Your wedding isn’t just any other day, and the attire you’ll wear isn’t just any other dress or suit. These garments were likely a serious financial commitment—per the Brides American Wedding Study, the average cost of a wedding dress was $2,439 in 2020—and, chances are, you’ve hired a top-notch wedding photographer to document your every move while wearing them so that you can share the memories with generations to come.
With all that up-front investment, it only makes sense that you’ll want your wedding-day ensemble to look its absolute best, so getting rid of any wrinkles or creases is an absolute must. “Some garments hold up well in transport, while others don’t,” says wedding fashion expert Beth Chapman. “A fresh steam on the wedding day will make them picture-perfect.”
Still, those more accustomed to wash-and-wear fashion might be a little intimidated by the thought of steaming such a pricey—and priceless!—piece of attire ahead of such an all-eyes-on-you moment. Thankfully, it’s not a complicated process. Read on for everything you need to know about how to steam a wedding dress and other wedding-day attire, including how to best prep your steamer, and, perhaps most important, which fabrics to not use it on.
What to Steam vs. What to Iron
“When it comes to dresses, anything that’s a synthetic fabric or a synthetic blend will steam beautifully,” says Chapman. Certain silks—particularly taffeta and silk faille—should be ironed, as they tend to get bubbly when steamed, and the effect only worsens the more you steam them.
Many people are surprised to learn that suits and tuxedos should also be steamed. “You have to be careful with an iron, especially if you’re not a professional, because it can create a sheen on suit fabric,” Chapman adds. That said, shirts that are worn with suits should be pressed with an iron. “You can steam a shirt if an iron is not available, but you’re going to get a more crisp look when it’s ironed. Just make sure you’re using the proper setting for the fabric that you’re pressing,” she continues. (Don’t worry, there will be guidelines on the iron dial.)
One style that should never be steamed? A soft pleated skirt. “Steaming will cause the pleats to come out of the fabric, especially if it’s silk,” says Chapman.
How to Choose a Steamer
No need to purchase a new piece of equipment solely for your wedding day look. Per Chapman, any travel-sized steamer you already own will work just fine for the occasion—and the same likely goes for any steamer your venue or wedding night hotel has on hand. Just know this: the smaller the steamer’s water tank, the more times you’ll need to fill it up, and the longer it will take to complete the steaming process.
If you are looking to invest in a steamer to use beyond your wedding, Chapman prefers Jiffy Steamers. She’s in good company: many professional photo stylists and costumers swear by the brand’s stand-up J-2000 garment steamer.
How to Prep Your Steamer
First and foremost: fill the tank with a fresh batch of water to prevent any musty smells from transferring to your garment. While some YouTube tutorials may encourage you to next cover the steamer head in cheesecloth or another lightweight fabric to prevent dirt or grease from getting on the garment, Chapman does not recommend this approach. “It can cause moisture to gather in the head, which can cause it to spit water,” she explains. Instead, Chapman cleans the head thoroughly with an alcohol wipe, then runs a dry washcloth—or, in a pinch, a clean sock—over the surface to remove any remaining moisture.
After the head is clean, turn the steamer on and let it run for a few minutes. “If your steamer is going to spit water, it’s most likely going to happen when you first turn it on,” Chapman adds. Once you see and feel hot air emanating from the steamer head, hang the garment on top of a door, armoire, or other high surface, then get to work.
How to Steam a Wedding Dress
“For a novice who is steaming for the first time and may be intimidated by the process, the best thing to do is steam in an up and down motion holding the steamer two to three inches away from the face of the fabric,” says Chapman. “Look for the wrinkles to fall away—it’s such a satisfying feeling!” In this process, the most important thing you can do is be patient—or designate the task to someone else. The process can take up to three hours with an especially large dress or long train.
More experienced steamers may find more success with steaming certain garments from the inside. Chapman prefers this method with silk shantung and chiffon bridesmaid dresses because pulling the garment while moving the steamer from top to bottom inside the dress helps release wrinkles from the top down.
Mistakes to Avoid While Steaming
If your steamer does happen to leave a water ring, don’t fret! It will dry. Need it to disappear ASAP? “The best thing to do is dab it with a washcloth, get it as dry as you can, and then steam over the spot,” says Chapman. “The additional steam will help dissipate any moisture that’s in the fabric, so it will be less likely to leave any kind of ring.” You can also use a hairdryer on its lowest warm setting to quickly dry the spot.
If the skirt of your dress has multiple layers, steaming the top layer alone won’t guarantee a smooth look—especially if it’s a soft and flowy skirt. Instead, steam each layer individually, working from the inside out, to ensure the skirt falls as it should.
If the skirt of your princess wedding dress includes a layer of shaping crinoline, don’t waste time steaming it. (Per Chapman, it’s a “crunchy, heavy fabric with holes in it, so steam doesn’t do much for it anyways.”) Instead, manipulate the crinoline with your hands to its fullest shape.
Finally, though it should go without saying, never steam a garment while a person is wearing it. “You absolutely can get burned,” warns Chapman.