Case studies: Wedding dresses

2 September 2019

A wedding dress has greater sentimental value than perhaps any other garment. Stacey King of DTC outlines some of the wedding dress woes to watch out for

Wedding dress season is upon us

It’s true to say that perhaps no item received by DTC has greater sentimental value than a wedding dress. It’s an expensive item, worn for that single special occasion and either kept as a keepsake or resold for second use, so it’s no wonder that brides are sometime unhappy with the results achieved after cleaning.

The wedding dress presents us with a potential mountain of hurdles. With bespoke/unlabelled dresses, multiple layers of potentially different fabrics, lustrous yet delicate silk composition, delicate beads, sparkling adornments and mud stained trains, there are many things that could go disastrously wrong. However, with careful consideration, time and effort a wedding dress should not cause the cleaner a headache and can be a highly profitable service.

Firstly, it is important to manage a customer’s expectations. No item of clothing will look as it did when hung at the retailers after cleaning. Unremovable staining, relaxation shrinkage and the loss of natural oils resulting in loss of sheen are all issues unavoidable for the cleaner. Heavily soiled trains can be vastly improved with time and effort, but it is impossible to guarantee that all these stains will be fully removed. It is crucial therefore that the owner is aware of this when leaving the dress, to avoid unanticipated issues on their return.

A simple information sheet provided alongside the counter inspection ticket may help to explain what is realistically achievable.

Wedding dresses predominantly attain water soluble staining during wear from food and drink splashes. These will not be removed in standard drycleaning, so it seems an obvious choice to professionally wetclean them.  Although DTC will often commend a cleaner for wetcleaning a polyester wedding dress for example, wetcleaning delicate silks with too much mechanical action can result in cracking and the use of an incorrect detergent could cause irreparable damage.

If there is no label within the garment, proceed with extreme caution. Where garments are unlabelled, it is always wise to obtain a written disclaimer for items of unknown composition. DTC would always advise using the mildest process available in this instance.

Finally, most wedding dresses have a sprinkle of sparkling gems and sequins. This sparkle is a little less impressive when it’s fallen off during processing or has melted and stuck the beads together, or worse, deposited over the dress. If in doubt, and with the owner’s permission, simply removing a small inconspicuous bead and soaking it in the solvent to be used for a few minutes could reveal if it will survive the process. Although this is typically found to be a manufacturer fault, avoiding the issue with this simple test could save this sentimental item from certain demise.

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Busted by yellowing

Fault: A wedding dress exhibited yellow discolouration on the bust area, both inside and out.

Cause: Opening up the dress revealed that the breast pads had significantly yellowed. A reaction with the solvent and the foam inserts had resulted in yellowing occurring, this colour had then leached through the fibres of the dress resulting in the now unsightly yellow marks.

Responsibility: It is the responsibility of the manufacturer to ensure that all components of an item can be cleaned according to the care label instructions. The cleaner could not have foreseen that the internal breast pads would cause discolouration to the dress and is therefore not responsible here.

Rectification: Further post-spotting and drycleaning was carried out on the dress and although the marks were reduced, the staining was still visible.  This is likely to be the best outcome achievable here.


Delamination needn’t be a disaster

Fault: The hem around the train of this wedding dress exhibited bubbling after drycleaning.

Cause: The train has a bonded backing around the hem to give it a luxurious weighted feel. Unfortunately, where the train has swept across the ground, absorbing drink splashes and other such soiling, the bond has been weakened. When drycleaned, the weakened bond has bubbled in the localised areas of damage.

Responsibility: The delamination has not occurred due to incorrect cleaning or poor bonding – this would manifest in all bonded areas. It has been encouraged by conditions of wear.

Rectification: The fabric is quite robust and can be pressed at reasonably high heat to re-bond the areas, which are now bubbled.


Don’t tread on the train

Fault: This dress exhibited several areas of damage to the train. The damage manifest as ‘bubbled’ areas of weave distortion.

Cause: There was no evidence of any spot treatment or staining in this area.  The localised areas of damage were thought to be most likely areas where the dress has been stood on and subsequently pulled. This results in a mild parting of the weave and what now appears to be an excess of fabric, giving the bubbled appearance. When examined under magnification, this weave distortion became much apparent, so confirming the theory.

Responsibility: The responsibility lies with the wearer as it has occurred during wear. The fault may have been exacerbated during cleaning but there is nothing that the cleaner can do to prevent this.

Rectification: None is possible.


Dirty solvent turns lace blue

Fault: The lace design on the outer of this gown appears blue after cleaning.

Cause: The dress was cleaned in solvent that wasn’t completely clean. The lace design on the outer fabric is composed of polyester; polyester is susceptible to to pick up of migrant dye even at very low levels.

Responsibility: The responsibility here lies with the cleaner.

Rectification: Polyester has a high affinity for dyes stuff, once it has ‘stuck’ to the fabric, it is unlikely to be removed in conditions which would be safe for the rest of the garment.


A whiter than white wedding dress

Fault: The owner of this dress complained that it looked ‘too clean’ after cleaning. While this might sound silly, what she was referring to was that the ivory embroidery now looked white. An off-cut of original fabric was provided to show the original colour along the now white applique.

Cause: The dress had been wetcleaned in what was being using a cross functional machine – a wetcleaning machine that is also used for standard washing as well as professionally wetcleaning. This resulted in residual optical brightening agents (OBAs) from a previous load coming into contact with the dress and making the ivory embroidery appear whiter.

Responsibility: The responsibility lies with the cleaner. While wetcleaning a wedding dress can be a very good choice, as it is much better at removing the type of soiling noted on these garments, it has to be carried out with due care.

Rectification: None is possible.


Solvent softens bodice beading

Fault: After cleaning all the beading on the bodice of the dress had become severely melted and stuck together. Traces of glittery deposits could be seen across the skirt of the dress, which was now ruined.

Cause: The plastic beads were not able to withstand the solvency power of perchloroethylene solvent, despite this being the solvent recommended by the label. During cleaning, the beads have become softened and in some instances, have fallen apart, dropping onto other areas of the dress. The drying stage has then re-set the plastic resulting in the brittle deposits now seen across the dress. Laboratory testing of the bead in perc solvent resulted in it becoming almost instantly tacky as can be seen in the photo here.

Responsibility: The responsibility here lies with the manufacturer. They must ensure that all aspects of a garment can be drycleaned under the conditions recommended by the care label.   

Rectification: The dress cannot be rectified. 


Hand painted finish

Fault: This very expensive designer dress had a hand painted finish on the overlay. This overlay partially dissolved during cleaning, so spoiling the aesthetic of the dress.

Cause: The dress was unlabelled so the cleaner decided to wetclean the dress. When the residual paint was tested, it was not colourfast to water. The paint was colourfast to perchloroethylene, however.

Responsibility: The manufacturer and the cleaner should share the blame. While it is a basic requirement for a garment to be colourfast to water, the cleaner could have avoided the situation by carrying out a simple rub test; this would have allowed them to choose a suitable process.

Rectification: None is possible.


Busted by yellowing
Delamination needn’t be a disaster
Don’t tread on the train
Blue lace
Whiter than white
Hand painted finish

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