer if it is the real deal.

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