The big day is over, and it’s time for that well-deserved honeymoon vacation, so after double-checking your itinerary and packing your bags, off you go! Except… What about your wedding dress?
Oftentimes, brides forget that their wedding gown, as well as other accessories like their veil, must be cleaned immediately after the wedding. Body oil and sweat will be absorbed into the fabric, at least to some extent, and if left unwashed, will create yellowish stains that may be permanent. That would be a true tragedy. All those dreams of that perfect designer dress that probably cost you a fortune—all gone because somebody forgot to take the dress to the cleaners.
When it comes right down to it, not preserving your wedding gown pretty much means you’re throwing it away. The good news is, wedding gown cleaning and preservation is something you can plan ahead of time. Some wedding and event planners will handle the task for you and can get a good rate with their favourite dress preservation company. But if nothing else, you can set things up in advance then assign a friend to drop your dress off while you’re on your honeymoon, just the same as you’ll have someone return all the tuxedos.
So let’s talk about just what you need to do to make that beautiful wedding gown—either fashioned by a couture designer or handmade with lots of love—last a lifetime, both for you to enjoy and to perhaps pass down to your daughter or someone else one day.
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How to Preserve Your Wedding Gown:
Clean the Dress First
Before you undertake the preservation process, you need to make sure that the dress is completely clean. You can do this yourself, or bring it to the cleaners to have the dress thoroughly cleaned. This will ensure that there are no stains or other spots on the dress. If you try to preserve the dress without getting it cleaned first, you will probably find that the stains have set years later, and can never be removed.
If you choose to clean the dress yourself, you need to be aware of the different materials that are commonly used on wedding dresses. Don’t use traditional harsh laundry detergent on the delicate materials in your dress. Never use bleach or a hot iron on your dress. Bleach will turn yellow on non-cotton fabric, and iron will melt organza and polyester.
Check the Care Instructions
Before you do anything, check the label or cleaning instructions on your wedding dress. We know you don’t usually pay attention to instructions, but this is one time in your life when you really should.
There might be specific cleaning instructions on there, and whether you’re cleaning the dress yourself or sending it to be dry cleaned professionally, you’ll want to be aware of the rules.
Consider Wedding Dress Dry Cleaning
We’d highly recommend getting your wedding dress dry cleaned if you want to preserve your gown properly. But not just with any dry cleaner – one who specialises in wedding dress preservation. They’ll be able to take a close look at the fabric, stitching and details to clean it most appropriately.
Even if you think you’ve been careful on the big day and not spill anything on it, it’s always best to get the gown professionally cleaned as some marks may appear over time.
When you’re choosing a wedding dress cleaning specialist, there are a couple of things you should bear in mind.
First of all, you should check out their processes, and check they use a virgin solvent rather than a recycled one. Recycled solvents are typically used for ordinary dry cleaning, and they’re likely to leave your dress smelling a little bit funky.
You should also check that in the event of any damage being done, the cost of the dress (and not just the preservation) will be refunded. We can’t imagine anything worse than losing both your wedding dress and your money.
Time is of the Essence
Remember, with wedding dress preservation, time is of the essence. Lots of brides wait up to 6 weeks to get their dress dry cleaned, but this is no good, particularly if your dress has been stained on your wedding day.
Take your dress to a dry cleaner as soon as you possibly can after the wedding day after the celebrations would be ideal! You could designate this role to one of your bridesmaids.
The longer you leave it, the more the stains will sink into the fabric and the more difficult they’ll be to remove.
Follow the Rules if You’re Cleaning the Dress Yourself
If you choose to clean your wedding dress yourself, there are a couple of things you need to remember.
Don’t go all-out with the cleaning straight away – instead, spot test the fabric with the products you’re going to use (in an inconspicuous area, obviously) just to make sure things don’t turn a funny colour!
Use soft-bristled brushes to clean, never use bleach, and consider soft-bristled toothbrushes for removing the smaller marks.
Handle the Dress Using White Gloves
It might sound a little bit extra, but if you want to be careful when you’re handling your wedding dress before and after it has been dry cleaned, you should wear white cotton gloves to avoid fingerprints and marks.
Ditch the Plastic Cover
Avoid leaving your dress in a plastic dress cover if at all possible – it’s much better to use a cotton duvet as a temporary cover.
Plastic dress covers can disintegrate over time, and if this happens, then harmful particles can be left on your dress.
Find an Airtight Wedding Dress Box
You can’t put your wedding dress in any old box: invest in a special pH-neutral wedding dress box so you can safely store your dress. If you opt for a normal box, you run the risk of your beloved gown, developing a yellow tinge over time. Make sure you choose a strong box that will stand the test of time – bonus points if it’s pretty as you’ll have the box for your whole life!
Consider the size of the box too – if you’re not sure what size you need to get, have a picture of your wedding dress handy, and a sales assistant should be able to advise you, as will the team at The Empty Box Company. Some storage boxes come with expandable lids which can help when storing a dress with lots of voluminous fabric.
Use Acid-Free Paper to Store Your Dress
You’ll need to purchase a special acid-free paper to store your wedding dress for any length of time. Other papers can leave stains on the delicate fabric of your dress. Wrap the dress in the acid-free paper and store it inside of the bridal box it came in. Seal it completely.
Carefully pack your wedding dress away using acid-free tissue. Place the tissue between the layers as you fold your dress away.
A good wedding storage box will come with acid-free tissues and instructions on how to use it. Acid-free tissue paper helps to preserve the fabric, but normal tissue paper becomes acidic over time and can damage the dress.
Don’t Put the Dress in a Wardrobe or Attic
Once your wedding dress is looking clean and pristine, it might seem like the easy option to simply hang up your wedding dress in the wardrobe. At least then you can look at it every morning when you open your wardrobe to find your work outfit for the day, right? Wrong.
By leaving your dress in the wardrobe, it can get bashed about, catch on other clothes and even get a bit moth-eaten.
Also, if you can avoid putting your wedding dress in the attic or loft, please do! Loft spaces can be quite damp or humid and are prone to hosting insects. Birds, mice or squirrels may also make a home in your attic so think twice before storing your pride and joy up there.
Store Your Other Accessories Separately
Make sure you don’t store your wedding dress alongside the rest of your accessories. It might be that they’re made of a material that conflicts with your wedding dress and can affect how your dress is preserved.
That said, we know how much meaning your shoes and other accessories will have, so although they’re best not kept in the same box as your wedding dress, it is still a good idea to preserve them.
If your wedding shoes are made from a soft fabric, use a gentle cloth and sponge and lightly scrub your shoes with a mild detergent. If your shoes are leather, polish them before putting them away. If you’re unsure on shoes made from satin or other delicate fabrics, you can also take them to a dry cleaner. Once your shoes are clean, wrap them in acid-free tissue and pop them in a pretty shoe box.
Keep it Away from Light, Heat and Damp
If you have a spare room, it might be safest to put your wedding dress there. Make sure you store the box containing your wedding dress in a place that is away from direct light, heat and damp.
It needs to be dry, dark and cool in order to remain in optimum condition. You’ve noticed how direct sunlight fades your curtains or carpet, so avoid allowing the same thing to happen to your dress.
Try not to put the box up against an external wall too as sometimes fluctuating temperatures can cause problems.
Things you need to know about wedding dress preservation
The proper method for long term storage of your beautiful wedding dress after the ceremony is wedding dress preservation in our museum quality wedding chest, made out of acid-free and lignin-free paper. In its simplest form, it is a bridal dress preservation box that safely stores fabrics for decades using materials that won’t hurt the fabric. The acid-free tissue paper is used to avoid hard folds in the fabric during storage and protect the dress elements from any cross-contamination.
Wedding Dress Preservation and Standard Dry Cleaning Are NOT the Same
Unlike one-size-fits-all dry-cleaning, wedding gown preservation begins with an experienced specialist’s assessment. The specialist creates a unique treatment plan according to your dress’s fabric, stitching, and details, in addition to analysing stains along the hem and entire dress.
There are, however, some dry cleaners who also offer specialised wedding dress cleaning. You can use them, but make sure to vet their process first. Specifically, you’ll want to find a dry cleaner who uses a virgin solvent rather than a recycled solvent. Recycled solvents (which are typically used for dry cleaning) contain impurities that can redeposit onto clothing and leave your wedding dress with a strange smell. Wedding dress cleaning and preservation should only be done with a virgin solvent.
Before committing to any cleaner or preservationist, thoroughly research their policies. You want someone who guarantees they won’t do any damage during the preservation. And if any damage is done, look for a guarantee that the cost of the dress (not just the preservation) will be refunded. Furthermore, find out how long they guarantee that the wedding dress will remain pristine after their preservation.
Invisible Stains Might Be Lurking on Your Wedding Gown
Oddly, the most dangerous spills are the ones you cannot see. White wine and other things dry clear, and these latent stains contain sugar that caramelises over time into dark brown stains that ordinary dry cleaning cannot remove. You may think your gown is fine, but in six months or more, the latent stain becomes pale yellow and then darkens as it ages. Heat accelerates the process.”
Professional cleaners and preservationists are trained to spot the unseen. They’ll be able to deal with any stains on your wedding gown, from the invisible to the visible. Did the bottom of your dress get dirty from your picture-perfect shots in a garden? Did someone slosh red wine on it during the reception? Did an overzealous aunt smudge her foundation on it when she came in for a hug? They’ll create a treatment plan for each type of stain.
Pay Attention to the Label on Your Dress
This is one label you don’t want to ignore. Look for any specific dry cleaning directions it might have, such as “Dry Clean Only with Petroleum Solvent.” Whatever it says, listen to it, and make sure the preservationist or dry cleaner you choose has the appropriate cleaning solutions for your wedding dress.
Time Is of the Essence
Professional cleaning is the first step in wedding dress preservation, and the sooner you can get the wedding dress to the preservationist or the dry cleaners, the better. Brides often wait up to six weeks to take their dresses to be cleaned, and that’s no good. By that time, stains will have had time to set in.
The Wedding Dress Preservation Box Is Sealed Airtight
A preserved dress is typically stored in an airtight box where the oxygen has been sucked out and replaced with nitrogen. This prevents oxidation (aging, discolouration, etc.), which can happen to clothes that have been stored for several years. Wedding gown specialists recommend that you never break the seal, and if you do, that you should have it preserved and sealed back up again.
Check out our list of Wedding Dress Shops in Melbourne to help you select your ultimate gown.
Budget for Wedding Dress Preservation
DO factor wedding dress preservation into your wedding budget. Considering the average wedding preservation kit costs $250 to $750, it’s a significant expense.
Store the Wedding Dress in a Cool, Dark Place
Once the wedding dress has been properly cleaned, it’s time to store it. Protect your dress from direct sunlight, which can quickly fade and turn the dress yellow. Remove it from the hanger, which can cause the heaviest dresses to become misshapen. Whatever you do, avoid storing your dress in a regular, zip-up plastic bag. Plastic like that holds moisture and can potentially discolour a wedding dress. The exception to this is acid-free plastic, which wedding preservation boxes are made from. Go with a professional wedding preservation box, or better yet, a wedding chest.
“An acid-free wedding chest that protects your gown from air and light is the safest way to store your gown for many years to come,” Conant says. “Breathable bags provide safe, short-term storage, but long-term hanging is not good for your gown.”
Rules of Thumb for DIY Wedding Dress Preservation
If you want to preserve your wedding dress on your own, following these guidelines will set you up for success.
- Always use white cotton gloves when handling the wedding dress.
- Before you go all-out cleaning the dress, spot test the fabric in an inconspicuous area to make sure it’s not going to harm the fabric.
- Soft-bristled brushes will help you get the job done. Pick up some gentle toothbrushes and have at it.
- NEVER use bleach on your gown. The delicate fabric can be irreversibly damaged if you use this incredibly harsh chemical.
- When the wedding gown is clean and dry, wrap it in acid-free tissue paper or pre-washed unbleached muslin. Avoid coloured tissue paper as it can stain the dress overtime—place layers of tissue paper or muslin between the folds of the dress to avoid permanent creasing. Additionally, be sure to stuff the bust (and sleeves) of the dress with tissue paper to help maintain its full shape.
- Place the dress in an acid-free container and store it in an area that is safe from harsh light or temperatures (think under a bed). You should also add silica desiccant packets inside the box for humidity control.
- Alternatively, you can use an acid-free plastic garment bag to hang the dress in a cool, dry closet. Avoid hanging the wedding dress on a hanger made of wire or wood. Wedding gowns are much heavier than ordinary clothes, and their weight will cause a pull on the fabric as it hangs, which can lead to distortion. If you choose to hang a wedding gown, always use a padded hanger. Hanging your wedding dress offers the best air circulation—plus, you’ll never have to worry about permanent creasing.
- Don’t store your gown in an attic, a garage, a basement, or cellar, as the temperatures and humidity in these areas can be extreme.
Check-in on your dress every two or three years, and refold it to ensure further that no permanent creasing occurs.
Don’t Forget Your Shoes and Bouquet
By taking the appropriate steps, you can preserve both your shoes and bouquet alongside your gown. For cloth shoes, use a gentle cloth and sponge and lightly scrub your shoes with a mild detergent. For leather shoes, give them a good polish. If you did a number on your shoes, you could take them to a dry cleaner. After your shoes are clean, wrap them in white tissue and place them in a box.
Depending on the type of material your shoes are, you may be able to include them with your dress in the preservation box. Talk with your preservationist to see whether this is possible.
For bridal bouquets, you can press, hang, coat the flowers in wax, or use epoxy resin to preserve the blooms.
To get more tips, read on Can I steam my own wedding dress?
Proceed Without Wedding Gown Preservation at Your Own Risk
If you choose not to preserve your wedding dress, you risk the following:
- yellowing of the fabric
- brown oxidation spots
- mould and mildew growth
- permanent fabric creasing
Use a Wedding Dress Preservation Service
One of the dangers of wrapping and boxing your wedding dress properly is damaging the fabric and not preserving it at all. A proper preservation box is specially sealed, with gauges on the box to ensure the temperature and humidity level is kept stable at all times. To preserve your wedding dress so you can be sure it will stay pristine, consider investing in a wedding dress preservation service.
If you’re considering letting the professionals handle this important process, here’s our advice on how to preserve a wedding dress.
Choose a trusted preserver.
Before heading to the wedding dress preserver closest to you:
- Do your research on how to preserve a wedding dress.
- Get recommendations from friends and family members who may have found a high-quality preserver they trust and search online to read reviews.
- When choosing a company, look for keywords like ‘guarantee against yellowing,’ ‘museum-quality materials,’ ‘free inspection before the gown is placed in the preservation chest’ and ‘acid-free’ instead of ‘acid-neutral’.
Inspect gown for stains.
Before the cleaner goes to work, the two of you will likely go over the gown in search of stains. Be sure any buttons on your gown are in place, and your zipper is working properly. Let down your bustle and look carefully at the places where your bustle was attached to the gown, as very often these places, called bustle points, are torn when someone steps on your gown on your wedding day. She also recommends checking to see if any beading or other decorations are secure and whether any other repairs are needed.
Remove any stains.
When it comes to how to preserve a wedding dress if your dress happens to have stains (which will likely be the case since you danced the night away!), your preserver will use certain techniques to remove them, even the ones you can’t see. It is easy for the cleaner to see where you have spilled chocolate and the floor dirt on your hemline, and the cleaner uses different kinds of chemicals to dissolve the visible stains, however, such things as white wine, ginger ale and cake can dry clear, and they do not automatically dissolve in dry cleaning fluid. It requires an extra step to be sure these latent stains are treated and dissolved, so the sugar content does not turn an ugly brown over time.
Once all of the stains have been dissolved, the gown then goes into a machine that rinses out the chemicals used to treat the stains. Your gown goes into the machine dry, goes through several cycles such as washing, extracting, and drying and is dry when it is removed from the machine. Then your gown is carefully pressed to remove any wrinkles.
Inspect the gown again
To make sure all the stains have been removed to your liking, your preserver will likely have you come in to inspect the gown again. If your preserver does not tell you to do this, request it, so you’re sure you’re happy with the results.
Store the gown
Some cleaners will pack your gown while you are there to watch, but others will do so on their own. In any case, the next most important part of preservation is the materials in which your gown is stored. It’s best to use acid-free paper to buffer the folds of the wedding gown as it is packed, as well as for the wedding chest itself, explains Conant. Otherwise, the acidic content in ordinary paper and paperboard will scorch your gown as though you left a hot iron on it. Do not settle for a pH-neutral wedding chest, either, as in any damp environment, pH-neutral wedding chests can turn acidic.
Seal the dress
After the dress is placed properly in the preservation box or chest, it is sealed. Most preserved dresses are sealed in these containers that are filled with nitrogen instead of oxygen. Oxygen can age, discolour and damage the dress over time, so preventing oxidation can allow the dress to stay in pristine conditions for a longer period of time.
Choose a storage spot
Perhaps the most important part of the “how to preserve a wedding dress” process is how you take care of your gown for the long haul. Storing the wedding dress in a place that’s both cool and dark. It is recommended that the wedding dress stays away from sunlight, which can discolour and fade it over time. If you’re using an airtight box or chest that has nitrogen, it is recommended that you don’t open it—instead keep it sealed will allow for it to stay preserved for longer.
Don’t forget to enjoy your wedding dress – if you’re going to go to the effort of making sure it remains in perfect condition, then you need to take it out and enjoy it in all its pristine glory every once and awhile.
Also, taking the dress out from time to time will prevent any creases from setting permanently. As if you need an excuse to get it out and stare lovingly at it.
Oh, and remember why you’re doing it! It might seem like a lot of effort, but at the end of the day, once the last cake crumb has been devoured and the band have packed up to go home, all you’ll have left from your wedding day is your outfit and your photos (and your new married name, husband, etc. of course). You need to look after them!
For wedding gowns, in particular, storing the veil in the box with the dress is acceptable, but the two must not touch each other. Plastic, wire and trim on the headpiece or veil could damage the gown. It’s best to store shoes and crinolines separately from the dress and veil to prevent damage.
Preserving and storing your wedding dress is mandatory if you plan to pass it on to future generations or if you think you might give it away or sell it. Some brides take some time to treasure their dress at home—perhaps a few months—then donate it to a nonprofit resale shop or sell it either online or on consignment in an upscale boutique. Others keep their dress just to look at and reminisce along with cards and photos and other wedding day treasures.
Whatever your choice, please do take the time to treat your wedding gown like the princess it made you feel when you wore it on what was, most likely, the most important day of your life!