How to Clean Your Silk Wedding Dress?

Wedding Dress Tips

Why choose silk for your wedding dress? Silk is a beautiful and luxurious fabric. Delicate in appearance, it’s relatively robust. It’s a fine, yet strong fibre that’s produced naturally by certain insect larvae to form their cocoons. These fibres are woven into the soft and smooth fabric that we use to make our silk dresses. As a natural protein, it’s the most hypoallergenic of all fabrics used to make wedding dresses, and its smooth surface resists dry dirt and odours well.

Is it safe to wash your bridal gowns in the washing machine? Believe it or not, but you can put your wedding dress in the washing machine in most cases. If your gown is made of silk or is heavily embellished, you must refrain using the 4machine. If not, washing machines provide a high success rate. Your gown won’t be ruined but will be wrinkled after being washed and will need to be steamed or pressed.

Although many should be dry-cleaned, and it can be tricky to dry clean a wedding dress at home, some may be appropriate for home-washing depending on the fabric and construction. Washing wedding dresses at home requires attention to detail (and, ideally, a large wash bag), but it can be done if the fabric and any embellishments are safe to machine-wash or wash by hand. 

Silk is a beautiful, lustrous fabric, but silk wedding dress cleaning is more difficult than cleaning synthetic fabric gowns. Silk weaves can vary from nearly transparent organza to a heavier opaque finish such as Bridal Satin. But all silk fabric is woven from a thin, strong silk thread. Silk is naturally very soft and drapes fluidly.

Many silk fabrics are very lightweight such as the fabric that common silk blouses are made of (generally called China Silk.) Many silk wedding dresses are also made of lighter weight silk. You may not realize it because the fabric manufacturers or the dress manufacturers may use the following methods to give the dress a greater body.

The fabric manufacturer may use sizing to give the fabric a greater body. A good example of this is Duchess Satin, a crisp silk fabric weave with a satin finish. The crispness often comes from the sizing in the fabric.

The dress manufacturer may back the lightweight silk fabric with a heavier fabric. This is commonly done with many silk satins. The backing fabric helps the lighter silk fabric appear to have more “body.”

The measurement momme usually indicates the silk quality (mm). Momme is a Japanese term that indicates the weight in pounds of 100 yards of silk cloth 45 inches wide—the heavier the silk fabric, generally the more durable. Heavier silk bridal satins (not relying on sizing or fabric backing) are generally more easily cleaned and pressed and returned to their original condition.

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Silk Wedding Dress Cleaning

All cleaning solvents will remove some of the sizings that may be added to the silk fabric. Both dry-cleaning and wet-cleaning can affect the sizing, although less sizing is generally removed with dry-cleaning. If your wedding dress is made of very crisp silk, created from sizing in the fabric, it is likely that after cleaning, much or all of the crispness will be gone.

Many silk garment care labels state “dry-clean only.” While dry-cleaning will remove less sizing than wet-cleaning, it does not remove all types of stains. Sugar substances (i.e. spills from wine or juice) are not removed with dry-cleaning solvents and will require wet-process cleaning or thorough wet process pretreating. Some silk gowns may state “Dry clean only” but then also have the symbol for wet process cleaning on the care label indicating the manufacturer considers wet process cleaning safe.

Wedding Dress Tips

Risks of Silk Wedding Dress Cleaning – Wet Process

There are some risks in wet process silk wedding dress cleaning.

Chafing of silk satin fabrics. This is the greatest risk of wet cleaning silk satin fabrics, particularly if silk satin wedding gowns are wet cleaned in machines. The fibres in silk satin fabrics are fragile and can be damaged easily, resulting in loss of sheen that resembles wrinkles. However, even after thorough pressing, the sheen will not return. Consequently, we may determine to dry-clean your silk satin wedding gown. If wet cleaning is necessary, it is always done by hand and not in machines.

Slight shrinkage of the silk. Usually, the shrinkage is minimal, and usually, the fabric stretches back to its original size during pressing.

Slight stretching of the silk. This is particularly notable if the fabric is very lightweight, with sizing added for the body. Without the sizing, the fabric tends to drape more and may give the appearance of stretching.

Pressing silk is more difficult after it has been wet-processed. Wet-processing may leave the texture slightly altered, particularly in thinner silk fabrics.

Silk satins may not have the same sheen after wet process cleaning.

As mentioned earlier in this article, the removal of the sizing changes the weight and “feel” of the silk. More sizing may be removed with wet processing than dry-cleaning. However, removing sizing is beneficial for preservation purposes, as sizing can attract mice and insects.

Benefits of Wet Process Wedding Dress Cleaning

  • Wedding gowns that we wet process and preserve are often cleaner, fresher and in better condition than those that are “tumbled” in dry-cleaning solvent. This is because our wet process wedding gown cleaning is done by hand, each gown cleaned individually, and carefully removing each stain.
  • Our unique process helps protect delicate beads and sequins while ensuring thorough stain removal.
  • We can lighten aged, yellowed gowns when we wet clean them.
  • Wet process cleaning leaves no chemicals that might contribute to the yellowing of white textiles.
  • Wet process cleaning removes sugar substances, unlike dry-cleaning solvents.
  • Perspiration is more thoroughly removed with a wet process than with dry-cleaning. Perspiration left on a garment can damage the fabric as it causes the fabric to become brittle with age.

What about wedding dress preservation?

Preservation refers to the special cleaning and packaging techniques used to ensure your gown retains its beauty. A professional preservationist will survey your gown—the materials, embellishments and various stains, and will then formulate a specialized cleaning procedure. Cleaning your gown is the single most important part of the preservation process and all the stains, including the hidden ones containing sugar that turn brown over time, must be removed. After cleaning, your gown is wrapped in acid-free tissue paper and placed in a museum-quality archival box.

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Is it the same as wedding dress cleaning?

No. Quite simply, wedding dress cleaning is essential. Preservation is optional.

All wedding gowns should be cleaned by a professional after use to remove soiling. There’s probably at least one stain on your dress after the celebration, whether it’s champagne, dirt or a little bit of frosting. Some substances—sugar, sweat and other oils, for example—might not be visible right away but can show up as stains over time.

Some gown specialists use the wet cleaning method, which consists of washing the gown by hand with gentle cleansers that remove noticeable stains and unseen stains, such as champagne and sugar. If left untreated, unseen stains can oxidize and turn yellow over time. Other companies use a more traditional dry cleaning method, which involves pretreating the stains and then placing the garment in a dry cleaning machine. The solvent in the machine should be safe for fragile decorations, and these should be protected with muslin during the cleaning cycle or removed before cleaning and re-sewn onto your gown afterwards. Solvents such as perchloroethylene or petroleum-based cleansers are used as stain removers. Petroleum-based solvents aren’t as aggressive as perchloroethylene, and they’re also not as powerful in stain removal. Still, because of its high oil content, petroleum nourishes certain fabrics and can give them a lovely sheen.

There are a few reasons you might want just to get your wedding dress cleaned. One is if you want to wear your dress again in the near future—for example, if you’re a bride having two wedding celebrations or you bought a short or less formal dress that can double as a party dress.

You should also have the dress cleaned if you’re considering donating or selling your dress. Selling gowns are on the rise because of effective websites that help facilitate sales. 

Have preservation done if you want your dress’s beauty to last long term, and you aren’t planning on taking it out of its box anytime soon. Dresses that aren’t preserved can yellow over time. Even if you don’t think you’ll pass along the gown to a loved one, you may want to reuse it a different way. Some brides choose to repurpose their gown into a veil, baby blanket or christening gown.

Wedding gown preservation is the process of packaging a gown in archival boxes using accepted preservation methods and materials for long term storage. You should only preserve clean wedding gowns. If you’re going to have your gown preserved, you’ll need to have both steps taken.

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How can I prepare my dress for cleaning and preservation?

You can usually wait until after the honeymoon to take your dress to a preservationist, but remember it’s better to take your gown in while the stains are fresh and not set in (especially if it’s stained with mud or red wine). The longer you delay, the less likely all stains can be removed, and if you wait years, your gown will need restoration rather than just cleaning.

Before sending your wedding dress to be cleaned and preserved, there are a few steps you need to take to maintain the integrity of your gown. First, don’t wrap your dress in plastic. This can seal in off-gassing vapours and trap moisture, inviting mould and mildew. Don’t hang your dress on an ordinary wood or wire hanger—the weight of the dress will stretch and distort the weave of the fabric. Try a plastic or padded hanger instead. And don’t try to clean the stains yourself—you risk setting them in the fabric. Chances are, your service will provide other instructions specific to their needs. 

Types of Wedding Dress Cleaning Processes

Oxygen-Based Cleaners

An oxygen-based cleaner is effective for cleaning such fabrics as polyester satin and other natural fabrics. With a spoon or straw, mix one scoop of cleaning powder with enough warm water to fill a medium-sized spray bottle. Spray the stains and allow the cleaner to sit for the time specified on the cleaner box. Gently rinse the spots with clean, warm water. Allow the dress to hang dry.

Dryel

Dryel is a stain remover for delicate clothing. This cleaner comes complete with everything you need to clean the stains. Apply some of the solutions to the spots and rub it in with the pads included in the kit. The pads are designed to absorb the stain.

Professional Dry Cleaning

It is difficult to predict how your dress will react to any cleaner. By going to a professional dry cleaner, you ensure you don’t make the stains worse or cause irreversible damage to your gown. Dry cleaners have professional tools and solutions to remove stains from dresses.

Immediate Stain Fighting

While at the wedding there are things you can do to help fight stains. Moisten a cloth or white napkins with club soda or clean water. Dab the stain with the napkin, switching to clean parts of the napkin until a majority of the stain is removed.

Preservation

Many companies offer the preservation of wedding gowns. Preserving a wedding gown involves cleaning the dress and packaging it for long-term storage. It also prevents the dress from yellowing over time. When a dress is preserved, stains are removed as well.

How can I make sure my dress is in good hands?

Ask a lot of questions. You want to make sure that the person taking care of your gown pays attention to detail and knows fabrics as well as how gowns are constructed. Ask about the type of cleaning method used, do the cleaners hand clean and if they will pretreat any stains and soiled areas. Some companies go so far as to photograph, measure, carefully remove and inventory ultra-delicate embellishments before cleaning to prevent damage. (How’s that for attention to detail?) Then, they’ll meticulously reinstall them. 

Also, find out if the company does the work on location or if it ships gowns elsewhere to be cleaned and packaged. Don’t rule a company out if it doesn’t work in-house, especially if they have good reviews. It’s just good to know where your dress will be in case you want to check-in.

You should also ask your gown cleaner or preservationist whether you must sign a release or disclaimer that states the company isn’t responsible for any damage done to the gown during the process. You’ll want to find someone who will guarantee every last bead and sequin. Read the fine print of the agreement: Some companies will refund the preservation cost—not the replacement value of the dress. Next, ask if the company offers a warranty and how it will respond if you find the gown to be damaged or discoloured after a certain number of years. The best services will re-clean and -preserve the dress for you. Do note, however, that for wedding dress preservation, opening the box usually voids the warranty. So, resist the temptation unless you’re sure it’s worth it. 

Can I wash my silk dress myself?

For the reasons we outline below, the answer to this is no, and we advise against any brides washing pure silk dresses themselves. 100% silk is likely to be damaged by either hand or machine washing. However, you’re likely to want to wash your dress at some stage, whether your dress has got stained or you simply want your wedding dress looking good as new after your special day.

What will my dress look like after it’s been cleaned and preserved?

The goal is for your wedding dress to be returned looking as fresh and new as possible. A dress that undergoes wedding gown cleaning will likely come back to you steamed and pressed (but you’ll probably have to do some additional light pressing right before you wear it again). A preserved wedding gown will arrive in a protective package that displays the finished product. 

The correct packaging materials are important in guaranteeing the life of your gown. And all storage materials should be clean and completely acid-free. After the cleaning process, your preservationist will wrap your dress in acid-free paper or muslin, then place it in an acid-free or pH-neutral box, which allows the gown to breathe and adjust with changing temperatures. Some boxes feature a viewing window: a clear panel designed to see the gown without opening the box. If your box features a window, look for acetate rather than plastic, and keep the box out of direct light, which can yellow the fabric over time. Some companies utilize boxes with Coroplast, a specially designed plastic known for its durability.

How should I handle and store it?

Though many preservationists choose to seal the box to keep out insects and vermin, others say sealing is unnecessary—if the gown is packaged correctly. It’s really all about your personal preference. If you do open the box, remember to use discretion when handling the dress. Wear clean white cotton gloves (which your preservationist may provide you with), but at minimum, be sure to wash your hands first. There’s no inherent reason why you cannot open your gown, but we’re trained in museums not to handle something unless absolutely necessary because there’s always the potential for danger.

Can silk dresses be dry cleaned?

Yes, dry cleaning is a process that cleans clothes without water. The cleaning fluid used is a liquid, and the garments are immersed and cleaned in a liquid solvent, but a petroleum solvent is used instead of water (hence, the process is called ‘dry’). This process was discovered by accident. Jean Baptiste Jolly, a French dye-works owner, noticed that his table cloth became cleaner after a kerosene lamp was accidentally spilled on it. This led to the discovery and invention of what is now known as dry cleaning.

Silk Cleaning Tips & Tricks

  • If you have hard water, add one teaspoon of borax to the water for the wash and the first rinse water.
  • Brighten white silk by adding one teaspoon of hydrogen peroxide to the wash.
  • If you want your dress to dry more quickly, use a sweater dryer, a net stretched over a frame. A sweater dryer is ideal for drying silk items because it lets the garment lie flat but receive air from both sides.
  • Very delicate silk items, such as silk brocade or dresses with beading, require dry cleaning to avoid damage. Don’t submerge a dress like this in water.
  • Before treating stains or cleaning a silk dress, check for colour fastness. Dampen the fabric or apply your preferred stain remover to an inconspicuous part of the dress if the colour runs or changes, dry clean the dress.

Once your gown is back from the preservationist, pay attention to storage. Keep your dress in a cool, dark and dry environment with relative humidity at 50 per cent at all times. As a guideline, store your preserved gown in a location with a neutral temperature—under your bed or in a dry closet are your best bets. 

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