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Tips for Safely Restoring an Aged or Stained Wedding Dress or Gown

I love giving advice on wedding dresses and tips on how to restore them.


Wedding Dress Cleaning

My younger brother recently asked me, "Did your wife ever get kinda crazy while planning the wedding?" Apparently, his fiancée is taking the planning very seriously, while he thinks the wedding details "don't really matter" and just plans to "show up" the day of.

I explained to him that wedding details are very important to women and most women spend quite a bit of time and energy thinking about what they'd like for their big day. It's safe to say that my wife thought of our wedding details well before she even met me!

And there's probably no more important detail to the bride than her wedding dress. Some brides have the option of wearing a dress inherited from their mother or grandmother. These dresses are often very beautiful with high-quality materials—they don't make them like that anymore! But because the dress hasn't been properly stored, it's not in the best shape. Thankfully, there are a few things you can do to restore an old wedding dress and have it look good as new.

Common Issues With Vintage Wedding Gowns

Some issues commonly seen in old wedding dresses are:

  1. Discoloration (often from white/cream to yellow).
  2. Compromised fabric integrity (rips, tears, etc.).
  3. Missing button/sequins/etc.
  4. Poor fit.
  5. Difficult wrinkles or odor.

Tips for Cleaning Antique Wedding Dresses

Here are several things to keep in mind when attempting to restore your old wedding gown (should you choose to not have a professional do it for you).

  1. Metal rusts easily (especially old metal).
  2. Old fabric should be handled delicately.
  3. Silk and satin are the most difficult material to restore, whereas polyester is easier.
  4. If restoration simply isn't possible, consider other options before scrapping the dress all together.
  5. Sugar stains are virtually impossible to clean up if they have "settled" on a gown.

Vintage Wedding Dress Restoration

First and foremost, do not bleach your wedding dress in an attempt to clean or restore it. Bleach will further weaken the strength of the original fabric, possibly dissolve buttons and other decorative items, and it doesn't even work.

Instead, follow this step-by-step guide on how to clean that yellowed wedding gown.

  1. Prepare the dress. Remove everything metal that is a part of the dress. Buttons, clips, hooks, and pins might all be made of metal and should be carefully removed.
  2. Prepare the bathtub. Fill an empty, clean bathtub with either lukewarm or cold water (not hot) and a gentle liquid detergent such as Woolite. Also, line the bathtub with a white sheet. Place the dress on the sheet in the water. (This is done so that the wedding dress isn't forcefully pulled in and out of the water, thus stressing the fabric).
  3. Use the sheet to clean the wedding dress. Gently lift and lower the sheet that has the wedding dress on it. This is done so that the existing stains are loosed and the entire dress is adequately soaked. If necessary, you can soak your dress up to 24 hours or more. If stains remain after the soaking and cleaning process, see below for spot removal tips and suggestions.
  4. Dry the dress. Find a way to lay your dress flat and dry it that way. Drying it flat will reduce winkles that will in turn need to be ironed out later. Some experts suggest using a vinyl rack to minimize the stress done to the fabric.
  5. Press/Iron the dress. Using a clean iron on it's lowest heating setting, begin ironing your wedding gown. Iron the gown one layer at a time. Slowly increase the heat settings of the iron to determine what the dress can handle, but lower the heat immediately if the
    • Iron begins sticking to the fabric of the dress
    • Dress becomes discolored during ironing
    • You smell or see any evidence of burning
  6. Complete finishing touches. Repair or replace the metal pieces removed in step one.

Wedding Gown Spot Removal Tips and Suggestions

If there are still stubborn stains left after the above method of cleaning your wedding dress, you still have some options. Here are some spot removal tips and tricks to clean your wedding dress:

  1. No club soda. Club soda is really just carbonated sugar water and will not adequately spot clean your dress. See the video below for more details on this and other great tips from an expert who was on the Martha Stewart Show.
  2. Use a sudsy spray solution. Many experts suggest brushing the solution onto the affected area and gently brushing it with a toothbrush. Others have had success with using OxyClean on the difficult stain.
  3. Try a paste of lemon juice and salt. Just be careful to closely monitor your dress if using this method. Check every couple of minutes and once the stain is gone (or if you notice any compromise in the fabric), rinse the area with lukewarm or cold water immediately.

Wedding Restoration Expert on Martha Stewart

Other Uses for a Vintage Wedding Dress

If your vintage wedding dress is unusable for whatever reason, don't just toss it out! You can still incorporate it in your wedding ceremony and use it as "something old."

Here are some things you can create with an old, unusable wedding dress:

  • Ring Pillow
  • Bridal cap
  • Veil
  • Hairpiece
  • Garter

Or, you could even display the heirloom dress somewhere at the wedding where everyone will see it, possibly near the guest book.

Before you decide to "recycle" that old gown because you can't clean it yourself, carefully consider an experienced professional who specializes in wedding dress restoration. They are your best bet to have your wedding gown properly cleaned and restored.

But if you want to try it yourself, then the tips above will help you make that wedding dress look good as new.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2008 WeddingConsultant

Additional Wedding Cleaning Tips or Comments

Susanne Melnyk on September 02, 2019:

I have a 71 year old wedding dress that my mom wore and then 38 years later I wore and I pulled it out of the wedding preservation box for my son's fiance and it has yellowed even though it was out of light and preserved in a box for 33 years. What can I do -- It has long vertical panels of lace and I think it is satin but it may be silk. I have not been able to verify as there is no fabric label to do so. HELP!

Connie Lawless on October 01, 2018:

I washed my sister's 64 year old dress and except for the smell it turned out clean. I than hung it to dry the only thing I haven't gotten out is the musty smell and I'm working on that

Kimberly on March 30, 2018:

My dress is from the 1800's. Help.

Pauline M. Conley on June 19, 2017:

Thank you for having all of this information. I am making items for brides to wear on their wedding day out of their GrandMother-in-laws dress, which has yellowed and I put a kettle of water to boil, then dropped in two sliced lemons. with the ends discarded. then I turned down the water to a simmer and put in some of the lace to test it. I let it simmer 10 minutes and it is working!! I will let you know how it turns out and try to post pictures of what I do with the lace and gown.Here's hoping!!

Mary Miller on March 13, 2017:

my dress is made of Bombazine and lace. It's from 1964. Will this method be safe for it?

Mary on September 18, 2016:

My wedding dress is white velvet and is 58 years old but sadly it has yellow spots. It was cleaned but kept in a box after cleaning. I took it to a shop which specializes in wedding gowns but they could not remove them. Can anyone help me?

Kelly Miller on May 09, 2016:

I have a 70 year old wedding dress that belonged to my great grandmother. What should I do with it? Looks like the beetlejuice dress!

Julie on June 23, 2015:

I used this method on my mother's 55 year old dress that I wore 31 years ago, had preserved, but the preservation didn't work. My son is now engaged and it inspired me to bring out the dress and see what I could do to restore it. It looks great! I am working on just a few small stains yet to get it totally back in shape.

Shirley J. Bush on October 28, 2013:

My wedding gown with lace jacket is almost 60 years old. It has been stored in its original cardboard box in climate controlled houses. It has yellowed considerably. My granddaughter would like to wear it for her May wedding. Any solutions for the yellowing that I might try?

Ashley Kelnhofer on September 16, 2013:

I'm getting my vows renewed next Christmas. When my grandmother was ill she told me I could have her wedding dress. Since my husband and I were married in a court house the first time, we're going to renew in a church and have a wedding. Anyway, the dress is from her wedding 56 years ago! It's yellowed and wrinkled from being in a box for 55 years. Will this technique work for this old of a dress? I've heard horror stories of dry cleaners not taking their time and having issues with small tears, small stains or complete discoloration. I'd like to try this method first if it'll work.


ourforeverisnow from Maine on July 17, 2012:

My goal is to have the cheapest wedding possible and this hub just saved me 200 bucks! Thank you so much for sharing this! I bought my gown and a thrift store for 45$ i couldn't believe it. And it fit! There are no big stains, just hem dirt. I am so glad i researched it! Thanks again, voted up!!!!

danceprincess87 on May 30, 2012:

I am hoping to wear my grandma/mom's dress when I get married someday, but its extremely yellow because its from sometime during the 1940s. Is this method safe for a dress that old? Its made of eyelet lace and some very sheer fabric. Super fradule fabric so I'm worried about cleaning it. Its pretty expensive to have it cleaned professionally because its such weak fabric too.

Brenna on April 09, 2012:

The wedding dress I'm going to try and restore was last worn when my grandparents got married 62 years ago!!! Wish me luck!

Irish on March 25, 2012:

Ive been recently engaged and would like to wear my grandmas dress. She was married in the 40s and the dress has been in a cardboard box in a hope vest ever since. It's in surprisingly good condition and fits me

Perfect. Should I try this on a dress so old?

Robyn on March 25, 2012:

My mother's wedding dress is 27 years old this year. I would like to wear it when I get married.However, it is satin and there are spots on it where the fabric has yellowed (from humidity?). How do you clean satin? Any tips would be very much appreciated!

Kay on January 31, 2012:

My vintage wedding gown has a bodice of alencon lace that has yellowed. Can this be restored to original ivory?

Louise on January 17, 2012:

I had my wedding dress and Head gear cut down for my daughter's First Communion. My daughter looked beautiful in it and I was delighted to see the dress used again.

linda on January 14, 2012:

my wedding dress is 50 years old, could it be white again for my Grandaughters wedding dress?

Jjoann Davis on October 30, 2011:

Thank you for the good information. My mother's wedding dress is 71 years old. It is satin, with a long train. It has turned yellow and has some stains, I hope your method works. It sure will be worth the time and effort. Do you think it will work? It is such a beautiful vintage wedding dress.They don't make beautiful dresses like this anymore.

Jerry P on September 05, 2011:

My gown is 45 years old. Married in 1966. I wanted to use it in a fashion show 'Reflections of the Past.' It has a white lace cage overlay a white crinolin liner that has yellowed. The lace is not bad but the crinolin is very yellow. Will this process work on the crinolin liner?

Sally B on April 19, 2011:

I'm hoping to revamp my 20 year old wedding dress for my daughters deb. It is made of raw silk and has some yellow stains. Will this method work well on this dress????

FOREX NINJA on March 30, 2011:

Wow.Nice,great and useful piece of info you shared in here.Thanks for bringing this to my knowledge.

Dr. Mom on September 17, 2010:

My Moms dress is over 65 years old and I'm wanting to try this. My daugher wants to wear her grandma's dress. Sweet huh? Hope it works.

Chris on September 15, 2010:

Maybe somebody can help me.I recently have come across a few dresses of sort and they all are abround 40-50 years old.How do I go about finding an estimate on what they are worth?

WeddingConsultant (author) from DC Metro Area on July 06, 2010:

Stacie, that sounds like the ideal conditions for this type of wedding dress cleaning method. Start with only a little detergent at first and be sure to be extra gentle since the dress is older.

If it doesn't clear up the discoloration at first, you can always run through the process again using a little more detergent until you get the right mix.

Stacie on July 05, 2010:

I am wearing my mother-in-laws 30 year old hand made wedding dress that is slightly discolored. Will the yellow color come out using this cleaning method or would I be better off letting a professional clean it?

WeddingConsultant (author) from DC Metro Area on May 24, 2010:

Good luck Cooper!

e. Cooper on May 20, 2010:

Will try this- though I hope it works on a 24 year old dress!

WeddingConsultant (author) from DC Metro Area on March 06, 2010:

Hi Angie,

You're in luck- this method will work just fine on ivory colored dresses! If there is silver threading in the gown that should be fine too, but if you're nervous about it or the thread seems to be overly fragile, go light on the Woolite and/or only allow it to soak for a couple hours. If it needs more cleaning and it did fine with the couple-hour soak, repeat the process :)

Good luck!

Angie on March 03, 2010:

WC - will this method work to make an ivory gown, white, even if the original color is ivory? Also, if there is silver threading in the gown, would this cleaning method fade it? Thanks!

WeddingConsultant (author) from DC Metro Area on March 01, 2010:

haha @jass

Brittney, it's supposed to do just that! I'd be extra careful with it since it's 20 years old, but it should turn white after you treat it.

brittney on February 28, 2010:

my moms dress is 20 years old and its kinda turning yellow will this make it purely white again???

jass on January 19, 2010:

i will never ware something like that man .....

cheap wedding gown on March 26, 2009:

I am also don't know how to deal with my own wedding dress, it's very beautiful and I love it... Maybe I can sell it in some second hand shop?

Thanks for your info,it's helpful.

WeddingConsultant (author) from DC Metro Area on February 16, 2009:

BeatsMe I hope you get some use out of it :) Thanks for stopping by.

BeatsMe on February 14, 2009:

A lot of people are restoring old wedding dresses. This hub is going to be useful.

WeddingConsultant (author) from DC Metro Area on February 09, 2009:

Thanks for reading Anna, I hope you got some good info.

What were you thinking of doing with the wedding dress?

Anna Marie Bowman from Florida on February 07, 2009:

Great info!! My wedding dress is almost 7 years old, and despite the fact that I am now divorced, I hate to throw it out, or sell it, seeing as my mother and I worked together to make it. Maybe now I can find a way to do something with it. It has been sitting in a trunk all this time.

WeddingConsultant (author) from DC Metro Area on January 19, 2009:

Nano, thanks for stopping by. Not sure of the relevance of your link as it has nothing to do with wedding dresses, and your sentence structure is gramatically questionable, but thanks for making the effort.

nano seal from Singapore on January 18, 2009:

Hi WC: Great infor here. Thank you for sharing all these.This website have a lot tips, I feel very useful!

WeddingConsultant (author) from DC Metro Area on December 29, 2008:

Ohhh good luck Kat! My wife's wedding dress is just about the same age...she's still not sure what she's going to do with it.

GG, this was just for you :) Hope you get good use out of it. Let us know how it all goes!

Zsuzsy, thanks for chiming in with your expert advice. I am glad the hub hit on the same advice you give to people at your tailor shop!

Zsuzsy Bee from Ontario/Canada on December 27, 2008:

WC! Great hub. I have dealt with quite a few vintage dresses at my tailor shop and this is pretty well the same I suggested to all. The one job that always worried me was the pressing... scarry stuff

Super hub regards Zsuzsy

Kiz Robinson from New Orleans, Louisiana on December 26, 2008:

WC!! This advice is greaaaat. As I may have mentioned, my mom's wedding dress is 27 years old! It's in freakin' fantastic condition, and rather than paying out the nose and ears for some mean old person to handle it roughly and probably bleach the crud out of it, I'd rather take a smack at restoring it myself. I've printed this bad boy out and am going to try it out once my tub is ready. :D

cgull8m from North Carolina on December 26, 2008:

Great tips. I will keep this article in mind. Hope your brother has a great wedding. Cheers.

Kat07 from Tampa on December 25, 2008:

GREAT STUFF! You know, my poor dress has not been cleaned since the wedding 2 1/2 years ago - I may need to dip it in the tub with your methods before it rots away!