How do I get Stains Out of my Wedding Dress?

Q.I hung up my daughter’s bouquet to dry and later she hung her bride’s dress next to it. There are now two ugly brown stains on the dress. Please can you advise me how to treat it?

(Mrs Jane Moore, 24 September 2008)

A.Without knowing the exact source/cause of the stain, it is difficult to recommend a stain removing solution. From the mention of the bouquet, it is assumed that the brown stains may be due to plant matter – either natural dyes from the flowers or even just plant juices (eg. sap) which may have reacted with the fabric of the wedding dress.

Try to guess what category it falls in – such as is it greasy? Does it smell of oil, paint or chemicals? Does it smell like some sort of food or drink? In this case, it is likely that the stain is an organic matter stain, similar to that from strongly-colour foods or drink. Check the condition of the stain – is it wet or dry, and has it penetrated the fabric? These will all help you in stain removal.

Try the following steps, moving in sequence, until the stain hopefully disappears:

1) Try soaking first in cold water, for at least 30mins. Water is an universal solvent and in many cases, particularly if the stain is still fresh, it can be very effective in lifting away the stain.

2) Try rubbing a little liquid laundry detergent or dishwashing liquid into the stain; again leave for 30mins and then rinse thoroughly with water. If the stain has disappeared, you can then wash as normal.

3) Try soaking the stain overnight in a laundry pre-treatment or just usual laundry detergent. This is especially good for protein stains, such as from egg, blood and perspiration.

4) Try washing the garment with detergent, in the hottest temperature that the fabric can withstand – this can be very hot for cottons and linens, only hand-hot for synthetics (eg. nylon) and just warm for delicates like woollens. Do not put the garment in the dryer without checking first that the stain has been removed – as if it has not, the heat from the dryer will set it permanently.

5) For grease stains, if washing does not remove it, let it air dry and then sponge the stain with a grease solvent to help break the stain up – examples are eucalyptus oil, borax solution and, as a final resort, diluted methylated spirit. Make sure you keep the area well-ventilated to disperse the solvent fumes and always spot test first. Rinse well afterwards and wash again.

6) As a very last resort – and if the fabric can withstand it – you can try a solution of equal parts bleach and water. But this is a very harsh treatment and could damage many fabrics. Follow the bleach manufacturer’s instructions carefully and always spot test first.

A lot of stains can be removed in several ways but the some treatments can harm certain fabrics and thus will decide which option will be chosen. Certain synthetic fabrics – such as acetate – can be very vulnerable to a lot of chemical solvents. It is a good idea to always spot test a corner of the fabric with the stain remover, to check for colour-fastness and any other fibre damage.

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