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Subject: Dry cleaning wedding gowns

Dry cleaning wedding gowns

From: Jerry Shiner <keepsafe>
Date: Saturday, July 22, 2000
Latham Kiersten <kiersten.latham [at] salina__org> writes

>... Specifically, I am
>interested in knowing whether any of the solvents used
>(perchloroethylene, petroleum, and water-based) are ok for new
>dresses. If not, why not? Are there any solvents that are ok to use?
>Often, "wedding gown specialists" claim to have an anti-sugar stain
>treatment. No one could tell me what these are as they are
>proprietary. Does anyone know what they are, how they work, and
>whether or not they are ok to use on textiles?
>Has anyone ever heard of DuPont Clysar plastic? Is it inert? One
>"wedding gown specialist" described encapsulating the gown in
>Clysar, heating it to 300F in a heat shrink tunnel, then punching
>holes and pulling the air and moisture out, replacing it with a
>"clean, dry preserving gas." ...
>Are there any broad rules about drycleaning I can pass on? ...
>... what advice do I give to
>people who have stains on their gowns prior to storage (and what
>about hidden stains)?

As many of you on the Conservation DistList know, I could write
pages about this subject. (As a matter of fact, I have at:
<URL:>). I'm posting this response as there
is so much hocus pocus and humbuggery generated about this subject.
The constant crop of "new" brides makes this a never ending
educational project, with dry cleaners rapidly learning conservation
jargon, and offering gown boxes with "acid-free chambers" (a lining
of acid-neutral paper over the paperboard), "oxygen and moisture
absorbing filters", and a host of other attractive sounding

With very few exceptions commercial "gown preservation" consists a
standard dry cleaning and a quick stuffing into a cheap box. In some
cases, the boxed gown is wrapped in shrink-wrap, ensuring the bride
won't examine it for many years. One shop even told me they dipped
the gown in silicone! In almost every case the perpetrator's only
conservation training is a few years experience in the dry cleaning
industry, and a lot of self-developed preservation theories.

It is important to note that all dry cleaning businesses are built
on the same foundations: efficient production and reasonable
mark-ups (some marketing skill helps). The staff is usually even
less knowledgeable than the manager/owner. While there are some very
competent dry cleaners out there, the pressures of running a service
business are severe, and few can afford the time it takes to
research alternative methods to the industry standards and to find
products from sources other than their regular suppliers.

This situation is exacerbated by the large wholesale companies and
marketing organizations (eg "wedding gown specialists" processing
thousands of gowns each year. These businesses are built on volume
sales and production, period. If Ms Latham's intuition told her
something was very wrong, she was very right! Pity the next
generation of brides.

Ok, enough spouting, here are some answers:

Any of the solvents commonly used (perchloroethylene, petroleum,
supercritical  carbon dioxide, fluorocarbons, the new solvents now
under development and testing (their names escape me) and
water-based cleaning) should all be OK for the fabric if care is
taken (though perc and some spotting chemicals can and do dissolve
beading). However, there are often  problems with correct
maintenance and use of the solvents *and their additives*. A hurried
dry cleaner will often not recondition solvents as often as might be
optimal for cleaning efficiency and residue deposits.  In some
cases, extra "charge" might be added. Please note that most dry
cleaning involves only one immersion- there is no rinse! So the
prognosis for a long life for the fabric depends a great deal on the
chemistry used.  All I can say is "*beware*".

The anti-sugar treatment is water. To the best of my knowledge,
there is no other. ("Anti-sugar treatment" was invented and trade
marked by a former green beret soldier turned dry cleaner who has
seen his marketing scheme "wedding gown specialists" turn into a
terrific profit maker for over 500 independent
cleaners/licensees/members. A private email or call to me will bring
some forthright comments.)

In a recent posting to the Textile Conservation distribution list
from Kathleen Kiefer, kkiefer [at] netway__com said:

>"DuPont Clysar EHC is a "polyethylene polypropylene copolymer
>containing no plasticizers".  It is used for shrink wrapping.  I
>became acquainted with it at the Peabody Museum, Harvard University,
>and simply used it as a humidification barrier.  The National
>Archives has considered using it in temporarily containing bound
>materials.  I can't remember if it was actually used, but more
>information can be found in National Archives and Records
>Administration Initial Findings: a study of shrink wrapped simulated
>bound volumes, August 20, 1993."

Given that Clysar is inert, its most obvious danger will be the
containment of the off-gassing from the paperboard box. The acetic
acid, formic acid, and other products of degradation from the
paperboard would also be a factor in the possible damage from
contact with the cheap tissue, the chipboard bodice insert, and the
detergents and conditioners left in the hastily folded gown after
cleaning. Once loosely wrapped in Clysar, the box will be passed
through a heating tunnel for a very short time to shrink the plastic
(maybe 10 seconds?), so the effect of the heat will be negligible.

If the specialist is in Florida, he may be the one who once
explained to me that he makes a hole in the shrink-wrapped box,
sucks out the air, and replaces it with air passed through a special
filter. (He pointed out to me that it is the pollutants that yellow
the gown.) You can't "pull the moisture out", and why would you want

My general advice about dry cleaning is catholic: Find a cleaner who
cares about his equipment and the quality of his staff and work.
(They are usually the more expensive ones.) Take the garment in
yourself (in the morning). Point out any stains you are aware of and
be sure they are marked. (Examine the garment in good light BEFORE
you go to the cleaners.)  Polyester gowns can be cleaned at home:
it's easy- and better for the gown than dry cleaning. Water will
take care of most "hidden stains" (usually from clear drinks). Basic
at-home materials include a mild soap, a drop sheet, and a garden

Of course, some brides visit our web site, and we hope they will
call us or buy our gift certificates. Our services aren't cheap, but
we are very careful about what we do. Whew! Thanks to everyone on
the list for your patience.

Jerry Shiner
Forever Yours Bridal Gown Preservation and Keepsafe Systems
Object & Textile Conservation Services Ltd.   O/A
Keepsafe Systems & Forever Yours Gown Bridal Preservation

                  Conservation DistList Instance 14:7
                   Distributed: Monday, July 24, 2000
                        Message Id: cdl-14-7-005
Received on Saturday, 22 July, 2000

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