Vintage wedding gowns are very special because of their often-intricate details, fine workmanship and one-of-a-kind style. Sometimes, from improper storage or care a beautiful vintage wedding gown becomes marred by mould and mildew staining.
Identify the staining as mildew. Mildew appears as a black, brown, or white spotting or staining (sometimes called "foxing," and mistaken for rust) that is produced by mould growing on the surface of cotton, linen, rayon, silk, wool or other materials. Moisture, warmth, low light and enclosed spaces provide the right environment for mould to grow and for mildew to develop. Along with causing spotting or staining, mildew often leaves a musty odour, changes the colour of fabrics, and even damages the fibres of fabric, causing holes.
To determine how to treat mildew on a vintage wedding garment, examine the fabric. Is it cotton, linen, silk, or wool, or another material, such as rayon, acrylic, or a blend of different fibres? Some fabrics must be professionally cleaned, or do not hold up well under spot-cleaning with acidic solutions, especially silk and wool. The older the gown, the less likely that it will have a label featuring fabric content, so determine by eye -- or ask an expert . Also, check the material carefully to determine how stable it is. If it looks very fragile, restoration may be best left up to a professional.
Air it outside. The air and sunshine will help get rid of the odour from the mildew. And the sun works to kill off the mould that creates mildew. Avoid placing garments of silk or wool in direct sunlight, as it may damage fibres. Additionally, on cotton and linen, the sunlight may act as a natural lightener on the fabric, and help stains disappear. If the first attempt with a dry garment does not work to lessen odour or lighten stains, gently wet the garment and allow it to sun dry.
Carefully brush mildew stains with a paintbrush or washcloth outside, so that spores do not travel to any other items. If they have not been sitting on the fabric for a long time, they may come off with gentle coaxing. For more stubborn spots, seek an area that does not show -- on an inside seam, if possible, or on the hem -- to try a test of stain remover. Place a clean white cotton cloth beneath the stain to be tested.
Mix equal parts water and white vinegar or lemon juice, and dab or spray on a mildew stain in a hidden area of the garment. Let sit to loosen stain, then dab with another cloth. Rinse with cool, not warm or hot, water. Hot water can set stains, so it should be avoided. Allow it to air dry.
If the stain removal was successful, repeat the process on other spots on the garment. To clean the entire garment, either gently hand wash with a mild soap such as Ivory and allow it to air dry, or have it dry cleaned.
Removing mildew stains may require many tries. Consult with a reputable dry cleaner after attempting cleaning at home first. Some spot cleaners may be effective in removing mildew stains, though some contain harsh chemicals. Use cautiously, and try in an inconspicuous place first to avoid damaging your vintage wedding dress. To avoid future mildew, do not store a vintage wedding dress in plastic bags. Instead, store in a fabric garment bag in a cool, well-ventilated, dry place.
Avoid bleach with vintage fabrics, using a very diluted solution only as a last resort. It is very strong, and may actually cause fabric damage or yellowing. It should never be used on silk or wool. Though heat kills mildew, avoid using a dryer on any vintage item.