I've been asked many times how I care for my Hermes scarves, and since I know no one who is such an expert on the subject or so skilled and entertaining a writer as is my dearest friend Jerrine, I am thrilled that she agreed to cover this post. Her instructions are the bible on how to clean your Hermes silk scarves. I applied her methods straight-away to my Monsieur et Madame carré and added pictures of the process at the end of this post. I hope you enjoy reading Jerrine's proficient and comprehensive instructions as much as I did, and that your scarves will be beautifully cared for and maintained as a result.
How To Wash Your Hermès Silk Scarf
While we’ve all seen the warning to only dry clean our Hermès silk scarves, there’s no reason you have to. Hermès, like any other manufacturer, states this as a disclaimer to basically protect themselves. With a little care and the correct products and method, you can easily and successfully hand-wash your silk scarves, whether they’re a brand new issue or an earlier vintage design.
Actually, you’re doing your scarf and yourself a favor when you do wash by hand. The chemicals in dry cleaning fluids, even the non-perc varieties, are harmful to silk over time. They’ll yellow white and pale backgrounds; they’ll diminish the natural luster of the silk, and they’ll weaken the fibers. Silk is a natural product, which is much happier in water than it is in chemicals. Even Hermès treats the scarves to a water bath to set the dyes.
And, there’s also the odor of the chemicals, and who wants that close to their face? Finally, there’s the sad fact that the majority of dry cleaners simply do not take the necessary care. They’ll flatten the hems during pressing, which is usually done on a machine, and regardless of how many times you plead with them not to pin the ID tag to the silk, they’ll do it anyway, and you end up with small pin holes in the scarf. Of course, they charge an arm and a leg for the favor! You can successfully wash your scarf for a few pennies and have a much better result.
First of all, you need a bit of courage. The first time you plunge your beloved carre into a sink full of water, you cringe and say a little prayer that all will go well. Have faith; it will. I’ve washed dozens of scarves and never had a mishap, and I’ve only heard of one very, very old vintage design bleeding a bit, and that was just one color – a very bright emerald green.
Secondly, you need to use the right products. I prefer Le Blanc silk and lingerie wash, which you can find in lingerie shops and online from Amazon. It’s not inexpensive, but it gives wonderful results and restores the luster to the silk, and a bottle will last for years. It comes in various sizes and either scented (a pleasant gardenia fragrance that disappears when you dry and iron the scarf) or unscented.
Another good one is Delicate Wash from The Laundress. You can buy that online from www.thelaundress.com. It’s a marvelous company by the way. It, too, has a pleasant scent – the one I’ve used is called “Lady.” And, again, the light scent disappears once the scarf is dried and pressed. I don’t believe that they make an unscented version. (The Container Store has just started carrying The Laundress products.)
I’ve heard of using baby shampoo, which is certainly gentle, but I do recommend a product that is specially formulated for silk. It only makes sense! What you do not want to use are harsh dish detergents, regular laundry detergent and especially Woolite, regardless of what their label says.
The second product to add to the wash (and to give you a boost of confidence) is a Shout Color Catcher. These disposable sheets are made by Johnson & Johnson and will capture any errant dye before it can bleed into the silk (you won’t have that problem anyway, but you’ll feel safer using one). They’re inexpensive, and you can find them on the laundry isle of any grocery store.
The third product is optional and using it depends on how you like your scarves to feel. Hermès uses a finishing/stiffening product to provide the “hand” that is part of a new scarf. Some people like the stiffness; others do not. It’s simply a matter of preference.
But, with older vintage scarves or simply favorite scarves that you’ve worn half to death, you may not like the softness and the thinner feel that develop over time, and silk does thin with use and wear. If you’d like to restore a bit of body to your scarf, buy a can of Magic Spray Sizing from the laundry aisle of your grocery store. I’ll tell you how to use it later on in the instructions.
And, now for the instructions:
1. Assemble your cleaning products, as well as a large, clean white or light colored towel.
2. Take off your rings, and if you have a rough nail that might snag the silk while swishing, get out your emery board.
3. Make sure your sink is immaculate.
4. Fill your sink halfway with tepid (cool) water. It doesn’t have to be ice cold, but it shouldn’t be hot either. Add the silk wash according to the instructions and swirl the water to make sure that it’s evenly dispersed. Add your safety net, the Color Catcher sheet.
5. If you have stains on your scarf, and they’re fairly fresh, pre-treat the stains prior to the bath. Layout your towel on the counter, unfold the scarf and place it on top of the towel and locate the spot you want to work on. Mix a couple of drops of the silk wash with an equal number of drops of water - you want a 50/50 solution. Dip a cotton bud into the solution and lightly rub on the spot. Do this gently and don’t over-rub. Repeat on the other side of the scarf and immediately put the scarf into the bath. This method works well on grease spots if they’re fresh, and it may lighten older stains, but it will not remove ballpoint ink, markers, wine stains or any old stain that has set into the silk. (If you have a favorite scarf with spots or stains that just won’t come out with normal washing, you can send it to Madame Paulette in New York City. The staff is amazing and can even remove Magic Marker stains from the silk. It’s expensive, but if it’s your favorite baby, it will be worth it to you to see her come back in pristine condition. The website is www.madamepaulette.com.)
6. After your scarf goes into the water, set your timer for 3-4 minutes. Do not be tempted to soak it for a long period of time. You can always repeat the process if you feel necessary, but long soak periods will release the dyes.
7. Keep the scarf moving at all times by gently swirling it through the water.
8. When the timer goes off, remove the scarf, drain the sink and fill with fresh water. Immerse the scarf once again to rinse out the soap residue and swirl gently. Repeat this process twice to make sure your scarf is thoroughly rinsed.
9. Gently fold and press the scarf between your hands to remove excess water (do not wring it like a rag!) and spread out over the clean towel. Roll up the towel and scarf and press gently to absorb most of the water. Then unroll and place the scarf over a shower bar/rod, or on a dry towel on the back of a chair or even draped over a laundry rack. Make sure your rack has no splinters or anything that could snag the silk. Do not use a hanger with clips, as the clips will leave marks on the silk.
10. To check that your scarf is “square,” fold over the shower bar in the middle of the scarf, making sure that both hanging sides are the same length. Line up the bottom edges. If they don’t line up perfectly, you can gently pull on the sides until they do. This is similar to blocking a sweater, but you need to be gentler. Most likely, you won’t encounter this situation with a new scarf, but with old vintage scarves, they can get slightly out of “square.”
11. The scarf will dry fairly quickly, so check it after about 20-30 minutes, as you’ll have better results pressing the scarf when it’s just slightly damp.
On to pressing the scarf:
1. Make sure that your ironing board cover is impeccably clean, as well as the plate on your iron.
2. Set your iron to the silk setting. However, I’ve found that the silk setting isn’t high enough to remove heavy wrinkling. I’ve had more success putting the iron on a higher steam setting and using a pressing cloth over the silk. This can be a lightweight white cotton handkerchief or even a square of very light white cotton fabric, e.g., muslin or cotton voile. Don’t use a synthetic fabric. The trick is that you want it to be transparent enough so you can see when you’re approaching the hems.
3. If you want to add some body back into the scarf, spray the backside lightly with Magic Spray Sizing, and I mean lightly. Do not drench your poor scarf! Hold the can about ten inches from the scarf, spray lightly and then press. You can always go back and spray a second time for a bit more body. And, you can spray the front side of the scarf, as well, if desired. Starting with the backside of the scarf, iron to the hems, moving the pressing cloth as you go and then turn the scarf over and press the front side, again avoiding the hems.
4. If you want to press in the original folds, get out one of your scarves where the creasing is intact and study how it’s been folded and replicate. It’s just a matter of folding and then pressing the iron over the folds to provide nice sharp creases. But, if you prefer no creases, simply skip this step.
If you follow these suggestions, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised as to how easy and inexpensive it is to keep your scarves looking their very best. Do it when you have the time and won’t be distracted. It’s actually relaxing! Do wash one at a time, though. Each lovely scarf deserves its own bath and your attention.
P.S. While the above method and products work wonderfully for Hermès silk scarves, I have not tried it with other designer scarves and would not suggest it. Hermès sets the dyes with water, and this may not be true of other manufacturers.
Putting Jerrine's instruction into action:Thank you a million, dearest Jerrine! Your scarves are the most beautifully maintained I've ever seen, and because of your wonderful instructions there will be many more well cared for silks around the globe! I followed every step with my Monsieur et Madame 90 carré and I could not be more pleased with the result. Forever grateful xx
The marks below are waterbased paint, so I started by carefully spot-cleaning them with the 50/50 water/silk detergent solution she recommends.. happy to say that they disappeared without a trace!
the most important thing: swishing and swirling
last rinse - the water is clean and soap free:
out she comes!
folding the scarf in half to make sure the ends and corners line up:
The scarf didn't wrinkle too badly, so I tried the silk setting on my iron. Approaching the hems and corners carefully, making sure NOT to iron over the hand-rolled hems
nearly done ...
ironing the folds back in..
Done! The scarf is clean and fresh, smells lovely and the folds are back.
ready to use!
Why was I choosing my Monsieur et Madame carré for this post?
Because it has the same colors as my little hounds! Those who follow me (or Milo) on Instagram will have read the story about the addition of Milo's dark and glossy brother Roley to our family: Meet Roley
For more pictures of Milo and future updates about the brother's adventures, follow them at: www.instagram.com/the.wiener.boys
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