After saying “yes” to the dress, some brides are saying “oh, no” to the cleaning bill. That was the case for Deborah Castle who was married in November 2013 but held off cleaning her dress after getting a quote that made her blanch instead of blush.
“It was almost a thousand dollars,” said Castle. “That’s why it took a little while to get done.”
The Maggie Sottero was her dream dress, layers of satin, beading from top to bottom and a 15-foot train that weighed almost as much as she did, but outdoor wedding photos and a rocking reception left the dress looking ragged and dirty.
“I knew it needed something special but I didn’t really know where to go,” she said.
Not an uncommon problem for brides, said Janet Brady, associate professor of materials technology at Philadelphia University.
“They’re totally attached to the emotion of how it looks for that day, it’s probably not till afterwards they think 'how am I going to get it cleaned?’” said Brady.
The cost of cleaning a wedding gown can range from $200 to more than $1,000, and with so many price points, what is a bride to do? “GMA” Investigates set off to find out.
We purchased three identical wedding gowns and took them to Brady, who designed a cleaning challenge using liquid makeup, red wine, chocolate and grass – stains that are hard to clean from any fabric, let alone a white wedding gown replete with embellishments. Brady stained all three dresses in the same way with the same four ingredients.
We then took one dress to a high-end cleaner that charged us $900, sent the second dress to Heritage Gowns -- one of a few online options, which billed $300, and the third dress to a local franchise cleaner that charged $250.
Once the dresses were cleaned we took them back to Brady for evaluation, and did not disclose to her which dress went to which cleaner, instead identifying the dresses as A, B and C. Brady concluded that all three cleaners removed the chocolate, wine and grass stains without a trace, but cleaner A, the most expensive cleaner, left some residue from the makeup stain.
“I would give this a 4,” she said, using a quantitative analysis chart that grades the stain on a scale of 1 to 5, with “5” representing no trace of the stain and “1” clear evidence of the stain.
Brady found more evidence of the makeup left on the dress cleaned at the local franchise, giving the stain removal a grade of “3” but she also found blue ink-like stains that were not part of the “GMA” stain challenge.
“That’s not a stain that we put there,” said Brady. “That’s an issue.”
The best performer according to Brady, was Heritage, the online cleaner that charged $300.
“It came out the cleanest, there’s no evidence of makeup or any of the other stains,” she said, speaking of the cleaning job on dress C.
“GMA” reached out to the National Cleaners Association, which represents 4,000 professional cleaners worldwide. Alan Spielvogel, director of technical services says when it comes to dry cleaners, experience matters.
“We advise searching online reviews and calling cleaners to ask about their methods, training and experience,” he said.
Our high-end cleaner, which charged $900, said its price reflects its use of environmentally friendly cleaning methods and the cost of labor as each garment is hand-washed and hand pressed. Its cleaning of our dress also included some extras: a muslin bag and white gloves to wear when handling the dress.
The local franchise said it couldn’t explain the new blue stain and offered to take the dress back to work on it. It also said its success in removing stains is affected by the experience of the individual working on the dress and the limitations of their cleaning machinery.
Wedding gown cleaners often include pricey preservation services, but for budget-conscious brides, Brady suggests an acid- and lignin-free preservation box that can be purchased online for $40. Lignin is a bonding element that holds wood fibers together. It and acid are present in paper and can cause discoloration over time.
One more tip: My grandmother's dress hung on a hanger in the back of my her closet, my mother's and eventually mine. It looks beautiful 75 years later, but an email from Sally Lorensen Conant, Executive Director of the Association of Wedding Gown Specialists, points out something I hadn't heard prior, "The suggestion that a good hanger can be sufficient is not correct. Gowns, especially lace gowns, that are hung for long periods of time will stretch. If the gown has shoulders, the weight of the gown can damage the fabric." Providing more justification for buying an acid-free, lining-free box.