Pampering Fragile Garments

Martin L. Young Jr. |

CONCORD, N.C. — While looking over past articles, I discovered that it has been almost five years since I took a look at the topic of wedding dresses.

That particular article was the result of dealing with a wedding dress from a lakefront ceremony. The lake was also home to about 40 geese, but the bride insisted on having pictures taken at the water’s edge. The dress was a real mess, but having the bride agree to “time and materials” kept me focused on the task at hand.

The principles and methods recommended for wedding dresses can be easily applied to beauty pageant gowns, prom gowns, and even “standard” garments that have delicate trim.

The investment required to provide wedding dress service is time, knowledge and effort, but not money. An understanding of fibers, fabrics, dyes and trim greatly reduces any risk of handling these big-ticket items. Take the time to do it right, and have your customer brag about your service and quality.

Due to the increasing reliability of chemical tools and protocols, many wedding dresses are prime candidates for wet cleaning. Using a detergent with a pH level below 7, the water temperature around 87 F, greatly reduced mechanical action, and humidity-controlled drying, the vast number of polyester garments can be exposed to water, with due consideration to construction and trim. This is an advantage for the cleaner when dealing with water-soluble stains like foods and beverages.

Before cleaning, inspect each and every gown while it is hanging fully extended, with any bustles open. Inspect the hemline both inside and out, then pre-treat the pickup dirt and stains that are found. Inspect the upper bodice for make-up and the inside of the bodice from the waistline to the bosom for self-tanning and make-up, which require breaking down oils and waxes. Pre-treat the underarms with a spray spotter or other type of moisture stock.

The hemline of most gowns is usually a roll with an inch or two under the skirt. This will allow the cleaner to shift the material to effectively tamp the area that came into contact with the floor.

Most gowns have a form-fitting bodice. This results in the excessive transfer of body oils and must be pre-spotted. All this pre-treatment greatly reduces the amount of mechanical action required when cleaning by machine.

Ornate trim is common on gowns. Beads could easily be Styrofoam that has been painted. Almost any shiny trim can quickly be damaged by most solvents. Do not assume anything about the trim; test the trim to be absolutely sure that it will survive the chosen cleaning process.

Any gown with a care label containing a reference to water immersion gives the cleaner additional options. Turning the gown inside-out and running in a large net bag will further reduce the mechanical action and protect fragile trim. If wet cleaning a gown, it can be hung to dry overnight. Placing tension on the dress while drying will significantly reduce the time and effort needed to finish the gown.

A silk wedding dress is fragile, so care must be taken from the moment it reaches the door of the business. Silk is the product of unraveling a worm’s cocoon. It is a natural protein fiber. It does not react well to variations in pH, and is especially sensitive to alkali.

Silk loses much of its tensile strength when wet with water. Any use of mechanical action while the silk fabric is wet could result in breaking the threads and fibers, referred to as chafing. This chafing is not color loss, but the light being reflected differently from the damaged area, making the area look dull. If chafing occurs, it can sometimes be masked using mineral oil, by feathering the area with a pad soaked in mineral oil mixture or a mineral oil mixture bath.

Pre-spotting a silk garment must eliminate or at least minimize the use of moisture. Using a good general pre-spotter/leveling agent is the best choice. All recognized stains should be removed at the board, then use a cycle with reduced mechanical action in the drycleaning machine. Maximum pre-spotting and minimum mechanical action greatly reduces the risk when cleaning silk.

If wet-side pre-spotting is required on a silk gown, dry the garment at the board and then allow additional time to hang and dry before dry cleaning. Before the garment is dry cleaned, a leveling agent should be applied for an extra margin of safety.

Providing wedding dress service can be a profitable business decision. It also is an excellent way to enhance your image as a skilled professional. Pampering fragile garments is a wonderful way to supplement your cash flow.

About the author

Martin L. Young Jr.

Industry Consultant and Trainer

Martin L. Young Jr. has been an industry consultant and trainer for 20 years, and a member of various stakeholder groups on environmental issues. He is a past president of the North Carolina Association of Launderers & Cleaners (NCALC). He grew up in his parents’ plant in Concord, N.C., Young Cleaners, which he operates to this day. Contact him by phone at 704-786-3011, or via e-mail at


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