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How to Clean Stuffed Animals

Your little one doesn't like to stray too far from her beloved stuffed animals. She hauls her favorites to Grandma's house, the grocery store and the park. All that togetherness, though, can result in a lot of dust and dirt. If a stuffed animal is sturdy, you may be able to toss it into the washing machine on the delicate cycle. Always read the care instructions on the label first: Some of the little guys won't survive a wash cycle, especially if they are fragile or contain materials such as styrene foam, foam beads or excelsior (fine wood shavings), according to StuffedSafari.com. The stuffed animal could also end up with shifted insides that ruin its shape. But there are methods you can use to rid your child's stuffed animals of dirt and grime, and they don't require tossing them into a washing machine.

Vacuum

Don't wait until the dirt on stuffed animals is obvious. Even if you can't see it, those little guys are collecting dust that can aggravate your child's allergies. Even the ones you have on display are gathering dust and mites. When you clean house, don't skip the stuffed animal collection. Loosen the dust with a soft brush or clean dust cloth. If you have a vacuum cleaner with a hose and attachments, periodically use the attachments to carefully vacuum the stuffed animals. Vary the attachment size to fit the size of the animal.

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Spot-Clean

Stains, kids and stuffed animals go hand in hand. A favorite teddy bear is typically part of your child's daily activities, so a portion of her lunch may just end up on teddy's belly. You can use a multipurpose stain remover to spot-clean stuffed animals, according to Michael Vercelletto, product manager for OxiClean in Princeton, New Jersey. He recommends first removing as much of the excess stain as possible. "Mix a color-safe, multipurpose, oxygen-based stain remover with warm water. Be sure the powder is completely dissolved," says Vercelletto. "Apply it to the stain, saturating it. Rub the fabric in small areas and wait up to 10 minutes. Don't allow the solution to dry on the fabric. Blot it with a white towel and repeat the procedure until the stain is no longer visible. Then rinse it with clean water and blot until dry."

Professionally Clean

You may wonder if a stuffed animal can be professionally dry-cleaned. Rachel Hahnfeld, manager and owner of Village East Cleaners in Henderson, Nevada, says there are ingredients in the dry-cleaning chemicals that can make stuffed animals fall apart. Hahnfeld's business is a family affair. "Years ago, my dad wanted to see if he could dry-clean stuffed animals," says Hahnfeld, "so he took some of mine to his dry-cleaning business to see what would happen. They fell apart, and I was heartbroken." When patrons bring stuffed animals into her dry-cleaning business, Hahnfeld either washes them, if possible, or spot-cleans the stuffed animals. If it's an especially precious stuffed animal, you may want to find an expert restorer in your area. There are places, such as Teddy Bear Hospital in Pittsburgh, that clean, restore and repair stuffed animals.

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Surface Wash

An effective at-home treatment for soiled stuffed animals is surface cleaning, says Hahnfeld. Put a mixture of a gentle, liquid detergent and water in a small bowl. Spot-test the mixture on an inconspicuous part of your furry friend. Dip a little brush into the mixture and lightly brush the stuffed animal. It won't be perfectly clean, but if you can't put it in the washing machine, it will at least refresh the little guy, says Hahnfeld. Wipe with a damp cloth to remove any detergent residue. Fluff the fur with a stiff brush that has wide plastic bristles.

Toss in Baking Soda

Baking soda absorbs oil from stuffed animals' fur, giving them a fresh, clean scent, according to Clean Stuffed Animals. Use about a tablespoon of baking soda for a small animal. Cover it with a light coating of baking soda and place the little guy in a pillowcase. You can clean more than one animal at the same time in a large pillowcase. Close the bag and shake it vigorously. Leave the animal in the bag for about a half hour so the baking soda can absorb the oil. Wipe the powder off the stuffed animal with a damp paper towel. Empty the pillowcase and place the stuffed animal back into it. Toss it in the dryer for a few minutes, then fluff your furry friend's fur with a soft brush or use a small vacuum attachment.

Change Stuffing

Sometimes the problem lies inside the stuffed animal: No matter what you do, an odor persists. In that case, opt to change the stuffing. Open a side seam and take out the old stuffing material. Refill your child's furry buddy with a nontoxic fiberfill. Sew the seam back up, and he'll be as good as new.

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