Pressing business: How to take care of a wedding gown

Considering how much money and time are spent picking out a wedding dress, it only makes sense to keep your gown in perfect condition — both before and after the wedding.

Keeping your gown clean and pristine before the wedding is fairly easy, providing you follow a few simple steps.

Experts suggest that you pick up your dress from the bridal salon a few days before the big day. Once you get the gown home, take it out of the garment bag and hang it where it won't be pressed against other clothes, such as a guest room closet. If you don't have any extra closet space, you can hang the dress from a hook or door, as long as it's away from traffic.

The bodice of the dress will be stuffed with cardboard and tissue to help prevent it from wrinkling. Keep the tissue in place until just before you're ready to wear it. On the day of your wedding, you may want to press out any wrinkles that have formed. Use a cool, dry iron and press it under a piece of white cloth to protect the dress. Instead of an ironing board, experts suggest using an ironing mitt. Do not attempt to iron your veil.

To keep your dress from wrinkling in the car, push most of the fabric to the side so that you're sitting on as little as possible. Don't worry — a short car ride will not spoil the look of your dress. Once you're standing, the gown will fall back into place.

It's almost impossible to keep your dress completely clean during your wedding, and there's hardly a bride who hasn't gotten at least one stain on her gown, whether it's from grass, dirt, food, wine, perspiration or makeup. The good news is that with proper cleaning, almost all stains can be successfully treated and removed.

Despite what you may have heard, you do not need to get your wedding dress cleaned immediately. Waiting until after your honeymoon is perfectly acceptable, providing you don't have a huge red wine stain on your dress.

Although your neighborhood cleaner may be capable of cleaning your gown, you will probably get better results if you take your dress to a cleaner who specializes in wedding dresses. Find out how long the company has been in business and how many dresses it cleans each year.

Be sure to ask about guarantees and do not sign any disclaimer that releases the cleaner from responsibility for damage to your gown during cleaning. Some cleaners carry a special insurance policy that insures gowns at their purchase price or appraised value.

If you know the origin of any stains, be sure to alert your dry cleaner. Before taking your dress to the cleaner, remove all shoulder pads, dress shields, metal stiffeners and flower trimmings.

The cost to have your gown cleaned varies, depending on the type of dress, how much fabric is involved, the type of stains and other factors. Normally, though, you can expect to pay about $200.

After your dress has been professionally cleaned and pressed, it's important to have it properly stored so that it will look just as beautiful 10 years from now as it does the day of your wedding. Although you can do your own packing and storing, it's advisable to have a professional preserve your gown.

Your dress should be packed in acid-free tissue and placed in a dustproof, acid-free storage box. Silica gel is normally added to absorb any moisture. Store the box in a cool, dry atmosphere away from sunlight, heat and humidity. (Under the bed is a good place.) Do not store in an attic or basement. Attic heat can produce yellowing and basement dampness can cause mildew.

Do not store your gown in any plastic bag or cardboard box that is not specifically identified as being "acid reduced" or "acid free."

Experts suggest inspecting your gown every year or so and refolding it along different lines to help prevent permanent creases. When inspecting your dress, you may want to wear cotton gloves so that oil or dirt from your skin doesn't stain the gown.