Reader Question: Storing And Caring For Scarves - une femme d'un certain âge

Reader Question: Storing And Caring For Scarves

In recent weeks I’ve been asked a few times how I store and care for my scarves. First though, I want to talk about wearing and enjoying your scarves.  Over on my sidebar is something my grandmother once told me, “There’s no point in having nice things if you don’t use them.” If you’ve been lusting after an Hermès or other nice scarf, but worry about ruining it, stop worrying. First, the fabric is more resilient than you’d think. Twist it, knot it, and you’ll be amazed at how those wrinkles and creases disappear overnight. Silk is an incredibly strong fiber. I have a sheer silk scarf that belonged to my grandmother that’s probably 50+ years old, and it still looks almost new.  With some sensible precautions* and care, your good silk scarves can be passed to the next generation with years of wear still ahead.

While some fold their silk carrés meticulously and store in their original boxes, I’m more of a visual creature, and need to see colors and patterns when choosing which scarf to wear.

I utilize this semi-clear three-drawer thingy, purchased at one of those container stores.  It protects scarves from dust, yet allows air to circulate and allows me to readily see what I have available. I fold the squares along the original fold lines plus one and stack inside the drawer. My large carrés are in the bottom drawer, with smaller silk squares in the middle drawer, and those irregular pieces collected here and there in the top drawer. They’re easy to get to and easy to put away at the end of the day. Because this mini-armoire is kept on a shelf in a dark closet, I don’t worry about fading, but if you keep your scarves out where sunlight can get to them, I’d recommend something more opaque.

The only storage exception are the plissés which I do carefully re-roll by wrapping around my hand and store in their circular boxes to preserve the pleats.

My larger oblong scarves get the hanger treatment.  Again, I need to readily see what I have or I won’t wear it. None of these are particularly pricey or delicate items; if they were I’d fold and store flat.

That’s a cedar block hanging middle top of the picture to keep moths away. Watch out for sharp edges on hangers which can snag scarves.  I probably should replace the rest of those plastic ones with wood.

Cleaning good silk scarves can be intimidating.  Many of the Hermès printed silk scarves have dyes that can run if wet (which is why I never wear mine in the rain).  Many people swear by hand washing in very mild soap with a Shout Color Catcher in the water to pick up any dyes that run, and then hanging to dry, and pressing with an iron (no steam) on the cool silk setting, using a pressing cloth between iron and silk.  I haven’t worked up the courage to try this yet.

I’ve had two of my Hermès silk carrés dry cleaned, mostly successfully.  If you have a dry cleaner you trust, ask them NOT to press the hems out flat.  I did, however both times my instructions were not followed.  But with a little steam and some patience, I was able to roll the hems back out between thumb and forefinger and restore to their original rounded shape. Otherwise I was pleased with the results.

Mostly though, I avoid cleaning or laundering my silks.  Most of the time, all they need is a bit of airing out, draped over a hanger for a day or two. * I try to avoid contact with makeup or moisture, and remove my scarves before eating.

For my other scarves made of cotton or rayon, I’ll hand wash or sometimes machine wash in a lingerie bag and hang to dry.  Cashmere voile scarves can also be handwashed in gentle soap (many recommend The Laundress, haven’t tried this yet) and hung to dry.

Do you have any scarf care tips or techniques?  Any to avoid?

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  1. April 11, 2011 / 12:30 pm

    I’m with you, if I don’t see things I won’t wear them which us why I limit the number of hangers I allow myself, I gate having too many clothes.
    I do need to take your grandmothers advice though, I’m very guilty of keeping things for best.

  2. April 11, 2011 / 1:18 pm

    I store my Hermes scarves folded (as bought) flat in a shallow dresser drawer, and clean them at a cleaner who *really knows* about those plump hems.

    I don’t wear foundation, but if you do, keep it off your neck. The emollient in foundations and moisturizers is very bad for silk, will discolour and stain it permanently.

    If you must wear makeup on your neck, wear the scarf over the top of a collared shirt or tie it on your bag.

    I opten put a scarf on top of my dressser just to enjoy it, and it reminds me of the others, nestled in the drawer.

  3. April 11, 2011 / 2:28 pm

    I love this post! I file my hosiery in a similar manor. You have inspired me to write a post!!

  4. April 11, 2011 / 2:41 pm

    I keep some on my long scarves on hangers with multiple vinyl-coated arms. I think they’re meant to be pants hangers (though I would never hang pants any way but straight, either from the waist or from the hem).

  5. April 11, 2011 / 3:29 pm

    What a great way to store silk scarves! I have two deep drawers where I stack my scarves and always have to plow through the whole pile to find what I want. I am heading out right now to Home Depot to get some clear boxes.

  6. Anonymous
    April 11, 2011 / 3:51 pm

    Lovely post (lovely box of scarves!).

    I’ve been hand washing my Hermes (new and old) and they have been just fine – lukewarm water, mild soap, lots of rinsing, keep them moving (no soaking) and then the towel dry, flat rack dry, iron. No problems – my love for vintage finds caused me to meet a few wonderful, affordable H scarves that stank of cig smoke (or for one gorgeous $110 scarf from Asia via ebay, cig smoke and mildew). Washing has served them all well (as well as the worn Art des Steppes that has had food dropped onto it….). Gotta wear and enjoy!

    Also, I don’t wear anything on my neck. Moisturizer in winter (when I’d wear a turtleneck as well) and nothing in non-frigid months. I have, however, on hot and sweaty days washed the scarf that touched my skin immediately upon return home.

  7. April 11, 2011 / 4:27 pm

    good tips, nice scarf collection, too. hermes boxes are definitely keepers. 🙂
    remove scarf before eating- yes!!

  8. Anonymous
    April 11, 2011 / 4:33 pm

    Bonjour. In an attempt to tame my wild pile of scarves, I discovered this nifty little accessory at IKEA
    (and no, I don’t work for IKEA). It’s called the Komplement multi-use hanger. I just gently thread each scarf through two hoops. The hoops are covered in a synthetic kind of rope and snags have not been a problem.


  9. Marie
    April 11, 2011 / 4:35 pm

    For washing silk scarves (and cashmere sweaters, shawls, and anything delicate), I’d highly recommend Kookaburra delicate wash (–and, no, I have no personal interest in this, except to spread the word on a really excellent product). I used to have many unlined things dry cleaned, but now I only dry clean suits and wool slacks. I’ve never had anything ruined using Kookaburra, and it’s much cheaper thank dry cleaning and uses no chemicals.

  10. April 11, 2011 / 6:26 pm

    I used to work with vintage clothing and found that silk is not a forever fabric. Sunlight is very damaging to it. Often vintage clothing has what we called “dry rot.” All the more reason to use your silk items.

  11. Pam @ over50feeling40
    April 11, 2011 / 11:40 am

    I recently bought a hat rack with many curls and swirls at the top of it. That has all of my scarves hanging on it…some might think it looks like a big hairy monster! But it works, I can see all of them and pull them out and hang them back easily. I did a post about it back in January. But, if I was lucky enough to own a Hermes scarf…it would be treated with great care…probably one of those home care dry clean kits to clean it!

  12. Jane and Lance Hattatt
    April 11, 2011 / 11:45 am

    Alas we have no tips about scarf storage or care, but have delighted in all that you say here and would, if better organised where the wardrobe is concerned, follow your advice to the letter.
    However, we absolutely concur with what your grandmother said. Why, indeed, have anything if it is too good to be used or worn? But then ‘shabby chic’ is the order of the day with us.

  13. April 11, 2011 / 6:52 pm

    I like your ideas for storage. I hang my long scarves because I must see them to use them. I’m still working on the squares, both seeing and using.

  14. Splurgie
    April 11, 2011 / 12:00 pm

    Love this topic and I still look for the perfect solution. I have 2 Hermes scarves and keep them in their original boxes. I suppose if I had dozens, I’d maybe forget exactly what they look like. But when you have only 2, remembering is pretty easy. All the others are in the drawers of my lingerie chest. I lined the drawer with acid free paper to prevent snags. I still have to lift the whole stack to select the one I want. I’m short and never buy the 36″ scarves. Too overwhelming for me. I collect scarves between 23″ and 28.” My whole collection can fit in a small deep drawer. I like your idea of the see-through box.

  15. Paula
    April 11, 2011 / 12:13 pm

    am I the only one whose vintage scarves disintegrate? Around the hems, where I used to knot them, the silk is tearing apart.
    Not Hermes though 🙂

    A friend who inherited a Hermes also told me, it crumbled after a few decades. Make up obviously harms them. But how can you avoid make up, moisturizers etc. when you wear it around your neck?

  16. metscan
    April 11, 2011 / 1:37 pm

    Very good advice. Right now, I only have one or two scarves! I have not yet found my scarf interest, maybe it will come later.. Both of my scarves are black and I trust on hanging them often in fresh air.
    Off topic, but is it only me, or has anyone else noted, that we wash our clothes terribly often?

  17. April 11, 2011 / 8:58 pm

    My silk scarves live, gently folded and stacked by shape/size, in a wooden open-topped box in my dresser drawer. Longer, woven scarves are folded and on a shelf in the closet where I can see them all at one go.

    I don’t like dry cleaning my silk scarves and instead wash them very tenderly, by hand and with mild soap, and don’t press them. I need to relearn the method for rolling a scarf hem, as I have a few that have come undone.

    Because I swap my scarves according to season, the off-season ones live in a muslin bag that looks like an envelope, with a button to close it.

    Natural fibers like silk, wool, and cashmere need to breathe, so I don’t recommend plastic for storage, whether a dry cleaners bag or a plastic box. If needs must, drill holes in the sides and top of the box at regular intervals. But canvas for storage is much better, despite not being see-through.

  18. April 11, 2011 / 9:40 pm

    If I am wearing one of my nicer scarves I leave the perfume off or I only apply it on areas other than my neck. I have heard the alcohol can cause damage to silk (and pearls).

    I store my scarves lightly folded, by season, in clear plastic trays I found at Target. They have a cut out on either side for a handle so the scarves get air. And they stack nicely on a shelf in my closet.

  19. Susan Tiner
    April 11, 2011 / 4:26 pm

    I don’t wear scarves, yet, but I like the look of those containers and think something like will work well for storing my growing pile of fabrics.

    What are plissés?

  20. April 12, 2011 / 1:35 am

    I keep my Hermes in the original orange Hermes boxes…other scarves I lay flat…cashmere lay flat also and hand wash them in Aveda shampoo.

  21. April 12, 2011 / 1:39 am

    Wow – you have every type of scarf imaginable!

  22. emelle (ML)
    April 12, 2011 / 2:01 am

    Thank you so much for the post. My Hermes and other similars are in their boxes. The Talbots clones and other silks are folded in plastic coated wire baskets that are made to slide into/under the dressing area shelves. I try to keep winter colors in one basket and spring/summer colors in the other basket, so I can see them somewhat. However, because there is a window in that room, I realize they are not in the dark…and more reason to keep the better ones in their boxes. I have hand washed silk scarves with the fine non-soap cleaners I use for my better wool hand knits, without problem, but not the Hermes….one of which I am now inspired to wear demain. Merci encore, a bientot, ML

  23. April 12, 2011 / 4:13 am

    Thanks for the helpful tips. I have a huge number of scarves and some day I will become more organized. It helps to have a vision!

  24. RoseAG
    April 11, 2011 / 11:14 pm

    I hand wash everything, even the ones my good friend painted. I wash them seperately in cold water woolite and hang them to dry.

    If I were lucky enough to own a Hermes maybe I’d have it drycleaned. My most precious scarf is a Missioni and it’s done fine with a gentle wash.

    At a minimum I do it at season change time. I store my in-season scarves in Elfa baskets and out-season ones in closed containers. I have gotten whiffs of “body” from the out-season box when opening so I know they need to be washed, even if it doesn’t seem like they’re dirty.

    I often wear a scarf as a barrier between my neck and wooly things and haven’t ever had a problem with staining.

  25. Louise
    April 12, 2011 / 4:12 am

    I love it when you post about scarves! Knots, patterns, storage, shapes: any subject is fine with me.

    I don’t have any real Hermes, but have never had any problem hand washing silk scarves with Woolite or other gentle soap and cold water.

    Cheapie silk scarves that I pick up at TJMaxx for $15 go right into the regular laundry, including the dryer! I use these under the collar of my motorcycle jacket so they get dirty very quickly. But nothing beats silk for warmth and softness, and it has been around much longer than dry cleaning…

    For storage, I keep two hinged fabric boxes on the counter. One holds silks and the other holds pashminas. I have about 12-15 of each, so that’s fine to keep my small collection in easy view.

  26. Linn from IA
    April 12, 2011 / 1:38 pm

    I’ve gone for easy (er, lazy) with a multiple pants hanger in my nice dark closet. I’m not a fan of folding fabric if it can be avoided. Hankies being the exception!

    I love reading all your Hermes posts. It’s like reading an art critic wax about paintings that I admire greatly in a museum. But it’s great hearing from someone who’s passionate! So with scarves – I’ve admired Hermes from afar, but it’s my stash of Liberty silk scarves that makes my soul happy. Something about the thinner hand of the fabric and the Arts & Crafts/William Morris prints…

  27. April 12, 2011 / 4:10 pm

    I discovered that you can also clean your Hermes scarves through the stores themselves: they send them out to NY to experts. Obviously, their experts know what they are doing. I store my scarves in a large rectangular basket (lightweight square and oblongs) or on hangers (shawls and pashminas). I too must see them or I won’t wear them. The only scarves I have had disintegrate are wool ones, where they faded along color lines of the pattern over a decade. And only in certain colors–so must have been an ingredient in the dye.

  28. Katriona
    April 12, 2011 / 5:58 pm

    That is absolutely brilliant— I am going to get one of those three drawer containers, as I share your visual nature and currently have many scarves buried in my dresser that I love and rarely wear…about the care and feeding of scarves in general, I received my first Hermes scarf in the 80’s and treated it with absolute disregard for it’s pedigree, it soon became really grotty and stained and I was too cheap, or poor, or both, to dry clean it, but I found that washing it in lukewarm water with Johnson’s baby shampoo returned it to its original glowing colours, no runs, no seeping, no problem.I recommend it.

  29. Katriona
    April 12, 2011 / 6:13 pm

    Oooops!One more thing, you can press your Hermes scarves between a couple of pillowcases if you want, But just DO NOT press the rolled hems, they will keep their plumpness after washing if you just stick to pressing the centre part and leave the hems long as the hems aren’t flattened out the scarf will hold it’s shape when being tied, once they are flattened the scarf will lose it’s body and looks a little old. You can sometimes “replump”them by holding them over warm steam from a kettle, and letting them dry flat.I rejuvenated a couple of vintage scarves that way.

  30. April 12, 2011 / 11:40 pm

    I am extremely impressed with your scarf organization. I’m tempted to post photographs of my scarf drawers…but I would have to fold all the scarves first!

  31. April 14, 2011 / 6:30 am

    Dear DP,I haven’t commented before but I wanted to say that my Hermes scarves really needed cleaned and I was too nervous about a dry cleaner…so I followed the handwashing instructions (to the letter) and they were absolutely fine.I think the trick is to be quick and keep the fabric moving and then wrap in a clean towel to get rid of the moisture.Even the ironing worked.Obviously not do the handwashing thing on the plisse scarves,though.Absolutely agree about wearing them, rather than keeping for best.regards Sue

  32. Debbie
    April 15, 2011 / 2:26 am

    How does one remove the sewn-in tags from scarves without damaging them?

  33. April 15, 2011 / 7:34 pm

    Check out the Komplement by IKEA. This is great for scarves but not Hermes or Bvlgari. These require the care you have given them.

  34. SueS
    May 14, 2011 / 2:12 pm

    I am also going to get the clear container for my Hermes. I only have so many boxes as they deteriorate over time. I have more than double the scarves to boxes and have been wondering how to store them in and in what type of container. I have been storing 2 scarves per box which works, more than 2 per box wrinkles the scarves. I am in my 40’s and have loved the Hermes scarves for over 10 years.

    I have had scarves dry cleaned and been disappointed. Similar to a previous post they ironed they hem despite clear instructions not to.
    Finally i broke down one day and tried cleaning an older scarf that was not in the best condition by hand. I checked out online sites and took down 2 recipes and went for it. The scarf was really stained and i was amazed at how clean it was after. No color bleeding and on the tough stains i pre-treated them prior to the wash proces and it really worked well. I then ironed my scarf when it was dry and even put gentle iron marks on the foldings of the scarf so it would fold properly, like when in original condition. I am very particular to keep my scarves folded in original folding from the store. I will never dry clean a scarf again. Cleaning it myself saved me $30 and it was in great condition afterwards.

  35. kbfenner
    July 7, 2011 / 6:39 pm

    My mom is a world class embroiderer, including with silk, and they are taught to wash in cold water, keep the item moving and rinse, rinse, rinse. Treat silk as if it were your most delicate hair–no wringing, twisting, etc.

  36. Anonymous
    July 12, 2011 / 6:25 am

    I just allowed myself a dream vintage scarf splurge. They’ve been arriving along with the scent of their original owner’s perfume. Consequently I’ve been washing them & have this to report :
    After rinsing and gently squeezing the water out, roll in a towel and BEFORE the scarf dries completely press on low with a pressing cloth between the scarf and the iron. They only have to stay in the folded towel a few minutes, if sheer even less time. Pressing them before they are completely dry prevents wrinkles. Then I draped them over something handy to air dry completely before folding in my drawer.

  37. judymurdoch
    January 30, 2013 / 5:10 pm

    After struggling to fold a very lightweight silk oblong scarf (static made it fly up and cling to everything) I did a little research thinking if anyone knows how to deal with fabric it must be a museum which exhibits vintage fashions. Here is the advice straight from the Smithsonian.

    Fragile fabrics (which may be light or heavy in weight), likely to wear thin along folds, should be rolled over cloth-covered cardboard tubes (mailing tubes are good; even paper towel tubes can be used for small items). The greatest care must be taken to avoid creasing the fabric in the process of rolling it because creases can split fragile cloth as cleanly as a knife can. Rolling too tight could also be harmful; proper tension can be maintained if rolling is done on a table or other flat surface that is at least as wide as the cloth and that has been cleared for this purpose. The cloth should rest flat and smooth on the table. As the roller glides along, it picks up the cloth as it moves away from the individual(s) doing the rolling. Painted textiles should not be rolled or folded; such treatment can cause the painted surface to crack.

    Do you want to be this fussy? It’s totally personal. I do however like the idea of rolling scarves around a bit of muslim rather than folding because the embedded creases can make it difficult to wear my scarves in different ways.

    I’m thinking of getting some clear plastic tubes and stacking them in a basket so I can easily see my scarves.

    Tres bien!

  38. Lisa B.
    January 22, 2016 / 5:41 pm

    I have my Hermes scarves in the exact same drawer unit that you have! I have acid free tissue paper at the bottom of each drawer to prevent direct contact with the plastic. I sort mine by background color. I also refold them twice a year to avoid stress creasing. After laying them flat for a day or two, I will alternate between folding them into simple quarters, and folding them into thirds lengthwise and then in thirds again widthwise. I really try to avoid dry cleaning my silk scarves. I find that the colors fade noticeably.
    My pashminas are folded into thirds along their length then stored in a canvas hanging shoe storage unit where I can see them all at a glance. Each section can hold up to 3 pashminas. It’s been a good system for me. As you say. I won’t wear them if I can’t see them.

  39. Susan H.
    September 15, 2018 / 3:45 pm

    Hi Susan B.! I’m a new subscriber, and just saw your helpful posting re. fine and favorite scarves, especially those made of silk.

    I’ve collected scarves since I was a teenager, and being now of that, well, “certain age,” I have quite a few, but I wear nearly ALL of them to this day. I’m also an avid home-sewer, and have re-purposed silk scarves I no longer wear to fashion soft and unexpected linings in garments I’ve made that will be dry-cleaned. This keeps a former favorite or or a slightly-too-used thrift-store find in rotation, and makes me extra-happy when I put the garment on — it’s like wearing a secret!

    As far as cleaning scarves, I’ve had very good luck with patience and diluted Castile soap (Dr. Bronner’s is what I use, diluted 2 parts filtered water to 1 part soap). I dab it onto a stain with a clean, white washcloth and then “rinse” by dabbing again with more plain water on another clean, white cloth and blotting in between rinses, as you may have to do this several times to get all the soap out. (A little soap goes a long way, and you can always add more if the original proportions don’t seem to be doing he trick..) By dabbing and blotting, (always “feathering” the edges of the wet spot to prevent any hard watermarks/lines) you can control the amount of moisture and soap, and catch any colors that start to run or bleed before things get out of hand. If the stain seems small, I use q-tips instead of a washcloth to apply the soap mixture. (Yes, this may sound fussy and time-consuming, and it can be, but I guess that depends on how you feel about your scarf collection. Mine to me is like fine jewelry, so I treat it accordingly.)

    I once got a greasy tomato chili stain on the corner of a light-peach colored Hermes scarf – quelle horreur! (I got splashed by a neighbor’s child at a church picnic — not a pretty story!) I blotted the spot immediately with white paper-towel to blot up the grease, and when I got home used the above soap method, which got rid of most of the tomato red but not all the grease. I didn’t want to rub the scarf and pull the silk out of shape, so I put a good amount of of corn-starch on a paper plate, put it on a tray, folded up my scarf with the stained corner extended, and set it on top of the corn-starch with more corn-starch on the top, completely covering the stain (and then some). I pressed the corn starch into the stained area very, very lightly, and let it sit for several days. When I “exhumed” my scarf most of the stain was gone — corn-starch absorbs grease like nothing else — but there was still a bit left, and it was pink from the tomato. I got fresh corn-starch and did the whole process over. It took over a week, but the stain was GONE, and with it the tomato-pink. The peach of the scarf is undamaged, and I can’t even tell which corner was stained anymore.

    Sorry for the long post — this is the first time I’ve posted to your site, and I’m a new subscriber, but when I saw your scarf suggestions I wanted to share. You’re clearly a “scarf person” just as I am (and aren’t they wonderful?! Such a joy to wear!) Merci!

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