Is it easy to clean a yellowed wedding dress? No. Is it possible? Yes! That’s exciting news if you’ve found the perfect tea-length dress-of-your-dreams from the 1950s, but it’s stained and yellowed. What will you do to make it like a new gown again?
It’s important to keep your wedding gown in good condition before and also after the wedding if you’re like most brides you’ve purchased your wedding gown months before the actual wedding date.
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Table of Contents
- 1 Why Does Fabric Yellow Over Time?
- 2 How Long Does it Take a Wedding Dress to Begin to Yellow?
- 3 Determine the Best Method to Save the Yellowed Dress
- 4 Cleaning Dresses at Home
- 5 What are the possible problems you might see in your wedding dress?
- 6 How does the wedding dress restoration process work?
- 7 What should you expect at the end result?
- 8 How to Choose a Professional Cleaner
Why Does Fabric Yellow Over Time?
One of the oldest and most widespread quality problems within the textile industry is fabric yellowing. The fabric colours that are most susceptible to yellowing (and very unfortunate for brides) are market whites and shades of pastel. The simple answer to this age-old question is that wedding gown yellowing is an unanticipated chemical degradation of the original fibres that compose the fabric. This means that as colourless chemicals that are within the fabric begin the inevitable process of decay, they change colour to become light to moderately yellow in colour. It is very common to see older gowns that have very dark brown (in extreme cases these stains can become black) stains on them which is an indication of continued chemical decomposition over an extended period of time due to a stain that was most likely invisible before the gown was put into storage.
One of the leading causes of bridal gown yellowing is the plastic bags that many brides keep their gowns in. Most plastics give off damaging fumes that actually promote yellowing. But, even with proper care, some fabrics will yellow more than others, and it may be impossible to prevent all yellowing.
How Long Does it Take a Wedding Dress to Begin to Yellow?
The delicate fabrics in a wedding dress will begin to yellow after just six months if your dress is not cleaned, cared for, and stored properly after your wedding day. While you may think your wedding dress looks pretty close to perfect after your big day is over, keep in mind, it is the stains you can’t see that are the main culprits in future spot staining in addition to general fabric yellowing.
Delicate fabrics, such as satin and chiffon, will become a dulled yellow colour after just six months, then slowly begin to turn darker shades of yellow over the years, finally reaching hues of light brown in just a few decades. This situation is an example of fabric yellowing in an environment where heat, moisture, and temperature are ideal. Storing your wedding dress in a musty basement, in a hot attic or garage, or an area of direct sunlight, all speed up the yellowing process exponentially.
Along with overall fabric yellowing, invisible stains will also cause what is known in the industry as spot “scorching” to your wedding dress. These unsightly brown spots were once perspiration, deodorant, white wine, and other contaminants from your wedding day which were invisible to your eye when you put your dress away in storage. These invisible stains contained chemicals, along with latent sugar that caramelizes over time into the fabrics of your gown, breaking down those delicate fabric fibres.
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Determine the Best Method to Save the Yellowed Dress
Check the tag of the wedding dress for cleaning instructions and to determine the material. It is advisable to follow these instructions when cleaning your dress. If the care label is missing, consider the fabric content.
Wedding dresses made from polyester, acetate, chiffon, voile, tulle, organza and cotton: It may be possible that stains and discolouration can be removed at home if they aren’t extensive. If the yellowing is overwhelming, a professional dress cleaner is recommended. If there are embellishments, beads or pearls on the dress, it will need to be hand washed or cleaned by a professional, so nothing comes off.
Wedding dresses made from silk, satin, taffeta, shantung and rayon: It is recommended that you bring to a professional dress cleaner for dresses made of these materials.
Cleaning Dresses at Home
If the label indicates you can clean the dress by hand or machine, begin the cleaning process by applying a mixture of gentle liquid laundry soap with lukewarm water with a soft cloth or a toothbrush. Alternatively, apply a mixture of baking soda and vinegar on the discoloured areas. Or, use a fabric stain remover applied with a damp cloth to yellowed areas.
After spot treating yellowing areas, if the care instructions call for hand washing, use a bathtub to clean. Fill the tub with lukewarm water, and add gentle liquid laundry detergent. Do not use bleach. Turn the dress inside out before placing in the tub. Gently swish the dress around; do not scrub. Drain tub and refill again with lukewarm water, swishing dress around to remove all soap residue. Repeat rinsing as needed, until water runs clear.
If the dress care instructions indicate you can use a washing machine, use the gentle cycle only.
Dry the dress on a line outside after cleaning. Do not use the dryer.
After we inspect your garment, if we believe it is at high risk for problems, we will notify you, and you can weigh the benefits of the treatment against the risks and make the decision whether to go forward with the treatment or not.
If you decide not to accept your garment’s proposed treatment, we will return your deposit and ship your garment back to you at no charge. If you consent to the proposed treatment, you will not pay your full balance until our expert gown care technicians are satisfied with the results. If the results are deemed unsatisfactory by our staff, we will return your garment to you without additional charges. Your only financial risk is your $100 deposit.
What are the possible problems you might see in your wedding dress?
We have listed below some common challenges in wedding gown restoration for your education and so that you may understand some common risks in vintage garment restoration.
Many vintage wedding gowns can have problems with buttons. Depending on the age of your gown, it could have buttons made with wood, metal, or even paper pulp. The restoration process is a water-based treatment, and many vintage buttons react adversely to water and restoration chemicals. After inspecting your gown, we will consult with you if we have recommendations for your specific buttons. Additional fees may apply for vintage button care.
Many vintage laces can become fragile from the restoration chemicals. They may tear during processing or easily afterwards. Often these tears can be repaired for an additional cost.
Vintage Satin Fabric
Some satin fabrics may respond well to the whitening agents but may lose some sheen. While yellowing and brown spots can be easily removed, the resulting ivory or off white colour of the gown may not be completely consistent throughout the gown. There may be some slight colour variations. The satin may have less body than it originally did. Sizing is removed during wet cleaning and chemical soaking. We may determine to add sizing back into the gown, depending on the fabric, style and goals for the gown.
Rayon and/or cotton satins and brocades may shrink slightly during the whitening process.
Very old veils, from the 1950’s era, often can not be cleaned at all. When submerged in water or any chemical, they may disintegrate. Based on our experience, we can usually predict the viability of veil restoration. However, there is no guarantee that we will always be correct.
Headpieces are usually salvageable, and new tulle can be sewn on to replace the old if needed. However, headpieces are not included in restoration costs but will incur additional costs. Tulle restoration is included.
Many Restoration Happened
Some dresses are a combination of all of the above fabrics and trims and would be subject to all of these risks. Some newer vintage fabrics (1960’s through the ’80s) respond very well to whitening chemicals, with little or no damage.
Some garments that appear to be in great condition can be damaged during cleaning or restoration due primarily to the age of the garment. The older the garment, the more risk that whitening chemicals could damage it.
While it is impossible to predict every possible problem that could arise during garment restoration, please be aware that our goal is to return the garment to the best condition possible and most of our customers are thrilled with the results, as the improvement in the garment is usually very significant.
Strapless gowns (or heavy gowns or gowns with thin straps) that are preserved with Museum Method (hanging) wedding dress preservation will have cotton twill tape straps sewn into the bodice (or waistlines) to give your wedding dress extra support and distribute the weight of the gown evenly.
All gowns that are preserved have the bust cups removed. Most bust cups are made from Styrofoam which will break down and can cause damage to the wedding gown. Your bust cups will be returned with your wedding gown.
Wedding gowns preserved with Museum Method™ preservation must be folded during transit. We use large boxes so that the folding is minimal. When you receive your wedding gown, please remove the bagged dress from the shipping box and hang in your closet for storage.
Wearing an heirloom veil on your wedding day is a special way to honour a loved one or to infuse a vintage vibe into your bridal look. Many times antique veils are not preserved properly and become yellowed throughout the years, detracting from an otherwise gorgeous style statement. Try cleaning tulle, illusion netting and lace at home, but take caution with certain fabrics — silk veils and ones with satin trim or intricate details are best left to a professional dry cleaner.
Check out our post on How I can clean my wedding dress?
How does the wedding dress restoration process work?
Take your gown to a professional who will look over your gown with you and discuss your options. If you select a colour restoration, buttons with metal backs will be removed from your gown and processed separately–if at all—because the metal will rust in the solution. Metal hooks and eyes will also have to be removed. Pearls can lose their coverage in the process and look opaque rather than lustrous. Sometimes when the stain is dissolved, the fibre dissolves, too. If this does happen, it will probably be in the underarm area where the fabric has been weakened by perspiration. Fabric may also shrink, and different types of fabric may shrink in different ways so that the lining, for example, may shrink more than the exterior or a lace overskirt more than the silk underneath. Sometimes the fabric can be pressed back into shape; other times the hem will have to be remade to solve the problem.
What should you expect at the end result?
Some colour restorations are more successful than others, and cotton or linen is easier to handle than silk. As a general rule, the tighter the weave, the more difficult it is to press out the wrinkles. Silk satin is the most difficult to press out smoothly; net or lace is the easiest. The exception is silk illusion net. Silk illusion veils were very popular in the first half of the twentieth century, but it has a very short shelf life. Vintage silk illusion today feels crunchy and completely dissolves in water.
How to Choose a Professional Cleaner
Research the cleaner before giving her the wedding dress. According to Heritage Garment Preservation, ensure the cleaner does the cleaning herself and doesn’t send the dress to a wholesale cleaner, and that the cleaner uses virgin solvent. Virgin solvent means that the solvent is fresh and not reused solvent.
As you can see, dress restoration can be a challenge, especially when you are dealing with aged, delicate fabrics like that of a wedding dress. However, it is possible to clean a second-hand dress if you work with care and take the right steps. Did you find a vintage gown that you want to restore? Tell us about it.