You Stained Your Wedding Dress. Here's What to Do in the Moments Immediately After
Professional cleaners spill their secrets for stain removal.
Whether you go in for a hug with Aunt Kathy and she lands a bit of lipstick on your wedding dress or your hilarious cousin John accidentally spills a splash of wine on you during a speech, getting a stain on your wedding dress can feel like one of those crazy slow-motion moments you can't do anything about. Rather than going into a complete panic, take a deep breath and know there are a few things you can do if you plan to keep the dress after your wedding.
If you're planning to have an emergency kit for your wedding day, you'll want to include cornstarch, baby powder, and a soft-bristle brush to quickly address minor stains. Jonathan Scheer, founder and CEO of J. Scheer & Company, which specializes in the conservation, cleaning, and preparation of ceremonial costume, breaks down the basics of stains below.
Know Your Fabric
Synthetic fibers and natural fibers are treated differently, and Scheer says you'll need to know which you're working with in order to approach the stain appropriately. Regarding synthetic fabrics like polyester, he says, "there's really nothing you can do to damage the dress using conventional at-home cleaning methods like simple soap and water or seltzer water." Silk satin, organza, chiffon, silk crepe, and others are natural fiber fabrics and Scheer says, "There are many things one can do to cause damage and very few things that will not cause damage and that will actually assist a professional in safely and successfully removing stains that occur during the ceremony or reception."
While applicable to wedding dresses, the stain advice below also applies to couture dresses and dyed fabrics, so you may be able to follow this advice if you're in a bind at your rehearsal dinner or any other wedding events and wearing a woven fabric dress. It's also good information to know in case a bridesmaid notices a stain on her dress before the processional.
If it's a liquid stain of any kind, Scheer advises the first thing is to blot and removed excess liquid. Though tempting, he points out, rubbing can cause more damage. Next, apply powder, which can be cornstarch, baby powder, or a mix of the two to match the color of the wedding dress. "The key here is to allow the stain matter to lift away from the dress rather than absorbing into the fibers." Lastly, you'll very gently brush away the moisture with a very soft-bristled brush, tip of the finger (not the nail), or back of the finger in a gentle, brushing motion. Scheer says it's perfectly fine to leave a light layer of the powder on the dress to continue removing moisture, and you'll want to get the dress to a professional as soon after the wedding as possible.
For oily stains like lipstick or makeup, Scheer advises to start by gently brushing the excess matter off with a dull edge knife. Remove as much as you can by pulling it away from the fabric. Next, apply powder, which will adhere to the stain. It's okay to leave it there because it's a masking agent, so it'll mask the color of the stain while absorbing some of the oils in the stain. After a half hour or so, simply brush the powder off and leave it alone. If you plan to preserve the dress, again you'll want to get it to a professional as soon after the wedding as possible.
Grass, Mud, Soil
Scheer says that grass stains, mud, and soil should be left alone on the wedding day so they don't embed more into the yarns. "Any type of liquid applied to any stain, if not flushed and dried properly, will complicate the stain and make the matter worse," he says. A professional cleaner can address these complex stains after the wedding.
What Not to Do
Scheer says that commercial stain removers and stain pens cause irreversible damage by bleaching a stain. This is the kind of damage that can't typically be undone once it gets to a cleaner, so you'll want to steer clear of using these methods on your wedding dress.
There's an old wives tale that if you pour white wine on a red wine stain, it'll take out the red. On this, Scheer says, "I understand the chemistry and the concept behind this, but while you're dulling the color of the red wine, you're adding more liquid to a dye component stain. When it dries it essentially re-dyes the yarns and the pink residue of the stain becomes very difficult to remove." He advises brides to resist the urge to further dilute any liquid stain.
Keep It in Perspective
In terms of keeping your cool about stains on your wedding day, photographer Larissa Cleveland explains that most small stains along with dirt on the bottom of the dress rarely show up in photos. "If it's a larger stain and it's visible in some images, I always let my clients know it's something we can easily take care of in post-production after the wedding," she says, "especially on any favorite images, or photos for the album."
After the wedding, you'll want to get your dress to a cleaner who specializes in conservation cleaning. Scheer notes, "When seeking out a cleaner, ask about their methods and practices, and their training in cleaning and archiving ceremonial costume like wedding gowns." As these fabrics are delicate and the dress' constructions complicated, it's important that the methodologies for conservation are appropriate for the garment.