An Expert’s Guide to Caring for Your Wedding Dress

Because this is one outfit you’ll want to save for posterity

Photo by Kate Weinstein Photo

Your wedding dress goes through a lot, from the ceremony and photos to dinner, drinking, and dancing, and let’s just say it won’t be quite so pristine after it’s been out of that dress bag all day. Whether you’re hoping your sister or future daughter will want to wear it, or you just want to save it for memory’s sake, when your wedding day is all said and done, your gown needs to be cleaned and preserved by a professional. So what does that mean, and what can you do to set yourself up for dress success? We asked Dan Miller, CEO of Mulberrys Cleaners, to walk us through the process.

How to Protect Your Dress Before the Wedding

“As soon as you get your dress, swap the plastic hanger for a padded one and hang your dress in a cool, dry place,” says Miller. Keep it in the dress bag if you’ve got a lot of time before your big day, but once you’re a few days out, find somewhere safe where you can remove the bag and let the skirt and train hang to start releasing some wrinkles.

Your Wedding Day Is Over, Now What?

Miller advises brides to get their dress to a cleaner as soon as possible. “The day after your wedding is ideal, and it really should be within a month of the big day,” he says. “The average bride waits six weeks before dropping off the dress, which can allow stains to set.” It also means you’ll have to wait longer to get it back!

Should You Pre-Treat Your Dress?

Don’t even think about it. “The best maxim is ‘first, do no harm.’” says Miller. “Any efforts to pre-treat the garment may result in damage, or could set a stain and make the cleaning process more difficult later.”

What Should You Expect?

This isn’t your average dry cleaning drop-off, so you won’t get the two- to three-day turnaround some local shops can promise. “The length of time will depend on how elaborate your dress is and how much work is needed to restore it to its original condigion,” Miller explains. “It could take a few weeks—or a few months.” The price can vary, too. “A good, professional cleaning and preservation should start at a few hundred dollars.”

What Happens to Your Dress?

The multistep process is very hands-on. “A professional cleaner will inspect your gown, identifying stains and damage and looking for details like lace and beads, which need special attention,” says Miller. From there, they’ll test those special areas to see if they need to be cleaned separately—and may remove the lace or beading so it isn’t damaged during the cleaning process. Miller continues: “Stains like wine or dirt on the hem will be spot-cleaned before your gown is wet- or dry-cleaned, depending on the fabric. Once it’s clean, your dress will be inspeted again, and those delicate details will be re-attached.” Last, but not least, your gown will be wrapped in acid-free tissue and sealed into a box.

Your Dress Is Clean, Now What?

Get that box into a cool, dark, and dry place, STAT! “Gowns can be ruined by being stored in musty, damp conditions,” says Miller. “Keep your dress up high in case of flooding, too.”

What Should You Do if You Want to Wear Your Dress Again?

If you want to do an anniversary shoot (or put that gown on every year for old time’s sake!), opt for cleaning but not preservation, which will remove stains but won't seal your dress into a box. “Time is of the essence, so don’t wait to have it cleaned later, even if you plan to wear it soon. Stains can eat away at the fibers of the garment, so have it cleaned right away,” Miller says.

Stain on Your Wedding Day? Here’s What to Do.

Try as you might, it’s hard to avoid getting something on your dress on your wedding day, from lipstick to red wine to frosting. If you really need to get it out (say, you’re about to head down the aisle), Miller has some suggestions.

Makeup and lipstick: “These are what we call “combination stains,” because they are mutliple stains in one—most often an oil and a dye,” says Miller. “You’ll need to tackle each part of the stain individually to really get it out.” First, dab the stain with a wet cloth or towel. To remove the oil, place a small amount of dishwasher detergent on the wet cloth and gently blot. “The detergent will help break down the oils, which will be soaked up by the towel,” Miller explains. To remove the dye, use a color-safe bleach like hydrogen peroxide. Pour a small amount on the stain and let it sit for 10 minutes, then rinse with a small amount of water and dab with a towel until dry.

Red wine or coffee: Plant-based stains need to be addressed with an acid-based substance. “Use a towel to dab at the stain with lemon juice or vinegar,” Miller suggests.

No matter the stain, if your dress is silk, leave it alone! “Silk is easily warped and damaged by water, so bring your dress to a professional cleaner instead of trying to do it yourself,” Miller says.

If you’ve already said your vows and the party is under way, Miller suggests putting the stain out of your mind, saying: “Have fun and let the professionals take care of it! The risk of damaging your gown simply isn’t worth it at this point, so enjoy the champagne and dancing. There will be time for cleaning in the morning.”

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