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How to Steam Silk with a Bamboo Steamer

Have you been wondering how to steam silk with a bamboo steamer?

Couldn’t work it out?

Do your silk dyes require steam-setting and you don’t have a clue what that means?

I’ve created some simple instructions and provide a video of some of my handpainted silk scarves being steam-set in my bamboo steamer, which might help you understand how it works, instead of trying to visualise it.

Click the video to view (instructions are below the video):

Instructions on How to Steam Handpainted Silk with a Bamboo Steamer

If you are using SILK PAINTING DYES which need to be STEAM-SET, this is the absolute easiest solution, and is very inexpensive.

how-to-steam-silk-in-bamboo-steamerI bought the Chinese bamboo steamer in a Chinese grocery store for $A12, and they come in many sizes.

Choosing the size of Bamboo steamer

  • if you already have a large pot to use for the boiling water, measure it across the top from side to side;  your steamer needs to be slightly larger to fit OVER the pot
  • if you don’t have a large pot yet, buy that first – I got mine at a local second-hand market for $A8
  • you can also buy a WOK which needs to be slightly bigger than the base of the bamboo steamer, as the steamer will sit just inside the top of the wok
  • you CANNOT and SHOULD NOT ever use the pot/wok for silk steaming AND your normal cooking – keep the SILK STEAMING POT/WOK away from food – this is a MUST!
  • consider buying a SECOND BAMBOO LAYER so you can have multiple silk scarves all steaming at the same time.

Question:  “I have a pressure cooker which I no longer use for cooking, can I use it?”

Answer:  Absolutely! I don’t own one, and haven’t used one, but I hear they work extremely well and can cut the steaming time at least in half. Search online for instructions.

Preparing the bamboo steamer and the handpainted silk

If you don’t have any white cotton fabric, buy old sheets at the second-hand shops or markets – MUST BE WHITE.

Cut the fine/thin white cotton to be slightly wider than the scarves you will steam (so there won’t be excess fabric making it too bulky for the steamer).

  1. fold some white COTTON fabric or a white COTTON teatowel so it fits snuggly inside the bamboo steamer (this is to protect the silk bundles from any splashes of boiling water)
  2. lay the remaining white cotton fabric/lengths/pieces out flat
  3. lay the handpainted silk scarves out flat on the white fabric, one piece at a time
  4. yes, if two pieces of silk can lay side-by-side on the cotton without touching each other, that’s ok
  5. no silk should TOUCH another scarf or piece of silk (dyes may transfer during the steaming)
  6. roll up the silk scarves into sausage shapes, starting with one of the narrower ends
  7. remove the lid on the steamer, place to the side
  8. coil, bend or make the sausage shape curve to fit them into the steamer
  9. if you have more scarves than will fit in the steamer, consider buying a SECOND BAMBOO LAYER so you can have multiple silk scarves all steaming at the same time (if you use more than ONE bamboo steamer, you will need to steam for a longer period of time)
  10. if you have a second layer, you do not need a teatowel in the second one on top layer
  11. when all the silk is inside the bamboo steamer, place the lid back on

HALF-FILL your pot with water and bring it to the boil.

When the water is boiling, carefully place the bamboo steamer on top of it, with the outside bottom edge of the steamer fitting over the top of the pot.


Until you get used to steaming this way, you will not know how quickly the water will evaporate.

  • When the timer goes off in 30 minutes’ time, gently lift one side of the steamer (whilst wearing oven gloves) to see how much water has evaporated.
  • You may need to top up the water more than once – always use BOILING WATER (from the kettle or jug, or hot water tap/faucet) so you don’t slow down the steaming time.
  • It will be easy to boil water in a kettle or jug, quickly put the bamboo steamer to one side and top up the water; then put the steamer back on the pot and set your TIMER again.

I steam my silk for 3 HOURS and have done so for 30 years with the dyes I use.

Your dye manufacturer will have instructions on their dye as to how long you should steam.


2. STEAM 3+ SCARVES FOR AT LEAST 90-120 MINUTES, depending on size of steamer

3. The bigger the steamer is, the more scarves you can fit, the longer you need to steam.


When you have finished steam-setting your handpainted silk for the required time:

  1. turn the stove off
  2. remove the bamboo steamer and set aside on the sink
  3. remove the lid from the bamboo steamer
  4. remove one sik bundle at a time – very carefully as everything will be hot
  5. open up the cotton, and carefully place the silk out over a chair, over a sofa, somewhere where it can quickly cool down – but don’t lay more silk on top, lay additional silk on other chairs etc
  7. just drape it inside the home
  8. leave the dyes and silk to settle OVERNIGHT
  9. the next day, wash your silk in the usual way, according to the instructions from your dye manufactuer.

Frequently Asked Questions – FAQs

“What’s the best way to wash the silk?”

  • Depending on the brand of silk dye you use, follow the manufacturers’ instructions
  • I place my silk pieces inside Lingerie Bags and secure them closed with safety pins so the zips will not open during the spin cycle
  • NEVER was the silk in a machine without putting it into a lingerie bag or a pillowcase to protect it, and to avoid the scarves wrapping around the washing machine mechanisms and breaking the machine
  • I wash the silk with a small amount of gentle washing powder (different brands in different countries)
  • after the cycle has finished, take the silk out and drape it in the house – NOT IN THE SUN – and allow it to dry
  • it dries very quickly, so keep checking, and whilst it is still ever so slightly damp to the touch, iron it on a silk/linen setting (relatively hot) to remove all creases.

“What if colour comes out during the wash?”

All dyed silk will release colour from the fibres EVERY TIME it is washed – this is totally normal.

Because this will continue for the life of the silk, it is important to NEVER LEAVE THE SILK SOAKING – EVER. If you do, you may find that a colour transference happens.

If you find this has happened (for example if you didn’t remove the wet silk from the washing machine quickly enough), then wash it again immediately. This should removed and migration of colours … as long as the silk is still wet.

Please note:  If you leave the silk to soak, and it stains – then you rinse and dry it, you will not be able to remove the migration of the colours.

“What do I do with the cotton after I’ve steamed the silk?

  • You can now wash the cotton in your washing machine machine
  • when it is dry, I fold up my pieces of cotton and put them inside the bamboo steamer for storage.

“Can I use this exact technique for other types of saucespans and plastic collanders etc?”

  • No, you cannot use this technique for anything other than bamboo steamers
  • the reason is that the steam can escape from the bamboo, but if the steam is created by saucepan lids, plastic containers, metal containers of ANY kind, there will be drops of condensation
  • once there are condensation drops, they will DRIP RIGHT THROUGH THE COTTON ONTO YOUR SILK
  • for this reason, the silk has to be further protected – this is not covered on this page, because this page is about the BAMBOO STEAMING technique.

Good luck! Let me know how you get on,


Where to buy bamboo steamers

If you don’t live close to a Chinese grocery store or other stores which might sell bamboo steamers, you can find them onine – I found lots on Amazon and there are many to choose from, all different sizes at excellent prices.

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