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Your kids' favorite toys probably see a lot of wear and tear, dirt and grime. Even if you're careful, it's almost inevitable to avoid food stains, dirt tracked from the floor, or marks from art projects. Toy manufacturers are aware of this, which is why many stuffed animals are machine-washable. But when it comes to toys that light up, talk and move, cleaning is a much more difficult task if you want to avoid damage.
The Problem with Water
The difficulty with washing any battery-operated device is that it's electronic -- and electronics and water don't mix. Even professionals approach cleaning electronic stuffed toys with extra caution. "This is a very hard thing to do," says Sally Winey, teddy bear artist and owner of Winey Bears in Oak Island, North Carolina, a shop that specializes in stuffed animal repair and cleaning. "The normal care is not used when there are batteries, music boxes or other mechanical devices involved." Even small water droplets on sensitive electrical parts can cause irreversible damage. When approaching cleaning, she advises, "The biggest thing I can tell you is do not put it in water. Do not put it in the washer or dryer." This is critical for safety as well as cleaning purposes.
Aside from being sensitive to water damage, electronic toys are also susceptible to breaking down without gentle care. "Many times, being rough with these toys causes the wires to separate," says Winey. It's a good reason to keep them out of the dryer or any other rough cleaning process. What is more, with improper care all stuffed animals are at risk of losing their shape, softness or color -- or they can even be torn apart. But don't despair if your little one's talking teddy needs a good scrubbing. You may still approach the task with careful surface cleaning.
Dry Surface Cleaning
If the toy isn't badly stained, you may be able to clean it without water. A light vacuuming with a hose and brush is often sufficient. "Place a nylon stocking over the nozzle and use the brush and take it over top of the toy gently," says Winey. You can also use a rough brush or a sticky lint roller, but do this very carefully. Take extra caution with older, well-worn toys, which are more prone to damage of surface materials.
If you need to remove some tough or sticky stains, you can attempt a surface wash. "Woolite is the best to use for these loved friends," says Winey. Pour a capful of it into a bowl or sink with water and make some suds. "Using a towel, wipe the bubbles off the top and rub them gently onto the surface of the toy," she instructs. Test an inconspicuous area first for colorfastness, and then proceed with gentle scrubbing as necessary. "Black-and-white stuffed toys usually bleed black into white when cleaned if you're not careful," she says. Also avoid making contact with any electronic parts with water. Rinse with a clean, damp cloth and then let the toy air-dry completely. You may need to repeat this process for the toughest cleaning jobs.
Care and Preservation
Some difficult cleaning and repair jobs can be avoided with basic care and preservation. Winey has a couple of tips. "Do not store these toys in plastic bags that draw moisture," she advises, "and keep them out of direct sun." Also take care to put them away when your kids aren't playing with them, particularly if you have pets. You'll also prevent the toys from being kicked, smashed or tripped over.