what happens if you bleach silk, 3 safe ways to bleach silk

What happens if you bleach silk, 3 safe ways to bleach silk

I have always wondered, why does bleach and silk do not go well together, what happens if I do it? It’s the typical reaction of the rebellious kid in me, why not! and let’s try and see what happens.

Thankfully for you, and I, today I will address the why not’s of bleaching silk. As an added perk, I have found 3 safe ways to bleach silk, using the appropriate materials that would not damage bleach of course.

Can I bleach silk fabric

Bleaching is generally associated with lightening the fabric’s colour or to whiten yellowed silks, both of which can be done. But wait, wasn’t it previously mentioned here and here, that silk should never come in contact with bleach?

Well, you can lighten and whiten silk which is commonly termed as ‘bleaching’, but you should do it without the use of chlorine or oxygen based silk.

what happens if you bleach silk, 3 safe ways to bleach silk
Definitely do not use this.


Why we should avoid bleach on silks

I first mentioned the perils of bleach when I shared how I wash my silk clothing [Link]. Chlorine based and oxygen based bleach is harmful to silk fibres. They break down silk fibres, causing yellowing of white silks, making coloured silks less vibrant (colour loss), and a weakening of the silk garment itself which may lead to rips or tears in the silk.

Lucky for us there are safe alternatives to chlorine and oxygen based bleach, which I will share later on.

Why does bleached silk turned yellow

Household bleach is generally chlorine or oxygen based, both of which are generally alkaline in nature (above pH7) and can also cause a wide array of color changes.

Silk is generally treated and dyed with fibre reactive dye before it is sold, here’s how silk is made [Link].

The fibre reactive dye used to give silk its colour is usually acidic in nature. Alkaline based bleach will react with the dyed silk, often turning it yellow. If you have pure undyed silk that is cream in colour, bleach can still turn it yellow as bleach damages the silk fibres.

How to remove yellow bleach stains from white silk

Old bleach stains on silk, unfortunately, are irreversible. A fresh bleach stain on the other hand, we might be able to undo, by neutralizing and restoring the silk’s colour.

what happens if you bleach silk, 3 safe ways to bleach silk
A classic yellow stain in white silk, due to bleach

What to do if I accidentally bleached silk

There are a few steps you can follow if you have accidentally spilled bleach or used bleach accidentally on your beloved silks.

How to neutralise bleach on clothing

Bleach damages and ‘eats’ through fabric fibres very quickly so its essential that we stop it as soon as possible. Rinse the bleached area under cold running water, lay it flat as a single layer of fabric. Do not allow it to rest on itself, if there is remnant bleach, other it will stain through.

Then mix water and baking soda to form a thick paste and spread over the area. Leave the paste to dry and ‘lift’ the moisture off the area. Once the paste is dried, brush it off and proceed to restore your silk item.

How to restore bleached clothes

Use a non-chlorine, reductive bleach such as Rit Colour Remover, sodium hydrosulfite or hydrogen peroxide to bleach your item silk item. The steps for all 3 options can be found below, in this post.

Once that’s done, you can either embrace the current colour or dye your silk item. You can either choose a brand new darker colour, or with something that’s close to the original colour of your silk clothing. Remember to finish off with a dye fixative to help the dye set!

Can you remove color from silk?

By remove I would think you want to change the colour of your silk clothing, which gives us two ways of doing it – darken or lighten the fabric. You can dye the entire silk garment a darker colour or bleach it until it lightens.

Colour removal from silk fabrics is not quite like mathematics; you do not remove black colour from a black silk shirt and expect a white shirt. Colour removal in this case refers to changing the current colour of your silk garment.

Naturally, it is easier to dye a light silk garment to a darker colour. Lightening a dark silk clothing, lighter, will definitely be more difficult.

what happens if you bleach silk, 3 safe ways to bleach silk

How to remove color from silk

The fastest and probably safest commercial way would be to use a non-chlorine, reductive bleach such as Rit Colour Remover. Although it’s name is ‘Color Remover’, depending on your silk fabric, it will either reduce the intensity of the colour or remove it entirely, turning it either cream or white.

The other alternative would be to use hydrogen peroxide or sodium hydrosulfite which are less caustic and safer for you and your silks.

Can we to safely bleach silk

Since we have established that there isn’t a safe way to lighten or remove colour from silk with chlorine or oxygen based bleach, let me share safer alternatives with you.

How to safely bleach silk with Rit Color Remover

Before you begin, remember to ensure that your area is well ventilated, as sulfur dioxide would be produced as a by-product, which is dangerous for people with asthma. Even if you do not have asthma, it is better to be safe! Now, open your windows and lets get on with it.

  1. Fill a pot with water, cover it and heat water on the stove top to just below boiling (or around 200 °F/ 94 °C).
  2. While wating for the water to boil, pre-wash your silk garment in warm, soapy water.
  3. When the pot of water starts to simmer, reduce the heat to a low simmer. Then, add one packet of Rit Color Remover and stir.
  4. Wet the your silk clothing and add it to the pot.
  5. Stir occasionally, the colour removal process can take between 10-20 minutes. Once your silk turns white or off-white, remove it from the pot.
  6. Rinse in warm water, gradually lowering the temperature of the rinse water until it turns cold. Continue rinsing until the rinse water runs clear.
  7. Next wash your silk clothing with a mild detergent, rinse and dry, for more detailed instructions on how to do that, click here [Link].
  8. You can either wear your item now or dye it a different colour in future.

*Remember to set your pot aside for future craft purposes, do not cook food in that pot anymore!

How to safely bleach silk with sodium hydrosulfite

The active ingredient in Rit color remover is sodium hydrosulfite, so feel free to follow the instructions above but substitute the colour remover for sodium hydrosulfite. Use 4g of sodium hydrosulfite per 1litre (4cups) of water and add equal parts of soda ash.

what happens if you bleach silk, 3 safe ways to bleach silk

How to safely bleach silk with hydrogen peroxide

If uou intend to bleach a large amount of silk fabric, it might be cheaper to use hydrogen peroxide than to buy a commercial non-chlorine, reductive bleach.

Before you begin, prepare a few items: a thermometer, a large pot (do not use it to cook afterwards!), hydrogen peroxide (35% or 10% or 3%), white vinegar, soda ash and synthrapol or other professional textile detergent.

  1. For every 500g/ 1 pound of silk fabric, prepare  ½ teaspoon of textile detergent and ½ teaspoon of soda ash, set it aside.
  1. Boil a pot with water, then allow it to cool to 140 °F/ 60 °C. At 140 °F/ 60 °C it is still hot enough to cause second degree burns, careful!
  1. Add the textile detergent and soda ash into the pot of water and stir, then add in your silk to wash. Once that’s done, dump the water, and rinse your silk fabric thoroughly. Set the silk aside.
  2. Fill the pot up with water and add 1 teaspoon of textile detergent, 7½ tablespoons of soda ash, appropriate amount of hydrogen peroxide depending on the concentration.
    35% solution – 1 cup (250 mL) (industrial grade disinfectant)
    10% solution – 3 ½ cups (875 mL) (hair bleaching strength)
    3% solution – 6 pints (3500 mL) (first aid strength)
  3. Heat the mixture up to 130°F/ 55 °C, turn off the heat and submerge your silk in the mixture. If any part of your silk fabric is not submerged, weigh it down with water filled glass jars or smooth stones.
  4. Leave your silk fabric to soak for 16 – 24 hours. The darker it is, the longer it will take to lighten. Of course, if your fabric is already light to begin with, feel free to take it out before 16 hours if you are happy with the shade of colour.
  5. Once your silk has achieved it’s desired shade of colour, pour the solution away and rinse your silk in warm water.
  6. Fill your pot with warm water, for each gallon (3.8 litres) of water, add in 11 tablespoons of white vinegar. If you do not need so much water, adjust both proportions accordingly.
  7. Soak your silk in the bath of warm water and vinegar for 10-15 minutes. Rinse it off with cool water afterwards.
  8. If the smell of vinegar bothers you, feel free to follow the wash instructions for silk [Link]
what happens if you bleach silk, 3 safe ways to bleach silk
Examples of different concentrations of hydrogen peroxide you can use.

How to fade silk fabric

Chose a colour removing agent, be it Rit’s, sodium hydrosulfite or hydrogen peroxide. Follow the respective colour removal instructions, instead of leaving it in the pot until it is white, remove it sooner. This means you will have to watch your pot closely and remove your silk when it is the desired shade of colour.

Can you whiten silk

Either of the steps above has the ability to lighten silk, but whitening would really depend on the original colour of the silk fabric. The darker the silk item is, the harder or lower the chance of you turning it white. But if you are looking at a light-coloured silk, pink, beige, cream or even white, chances of it becoming entirely white is much higher.

How to whiten natural silk

Most natural undyed silk ranges from shades of cream to pale brown and easily whitened.

Fun fact! Sometimes genetic mutation causes silkworms to produce silk in shades of yellow to brown, sometimes even green.

what happens if you bleach silk, 3 safe ways to bleach silk

If you want your natural silk to appear even whiter, you can follow any of the colour removal steps using Rit Color Remover, sodium hydrosulfite or hydrogen peroxide.

A study done by H. Steyn, Yolande Olivier shows the effects of hydrogen peroxide bleaching of silk at pH8 and pH10. Notice how it is lighter than the unbleached silk.

what happens if you bleach silk, 3 safe ways to bleach silk

How do you bleach yellowed silk

Over time silk tends to lose its stunning lustre and turns a shade of cream or yellow, like most white fabrics do. If that bothers you, try any of the 3 colour removal techniques shared today and it will freshen your silk up in no time!

How to whiten yellowed silk

If you have bleached your yellowed silk and are still unhappy with the shade you can still whiten it further. For a ‘whiter than white’ silk, try an optical brightener such as Rit whitener & brightener or Uvitex BNB.

However, this is something that I do not use as optical brighteners are not biodegradable; which is bad for the environment. But if you need your silks extra white, you can give it a try.

How do you lighten dingy silk?

If you have a stained and forgotten piece of silk garment, lightening it might make it look less dreadful. Before you attempt to lighten or whiten it, give it a thorough wash [Link] and remove any stains [Link], even stubborn stains [Link].

Then, try using Rit Color Remover, it usually has the highest rate of success.

If there are still stubborn stained spots after colour removal, you may want to try dyeing your silk item a darker colour to conceal the stained spots.

Can you bleach a white silk pillowcase

Avoid chlorine and oxygen based bleach as always, and use any of the 3, Rit’s, sodium hydrosulfite or hydrogen peroxide.

Since silk pillowcases are small, I would recommend half a cup cup of 3 percent hydrogen peroxide to a bath of cold water. Allow your silk pillowcase to soak up to an hour, feel free to remove it sooner if it looks white enough for you. Rinse them under cool water and follow the silk pillowcase washing instructions here [Link].

what happens if you bleach silk, 3 safe ways to bleach silk
Now you can try to restore your white silk pillowcases to its pristine sheen

Can you bleach silk curtains

Think of silk curtains as gigantic pillowcases, if you can bleach a silk pillowcase you can bleach a silk curtain!

Although it is more of a hassle than handling pillowcases. If purely soaking in hydrogen peroxide for an hour does not give you the sparkly white sheen you are looking for, try any of the 3 safe bleaching steps shared above.

Can you bleach silk flowers

Instead of bleaching your silk flowers to remove stains immediately try this [Link] solution to remove yellow stains from silk flowers, they may just be in need of a light wash! [Link]

If that did not work and your silk flowers are white, feel free to follow any of the 3 bleaching methods today. But if your silk flowers are coloured, I would advise using a commercial silk flower cleaner instead as all 3 of the bleaching methods would lighten the vibrancy of your silk flowers.

what happens if you bleach silk, 3 safe ways to bleach silk

Bleach silk safely at home

My guess is that a lot of us are looking to bleach our once pristine white silks. Try one of the 3 methods shared here today and it should have your silks looking fresher. But prevention is better than cure.

Silks turn yellow for several reasons such as perspiration stains, long periods in storage and improper cleaning methods. To prevent yellowed silk, here’s how you should wash silk shirts, silk pillowcases, silk masks, silk scrunchies, remove stains [Link] & [Link], remove wrinkles, steam and iron your silks.

Lets hope with these you do not have to bleach your silks, or at least, not as often!