Wedding venues are facing a tsunami of bookings, as couples take advantage of the easing of lockdown restrictions and revise their delayed plans for the big day. After the photographs, it is the wedding dress that generates precious memories and many brides rely on the cleaner to help to preserve these in the form of a perfectly cleaned, finished and stored wedding garment.

To say that this can pose problems for the cleaner is an understatement. The challenges can be many and varied and they demand good reception skills, sound cleaning knowledge, a complete range of stain removal techniques and finishing expertise. This month we give tips on how to avoid the worst disasters, delight the new bride and retain a whole family of customers. This is one task that cleaners building a reputation must get right!

Red wine and custard stains survive multiple cleaning

Fault: this white silk dress suffered in the restaurant, and even more at the late night party, with extensive red wine splashes and custard stains down the upper front. The cleaner processed the dress four times (!!), after which the red wine had faded a bit, but the custard stain had turned brown, and the dress was looking a bit limp and grey!

Technical cause: drycleaning solvents do not dissolve red wine or custard, although the moisture in the detergent might reduce the custard mark a little. The heat in the tumble dry stage caramelises the sugars in the red wine and oxidises the milk proteins in the custard, making both types of mark browner and more obvious (and much more difficult to remove). Inappropriate process structure in drycleaning (along with multiple cleaning) has caused the greying.

Responsibility: the responsibility for the extensive staining lies with the wearer, but the blame for not pre-treating them properly lies with the cleaner, together with the greying.

Rectification: It is most unlikely that the greying could be completely removed. The custard stain could possibly be removed with a strong, post spotting protein remover. This will take time and several applications (with tamping) may be necessary, but the mark must be reduced in this way. This should be done first. The red wine stains can then be removed by treatment with a good tannin remover, followed by flushing and feathering dry. However, unless the greying could be removed, which is most unlikely, the garment could not be restored to an acceptable condition.

Tip for the future: we strongly recommend that, where staining is of a manageable size, the water based stains are removed on the spotting table prior to drycleaning. Had this been done the dress would probably have cleaned well the first time and any slight greying may not have been noticeable.

Trim damage spoils the results

Fault: after cleaning this attractively trimmed wedding dress on a short ‘delicates’ cycle, the cleaner was faced with widespread fraying of the lace trim. The care label stated: ‘dry clean only’ with the symbol .

Technical cause: the problem here is that the trim components of the dress have not been designed to withstand the drycleaning process on the care label. This wedding gown was incorrectly labelled. The symbol  does not call for a ‘delicates’ cycle or for any particular restriction on mechanical action.

Responsibility: the components used for this trim demonstrably could not withstand the process on the care label. The responsibility for this should be taken by the garment maker. Neither the owner nor the cleaner should be sharing the blame here. However, it is worth making the point that irrespective of the care label, a good professional cleaner should always inspect a garment carefully and recognise the risks with an appliqué that has a raw edge. This problem should have been avoidable.

Rectification: trim damage cannot usually be rectified, although it may be possible to trim off the frayed threads from the edges of the lace to create a wearable garment.

Tip for the future: wedding dress care labelling is notoriously of poor quality, even on dresses made by some market leaders. The cleaner was right to use a ‘delicates’ cycle, but in addition, when faced with raw edges on an appliqué trim, the garment could have been turned inside out and some cleaners would clean in a net bag to further reduce the risk.

Minimum fabric movement in the cleaning process is the key to preventing possible fraying of raw edges.

Incorrect finishing ruins a promising result

Fault: after successful drycleaning, the cleaner was uncertain how to finish the layered ruching to the front of the bodice. Steaming did not produce much effect and gentle ironing rebuked in creases in all the wrong places! The owner's angry reaction questioned the cleaner's competence very loudly to a full shop of customers.

Rectification: The ruching to die bodice should be opened out and ironed flat. A narrow iron is ideal if available; take care not to set in any creases. This will necessitate the dressmaker' s positioning stitches to be snipped and released. Depending on die construction it may then be possible using the steam iron to smooth out the creasing that has been set in, or you may be able to float the area on the ironing table using a gentle air flow from die air blower, ironing gently with steam but without pressure. The ruched folds can then be established in their correct position You will probably need to re-tack die assembly with just one or two carefully sited stitches.

This is just one way that it may be possible to tackle the problem. This is highly skilled work and success is dependant on the skill of the finisher, the fibre/fabric type and the style and design of the gown.

Responsibility: the cleaner is responsible for correct finishing. Skills at Guild Advanced Level Garment Finishing are required. If these are not available it is better to turn away or subcontract a ruched garment, because there is no real alternative and a justified claim is highly likely.

Wrong detergent, different colour

Fault: after the cleaner wetcleaned this polycotton wedding dress, to remove extensive water-based food staining, the customer complained about the colour difference between it and the sample of original fabric supplied. The difference became much greater in bright sunlight and under certain types of lighting.

Technical cause: viewing the dress and sample together under ultraviolet light reveals the problem. The cleaner was correct to use wet treatment for the food spillages, but a colour detergent should have been selected to avoid the optical brighteners (OBAs) found in most general-purpose white-work detergents. The OBA from the detergent has bonded to the cotton in the polycotton, changing the apparent colour under any lighting which contains UV.

Responsibility: the blame here lies with the cleaner. With just a little more knowledge and care this claim could have been avoided completely. Wetcleaning was the right choice, but the wrong product was chosen.

Rectification: unfortunately, this may not be possible. The use of a quenching agent (from a dyeing chemicals specialist) might resolve the problem and remove the OBA, but the process required is quite severe, and might well cause more problems than it solves. Sodium hydrosulphite might also work, but there is a very high risk of colour damage with both products.

Washing proves a disaster

Fault: this dress came in with plenty of food and drink staining from the wedding reception, so the cleaner decided to wash it. It no longer had a care label. After washing, the fabric displayed tight creasing and an 'orange peel' appearance, which the cleaner could not correct in finishing.

Technical cause: this garment is made from silk, not polyester and it was not designed for washing. The fabric has 'cracked' with the effect of water and mechanical action, to produce very tight creasing and the ‘orange-peel’ appearance in some areas.

Responsibility: this should be taken by the cleaner in this instance. The decision to wash was the wrong one and the faults stem from this.

Rectification: unfortunately, it is most unlikely that the damage could be corrected. However, dry ironing from a damp condition at 150C is worth trying.

Tip for the future: when deciding whether to wash or dryclean, the cleaner should have extracted a short length of a single yarn from an inside seam and tested it over an ash tray. The yarn, held in a pair of tweezers, should have been brought slowly into the flame from a gas lighter and allowed to burn. If it burns in spurts with a yellow flame, leaving an odour of burning hair and no bead then the fabric is silk. If it melts and drips, burns with black smoke and a sickly sweet smell, leaving a hard bead, then it is polyester. Polyester can usually be safely washed, but without specific and reliable aftercare instructions it is inadvisable to wash/Wetclean high value silk gowns without informed discussion with the customer.

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