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Does a silk scarf shrink when washed?

Silk, a natural fiber, is produced by the cocoon of the silkworm. The fabric obtained from silk is transformed into various types of textiles, often used as silk scarves, clothing, etc. The practice of raising silkworms to produce silk is known as sericulture.

Most of the time, we do our best NOT to shrink our clothes, but sometimes, one might want to downsize; perhaps a garment has become misshapen or a person has successfully followed a diet and lost weight.

Whatever the reason (that’s not the point), the main purpose of this article is to address questions such as “How much does silk shrink?” etc.

Silk has its own mind. Let’s see if silk shrinks.

Does silk shrink when washed?

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Yes, it does shrink, but hold on… there’s a difference in how it shrinks. Silk doesn’t shrink like other fabrics; the shrinkage of silk largely depends on the type of silk fabric.

If the fiber isn’t tightly woven, washing silk will tighten the fiber; thus, lighter weaves of silk fabric, such as crepe de Chine, will shrink.

A tighter weave of silk fabric will shrink the fabric, but much less than a lighter woven fabric. Regardless of the fiber, silk will likely shrink if the fabric hasn’t been pre-washed before the garment manufacturing process.

Why does silk shrink?

Silk can be considered akin to human hair. It doesn’t shrink like other fabrics. When silk is produced by the silkworm, a glue, called sericin, is also created. During the processing and manufacturing of silk fabric, only a small portion of the sericin is lost.

When the fabric is washed, and depending on the fabric (loose or tight weave) and how it’s washed, the fabric may shrink. This is largely because the glue is activated by the application of water.

Do different weaves of silk fibers shrink differently when washed?

Yes, they do. For instance, chiffon silk, in its unwashed state, can shrink up to 8% due to the fiber. Silk fabric shrinks even more as it’s transformed into a textured fabric similar to gauze. Silk has a smooth texture but is very low in elasticity.

It can be weakened if exposed to sunlight or a dusty atmosphere. Some experts believe that silk doesn’t actually “shrink” but only “shifts”; the fabric fibers simply shift, forming a tighter lock.

From a technical standpoint, silk is believed to be the most resistant to fiber shrinkage among fully natural fibers. The only fabrics that come just after are pre-washed cotton and linen.

Let’s move on to other aspects of silk…

Now that we’re certain washing silk makes the fiber “tighten,” and thus the garment shrinks, let’s delve into other characteristics of handling the fabric; those that will help manage how to wash silk clothes or any other silk product. Besides knowledge about silk preservation, one will, therefore, be exposed to factors that cause silk to shrink.

Does silk shrink in hot or cold water?

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Silk is a natural material composed of protein fibers. Any type of heat applied, especially after soaking for a long period, will lead to shrinkage. As soon as silk is immersed in hot water, especially near-boiling water, the fiber contracts more quickly.

One can place a silk scarf in a bath of hot water, remove it after a few moments, let the scarf cool, and then hang it up to dry. Hand washing it in cold water with a gentle detergent will not cause silk to shrink.

Does silk shrink when hand washed?

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

When hand washed in cold water with a gentle detergent, silk will not shrink. Silk garments can be soaked in cold water for up to 30 minutes, then rinsed in cold water; this will not cause them to shrink.

Is it acceptable to put silk in the dryer?

Unless you want to damage your silk scarf, it’s not advisable to put them in the dryer. Too much heat dulls the fabric and can also shrink it.

In the dryer drum, it can cause snags and white streaks on the fabric. It’s best to let your silk scarf air dry.

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Wringing it out is also not recommended. When ironing silk, it’s preferable to iron over slightly damp silk rather than letting it dry completely before ironing.

Does silk shrink over time or only once?

Silk can shrink up to 10%. Some people claim silk fabric can also shrink up to 15%. Silk clothing may shrink after initially shrinking, up to two or three more washes.

The frequency of shrinkage largely depends on the type of silk and how it’s laundered, or both in some cases.

Some experts recommend silk garments be dry cleaned for the first two washes, provided the label on the garment indicates it. 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 over five minutes, it will shrink. Allowing the silk to soak in a bathtub of hot or boiling water will do the trick, more often than not.

The fiber in the weave of silk fabric will tighten and twist, resulting in contraction. Like denim, silk tightens upon contact with water. So it shrinks.

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

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