How to Wet Clean Wool, Silk and Rayon

I’d like to avoid dry cleaning because of the chemicals used. Can I wash clothes by hand that say ďDry Clean Only?Ē

I often get this question at this time of year, and I always welcome it because it enables me to reprint my directions for wet washing wool, rayon, and silk. Almost all dry cleaning establishments in the country clean with perchloroethylene (perc), a probable carcinogen, neurotoxic chlorinated solvent that bioaccumulates in fat and is suspected endocrine disrupter, meaning it is a chemical that may confuse the body into thinking it is estrogen!

Until the dry cleaning industry changes, we can take charge of getting our “dry clean only” fabrics cleaned safely by learning the wet clean process.
Through hard earned experience–I shrunk a lot of rayon outfits three sizes before I finally figured out what I was doing wrong–Iíve finally learned how to wet clean wool, rayon and silk. The most critical bit of information you need to know is that it is the agitation of wool, silk and rayon that causes the shrinkage of the fabric, not just hot water. Even the agitation of the gentle cycle in a washing machine is too much agitation for these fabrics. Make sure to spot-test the fabric for colorfastness first.

Wet Cleaning Wool and Silk

  • Hand wash in a sink by gently swirling the clothes in cool water; never twist or wring out wool or silk.
  • Use a mild detergent with a pH below 7 for wool, such as Infinity Heavenly Horsetail, available in health food stores. A mild liquid castile soap such as Dr. Bronnerís baby soap is best for cleaning silk, since it wonít strip the natural oils. Any harsh lye-based soap with a pH above 10 will destroy silk.
  • If necessary, spot clean with vinegar or lemon juice, but test for dye color fastness first.
  • Gently press water from the fabric. Block wool–lay it flat on a towel and stretch it to the correct size and shape–before drying; it will dry to the blocked size. Wool is resilient and recovers quickly from wrinkling if hung. Hang dry silk.
    Rayon
  • Rayon absolutely must not be agitated at all; it is a weak fiber and shrinks easily.
  • Follow washing directions for cleaning wool and silk, with one big difference: rayon is an alkaline fabric, and acidic detergents can harm
    the fabric. Donít spot clean rayon with acidic vinegar. Most all-purpose detergents will be fine to use, or a liquid castile soap.
    Even a harsh detergent wonít harm rayon.
  • Gently press out water, and hang dry.

Note that I havenít tested this method on expensive wool coats and jackets. I spot clean such clothes with vinegar.

11 comments

a             y m.
g d c.3 years ago

ty, very helpful reminders...

Chris Ray
Chris R.4 years ago

Thanks!~

Chris Ray
Chris R.4 years ago

Thanks!~

Zaibatsu L.
Zaibatsu L.5 years ago

i just love your articles. Your advices are simply the best, especially in this case.
cotton bedspreads

Celine S.
Celine S.6 years ago

Would someone be able to help me: I got some bike grease on a white rayon shirt wrap I have. What would the best way to get this out be? Can I use bleach?
Many Thanks!

Heather Richey
Heather Richey8 years ago

I must again recommend Orvisģ soap for wool. I also mentioned this in the moth ball question area. The stuff works.

Greta R.
Greta R.9 years ago

I will now wet wash my rayon shirt...and save 12 Canadian dollars and help save the planet at the same time!

Buchun Das
Buchun Das9 years ago

I HAVE ALWAYS FOUND YOUR ADVICE SO PRATICAL AND EASY TO FOLLOW PARTICULARLY THESE SORT OF TIPS WHICH REALLY DO HELP PEOPLE LIKE ME WHO HATE USING ANYTHING THAT HURTS ANIMALS EVEN BUGS AND WANT TO KEEP THE ENVIRONMENT PURE BUCHUN

Geneva N. Daniels

This was very very helpful. The advice of cleaning wool and silk is just right.

Thank you Annie

Bev Ritz
Beverly ritz9 years ago

THIS WAS GREAT ADVICE ANNIE, AND I HAVE EMAILED THIS TO ALL MY FRIENDS! THANKS. BEV RITZ