How To Clean, Preserve And/Or Salvage Your Wedding Dress


Jolie Kerr is a cleaning expert and advice columnist. She’ll be here every other week helping to answer your filthiest questions. Are you dirty? Check The Squalor Archive for assistance. Are you still dirty? Email her.

I’m hoping you can help me! For no good reason other than general laziness/forgetfulness three years have passed since my wedding and I have yet to get my lovely dress properly cleaned and preserved. I’ve kept it in its garment bag but have noticed the color is a tad more yellow than when I originally bought the dress. Is it too late or I can I still take it in for cleaning and preserving? And while we’re on the subject, what does the “preserving” really do?

Wedding season is creeping up on us, so today we’re gonna talk about wedding dresses!!! [COLLAPSES AND DIES FROM WEDDING DRESS PTSD]

It’s definitely not too late to bring that dress in for preserving! Look, the Wedding Industrial Complex is never going to say no to taking your money. And on that note, I’m going to suggest that you not mention—unless explicitly asked—how long it’s been since you actually wore the dress. Having been through the bridal wringer last year, and being not even remotely recovered from how utterly ghastly the entire experience of planning a wedding and getting married was, I’m overly (rightly?) suspicious of wedding vendors and worry that if they hear that the dress has been hanging around for three years the preservation folks will jack the price up on you. Speaking of the price! On average, wedding dress preservation will cost US$150-500.

So that answers one question, which takes us to our next: What exactly is preserving? Preserving will do a couple of things for you and, depending on the style and state of your dress post-nuptials, may even be a thing you can do on your own. If you’re interested in learning more about how you can DIY the cleaning of your wedding dress, buy my book—there’s an entire chapter devoted to all manner of wedding topics (caring for the things you registered for, cleaning your wedding jewelry, wedding horror stories!) that includes information about dress care.

The basics of preserving a wedding dress are this:

  1. Cleaning the dress of stains, especially at the hem
  2. Making any repairs necessary, within reason
  3. Pressing or steaming, as appropriate
  4. Wrapping in acid-free tissue and folded or hung in an archival (acid-free) box to be stored

That last point about the acid-free tissue is an important one because it goes back to what you mentioned about the dress turning yellow: Don’t store your dress in plastic! That’s part of what’s causing the yellowing, because plastic will trap moisture and the dress won’t be able to breathe.

In terms of finding a preservationist, generally speaking the best thing to do is to ask the store where you bought your dress for a recommendation. If you don’t want to do that, maybe because the people who sold you your dress are evil, you can just Google “wedding dress preservation [YOUR LOCATION]”. You could also ask friends for recommendations, ask your local dry cleaner if they offer preservation services, or go with something like the mail-in kit that David’s Bridal offers. Lots of options!

I have a gauze-y (pale green!) dress that’s been hanging in the closet for years. It now appears to have stains on it, a few discolorations, and then some that look like rust—I’m sure you know what I speak of. Is there any way??? I want to give this dress, my wedding dress, to dear young woman who is marrying!

Oh dear. Well, I’m afraid I might not have the best news for you today, which I hate, but I also have a commitment to being honest with you guys and so I have to tell you that there is likely not any way.

I’m particularly frustrated to have to deliver this message to you because I love that 1. you wore a pale green dress on your wedding day and 2. that you want to gift it to another bride. Those are both wonderful things and I do so wish the universe would be more rewarding of your marvelous choices in life!

However, from what you’ve described, your dress has endured color pulling, which is a fancier term for the loss of color in a garment. No amount of cleaning can make up for that, I’m sorry to report. The other thing that concerns me greatly is your description of those orange, rust-like stains, which I feel fairly certain have been caused by acids coming into contact with the dress and creating a bleaching effect. This is, unfortunately, a risk you take by not cleaning and properly storing your wedding dress fairly soon after it’s been worn.

You can’t see me but I’m making the saddest face in the world right now. I really hate it when I have to tell you bad things.

BUT! There is still hope: You can have that dress dyed! You may have to pick a slightly darker color than the original to account for the orange staining, but dyeing services are available and they do work. You may want to take the dress to a cleaner first to see if you can salvage it in its current state (and/or also just to get it clean, if not salvaged) before deciding to go in for a dyeing service, but at least you know you have some things you can try.

REMINDER TIME! This Saturday, 26 April, I’ll be hosting an event at Babeland LES in New York called “Spring Clean Your Sex Life” and I would love love love it if you all would come! The event begins at 5p and the first 10 attendees to arrive will receive a free gift. There will also be free bubbly and, of course, a super fun presentation by me and the staff on all the different kinds of sex toys there are out there and how to properly care for them. I’ll probably sign some books too!

Jolie Kerr is the author of the book My Boyfriend Barfed In My Handbag … And Other Things You Can’t Ask Martha (Plume); more cleaning-obsessed natterings can be found on Twitter, Kinja, and Tumblr. Squalor appears on Jezebel and Deadspin on alternating weeks.

Image via Shutterstock.

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