Get the Facts on Bridal Gown Cleaning and Preservation
By Katherine Wright
Part 1: Why clean and preserve your bridal gown?
You spent a great deal
of time and thought selecting your wedding dress. You may hope that a younger
sister or perhaps even a daughter will someday wear your gown. Or you may want
to hold onto your beautiful gown for sentimental reasons. Either way, your
wedding gown is a treasured keepsake that if properly cleaned and preserved,
can last for years to come.
After the wedding, many
bridal gowns are left in the plastic garment bag with good intentions of
cleaning and preservation sometime soon. That soon often turns into weeks, and then
years. This procrastination poses some serious risks to the gown:
of stains, seen and unseen.
Your dress may have noticeable stains from food or make-up, or the hemline
may be soiled. Or your dress may look clean to you, but don't be fooled,
spills from alcoholic beverages or clear soda may dry clear, but oxidize
with time, turn brown and become more difficult to remove later. Body
perspiration may cause the dress lining to turn brittle over time. Your
dress needs to be cleaned in order to keep it in the best condition
fumes: Gowns kept in plastic gown bags are exposed to the most harmful
environment possible: plastic fumes. Most plastic gives off chemical fumes
that cause the yellowing of bridal gowns. Some brides take the initiative
to get their dress cleaned, but still leave their gown in the
dry-cleaner's plastic wrap or garment bag.
Cleaning and preserving your bridal gown as soon
as possible ensures that your gown remains in the best condition possible. Ideally, your
dress should be cleaned and preserved within days or weeks of your wedding.
Part 2: Bridal Gown Cleaning and Preservation - A Case Study
When I was married in the early 80's, the most
common preservation method for bridal gowns was to vacuum pack it in a box.
This was to protect the dress from oxygen, the supposed enemy of the gown. It
was an expensive process, and my husband and I were starving students on a shoe string
budget, so my dress hung in my closet, without even a plastic cover for it.
Being a skilled seamstress, I had sewn my own wedding gown and so I did not
have the garment bag that bridal shops provide you with the purchase of a gown.
Each time I saw my dress hanging in the closet I felt
a twinge of guilt. I believed I was putting the gown at risk, not having it
vacuum packed. And yet, over time, I forgot about my dress, and it remained in
its spot in the closet.
In 1994 I was approached by a friend who asked
that I assist her with a new type of bridal gown preservation. Designed by
textile preservation experts, Museum Method bridal gown preservation
technique was different than other preservation techniques. It allowed you to
easily inspect and admire your bridal gown any time you like.
My friend explained to me that the vacuum packing
that had been the rage in the 80's was the worst thing that could be done to a
gown! When the gown was vacuum packed, and all the oxygen was sucked out of the
box, it left the gown shriveled up. Later, when the box was opened, the gown
was a mess! Each place that the gown had been creased was now permanently
creased. Sometimes the dress came out in shreds.
When I took my wedding dress out of its spot in
the closet to preserve it, I found that it didn't look bad. I discovered that
oxygen hadn't yellowed it after all! It was a little dusty and it did have some
oxidation spots because I had never had it cleaned.
I then cleaned and preserved my gown with Museum Method™
bridal gown preservation. I was thrilled with the results. My gown looked
My bridal gown still looks fabulous today. I know
because I can easily check it, and often do. As it turned out, oxygen was not the enemy
that everyone supposed it was.
Since the 1980's, bridal gown preservation has
improved tremendously. Vacuum packing is no longer commonly done. There are now
several options available for bridal gown preservation. However, there are
quite a few variations of these options, all claiming to be the best. It can be
very confusing. How do you determine which method will truly keep your gown in
the best condition?
Part 3: Determining
the Best Gown Preservation
A good way to determine the best bridal gown
preservation technique would be to check with museum textile conservators to
see how they preserve heirloom garments and what their recommendations are for
bridal gown preservation. But who has the time?
That is why we have done the research for you. We
have consulted with museum conservators at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. and the Victoria and AlbertMuseum in London and summarized the information they gave to us.
Museum garment preservation
The Victoria and AlbertMuseum in London has a wonderful collection of gowns that are hundreds of
years old. The dresses in storage
are hung on padded hangers and
covered with cotton sheeting to
Garment preservation at the Smithsonian Institute
in WashingtonD.C. is similar. Heirloom garments that are not currently on
display are cleaned and carefully stored in climate controlled conditions. Many
dresses are hung on padded hangers, while some garments are laid in drawers or
acid free boxes with acid free tissue. Sharp
creases are avoided, as they can damage fabric. To keep the folds from
becoming permanent creases, the garments stored in boxes or drawers are
refolded into a different position every few years.
Neither of these museums
seals any of their heirloom garments. Museum
conservators discourage sealing any garment in any container for three reasons:
Fabric weakens where
it is folded. Fabric
weakens in the same way that paper weakens where it is folded, so that
creases from the folds may become permanent. (You may have experienced
this if you have ever let down the hem on a garment.) Or worse, the fabric
may tear at the weakened creases. This is why the Smithsonian refolds the
garments stored in drawers and boxes periodically.
inspection ensures that the garment does not develop permanent damage from
oxidizing stains or any other problems. The sooner problems are
discovered, the more likely they can be remedied.
Sealing promotes mold
and mildew. If the textile can breathe, then the humidity remains
constant around the garment. If any moisture were to condense inside a
storage container, it would likely develop mildew.
conservators recommend keeping heirloom garments: clean, cool, dry and wrinkle-free.
Part 4: Cleaning
The first step in the proper care of your wedding
gown is to have it cleaned. But who do you trust with your treasured gown? Your local dry-cleaner?A national
company? A little bit of knowledge will help you to make an informed
You should be aware that many local dry-cleaners
do not clean and preserve gowns in their facilities, but choose to send their
customer's bridal gowns out to wholesale dry-cleaners. In determining the
best cleaning for your gown, you will need to know which solvents your local
cleaner uses, or if he sends bridal gowns out, which solvent the wholesale
For best results, find a dry-cleaner who uses virginsolvent for cleaning wedding gowns. Because of ecological
regulations and expense, solvents are recycled. Impurities that are not
filtered out of used solvent can be re-deposited onto garments. Garments
cleaned in dirty solvent will have a dry clean smell.
A good dry-cleaner will use virgin solvent on all
wedding dresses. A clean wedding gown should not smell like cleaning solvent.
There should be no noticeable odor.
Heritage Garment Preservation always uses virgin solvents on dry-cleaned dresses.
Wet-cleaning Some dry-cleaning shops use what is called
for their bridal gowns. Wet cleaning is simply cleaning with water and has
It is the best cleaner
for sugar spills, most food stains, and dirty hems.
If the dress has been
well rinsed, wet-cleaning leaves no chemicals on the dress, which will
help to keep the dress in the best possible condition.
Water washing removes
the fabric sizing (a starch
like substance added to fabric during manufacturing.) Removing the sizing
helps protect your gown, because sizing is enticing to mice and insects!
Some professional cleaners may use either
dry-cleaning or wet-cleaning, depending on the gown fabric. Many bridal gown
care labels specify which type of cleaning will be best for that particular
Dry-cleaning Three common dry-cleaning solvents
currently used for bridal gowns are:
Perchloroethylene Commonly called perc.this is the most common solvent that dry-cleaners use.
It is the best solvent for degreasing and may be your best choice if your
dress is silk, rayon, or acetate and quite dirty. However, this solvent is
more likely to damage sequins and beads, or melt the glue if they are
glued on. A very experienced dry-cleaner will know how to protect the sequins
and beads on your dress.
Harder to find, this is a petroleum-based solvent that is becoming rare.
Because of fire regulations, this solvent cannot be used in strip mall
type dry-cleaning establishments, and is therefore not commonly used. You
may find this solvent in older dry-cleaning shops that have been around
for a while. It is safer for cleaning dresses with sequins and beads than perchloroethylene. The Stoddard solvent shouldn't melt
beads and sequins or affect the glue if they are glued on.
Hydro Carbon (Also known asExxon DF-2000) This is a newly formulated petroleum-based
solvent. Like the Stoddard solvent, it is safer for beads and sequins, but
is not quite as effective at degreasing as perchloroethylene
and the Stoddard solvent. However, it has fewer fire restrictions than the
Stoddard formula and may be the formula of the future as many dry-cleaning
shops change over to this new solvent.
Greenearth This is a fairly new silicone based solvent. Like Hydro-carbon, it is safer for beads and sequins,
but is not quite as effective at degreasing as perchloroethylene and the Stoddard solvent.
However, it is safer for the environment and has less government restrictions than any other solvent.
Petroleum-based solvent Some bridal gown care labels state,
Dry clean only with petroleum based solvent. The Stoddard solvent, hydro-carbon and Exxon DF 2000
are all petroleum based. Many dry-cleaners advertising themselves as "green" are utilizing hydro-carbon
solvent or Exxon DF 2000. Also note that Greenearth solvent should be as safe as a petroleum based
solvent for your wedding gown. You should be able to find a cleaner utilizing one of these solvents with
a few phone calls or a website search.
Experience is probably the most important factor to consider in selecting a
dry-cleaner if your gown is silk. Silk is more difficult to clean and press
than synthetic fabrics and requires a truly skilled cleaner. Check with your
local bridal shops to see whom they use and recommend. Ask more than one bridal
shop. Bridal shops have wedding gowns cleaned on a regular basis. They will
probably give you the best advice. Ask the questions listed below to the dry-cleaner
that the bridal shop recommends.
Essential questions to ask the dry-cleaner:
Does the dry-cleaner do
the work on the premises or send it out? (If they send it out, whoever
does the actually cleaning should answer the following questions.)
Does the dry-Cleaner
If dry-cleaning, what
kind of solvent does the dry-cleaner use?
How much experience
does the dry-cleaner have? Who actually does the cleaning and pressing of
their customers' wedding gowns? Often one very skilled person will have
this job. How experienced is he or she?
Does the dry-cleaner
solvent for wedding dresses?
You should also know several things about your
What fabric is your
dress made of?
What kind of cleaning
does the care label indicate? If it has a dry-clean only
label, does it also have the symbol for water washing on it? Look
carefully; the label may also state Professional dry-cleaning or
professional wet-cleaning recommended.
How soiled is your
dress? What kind of stains does it have (wine, dirt, make-up, etc.)?
Does your dress have
sequins and beads that need protecting? Are they sewed on or glued on?
Cleaning Summary If your gown and/or lining is silk, rayon, or acetate but does not have beads or sequins you
should be able use a dry-cleaner that uses perc. That
will be a plus if the dress is really dirty (look at the hemline!) Perchloroethylene is the best degreaser. If your dress is
silk, rayon, or acetate, but has beads and sequins, the Stoddard formula or
DF-2000 will be the safest.
Be sure to point out any stains to the
dry-cleaner. Also, notify the dry-cleaner of any spills on the dress, even if
they don't show. Dry-cleaning fluids will not remove sugar stains (such as wine
or soda), so the dress needs to be pre-treated.
If your dress and lining are polyester, with or without beads and
sequins, wet cleaning should be safe and will get your dress the cleanest.
Check your label carefully, and look for a Dry-clean or Hand wash label, or
the symbol indicating water washing. If in doubt, test clean
an inconspicuous area of the dress. You should be able to safely hand wash most
polyester gowns if you are careful. *
*Disclaimer: Check the care label carefully. The manufacturer's
directions should take precedence. The previous and following information is
given in good faith but is without warranty. You must make the final decision
on how your dress is cleaned. If in doubt, take your dress to the best
dry-cleaner available. Use the above information to find one.
Part 5: Bridal Gown Preservation
Once your gown is clean, keeping it in the best
possible condition is your goal. You will need to protect it from:
Mildew and mold
Yellowing It's important to note that one of the leading causes of bridal
gown yellowing is the plastic bags that many brides keep their gowns in. Most
plastics give off damaging fumes that actually promote yellowing. But, even
with proper care, some fabrics will yellow more than others and it may be impossible
to prevent all yellowing.
Generally, silk fabric yellows more than synthetic
fabrics, such as polyester, rayon and acetate. However, nylon, which is a
synthetic, has a tendency to yellow more than other synthetic fabrics. Gowns
that can be wet cleaned have an advantage, in that if they do yellow, they may
be able to be whitened for future use with a fabric whitener.
Preserving your gown in an acid-free environment
is your best protection against yellowing. Padding your gown with acid-free
tissue will help to prevent acid migration. Buffered tissue should be used for
gowns made of synthetic fabrics such as polyester, rayon, and acetate. The
buffering agents in the buffered tissue gives added protection against acid
migration. But buffering agents may damage gowns made of animal proteins such
as silk or wool, therefore un-buffered, acid-free tissue is recommended for silk fabrics.
What about warranties against
Some preservation companies advertise that their preservation method will
prevent yellowing and they may even offer a warranty. Look carefully at any
warranty offered by these companies. One warranty offered by a leading on-line
preservation company stated that they will cover discoloration and damages
caused by their company's cleaning and preservation processes. Another simply states that
the gown may be returned to a participating dealer for inspection and pressing.
None of them
state that they will replace an aged, yellowed gown with a new gown.
your gown in the best overall condition should be the primary concern in
preserving your bridal gown. So, protect your
gown! Get it out of the plastic bag and have it cleaned and preserved in an
Flat storage is recommended for textiles and garments when possible. However,
because of the size and dimensions of wedding gowns, it is impractical. Some
compromise must be made, either by folding or hanging the gown. To help prevent
permanent creasing, boxed gowns should be refolded into a different position
every 2 - 3 years. (Cotton gloves should always be worn when handling preserved
gowns that are hung in a closet are not at risk for permanent creasing, and
will not need to be handled periodically.
Mildew and mold Keeping your gown in a breatheable environment will
protect it best from mildew and mold growth. When fabrics can breathe, the
humidity level remains constant around the garment as excess moisture
dissipates into the air. But, if moisture can condense inside a box or any
container, then the gown is at risk for mildew and mold growth.
Oxidation spots An oxidation spot can occur when a substance that was
not properly cleaned on the dress oxidizies and turns
brown. This can happen even if your dress has been cleaned as dry-cleaning
solvents do not remove all substances. Spills from clear soda or wine may go
unnoticed at the time of the initial cleaning. Unless these spills are
pretreated, it is likely they will oxidize over time. Inspecting preserved
gowns periodically ensures the gown remains in the best condition. The sooner
an oxidized stain is caught, the more likely it will be able to be removed.
Light and dust Keeping your gown covered will protect it from the
damage caused by light and dust.
Part 5: Preservation Options
There are several different types of gown preservation offered today. While
there are slight variations offered, each will usually fall into one of these
No matter what type of preservation you choose, you should keep
your preserved gown in a climate-controlled area. Do not be tempted to
put your preserved gown in an attic or damp basement where temperatures and
humidity levels will fluctuate dramatically. Fluctuating temperatures increase
the deterioration rate of textiles.
Remember, museum conservators recommendations are: Keep it clean, cool, dry and wrinkle free.
Boxing or Bagging your Bridal Gown
Sealing Most bridal gown preservation companies
preserve bridal gowns in an acid-free box. Many have a window in which to see
the gown. Acid-free tissue is usually used to buffer the folds and a cardboard
shape is often used to fill the bodice area of the gown. However, some
companies actually seal the gown inside the box.
The assumption with sealing the bridal gown is
that the dress needs to be protected from oxygen. However, sealing a bridal gown puts it at greater risk for mildew and
permanent creasing damage. Inspection is also impossible if the gown is sealed.
Boxing Boxed preservation is similar to the
sealing method but has some important differences. Like the sealing method,
your dress is first cleaned and pressed, and then folded into an acid-free box.
Sharp creases are avoided, and acid free tissue is used to buffer the folds.
However, unlike the sealing method, the box is not sealed, and you are
encouraged to open and inspect your gown.
Because the box is not sealed, the fabric can
still breathe. And you will be able to refold your gown periodically. This will help protect your gown from getting
The appeal for a boxed or sealed gown is often
greatest for brides with large dresses hoping to get their gowns out of their
closet. However, this method may work best for smaller gowns that
require minimal folding.
Acid-free box or
just acid-free coated? The quality of the acid-free boxes can
vary significantly. Many preservation boxes are simply regular cardboard boxes
with an acid free coating. These coatings will not hold up as well as authentic
archival boxes made from actual acid-free board.
Bagging your bridal gown This newer preservation method is not really so new.
It is similar to what museums have used for preserving heirloom costumes and
gowns for years. This method is an excellent option, as it keeps the dress
protected from dust
and light. The gown remains un-folded, so permanent creasing risks are reduced.
The bag allows the gown to breathe, which is essential in protecting the gown from mold and
mildew. A bagged gown is the easiest to inspect periodically and requires no re-folding as the boxed
Strapless and spaghetti strapped gowns, as well as heavy gowns should be reinforced with twill tape to add support, and eliminate any damage from long-term hanging. A padded hanger is also essential for long-term storage.
It is important to remember that a clean dress
should not be left in the dry-cleaner's plastic wrap or put back into a plastic
garment bag. Remember,
most plastics are an enemy to textiles. And the bagged gown should
always be kept in climate controlled conditions. This is easily done is most
Preservation Options Overview
Protected from dust
Protected from dust
Protected from dust and light
Can be inspected and
Most easily inspected and admired
Dress can breathe
Dress can breathe
Can be refolded
Does not need refolding
Needs no maintenance
No permanent creasing
Best air circulation
Needs no maintenance
Part 6: Bridal Gown
Cleaning and Preservation Summary
Cleaning Summary If your gown and/or lining is silk, rayon, or acetate
but does not have beads or sequins you should be able to safely clean your gown
with percloroethylene (perc.)
That will be a plus if your dress is really dirty (look at the hemline!) Of the different dry-cleaning solvents available, Perc.is the best
degreaser. If your dress is silk, rayon, or acetate, but has beads and sequins,
the Stoddard formula or DF-2000 solvent will be the safest.
Select a drycleaner who uses virgin
solvent on wedding dresses. Virgin solvent will get your dress cleanest and
will not leave an odor. Also, find a cleaner who has a lot of experience with
wedding gowns. Bridal shops will often give your best advice on finding a good
Be sure to point out any stains on your gown to
the dry-cleaner. Also, notify the dry-cleaner of any spills on the dress, even
if they don't show. Dry-cleaning fluids will not remove sugar stains (such as
wine or soda), so the dress needs to be pre-treated.
If your dress and lining are polyester, with or
without beads and sequins, wet cleaning should be safe and will get your dress
the cleanest. Check your label carefully, and look for a hand wash or
dry-clean only label, or the symbol indicating water washing. If in
doubt, test clean an inconspicuous area of the dress.
You should be able to safely hand wash most polyester gowns if you are
Preservation Summary Keeping your gown in the best overall condition should
be the primary concern in preserving your bridal gown. You will need to protect
Mildew and mold
Removing your gown from the
plastic garment bag and having it cleaned and preserved in an acid-free
environment is the best protection against yellowing.
Boxing your gown in a box made of acid-free board (not just
acid-free coated) is superior to having it sealed in a box because you can
refold it every 2 or 3 years, which will help protect it from permanent creases.
Bagging your gown in an acid-free bag offers the best protection
creasing and mildew development and does not need the maintenance that boxing
Both boxing and bagging will protect your gown
and light. All preserved gowns should be kept in a climate controlled
environment. Inspecting your
gown periodically will ensure that it remains in good condition. Oxidation spots
generally show up within the first year. The sooner these or other problems are
discovered, the more likely they are to be remedied.
Check the care label carefully. The manufacturer's directions should take
precedence. Our advice is given in good faith but is without warranty.
Part 7: Heritage
Preservation uses the techniques recommended
by professional museum conservators and is similar to heirloom garment storage
used in fine museums worldwide.
We offer two methods of bridal gown preservation: 1.Museum Method(bagged) bridal
2.Boxedbridal gown preservation
MuseumMethodBridalGownPreservation Museum Method Preservation uses the bagged
method of gown preservation and is similar to heirloom garment storage used in
Method will keep your gown in better condition than boxing or sealing
With Museum Method bridal gown preservation,
your cleaned gown is hung on our special "shoulder size" hanger made
from 100% cotton. Acid free tissue fills in the bodice area, removing creases
and giving added support to your gown. Our 100% natural, un-dyed cotton bag
covers your preserved gown. We include a custom label on the pocket of your bag
with names of the bride and groom and the date of the wedding. There is also a
large pocket on the back of the bag to keep a photo of your wedding.
Benefits to Museum Method Preservation
Your gown is easily
accessible! You can inspect your gown to ensure that it has been cleaned to
your satisfaction and admire it any time you like.
Your dress is
protected from damage from wrinkles and creases. Fabric, like paper,
is weakened from folding, often resulting in tears or permanent creases.
Method creases and wrinkles are almost non-existent!
Your dress is
protected from acid migration. The acid-free tissue absorbs acid which
could damage your gown.
Your dress fabric
can breathe! Museum conservators all agree that heirloom garments need
to breathe. Our cotton cover does not seal in any moisture or chemicals,
thus reducing the risk of damage from mildew or chemicals.
Your dress is
protected. Our garment
bag is made from 100% acid-free cotton, the first choice in preservation
for centuries. Our bag has no zippers that could snag or rust. It also has
a pocket in front to keep the cotton gloves that we include. (You should
wear these gloves any time you would like to inspect your dress.) Another
larger pocket is on the back of the garment bag. This pocket is for you to
keep a photograph of your wedding and a written story of your special day.
bag is personalized! We prepare a custom iron on label with the bride
and groom's name, and wedding date on it. You iron this on the bag's front
pocket to customize your garment bag.
Museum Method Preservation will keep your bridal gown in better condition than boxing
or sealing it.
Bridal Gown Preservation
With Heritage Gown boxed preservation; your gown is carefully packed in our archival quality acid free box using
acid free tissue to pad all folds. We use buffered tissue for synthetic
fabrics, and un-buffered tissue for silk fabrics.
Our superior quality preservation box is not
a cheap box with an acid free coating (as many companies offer) but is sulfur free and lignin free throughout
with a minimum pH of 8.5 and 3% calcium carbonate buffer. TAPPI accelerated
aging tests show our box will prevent acid migration for up to five centuries!
Specifications for our preservation box exceed those used by the United States
National Archives and Records Administration.
Benefits of Heritage Boxed Bridal Gown Preservation
Dress can be inspected
to ensure that it is cleaned to your satisfaction and periodically
afterwards, as it is not permanently sealed.
Box is easily stored
in closets or under beds.
Dress can be refolded
periodically to reduce creasing risks.