Soft and lovable plush dolls make classic toy companions. They also get dirty easily, as they attract and hold dust and grime -- not to mention spilled drinks, drool and other sticky and slimy substances. Plush materials are also prone to pilling, which is the collection of lint or fuzz balls on their surfaces. It's tempting to want to toss a plush doll into the washing machine whenever it's due for a good cleaning, but if you're careless, the doll might be ruined. Cleaning plush toys requires special attention to maintain their original shapes, textures and colors.
Look for the Label
Toy manufacturers know that parents like convenience, so many plush dolls are machine washable. Jill Alvord, owner of Jack & Jill Doll Hospital and Antiques in Omaha, Nebraska, says to start with the obvious when approaching the question of how to wash. "First, look for a label that states whether or not the plush doll can be washed," she says. That's why it's important to keep the original tags. If the doll is missing the tag or it’s too faded to read, avoid the washing machine. "The older the plush doll is, the more likely it can't be washed in the machine," Alvord advises.
Even if you can put the plush doll in the washing machine, you should still approach the task with caution. "Colorfastness could be an issue regardless of what method you are using," says Alvord. She recommends securing the toy in a pillowcase with a twist tie and using a gentle detergent like Woolite in a cold wash. Once it's clean, put the toy -- still inside the pillowcase -- in the dryer and tumble dry on a cool setting.
If you decide not to clean the doll in the washing machine, you can wash it by hand. Alvord recommends using a wire dog brush to remove any pilling. After you've brushed the surface, fill a small tub or sink with warm water and a capful of baby shampoo. Use the soapy mixture to dampen a washcloth, and then rub the washcloth in circular motions over the doll's surface. Watch carefully as you wash, as colors may bleed. Rinse with a clean, wet washcloth. Let the doll air dry in a cool area away from direct sunlight.
If the doll is simply dusty or dirty without any markings or stains, you may not have to wash it with water. "You can get rid of loose dirt, if this is the case, just by putting an old pair of stretch pantyhose over a vacuum's hose nozzle, then running it over the fur," says Alvord.
Other Care and Preservation Tips
Once a plush doll is clean, you'll want to keep it that way. Even if the doll sees a lot of play, you can take measures to preserve it better. "Always keep your plush doll or toy out of direct sunlight," says Alvord. "It will fade and weaken the material." In other words, don't let your child leave the doll out in the backyard all day, or even in front of a bright window. Also take precautions if you put the toy away for a while. "If storing your plush toy, keep it out of damp basements where bacteria can seep in and/or attics that can alter color and composition," advises Alvord. "Storing at room temperature in an old pillowcase is always good."