Updated: Feb 27, 2020
Want a disaster? Dry-clean your gown. I’ve seen so many wedding dresses shrink or get appliques ripped off. Please. DON’T DRY CLEAN YOUR WEDDING DRESS!!
Before I went full time photography I worked with wedding gowns. We worked with handmade laces and expensive fabric from all over the world. My wedding gown was the most delicate lace/sequin combo I had ever seen (so clearly I had to buy it)…and it was EXPENSIVE. Like, I’m talking the entire wedding budget expensive.
So when we decided to do bridals in the mountains I was already aware that my dress would get a bit dirty. But the rainstorm before the bridal session… I didn’t predict that.
You guys… my dress was literally MUDDY up to my knees. Like, MUD.
Here is how I got my dress spotless. If this process could clean my lace, I know it can clean anything. (I mean, I’ve cleaned blood out of brides’ gowns with this technique so I’m pretty confident about this.)
TIP: If you are cleaning more than the hem of the dress you need to dip the entire dress in the water or else you will have a visible line where the water dries on the fabric and your gown is likely to stretch. (Especially if your dress is satin or crepe.)
Put a plastic storage bin like this in your bathtub and fill it most of the way with luke warm water. During the process you can pause and refill the bin as many times as you need to to keep the water relatively clean. The purpose of the bin is so that your dress fabric doesn’t get stuck in the bathtub drain!
Dip the dirty part of your dress in the bin and swish it around. Most of the dirt will come out from doing this. Feel free to run the water from the faucet onto the lace of the dress and let the water push the dirt out of the fabric. Massage the fabric with your fingers to loosen the fibers of the lace so that the dirt can come out. Be careful not to pull beading out or rip any delicate lace.
If you still have dirt or grass stains take this MAGIC SOAP – which is amazingly cheap and easy to find at Walmart or Amazon – and get the corner a bit wet. Slowly massage the bar soap into the area with the dirt. It will quickly become sudsy. Rise and repeat.
If you need more cleaning on that area you can use cheesecloth because it won’t damage the fabric. Instead of cheesecloth you can rub the fabric of the dress against itself. Typically I wouldn’t recommend this for lace with beading, but almost any other fabric can handle that…gently!
Don’t wring the fabric! Squeeze the excess water out with your hands but avoid anything that could stretch the dress like twisting or hanging on a hanger. Even if you only cleaned the bottom of your dress, the weight of the water will stretch and lengthen your dress.
Once you have gotten out as much water as possible with your hands, take a towel to the gown and start blotting and squeezing…like your hair after a shower.
Once you have dried it the best you can, find a flat area where you can lay out the dress. Fans are super helpful for this step. If you dipped the entire gown in water, you can try to put something inside the dress to open it up and air out the inside (remember not to do anything that could put weird stretches on the fabric). Flip the gown halfway. It will probably take 24 hours to dry.
Steam the gown if needed. Bridal stores use steamers like these …in fact I know of a few bridal stores who use exactly this steamer. Hand sized steamers work just fine, but please use distilled water. Water from the tap will leave little mineral deposits in the fabric that are a nightmare to remove.
*Our bridal photo was taken by Cecilia Harvard