That’s a good question, but there is no quick and easy answer. There are three components in a good wedding gown preservation: a clean dress, archival-quality storage materials, and a safe place to store the container.
Most fabric conservators recommend a container made of completely acid-free paperboard and tissue for packing that is also completely acid-free. In the United States, the government imposes a fee on paperboard manufacturers to cover the proper disposal of the acid removed during the manufacturing process so you need not worry about environmental pollution as far as the wedding chest is concerned.
And the planet will probably keep on rolling just fine no matter where you keep the wedding chest. However, if you want your gown to continue to look its best, you should not store it where there are extremes of heat and humidity such as the attic where it is just too hot for the comfort of the fibers in your gown. Basements are too damp, and it is one of those well-known universal laws that if a pipe breaks in the basement, the water will find your gown.
Believe it or not, the most important factor in a successful preservation is a clean wedding dress, and cleaning your wedding gown is exactly the point at which you might think about a “green” wedding gown preservation. Some of the stains on your gown are water-soluble (wine or coffee), some are not (lipstick or car-door grease), and some are complex stains (chocolate or salad dressing) that require both wetside and dryside chemicals to dissolve them. Once a Specialist has dissolved the stains with the proper stain removers, the wedding gown goes into a machine containing a solvent that rinses out all of the stain removers used to dissolve the stains.
Some brides think they should ask the cleaner if he or she uses an “organic” solvent when the gown is cleaned, but technically almost all of the solvents currently used by cleaners can be classified as organic because they contain carbon in some form—although some contain more carbon than others. The two dryside (contain no water) solvents currently thought to be most friendly to the environment are carbon dioxide and silicone dioxide, but the jury, the Environmental Protection Agency, has not yet ruled decisively.
You might think water would be the “greenest” solvent. Unfortunately, no bride would be very happy with a silk gown that has been processed entirely in water because water can cause shrinkage. Sophisticated tensioning equipment can be used to offset shrinkage, but water dissolves the sizing that manufacturers add to fabric to give it extra body and sheen. We call this “hand,” and water causes a significant loss of hand. On the whole, silk just does not do well in water, and silk wedding dresses that have been processed in water often look much like a piece of aluminum foil that has been wadded up and then smoothed out again—limp and full of very fine wrinkles.
Even if your bridal gown is not silk, you should remember that solvents other than water are recycled. You could argue that these dryside cleaning solvents are more environmentally friendly than water because water is thrown out after each use. To date there are no commercial cleaning machines that recycle water. And the chemicals used to dissolve stains that are not water-soluble go down the drain with the water. Some states prohibit the use of certain kinds of chemicals, but the rest can end up in the ground and cause exactly the kind of problem you are trying to avoid when you ask for a “green” wedding gown preservation.
So what should you look for? How can you be both a friend to your bridal gown and to the environment?
Hal Hornung, editor of National Clothesline, which is probably the periodical best known and most widely read by cleaners, has often written on the responsible use of stain removers, and I asked him to comment on what brides should do if they are looking for a “green” wedding gown preservation. Hal wrote:
“Of course, there are things beyond the cleaning solvent that will factor into a dry cleaner’s environmental friendliness—energy efficiency and recycling programs, for example. . . . If I were a customer looking for an environmentally friendly cleaner, I would ask the cleaner specifically what he does that makes him “green.” Many cleaners have given it much thought and can provide a laundry list of practices they have in place to conserve and protect the environment. If all a cleaner can say is that he uses Brand A cleaning solvent, which is way better than old Brand X, I would go down the street to the next cleaner.”
Bottom line: when choosing a wedding gown preservation Specialist, you should ask lots of questions to find the cleaner who is both best for your gown and best for the environment. You can find some of the important questions at Bridal Gown Care Tips. Then look for a responsible operator who does his or her best to conserve energy and participate in recycling programs. As Hal wrote, “A poor operator can foul the environment with just about any solvent, while a good operator can be environmentally pristine using just about anything.”