Care and cleaning of your sari
The sari is made to be worn and used, that's the joy of it, not keeping it in a box somewhere! Wear your sarees! So doing this, you will get dirt on them, and that's a good sign that the sari has made it's way into your life. I love washing my sarees, hanging them up on the line to get fresh in the breeze and seeing them all unfolded in their glory is great. They also transform when wet!
If you've bought a cotton sari it is most likely starched - you will need to wash out the starch (and probably a little of the inevitable Indian grime that got on it during it's creation and life in India.) You will be so amazed how soft the sari becomes after it's washed - you just will want to wear it to bed, it's so soft!
How to Wash and Dry a sari
All new cotton saris need to be washed before wearing.
Your brand new sari, fresh from its package might feel somewhat stiff. This is just the starch that applied to the sari during the weaving or coloring process. Often the starch is necessary to be able to work with very fine cotton threads or to make the cloth easier to handle for printing.
If the sari is highly starched it might take a few washings to get all the starch out.
During the gentle agitation some color might bleed from the sari. This is normal, so don't worry about it. However, it is better to wash one sari at a time to prevent any bleed over.
When you are finished agitating, take the sari out of the water and gently squeeze out the excess. Do not wring the sari. Discard the wash water and refill the bucket with clear cool water.
After a thorough rinsing, again gently squeeze out the excess water.
Now it is time to take your sari for a spin!
Although you have squeezed quite a bit of water out of the sari, it is still too wet and heavy to hang on the line. You can take it for a little spin in your washer on the spin cycle for about 5 minutes.
Now your sari is ready to be hung on a clothes line, preferably outside out of direct sunlight! To hang up first fold the sari in half. Give it a good shake as you are folding it to remove any wrinkles and kinks and hang it on the line.
While the sari is on the line, you can save yourself some ironing time by stretching it while it is still wet and straightening the grain of the cloth and borders.
Make the fold over the line neatly, lining up the borders. Start from the top and grab the sari at the borders, gently stretching horizontally. Do this along the sari's entire folded length.
Now stretch the sari vertically as shown in the picture. Do this on both sides.
There, that is all there is to it! Let your sari hang until it is almost dry or slightly damp.
Other ways of drying a sari!
The most entertaining and beautiful way to dry is sari is with the aid of a friend on a warm day as is shown in the photos below: In the mid morning sun on the banks of the Ganges in Varanasi, or warm sands of the Puri beach.
How to iron a saree
The best way to iron the sari is while it is still damp. If needed you can use a spray bottle to dampen the sari. Please note that some cotton sarees might have lurex or poly content threads in the border that could be damaged with too high of an iron setting. Test a small corner first before proceeding.
Before ironing the sari, fold it in half. Set your iron on medium to high for cotton. While ironing straighten the grain of the cloth and line up the borders on top of each other on either side. You can iron it single, but folding the sari in half makes it much faster to do! Most sarees are so thin that you can adequately iron both layers at once.
Advance the sari to the back of the ironing board until you have ironed the whole thing. If the back side is still wrinkled flip the whole go over it again lightly.
Double the sari once again lengthwise. The sari is folded in fourths now. Make sure the corners are all neatly lined up. And at this point line up the borders neatly on top of each other and press again.
Double the sari one last time lengthwise (see photo), fold this in half and again in half until you have a nice square.
Hand Washing silk sarees.
All sarees can be handwashed - what would they have done pre drycleaning? However you can easily damage the finish of some silks with washing or a too-hot iron. Crepe silks and heavy brocades should probably be dry cleaned to protect their finish.
Believe it or not, adding a little hair conditioner in to the rinse water helps soften the fibers back to the buttery fluff that silk is known for. Just a drop is all you need. Very heavy ornate sarees will not be worn so often, and hence will not need to be laundered so often - a very graceful thing.
Silks need to be ironed with caution. Crepe silks can lose their butteryness and get glossy if your iron is too hot. Try a test area on medium first. China silks don't mind heat. I always report the fiber content and if I think there are synthetic fibers in the sari. If it's not pure, make sure you use a cooler iron or you will have some "meltdown".
Removing stains from silk saris
Indian ladies I've talked to swear that a little lime juice squeezed in the water is great at removing greasy spots from their heavy Kanchi silks. Make sure that the lime water is not too concentrated, it might fade the cloth.
Indian men, at least the dudes in the sari shops like to smelly and flammable gas to remove stains. Place a clean absorbent cloth on top of the stain and apply the gas in small dabs from the back. The stain flees into the cloth above it. You can buy this type of nasty smelling gas stuff (Energine) in most supermarkets. Just please make sure you've got good ventilation!
Read about folding and storing your sarees