Taking Care of Your Wedding Dress: After the Wedding

Image of bride wearing a sleeveless white lace wedding dress holding a bouquet of flowers and standing on a bridge.

Caring for your bridal gown after the wedding is all about learning the ins and outs of wedding dress cleaning, preservation, and storage. Whether you’re a soon-to-be bride doing a little research and advanced planning or you’re happily married, settled in, and ready to do something about your wedding dress, Avery Austin’s here to walk you through your after wedding dress care options. Let’s start with how to clean a wedding dress (at home or professionally). If you prefer to skip ahead to another topic about wedding dress preservation, simply click a link below to focus on the tips you're looking for.

How to Clean Your Wedding Dress

Wondering how soon after your wedding you should get your dress cleaned? Right after you’ve enjoyed a beautiful ceremony and fabulous reception, it’s time to get your wedding dress cleaned. Yes, right away! Immediately! As swiftly as possible! Even if you are going straight to your honeymoon destination after the reception, you can make arrangements with a bridesmaid or family member to have your wedding dress dry cleaned and preserved. There’s really no such thing as “too soon” when it comes to wedding dress cleaning. That’s because the longer you wait, the harder it will be to remove any odors, debris, or stains from your precious bridal gown. Did you just read that and get a little worried because your wedding is already a sweet memory for you? Don’t panic! There’s also no such thing as “too late” to clean a wedding dress. Although you will get the best results if you have your dress cleaned within days of your wedding, you can still have it done at any time. Whether it’s been a few weeks since your honeymoon or 2 to 5 years since your wedding day, you can still get your wedding gown cleaned professionally or by hand. Wondering which method is right for you? Let’s explore your options for wedding dress cleaning.

Should I Wash or Dry Clean My Wedding Dress?

If you’re debating the merits of dry cleaning or washing your wedding dress at home, Avery Austin suggests checking the tags on your gown first. Every bridal dress should have special care instructions given the diverse nature and delicacy of wedding dress fabrics. Your dress may call for “Dry Clean Only” or “Hand Wash Only” or “Spot Clean Only,” for example. If it’s an option for your dress, dry cleaning is the safest way to get your wedding gown cleaned. With such delicate fabrics and embellishments, as well as the cherished memories surrounding your gown, your dress deserves the love and care of experts. Be sure to find a specialist, rather than your average dry cleaner. A specialist in wedding dress cleaning and preservation will customize the process based upon the fabric, embellishments, and layers of your gown, while standard dry cleaners may not be as well-versed in delicacy of bridal fabrics and harsher cleansing products could be used as a result. The dry cleaning process could take a few days to a month depending upon the intricacy of your wedding gown style or busyness of the season. How much it costs to dry clean a wedding dress can vary by location, as well as the type of wedding dress and how dirty it is. If dry cleaning is not an option for you, then read on for advice on how to clean your wedding dress at home.

How to Clean a Wedding Dress at Home

When it comes to wedding dress cleaning at home, you may be able to hand wash your gown or you might need to limit yourself to spot cleaning (double check that dress tag to be sure). Whichever option is available to you, we must start with this warning: Do NOT under any circumstances toss your beloved bridal gown directly into the washing machine! Even if your machine has a hand-wash cycle and is large enough to accommodate a voluminous wedding gown, keep in mind that hooks, bustle snaps, or fancy embellishments can easily be snagged on the sides of a washing machine and get damaged or cause fabric tears. Does that mean a washing machine cannot be used at all to clean a wedding dress? Not necessarily. Let’s take a closer look at the do-it-yourself (DIY) wedding dress cleaning options, then you can decide what is best for your gown.

  • Machine Washing: If your appliance is large enough to safely wash your gown AND it has a delicate “hand wash” cycle AND your wedding dress is simple with minimal embellishments, then you might be able to clean your wedding dress this way. So long as the dress label does not warn against the use of a washing machine (and it will for less sturdy fabrics), then you’ll want to carefully place your wedding gown in a fabric wash bag. Use gentle liquid detergent only after you have taken a moment to test it on an inner layer first. Make sure the water is set for cooler temperatures (avoid too much heat), then run a delicate, hand-wash cycle.
  • Spot Cleaning: If your dress tag recommends spot cleaning, you can use a gentle liquid detergent or explore some common home remedies for spot cleaning and stain removal, such as soda water, vinegar, baby powder, or Borax. Whichever method you wish to try, always remember to do a dab test on an inner layer of your dress and let the area dry so you can be sure that they won’t stain or damage your wedding dress fabric. Once you’ve chosen your cleanser, mix it in a spray bottle with a little water, then carefully spray it on any spots that need cleaning (usually hemlines and underarm fabric). Using a very soft toothbrush, gently rub away the stain or dirt.
  • Hand Washing: When your whole wedding dress needs cleaning, or the tag says “Hand Wash Only,” it’s time to use your bathtub! Make sure to thoroughly clean your bath first so nothing on the surfaces can transfer onto your white bridal gown. After giving the clean bath an extra rinse to clear any remaining cleaning products, fill the tub with cool water (too much heat can damage the fabric and embellishments). Mix in your chosen stain remover and gentle liquid detergent (only after you’ve had a chance to spot-test them on an inner dress layer). If you only plan to hand wash the hem or train, then you will not need to fill the tub much. Hang your wedding gown from a clean hook or the shower curtain rod and place the bottom of the dress into the tub. For a whole wedding dress cleaning, fill the tub more and lay the dress down in the tub. Let the fabric soak before using a soft toothbrush to carefully rub any problem areas with extra dirt or stains. Give the dress a final rinse with clean, cool water.

Whichever method you choose, the way you dry your wedding dress after cleaning will be the same. Use a clean, flat surface to spread out your bridal gown to dry naturally. If you’re drying outside, be sure to avoid direct sunlight or extreme heat. Wedding gowns should never be squeezed or twisted to remove excess liquid, and dryers should be avoided. Be sure to give your wedding dress plenty of time to dry, as you don’t want any lingering moisture to become a mold or mildew issue later.

Whether you choose to have your wedding dress dry cleaned or washed at home, once the gown is free of odors, stains, and dirt, it's ready for preservation!

How to Preserve Your Wedding Dress

If you plan to keep your wedding dress, then your next step after cleaning is wedding dress preservation. You could hire a professional preservation service or look into do-it-yourself (DIY wedding dress preservation options. Here are some things you might experience with services or the DIY process.

Professional Wedding Dress Preservation

Hiring a professional service to preserve your wedding dress means less worry and effort and more time for you! While cost for wedding dress preservation can vary by area and service company, there are some things you can expect from any professional you hire.

  • Ultraviolet Light Scans: Even if you know that all visible stains were removed after your wedding dress was cleaned, there’s a chance that invisible stains are still lurking within the seemingly pristine fabric. Invisible stains, like perfume, white wine, or perspiration, often go unnoticed for weeks or months before they are visible, and at that point it’s often too late to fully remove them. Before preserving a gown, a professional will shine ultraviolet light across the wedding dress in order to identify any invisible stain concerns that will need to be cleaned.
  • Wrinkle Removal: If there are any wrinkles or creases, your wedding dress will be carefully steamed or hand pressed.
  • Yellowing Prevention: In order to protect the wedding dress from yellowing, acid-free and lignin-free tissue paper the fabric will be used to carefully wrap the dress, rest between folded layers, or fill curved sections (like the bust or sleeves) to keep the gown’s shape.
  • Restoration: If your wedding gown has already yellowed with age or experienced minor mold or moth issues, restoration is required before preservation. Keep in mind that wedding dress restoration is not perfect, as set-in stains are much more difficult to remove, but the process will definitely breathe new life into your treasured gown.
  • Preservation Box: Your wedding dress will be carefully packaged in a special acid-free and lignin-free preservation box or chest. Some services will provide you with a sealed, airtight option in which oxygen has been removed and replaced with nitrogen to prevent oxidation, which can cause aging and discoloration of the fabric. Other services will not seal the preservation box in order to give you the opportunity to check on your wedding gown occasionally over the years. Those infrequent checks can help your wedding dress fabric breathe, decreasing the risk of mildew and mold, and gives you the chance to adjust the folds and tissue paper layers, preventing permanent creasing.

DIY Wedding Dress Preservation

Wondering how to preserve a wedding dress yourself? The easiest way is to purchase a DIY wedding dress preservation kit! Then all you need to do is use the materials provided in the kit and carefully follow the instructions to preserve your wedding gown. On average, these kits can run between $200 and $500, so if that’s beyond your budget, no worries! Here are a few steps you can take to preserve your wedding dress at home.

  • Invest in at least one pair of white cotton gloves. After going through the process of wedding dress cleaning described previously, you don’t want to risk any creams or oils on your skin transferring to your gown as you handle it throughout the preservation process.
  • Plan to store accessories separately. While it may seem like a good idea to keep all of your wedding outfit together, it’s best to pack up your wedding dress solo. Combining your gown with things like belts with metal fasteners, leather shoes or clutches, or headpieces with jewel embellishments can put your wedding dress at increased risk of damage from tarnishing or snags.
  • Carefully select a wedding dress storage box. Make sure it is both acid-free and lignin-free, as exposure to acidic materials can cause fabric yellowing over time.
  • Layer your preservation box with acid-free and lignin-free tissue paper. Having that extra buffer layer further minimizes the risk of yellowing and cushions the wedding dress within the box.
  • Wrap your wedding dress in acid-free and lignin-free tissue paper. Apply layers of tissue paper between the wedding dress fabric with every fold, adding extra near the bend to cushion each fold and minimize creasing. Remember to stuff the bust and sleeves with tissue paper to help keep the rounded shape.
  • Consider adding silica desiccant packets to your preservation box. If you know you live in a humid area or simply have concerns about damp air, the packets could help absorb the extra moisture.

And voilà! You now have a cleaned and carefully preserved wedding dress! Now we’re onto the last step: storing your wedding dress.

How to Store Your Wedding Dress After the Wedding

Once your wedding dress has been cleaned, preserved, and boxed up, it’s time to find a safe place to store your wedding dress. There are three key terms to keep in mind when choosing the perfect wedding dress storage space: cool, dark, and dry.

  • Cool: Since high levels of heat can cause damage to delicate bridal fabrics or even melt embellishments, it’s best to make sure that whichever room you choose to keep your preserved wedding dress is cool year round (so avoid garages or attics).
  • Dark: Direct sunlight can cause fabric discoloration or generate heat (see the previous bullet point), so store your wedding dress in a room, closet, or under bed space that’s devoid of sunlight.
  • Dry: Too much moisture from humidity can cause mold to grow, so definitely avoid basements. It’s also a good idea to store away from exterior walls or pipes that might leak.

Once you’ve found a cool, dark, dry place, store your acid-free container with your preserved wedding dress there. Of course, you’ll also want to make sure that it’s a low-traffic zone that’s safe from pets too. You may even find during your daily grind over the following months that you forget you’ve safely stored your wedding dress there! That’s just another sign that you’ve chosen the perfect spot to stash your beloved wedding gown. If your wedding dress isn’t preserved in an airtight container, be sure to occasionally check up on your dress every year or two to make sure you did not miss any invisible stains and to refold or add more tissue paper cushioning if needed. (But remember those white cotton gloves!) It will be a special treat for you to reminisce about your wedding day while caring for this precious memento at the same time.

With all of these handy tips for wedding dress cleaning and preservation, you can now make the best choices for your bridal gown’s after-wedding care. Of course, you may find yourself wondering if storing and preservation is the right choice for you. Worry not! There are many other things you can do with your wedding dress after your wedding day. Check out Avery Austin’s list of 8 things you can do with your bridal gown post-wedding.