Tips & Advice / Tips & Tutorials

how to hand wash delicate fabrics

I’ve been meaning to write this post for (literally) a few years now. My favourite fabrics to work with are unfortunately almost always delicate and expensive, which means the care instructions for my ready to wear garments are almost always “hand wash”. Over the years I have found myself responding to lots of queries from my ready to wear customers about what it really means to hand wash something – so i thought it might be useful to put together a little pictorial guide.

I know it can seem a little daunting to hand wash something really special and delicate, but once you’ve given it a go I know you’ll find it’s really not too hard! For a lot of people, you may only have one or two items that need special attention – for others you may have a wardrobe full of silk and cashmere (oh you sucker for punishment you!). I fall somewhere in the middle of those two categories, so I normally save up my delicates over the week, and do a big hand washing day once a week.

So what do I mean when i talk about delicate fabrics? I normally mean any garment that has some component of:

  • silk
  • cashmere
  • wool (NOT your wool suits please! I mean sweaters etc)
  • delicate beading or sequins
  • fancy cotton (yes i said fancy hehehe. I like to hand wash any realllly good cotton, like Liberty or pretty much anything japanese)
Okie dokie – here is my method for hand washing, i hope it helps! Please let me know if you have any questions, and i’ll try and answer to the best of my knowledge. (I’ve answered a few of the frequently asked ones at the bottom of the post):

Frequently asked questions

Q: What is the best detergent for delicate fabrics?
A: My favourites are Delicare in the USA and Eucalyptus wash in Australia

Q: I can’t find Delicare or Eucalyptus wash!! What else can i use?
A: If you cant find a good gentle detergent then baby shampoo will also work well

Q: the care instructions on my silk blouse say “Dry Clean only” can i hand wash it?
A: yes! To be honest, i never dry clean silk unless it is a pleated skirt. I personally think the chemicals used are too harsh for silk, and much prefer treating it gently at home

Q: I washed my shirt and let it air dry and now it is really stiff. What happened?!
A: this is perfectly normal! please don’t stress! Just give your shirt a cool iron and it will become soft and supple once again

Q: Can i hand wash my knife pleat skirt?
A: Probably not. Take that baby to the drycleaners. Knife pleat skirts made from silk are not permanently set, though you can get away with washing a knife pleat skirt from a synthetic fabric, if you get a knife pleat skirt made from silk wet the pleats will simply fall out and lose there shape. (Unfortunately speaking from experience)

Q: I don’t have a laundry sink and my kitchen sink is gross
A: Been there! Use a large bucket or your bath tub – just make sure that whatever you use it is nice and clean to start.

Q: My washing machine has a delicate/hand wash cycle can i use that?
A: Totally up to you – but personally i’m not one for risking it. If you own a front loader machine by a really amazing brand like Miele or something, then you can probably trust it a bit better than your every day washing machine. Do not wash delicate items in a top loader as the washing action is too rough.

About Author

Meg is the Founder and Creative Director of Megan Nielsen Patterns, and is constantly dreaming up ideas for new sewing patterns and ways to make your sewing journey more enjoyable! She gets really excited about design details and is always trying to add way too many variations to our patterns.

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11 years ago

awesome tips! i never knew about the towel rolling to soak up water. thanks!

11 years ago

I actually walk all over the rolled-up towel, it helps squeeze more water out than I could ever get with just my hands.

11 years ago

Thank you for sharing. it’s a love/hate relationship with handwashing because I am lazy. But it does extend the wear of my clothes. Thank you for the tips on rolling dry!

Stefani Sarah
Stefani Sarah
11 years ago

I buy a lot of Japanese cotton because I live here. The good ones might be pricey but I think it’s reasonable. First, the color does not run in the wash. Even in first wash. Secondly, when I’m done sewing and I’m sure that the seams are good and strong, I never hesitate to throw them in the machine. Batiste I put them in laundry bag first. But really, I can recommend that Japaneses cotton is one of the prettiest and most durable fabric I’ve ever worked with and worn.

11 years ago

When this post was published, we talked on twitter about biro marks on silk…well this week I took a bit of a risk with a light coloured silk top and spot cleaned the biro stains with sard wonder soap, which I was previously too nervous to try (worried about having soap ‘patches’ visible from the spot cleaning!) Anyway, it did the trick. Came up fresh and didn’t damage the fabric at all. Relief!