Don't sully the memory, help save the dress

You wouldn't throw $1,056 out the window — not even if you're a deliriously happy newlywed, right?

That was the average gown price in the 2006 American Wedding Study, the most recent survey available by Brides magazine. After the wedding, many of those gowns don't get cleaned, thus greatly diminishing their chances of ever being worn again.

"Brides will wait two, three, four, five years before they start asking about cleaning, but the problem is some of the stains have started to oxidize," says Joe Hallak of Hallak Cleaners in New York.

There is a direct relationship between time passed and the ability to clean a stain, he says.

A wedding dress doesn't have to go to the cleaners straight from the reception hall; bringing it in within a few weeks would do.

The actual cleaning is just as important as the preservation process, says John Hallak, Joe's brother and a partner in the business.

The most common stain on wedding dresses is wine. White wine and champagne, which make less noticeable stains initially, are just as damaging as red-wine stains over time.

The typical cleaning process involves spot cleaning, machine cleaning and steam cleaning. Then gowns are pressed and put in a box to help control humidity.

Wedding gowns also typically have hem soil, especially if it was an outdoor wedding. It's not just dirt; there's grease and fertilizer in soil.

Once you've got the gown in its box, they recommend shifting it around slightly every few years so certain parts don't fade or develop permanent creases. Wear rubber gloves, though, because fingers are greasier than you'd think, they say.

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