Care and cleaning of silk fabrics and upholstery

Silk, the 4,000-year-old luxury fiber discovered in China, is enjoying a revival of popularity, along with other natural fibers. And Americans, who use more domestic and imported silk than any other people in the world, are finding that the material requires special care.

Silk upholstery is being used again on chairs and sofas. And different weaves of silk are used to make a variety of garments including suits, dresses, blouses , ties, and slacks. They can range from crepe de Chine, a light crepe with a soft, rippled texture, to a taffeta characterized by its crispness and rustle. Tie silk is an exceptionally heavy silk used in making ties; silk tulle, a very fine transparent mesh, is ideal for bridal veils.

As a fashion fabric, silk should be cleaned with care, according to the Soap and Detergent Association. Some silks are washable; others are not. Proper care varies with the construction and finish of the fabric, as well as the style of the garment in which it is used. Lined apparel, taffetas, brocades, and failles, for example, require dry cleaning. Many blouses and dresses can be washed, but labels should be checked for the manufacturer's recommended treatment of the garment.

Gentle care and speed are the key factors in washing. It is possible to machine-wash silk, if the washer has a slow agitation speed. A short wash time of about two minutes is also necessary to protect the dyes. Use warm water with a detergent or soap.

For hand washing, quickly swish warm suds through the garment. Do not rub or twist. Rinse thoroughly and roll in a clean bath towel to remove excess moisture. Hang away from heat or sunlight until almost dry.

Chlorine bleach should never be used on silk. Fabric softener helps to reduce static cling.

While ironing, use the lowest heat setting, and press the garment while it is still moist. Silk should be pressed on the back side.

In the case of silk upholstery fabrics, a New York cleaning specialist recommends regular professional cleaning with a solvent solution. The risks are too great for do-it-yourself attempts at cleaning.

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