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Storage, Cleaning and Care Hints for your Heirloom Dress

Storage, cleaning and Care Hints


Before storing an heirloom gown, be sure it is clean. If it isn’t clean, it should be cleaned to remove all soil, perspiration and stains.  


Some fabrics can be safely hand cleaned at home. Some fabrics should be professionally cleaned. You must decide which treatment is proper. If in doubt, take it to a professional for cleaning. Keep in mind that the gown must be completely clean and dry before it is stored.


If the gown has visible stains or is visibly soiled you should point this out when you take the garment to the cleaners.


Do it yourself cleaning


If you decide on ‘do it yourself’ cleaning, be sure to remove all perspiration, soil and stained spots by using a mild soap and warm water.


For localized small stains, a laundry stick may be used by rubbing the tube on the stain directly or gently working the stained area with a dampened, soft brush such as a toothbrush.


Use a clean, dry cloth, holding it just under the soiled area, on the wrong side of the fabric, while dabbing the right side of the fabric with another clean cloth, dipped in soapy water. When the soap has removed the stain, replace the under-cloth with another clean dry cloth, and rinse well the affected area by dabbing with clean water.


When the gown is heavily soiled, and is washable, hand wash it. Use a mild soap, like Ivory flakes and warm water. Rinse thoroughly with warm water.


Lay the garment flat and allow it to dry thoroughly before storing. Do not hang an heirloom gown to drip dry, nor tumble dry it in a machine because delicate fabrics, embroidery, and/or laces may be permanently damaged.

Consult a cleaning professional to remove stains you have not been able to eradicate.




If available, store the heirloom gown in an acid free card-board box large enough to hold the gown without folding. Label and date the box. Document the history of the heirloom and store the documentation in an envelope attached to the outside of the box. Use acid free paper to stuff the sleeves and bust. Wrap the gown with fresh, triple-washed and fully dried, unbleached muslin. Store the box in a cool, dry room.


It is important to inspect the gown, visually, once a year. If signs of decay or damage are found, you may want to take garment to a professional conservator for restoration.


To inspect the garment, take it out of the storage box and hold it up to light to check for pinholes and thin or worn spots; lay it out and check for rust spots, browning at fold lines, fading or uneven color, severe creases and tears. The more sheer the fabric or more dense the pile, the more difficult it will be to detect pinholes and thin areas. Gently tug suspicious areas to test thread strength.


Rust spots may indicate fabric rot and trying to remove them could cause loss of fibers, creating holes. Discoloration, spotting and splitting could be signs of prolonged exposure to sunlight; musty odor is an indicator of mildew. Check for dark flecks, uneven color or thread runs throughout.


Check for storage stresses of the fabric causing distortions of the grain. Proper alignment of the grain is crucial for straight-line designs, plaids and checks. Also check the wrong side. Not all flaws or damage will be evident on the right side. Look for evidence of insects, dead or alive, and insect damage. Telltale signs are brownish or bluish circles with fuzzy outlines or hard shells covered with fuzz.


On heirlooms made of wool, check for moth holes and odor; for silk, rayon and nylon, check for evidence of splitting, particularly at fold and crease lines, and for spotting. On velvet, check the right side for shiny or bald spots, creases and crushing. Check the back side for splitting. Be wary of creases which look permanently set in unless that is the way fabric was intended to be.

Once you have assessed the gown’s condition, determine if the damage can be repaired. Work carefully around any flaws. Salvageable areas can be cleaned. The optimum conditions will be clear of moth-eaten wool, damaged silk and rayon. If light creases are the only drawback in otherwise acceptable washable rayon and silk, those can be removed by washing.

Also be aware that gowns made using wool fabric may acquire a musty odor during storage and there is no guarantee that the odor can be eliminated. Sometimes brushing and airing outdoors or dry cleaning or laundering may remove the odor. Whatever methods are used for removal, wool should be in good condition for treatments to be effective.

 If the gown does not fit the storing box and needs to be folded, rearrange the folds every year to avoid yellowing and to reduce stress on the seams, weakening of the fabric on the crease lines. Wash and dry the muslin thoroughly, rewrap the gown, and store your heirloom away carefully for another year.

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