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Wet Clean Wool, Silk and Rayon

Wet Clean Wool, Silk and Rayon

If you want to avoid dry cleaning because of the chemicals used, rest assured that you can wash many clothes by hand that say “dry clean only,” but you need to learn some tricks.

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—I’ve 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. Bronner’s baby soap is best for cleaning silk, since it won’t 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 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. Don’t spot clean rayon with acidic vinegar. Most all-purpose detergents will be fine to use, or a liquid castile soap.
    Even a harsh detergent won’t harm rayon.
  • Gently press out water, and hang dry.

Note that I haven’t tested this method on expensive wool coats and jackets. I spot clean such clothes with vinegar.

Read more: Home, Fashion, Non-Toxic Cleaning

By Annie B. Bond

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Annie B. Bond

Annie is a renowned expert in non-toxic and green living. She was named one of the top 20 environmental leaders by Body and Soul Magazine and "the foremost expert on green living." - Body & Soul Magazine, 2009. Learn Annie's latest eco-friendly news on, a website dedicated to healthy and green living.

Go to the Source

Better Basics for the Home

Natural living has reached the mainstream: we are now far more concerned about the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the chemicals that surround us, and recognize that government regulations all too often fall short of safeguarding our health. Enter Annie Berthold-Bond, whose Better Basics for the Home is a compendium of practical information -- recipes, tips, and guidelines -- for creating a simpler, cheaper and environmentally safer now


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1:44AM PST on Dec 10, 2012

Thank you, Annie.

2:03PM PST on Dec 9, 2012

I buy my clothes second hand...I save money, get better garments, save the landfill. I only buy natural fibers... Cotton, wool, silk and linen. i don't buy anything I can't wash. I also make things out of the fabric like bags. Unique, and inexpensive. I recycle the recycled!

6:08PM PST on Dec 8, 2012


9:14AM PST on Dec 8, 2012

Thank you

12:06PM PST on Feb 18, 2012

Does anyone use this method for wet cleaning summer weight wool dress pants? I've only had to start wearing them for my job in the last few months, and I detest dry cleaning. I brought them to be dry cleaned twice at a cleaner that using ecosolve before looking up ecosolve, and I'm no longer comfortable with bringing them back to be dry cleaned.

I'll test this method out on the pants I thought were black in the store, but are actually a very deep navy blue. I'd rather not ruin any of the pants I bought, but those I like the least.

If anyone else has used this method on wool dress pants, please let me know.

7:42PM PDT on Jul 15, 2011

Thank you for the info that will save me money and chemical exposure.

9:27AM PDT on May 26, 2011

thank you!

6:09AM PDT on Apr 28, 2011

I have lots of suits that can't be washed because of the linings, but always wash everything else, just use cold water, shampoo for soap, don't agitate, and never put in the drier. And there's always Fabreze (if you want to make your own, Use really cheap, unflavored vodka, 0 - 50% water and add some lavender. Shake it up a bit in a spray bottle, set the nozzle to mist, give your target an all-over spritzing, and let it air out. The alcohol will actually kill the bacteria rather than just covering up the smell, and will evaporate off so that you won't be left smelling like a bar).

10:54PM PDT on Apr 27, 2011

Dear Elizabeth P: I'm almost certain then that the only fabrics you can wear are wool and organic cotton. I can't imagine that wearing synthetic fabrics which are made out of chemicals and petroleum is really good for the environment. Also, you do realize wool is just shaved off of sheep in the summer when they are hot, right? Your "slaughtered animals" referred to the silk worms, I suppose?

6:33AM PST on Feb 28, 2011

I always handwash woollens and silk! I roll silk items in a towel to assist drying and then iron them wet!

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