Posted on

Dry Clean Only

The Care and Feeding of Silk, Dry Clean Only

How exactly did the dry clean only label come about?  Let’s condense history in to a brief paragraph.  Silk has been around for anywhere from 8500 to 5500 years.  Silk cocoons have been found in a tomb in Henan province China dated to 6500 BCE with a full bolt of cloth located, also in Henan province, dated to 3500 BCE.  Dry cleaning wasn’t invented until 1855 by Jean Baptiste Jolly.  So, from 6500 BCE to 1855 CE, water was used to clean silk.  Water was still used to clean silk until the advent of the washing machine.  How’s that? you ask.  A brief story in merchandising.

Major retailers of fine clothing would sell a silk blouse to a lady.  Or a silk tie to a gentleman.  Then when doing laundry, the silk item would get thrown in with the blue jeans…probably on accident, sorting clothes has been standard process since forever.  Whether accidental or on purpose, the result was the same.  During spin cycle, the zipper on the blue jeans would catch on the silk, tearing it.  This resulted in the blouse or tie being returned to the retailer.  Who would accept the return because, <expletive deleted> you Nordstrom and your “Customer is always right” policy.

The retailers were losing scads of money on damaged returns because people weren’t paying attention.  So they slapped a dry clean only label on it and made damaged goods the problem of the dry cleaning industry.  Fast forward 100 years and everyone is scared to buy or work with silk because it is a dry clean only fabric.

Now let me explain to you why, exactly, except for in rare instances, I would NOT recommend dry cleaning silk fabric.  Chemicals.  Now, I am not someone to whom the word chemical is a scary thing.  I believe dry cleaning is perfectly safe and use the dry cleaner for my wool cloak, and my down comforter, winter jacket.  I do not use the dry cleaner for silk because along with any stains, the chemicals will strip the natural luster from silk, resulting in a decided dullness.

“Silk tends to look dull and dingy after several trips to the cleaners.  In fact, many silks actually look better and last longer when washed by hand. (Parker, p. 61).  How can that be?  The Cleaners are supposed to make sure your garments look the best.  Except for those chemicals which are actually very harsh solvents which strip fibers of any residual moisture. And as we know…silk loves moisture.

Initially, dry cleaning used petroleum based solvent.  Yes…petrol.  As in gasoline.  However, due to the inability to obtain insurance coverage, what with the combination of highly flammable chemicals stored next to highly flammable fabric which had subsequently been soaked in those chemicals, the Dry Cleaning business does what commerce does best.  It innovated.  And by the 1930’s, the industry had shifted entirely to tetrachloroethylene, aka perchloroethylene or perc, as it is commonly known.

This was a wholly good thing, as perc is non-flammable, can be used with most fiber types, and is very stable, which means it can be recycled and is better for the environment.  And while it’s chemical composition won’t hurt silk, it will dull that luster we all love so much.  But for the low low price of $15.99 for Dr. Bronner’s and another $12.49 for the white vinegar to rinse your silk in, you can hand wash all your silk at home.  That $28.48 will last FOREVER…well, not literally.  But I bought my bottle of Dr. Bronner’s well over a year ago and still have half a bottle left.  And white vinegar has other uses than as a silk rinse…it’s an all purpose cleaner!

So save yourself the cost of a dry cleaner and at the same time you will save your silks.  Hand wash them at home.  You can even machine wash them!  Just make sure to separate out the blue jeans first.

Posted on

Cleaning and Maintaining Our Silks

The Care and Feeding of Silk, Dry Clean Only

I’ve been trying to post on Tuesdays a stain removal.  Unfortunately, the stain I’m currently working on is exceptionally stubborn, so I have no video to post.  But in keeping with a cleaning theme, I decided to post what we use to clean silk, and why we use those things.  This seems like a reasonable substitute for stains.  So here is what we use for cleaning and maintaining our silks.

I’m going to start with Dr. Bronner’s Baby Unscented Liquid Soap.  I use this to pre-wash my silk before cutting and after events for a light clean.  This is VERY gentle soap, but it will remove excess dye from the fabric, which is good, since then you don’t have to worry about the dye rubbing off on your skin.  Also good since once the excess dye is gone, you have a piece of washable silk.  Minimally effective on stains, I mean, it worked on beer and mostly on marinara, but it is not a heavy hitter when it comes to stain fighting.  For that, I use Dawn.

Yes, Dawn dish detergent—that Dawn.  My logic when I first tried it was that it was safe for baby ducks, it was probably safe for silk.  I have not been proven wrong in this.  Given that I do pre-wash all my silk before sewing, I have never had Dawn cause a color bleed.  I DESTROYED the grease stain while leaving the silk as supple and soft as ever.  I love Dawn.

Vinegar.  Just plain white vinegar (NOT apple vinegar).  Aside from being a catch all cleaner for the natural home, vinegar restores luster and shine to silk.  I put a cup in every load of laundry.  Every. Single. Load.  It is that good for silk.

Baking Soda has been used once, but it is a power house at smell removal.  Yes, smell removal.  See my blog on cat pee and silk.  Have used salt as a mild abrasive on certain stains, and even contact lens remover.  These are all one off items, used for very specific stains.  Generally, if you have Dr. Bronner’s, Dawn, and Vinegar, you’re in good shape as far as silk care goes for the home couturier.  And as always, if you’re unsure, dry clean is an option.

Thank you for reading Damask Raven, where we do History in Style.

Posted on

Italian Marinara Sauce is no match for Dr. Bronner’s

I’m having great fun staining silk to see what washes out and how and thanks to all the wonderful people at West Kingdom’s Golden Beltane the list of stains to try has grown even longer.  But just before leaving for Golden Beltane, I stained this ordinary piece of Cotton Candy Silk Damask with marinara sauce from pizza.

 

Ordinary piece of Cotton Candy Silk Damask
Ordinary piece of Cotton Candy Silk Damask

 

What actually happened is I had decided to try the pizza sauce so I cut out the scrap I wanted to try it on, went in to the kitchen to get some pizza, and my boyfriend was dipping bread sticks in marinara sauce.  I went “Oh, marinara sauce will work!” and stuck my finger in the sauce, scooping out a whopping chunk of it.  He looked at me like “I…I was totally going to dip my bread stick in that…” hung his head in defeat, and looked at the microwave while it finished heating his pizza.

 

So now I had this…

 

 

Deliberate Smear Campaign!
Deliberate Smear Campaign!

 

Which I allowed to dry overnight, resulting in this…

 

Extra crunchy tomato paste!
Extra crunchy tomato paste!

 

The first thing I did was flip it over so the water was flowing through the back side of the stain, pushing any food chunks back the way they came as I thoroughly rinsed the silk.  This technique works on pretty much all stains.  If you can push em back the way they came then stains seem to life easier.  Next, I dosed the area with Dr. Bronner’s Soap and worked the fabric with my hands, building up a good lather before thoroughly rinsing out the soap.  ***DISCLAIMER*** As with my post on Grease Stains I used a scrap of fabric which had been pre-washed, so I knew there would be no color bleed during this experiment.  If you have not already washed your silk, color test first!

 

And the end result was this…

 

Soaped, rinsed and dried
Soaped, rinsed and dried

 

Followed by a good ironing to pull up any residual grease stains, of which there were thankfully none (although we now know how to deal with grease stains should they happen 🙂 )

 

Cleaned, Ironed, and Stain Free
Cleaned, Ironed, and Stain Free

 

And that was how I removed marinara sauce from silk.