Finding a cleaner for my dress

Q: How can I find someone to clean and preserve my gown?

A: The fabrics and detailing of wedding dresses require a dry cleaner who specializes in them. Get recommendations from recently married friends or the salesperson where you purchased your gown. If you can't find a cleaner in your area, try searching online for one that takes mail orders.

Ask someone questions before you entrust anyone with the cleaning. How long has the company been in business? How many gowns does it handle? (Ten or so a week is a good number.) Ask what process will be used and why they believe it is best for your dress. Will they test the solution before they start? Will they reinforce seams and guarantee trimmings won't be destroyed? The answer should be detailed and convincing.

Don't forget to discuss logistics, as well as guarantees, warranties, and damage policies – a missed stain can show up several years later. Many cleaners offer lifetime warranties with a refund; ask if there's a limit to the time you're covered or to any refund you can collect. Do not choose a company that makes you sign a disclaimer releasing it from responsibility for any damage during cleaning, or one that voids the warranty if you open the box the dress is returned in.

Find out if preservation is included in the fee (many cleaners will stuff your dress with acid-free tissue paper and place it in a acid-free box).

To give you an accurate cost estimate, the company needs detailed information about the dress, including fabric content and its embellishments. Prices vary depending on the construction of the garment and the types of stains, but you should expect to pay from $300 to $1,000 for a couture gown. “Anyone who gives you a precise cost over the phone before examining the dress is someone to be wary of, since each dress has its own unique problems,” says Jonathan Scheer, Founder and president of J. Scheer & Company, a firm specializing in the care of wedding gowns. “Beware of cleaners with a fixed rate – this usually means that they treat every dress the same way.”

Line up the service before your wedding, since the sooner you have your dress treated, the better the results. “If the gown has only the soiling that one would expect to find at the hem and train, and no stains from food or beverages, it’s reasonable to wait up to a month or so,” says Scheer. “If you have spilled alcohol or something sugary on the dress, the professional would prefer to see it sooner.” To be on the safe side, ask your maid of honor or another attendant to drop it off for you while you’re honeymooning.