Wet Washing My Wedding Gown

When you consider wedding dresses can start in the hundreds and end up in the thousands, I think my Goodwill wedding gown for $25 was quite a frugal find. But the poor dress was filthy. So dirty in fact, I suspect it had been worn as a Halloween costume, and the trick or treater had gone from door to door for many miles. I checked around to see how much it would cost to have it cleaned and was aghast at the prices. I did some research on the Internet, and I noticed the tag on my gown said it could be wet washed, (which is also referred to as wet cleaning). So I started researching my options using those keywords.

Mr. A and I remarried last fall after we had been divorced for 15 years (see my earlier post Wedding Under $3000). Our first wedding we just threw everything together in less than a week, at the insistence of my future mother-in-law who kept saying, “You only get married once!” Mr. A wore his stepfather’s wedding suit, and I wore Mr. A’s mother’s simple ivory lace wedding dress. We invited a handful of family members and went out to dinner afterwards. It was a really inexpensive wedding, that’s for sure.

When Mr. A and I were ready to marry again, after much soul searching, I realized that deep down in my heart I wanted to have a real wedding. I didn’t want to spend a lot of money, but I did want to wear a nice dress, feel like a princess and invite friends and family. Most of these people had hoped for years we’d get back together, and I wanted them to celebrate with us.

At first I didn’t think I deserved a white wedding gown – for more than one reason – the biggest one being they cost too much money! Or so I thought. Then one of my friends suggested that I look for a gown at thrift stores, and while I do shop thrift stores I honestly could never remember seeing wedding gowns. I guess they just weren’t on my radar, so I hadn’t even considered that option. I went on a 50% off day, intending to find myself a pretty white wedding gown. I didn’t get my hopes up too high, because I’m a plus sized woman, and I wasn’t sure if I’d have much to select from.

Happily, at the third or fourth store we went to, I found a very lovely, albeit filthy, gown.

After some research, I decided to take on the task of cleaning the gown myself. Several people cautioned me against cleaning the gown myself, two even offered to pay for having it cleaned. Even though I was hesitant, I could see that hundred plus dollars being spent a lot more efficiently. I just had to give it a shot myself.

I scrubbed the tub, then filled it with cold water and a capful of Woolite. I began to scrub the grime off the bottom of the dress. There were a few dirty spots like this, mostly on the back where it is longer.

And the hemline was grungy with black greasy dirt. The underside of the hem looked like this pretty much all the way around, including the inner skirt hem. I scrubbed both all the way around. I used a toothbrush dipped in Woolite for most of it. When it was worse, I’d use some baking soda for a little bit of grit and at the worst spots I used a drop of Dawn Dishwashing liquid. I emptied the tub and filled it back up with clean water. I did that twice. I used a shower rod over the bathtub, and hung it up to drip dry.

Here is a closeup of the hem after cleaning. Beautiful!

The back of the gown was very simple and plain looking, so I bought a $3 piece of lace to sew to the back, which really dressed it up a lot. It was quite a beautiful gown.


I allowed the dress to hang in the bright sunlight for a couple of hours, for the whitening effect of the sunshine. I carefully ironed the dress. I had starch on hand, but I did not end up using any. The sites I read said that the problem with wet washing is you remove the starch that kept the dress stiffened, so if you dress should have stiff areas, you will need to use starch.

Just make sure your gown says it can be wet washed and you should be able to clean it yourself! My gown needed another cleaning after our wedding, and I followed the same procedure.

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