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Wedding Dress Cleaning

Wedding dress cleaning is the first step in the proper care of your wedding dress.   But do you know who to trust with your gown?  A national company?  Your bridal shop? Your local dry-cleaner?  A little education will help you to make a wise decision.

Be aware that many dry cleaning stores do not clean and preserve wedding dresses in their shop.   They send them t to wholesale dry-cleaners instead.   While it is very common, there are some potential problems…

Wholesale Wedding Dress Cleaning

Wholesale wedding dress cleaning is big business.  Some companies may clean hundreds of wedding gowns every day.  This is done in giant machines with as many as 30 wedding dresses at a time.  It is not very likely that much attention will be given to spotting or pre-treating your wedding gown or hemline. The dirt from other wedding dresses may even contaminate your bridal gown.  And you may never know if your wedding dress was cleaned at all because it is usually sealed in a small box.

So to make  the best choice for your wedding dress cleaning , you will need to know if your local dry-cleaner does the cleaning themselves, or sends their wedding gowns to wholesale cleaners.  Also,  which solvent does your dry-cleaner use?  Or if they send wedding gowns to wholesalers, which solvent does the wholesale dry-cleaner use?

Wedding Dress Cleaning With Virgin Solvent

For greatest success, find a dry-cleaner who cleans wedding gowns in house and uses virgin solvent.   Because of government regulations (and expense), solvents are recycled.   Impurities not filtered out of used solvent will be deposited onto cleaned garments, leaving  that familiar dry clean smell.

The best dry-cleaners will use virgin solvent on their customer’s wedding dress cleaning. Virgin solvent is either new solvent or newly distilled solvent.  A good wedding dress cleaning should have no noticeable odor.

Wedding Dress Cleaning with Wet-Cleaning

Often dry-cleaning shops utilize wet-cleaning for their wedding dress cleaning. Wet cleaning is actually cleaning with water and has quite a few benefits…

  • Water is the best cleaner for most food spills, sugar substances (alcohol, soda), and even dirty hemlines
  • Water cleaning leaves no chemical residue, which helps keep the dress in the best condition.
  • Wet cleaning removes sizing which is a starch like substance added during manufacturing to fabric. This helps protect your wedding gown, because mice and insects are attracted to sizing!
Some cleaners specialize in wedding dress cleaning and may determine the solvent for your wedding dress by your fabric and trims.

Some cleaners specialize in wedding dress cleaning and may determine the solvent for your wedding dress by your fabric and trims.

The best cleaners may use either wet-cleaning or dry-cleaning, depending on the bridal gown fabrics and trims. The care labels on wedding dresses usually specify which type of cleaning will be best for that dress. However, many care labels are removed during alterations. You could always contact your bridal shop for assistance.

Wedding Dress Cleaning with Dry Cleaning

Because of environmental factors, many states are regulating dry cleaning solvents and some states have passed laws limiting perchlorethylene. Perc has traditionally been the most common used solvent. But now there are new solvents being developed to replace perc. The most common solvents in use are listed below.

Wedding Dress Cleaning Solvents

  1. Perchloroethylene  is the still the most common dry cleaning solvent in use in many areas. For degreasing, it is the most effective solvent available. It may be your best choice if your wedding dress hemline is very dirty, and your wedding dress is silk, rayon, or acetate. However, perc is likely to damage beads and sequins, and melt the glue if embellishments are glued on. A good dry-cleaner should know how to protect the beads and sequins on your wedding dress.
  2. Stoddard solvent is a petroleum-based solvent that is hard to find. This solvent cannot be used in strip malls because of fire regulations, and so is not commonly used. You may find it in older dry-cleaning shops that have their own buildings and have been around a long time. Stoddard solvent shouldn’t melt beads and sequins or affect any glue trimmings that are glued on.
  3. Hydro-carbon (sometimes called DF-2000) is a reformulated petroleum-based solvent. It is safer for beads and sequins than perc, but is not quite as good at degreasing. However, it has fewer fire restrictions than the Stoddard formula, and less government restrictions than perc, so many dry-cleaning shops are changing to this solvent.
  4. Greenearth is a silicone based solvent. It is safer for beads and sequins than perc, but like Hydro-carbon, it is not quite as effective at degreasing as perc. However, it is the safest solvent for the environment and has less government restrictions than any other solvent.

Wedding Gown Cleaning with Petroleum-based solvent

Some wedding dress care labels say, Dry clean only with petroleum based solvent. The Stoddard solvent and hydro-carbon are both petroleum based. Usually if this statement is on the care label, it is to protect beads and sequins on the dress. Or the manufacturer may have a standard care label for all dresses, which many include many gowns with beads and sequins. You should be aware that Greenearth solvent will be as safe as a petroleum based solvent for beads and sequins on your wedding dress. You should be able to find a cleaner using hydro-carbon or Greenearth with a few phone calls or a website search.

Silk Wedding Dress Cleaning

Experience is the most important factor to consider if you wedding dress is silk.  Silk is more challenging to care for than polyester and other synthetic fabrics and requires a skilled cleaner. Call your local bridal shops to see which dry cleaners they use. They will probably give you good recommendations. Ask the following questions to any dry cleaner you are considering:

Questions you should ask…

  1. Does the dry-cleaner clean wedding dresses in their shop or send them to wholesale cleaners? (If they send them out, the wholesale cleaner should answer the following questions.)
  2. Does the dry-Cleaner use wet-cleaning? or dry-cleaning or both?
  3. If dry-cleaning only, what solvent do they use?
  4. How much experience does this dry-cleaner have with wedding dresses? Who does the wedding dress cleaning in their shop? Often one highly skilled person, with expertise in this area, will have this job. How much experience do they have?
  5. How often is their solvent distilled and is virgin solvent used for wedding dresses?
  6. How many wedding dresses are cleaned in the machine at each cleaning? Will yours be alone or with other gowns?
  7. What kind of insurance does the dry cleaner have? Will your gown be fully insured while in their care?

Things you should know about your wedding dress…

  1. What is the fabric your wedding dress is made of? (There could be several.)
  2. What does the care label indicate for cleaning? Does it have the symbol for wet-cleaning on it? Look carefully; some labels say Professional dry-cleaning or professional wet-cleaning recommended.
  3. How dirty is your wedding dress? What kind of stains are on it (make-up, spray tan, food spills, wine, dirt, etc.)?
  4. Does your wedding dress have sequins and beads on it? Are they glued on or sewed on?

Wedding Dress Cleaning Summary

If your wedding dress and/or lining is made from rayon, silk, or acetate but does not have sequins or beads, perchloroethylene should be a safe solvent for your dress. That will be helpful if your wedding gown hemline is really dirty. Perchloroethylene is the best at degreasing, so it is excellent for hemlines. If your wedding dress is silk, rayon, or acetate, but does have beads and sequins, Hydro-carbon, the Stoddard formula (if you can find it) or Greenearth will be safest.

Be sure to notify your dry-cleaner of any stains and or spills on your wedding dress, even if they don’t show. Sugar stains (such as wine or soda), are not removed with Dry-cleaning fluids so your wedding dress will need to be pre-treated.

If your wedding dress and lining are made from synthetic fabric such as polyester, wet cleaning should be safe (even with beads and sequins) and will get your dress the cleanest. Check your care label carefully, and watch for a hand wash or dry-clean only label, or the symbol indicating wet-cleaning.

*Disclaimer: Check your gown care label carefully. The manufacturer’s directions should always take precedence over our recommendations. This information is given in good faith does not have any guarantee. If in doubt, take your wedding dress to the best dry-cleaner you can find. Our Museum Method™ providers page is a great place to start.

Next: Part 5. Wedding Dress Preservation > >