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As a child, you probably latched on to a favorite doll without a care in the world. Now that your own tot is the one clutching on to Baby Betty, as cute as it is to see her show affection, you may worry about the unwanted germs and bacteria she's cuddling up to on that cloth doll's surface. "Stuffed animals and cloth dolls in particular are favorites for kissing and cuddling, so they do get germs, as well as dirt, on them," says Sarah Gould, lead curatorial researcher at the Institute of Texan Cultures in San Antonio, Texas. Gould, who also serves as the curator for the Timeless Texas Toys exhibit, suggests keeping that special doll clean and safe with a variety of cleaning techniques that will limit your child's exposure to harmful agents.
It's likely that your child's precious baby doll came complete with washing instructions on the tag. Read through the instructions carefully to ensure that it can be machine washed or even put in the dryer to thoroughly cleanse the cloth toy. Many cloth dolls have button eyes or loose stitching that cannot withstand the pressure of a washing machine's spin cycle. According to Gould, if the tag reads "Wipe with a damp cloth," the toy may not be suitable for throwing in a washing machine, which is the best way to thoroughly clean a stuffed animal or cloth toy.
Just as you delicately handle your baby, keep her baby in tact with gentle hand washing. Treat stains the same way you would treat stains on human clothes by spraying on the treatment and then hand washing in cold water with a gentle detergent, says Gould. Hang the cloth doll or lay flat on a towel to dry to avoid shrinking or damage to the doll's delicate parts.
If you've determined that the cloth doll can withstand the power of a washing machine, toss her in on the gentle cycle and wash in hot water with laundry detergent. If the doll is discolored or extremely dirty, add 2 to 3 cups of distilled vinegar and sprinkle with baking soda. Wash the baby doll in a lingerie bag to keep her hair of yarn in place, or put the cloth doll in a pillowcase and tie securely. Make sure that you remove all clothing, hats and accessories for the doll before placing in a washing machine.
Baby dolls with no buttons or plastic pieces attached can be dried on low, or for safekeeping, hung to dry. Your daughter may even feel better about being able to see her fresh and clean cloth baby doll line-drying versus tossing and turning in a dryer.
Gould warns that not all toys can survive repeated washings in good condition, so if your child's doll is getting tattered and torn, seek alternatives to the washing machine and dryer.
Once a cloth doll emerges from the dryer or dries completely on a clothesline, you may need to restore her hair or body to appease your little one and maintain the cloth doll's beauty. Repair loose seams, eyes or buttons with a needle and thread and, if needed, brush any exterior parts that need to be fluffed.
If the cloth doll cannot be fully submerged in water, spot clean frequently with a damp cloth and gentle laundry detergent. Rid the cloth doll of odors by placing her in a large ziplock plastic bag with baking soda, cornstarch or even baby powder. Shake the bag to coat the cloth doll and leave her in the zipped bag for a few hours so the powder absorbs any odors. Once the cloth doll is revitalized and smelling sweet, take her outside and brush lightly to remove excess powder. A vacuum-cleaner hose or handheld vacuum works well, too, to remove the powder.