[Answered] Does Silk Shrink for Washing or Drying?

Once you have witnessed or experienced silk, you will undoubtedly be mesmerized by its innate allure and unmatched comfort it offers. However, there has always been a lingering query among silk enthusiasts: Does silk shrink? And if it does, how can this concern be prevented? In today’s article, we will provide a comprehensive explanation and offer suggestions on how to preserve the timeless beauty of your silk.

Does Silk Shrink?

The answer is quite evident: yes, silk can shrink. Similar to other fabrics, silk can undergo shrinkage due to various factors that affect its extent.

The Raw Material of Silk Contributes to Shrinkage

In general, fibers with high moisture absorption tend to experience more significant shrinkage. As a natural fiber, silk possesses excellent moisture absorption properties. When exposed to moisture and humidity, the fibers absorb water and moisture, leading to expansion and increased diameter. Consequently, this causes a reduction in the length of clothing or fabric, resulting in shrinkage.

The Thickness of Silk Yarn Affects Shrinkage

Thicker yarns tend to exhibit higher shrinkage rates, while finer yarns demonstrate the opposite effect. Hence, fabrics crafted from tightly twisted yarns experience more considerable shrinkage. For instance, silk crepe de chine fabric has an approximate shrinkage rate of 10%, which is significantly higher than that of silk habotai (3%-5%).

The Weaving Density of Silk Impacts Shrinkage

Fabrics with tightly woven structures and similar densities in both the warp and weft directions typically exhibit relatively lower shrinkage rates. Conversely, loosely woven fabrics like silk chiffon have a greater density and consequently higher shrinkage rates. 

How Much Does Silk Shrink?

Due to the complexity of factors that affect shrinkage, it can be a little difficult to know the exact shrinkage rate of silk. However, the average shrinkage rate of silk is between 2% and 8%. Yet, you can shop for pre-shrunk silk, which generally has a largely negligible shrinkage rate of between 2% and 4%.

Different Circumstances for Silk Shrinkage

Silk shrinkage is not solely attributed to its inherent properties but can also be influenced by the surrounding environment.

  • In high-humidity environments, silk fibers, which have a strong affinity for moisture, absorb water and expand, resulting in shrinkage.
  • In high-temperature environments, the heat causes the protein molecules in silk fibers to contract, leading to fabric shrinkage accordingly.
  • Agitation, friction, or wringing can damage silk and cause the delicate fibers to tangle, causing shrinkage.
  • When exposed to certain chemicals, such as alkaline detergents, the structure of silk fibers is affected. This can significantly increase the likelihood of shrinkage.

Why Does Silk Shrink in the Dryer?

Now that you are aware of the internal and external factors that affect silk shrinkage, this question can be easily answered. Heat, humidity, and mechanical agitation—the factors that contribute to silk shrinkage—come together in the dryer, making it difficult for silk to avoid shrinking. Under the influence of high temperatures, silk fibers tend to stick together, and the agitation in the dryer exacerbates the shrinkage of silk.

Why Does Silk Shrink in Hot Water?

The natural protein structure of silk fibers changes when exposed to heat and moisture. These changes cause the molecules to contract, resulting in the fabric naturally shrinking. Moreover, when hot water is present, the bond between the fibers weakens, making the fabric more prone to shrinkage.

Why Does Silk Shrink When Washed?

This refers to a specific case of improper washing. It includes using hot water, alkaline detergents, or bleach, as well as agitating or vigorously rubbing the fabric. All these factors contribute to silk shrinkage. 

Due to its inherent properties, silk fibers absorb water, causing each fiber to expand and the fabric to shrink. With the added influence of high heat, detergents, and vigorous rubbing, the degree of shrinkage is further intensified, leading to potential damage to the fabric itself.

Why Does Silk Shrink in the Making?

Silk can also shrink due to the tension it undergoes during the weaving and finishing. This environmental factor is just as important as others when considering the potential shrinkage in silk fabrics. Because silk fibers are naturally stretchy, they contract when subjected to tension, causing the fabric to shrink.

In addition, the infiltration of moisture or heat during the manufacturing process and changes in temperature and humidity in the environment can also cause silk shrinkage. For example, if silk is pre-steamed or pre-washed before finishing, shrinkage may occur when it is dried or cooled.

Tips: How to Prevent Silk from Shrinking

Everyone wants their silk to maintain its beauty and elegance, as not everyone possesses the expertise to restore it. So, what can you do to protect silk and prevent shrinkage?

The best approach is to request pre-shrinking treatment from the factory before making a purchase. The factory can perform this treatment using either steam or water pre-shrinking methods. However, it is advisable to choose the former as the fabric treated with steam will be smoother and more cost-effective.

If you already have non-pre-shrunk silk fabric, proper care during washing can help prevent shrinkage. 

Carefully read the fabric care label, and you will discover that the correct fabric care only requires eliminating factors that may cause silk fabric to shrink. You can follow the suggested steps below:

  1. Select the appropriate washing method based on the care instructions, such as hand washing, dry cleaning, or machine washing (some silk fabrics allow machine washing).
  2. Use lukewarm or cold water to moisten the fabric.
  3. Add a neutral or silk-specific detergent (avoid alkaline detergents/bleach).
  4. Gently hand wash or set the machine to a gentle cycle.
  5. Lay the fabric flat to air dry.
  6. Iron silk using low heat.
  7. Store silk in a cool and dry place, preferably by hanging it.


Does silk shrink? This post provides a concise answer to this question. In addition, it also analyzes in detail the degree of shrinkage of silk and the different causes. To take better care of your silk and silk products, you can follow the several tips given in this post. Furthermore, if you have manufacturing needs for silk and related products, feel free to contact Sinosilk.

More Resources:

How to Repair Silk – Source: Sinosilk

Can You Steam Silk – Source: Sinosilk

Grades of Silk – Source: Sinosilk

Is Silk Breathable – Source: Sinosilk

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