Alternatives to laundering a stuffed animal?
February 24, 2011 9:05 AM   Subscribe

How to clean a Very Important stuffed animal: the baby edition.

My one-year-old daughter has a favorite stuffed animal, a fairly small white bunny who has, of course, been discontinued. She sucks on said bunny's ears enough that he really needs to be washed about once a week (the ears get crusty). Of course running the bunny through the washing machine can't be that great for him, so I'm looking for solutions for a more gentle (yet still thorough) method of cleaning him. I'd be open to just soaking his ears in ... something ... in the bathroom sink provided (a) it's easy to make sure they're rinsed clean & (b) it won't leave a lasting weird taste (which I suspect vinegar might?). Any suggestions?
posted by oh really to Home & Garden (21 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Baby shampoo is my go-to for these kinds of things.
posted by Mizu at 9:09 AM on February 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm sure I was older than one when I got the talk, but my dad explained to me one day that if I continued to chew on Brownie's (my stuffed rabbit, one of my two Most Important Stuffed Animals) whiskers and treat her roughly, she wouldn't be able to make it to old age. And so as a kid, I was much more careful with my stuffed animals than my peers. I still loved them hard, but treated them gingerly. Now that I'm an adult, they're still both in great shape, both in one piece (though slightly chewed), and still relatively fuzzy. So it probably couldn't hurt to encourage your daughter as she gets older to not chew on the bunny.

When I was four, I was holding the two Most Important Stuffed Animals on my lap during a car trip. I got sick and puked all over them. My grandma washed them out in the motel sink using lemon-scented dish soap. I don't know if that's the best way, but it got the job done just fine. (And they smelled like lemon instead of barf!)
posted by phunniemee at 9:13 AM on February 24, 2011

This is going to sound weird, but have you thought about vodka? Let it dry for a full day afterward and all the alcohol will evaporate. There's no chance of anything nasty being left behind, as it has to be consumable by adults. And given that vodka is, ideally, ethanol and water, there shouldn't be any weird taste left over. Although that might mean using a slightly upper class brand.

(True story- I spilled vodka on one of my favorite childhood stuffed animals in a move. It seemed cleaner afterward.)
posted by Hactar at 9:13 AM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Washing in a pillow case with a couple towels or a small blanket (or in a lingerie bag, really) with woolite or dreft will be pretty gentle. Otherwise, baby shampoo seems like a good suggestion.
posted by Medieval Maven at 9:15 AM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Ack, preview is my friend.

50/50 Vodka & Water is what we in the theater call Poor Man's Febreze. It removes actor funk so I would guess soaking in that mixture would work, too. (Also, 50/50 saves you on the vodka).
posted by Medieval Maven at 9:17 AM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you do the pillow case thing, make sure you tie the pillow case closed before washing. Wash on the delicate cycle and let the bunny air dry. I've been using this method for 14 years on first my son's stuffed animals and then my daughter's, and I've never, ever lost an animal!
posted by cooker girl at 9:28 AM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

This thread almost made me hyperventilate. My 4-year old is devoted to a small stuffed kitty he calls Feathers. It's an exact duplicate of our real life kitty and he wraps him in blankets to keep him warm, takes him for rides in the car and sleeps with him every night. I finally decided he needed a bath this morning and casually tossed him into the washing machine with the regular laundry. He was still in the washer when I started reading this thread and I bolted down the basement stairs when I read

kanata: "...shock of bright orange stuffing still haunts me to this day. "

The good news is that Feathers he seems fine after his trip through the washing machine using All free and the regular warm/cold cycle. I am going to air dry him though and maybe make myself a stiff Vodka tonic.
posted by victoriab at 9:48 AM on February 24, 2011 [16 favorites]

If you do the pillow case thing, make sure you tie the pillow case closed before washing. Wash on the delicate cycle and let the bunny air dry. I've been using this method for 14 years on first my son's stuffed animals and then my daughter's, and I've never, ever lost an animal!

Exactly what I came in to suggest. Use a rubber band or hair tie to tie off the pillowcase, toss in wash with Dreft/Woolite/whatever.

You can also put bunny through the dryer normally (as in, take out of pillowcase, toss in dryer) - I've never had a stuffed animal harmed in that particular process, but if you're really worried about bun's structural integrity, air drying works just fine.
posted by sonika at 10:09 AM on February 24, 2011

Handwash with laundry detergent or Woolite in the sink.

Drain sink, fill with clean water. Immerse and squeeze. Repeat until no more soap comes out.

Wrap in towel and gently squish, not wring. Repeat until mostly dry.

Then let it air dry and return to grateful child for further encrustation.
posted by zippy at 10:10 AM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I am a toy collector and have experience cleaning delicate and/or antique stuffed toys.

Running Bunny through the washing machine isn't good for him for a couple of reasons, the most important being that his stitching isn't really made to take the agitation from a center-agitating machine (it is, indeed, very likely that one day you will open the washer and he will have just exploded - also not good for your washer.) If you have a front loader, or a newer machine without a center agitator you may have better results with machine washing long term. However, over time machine washing will also cause his stuffing to clump up, and I suspect its likely not ever getting really dry, so there is a risk he could get musty.

The best way I know of to clean stuffed animals is to invest in a very good, stiff upholstery brush. When its time for Bunny to be cleaned, first give him a good brushing all over, then use a very small amount of gentle detergent (like Woolite - I actually use heavily diluted Dr Bronner's Almond Soap on my son's toys, though) on the corner of a washcloth and gently wash him all over using small, circular strokes. To rinse, repeat the process with just warm water and another washcloth. The goal is to get his fur all clean without getting his stuffing too wet. Then give him another good brushing, and set him to dry in a warm, sunny place.

If the crustiness is your main issue, you may find that the brushing alone does the trick and you can wash Bunny less often.

I agree that the Vodka Trick is a great one, especially for stuffed toys that seem musty or have an odd smell, but I wouldn't use it on one a child is actually going to put in his/her mouth.
posted by anastasiav at 10:11 AM on February 24, 2011 [15 favorites]

Check ebay if you know the brand of the bunny. I managed to find the exact teddy bear that my daughter lost for pretty cheap on ebay. A spare is always a really good idea. I wonder if she'd accept a My Melody ear shaped hat to give an extra layer of protection to the ears. Then you can just wash the hat . If not, she might when she's a bit older to cover up the old damage.
posted by artychoke at 10:21 AM on February 24, 2011

Soak Wash. I haven't actually chewed on anything that I washed with Soak, but the scentless kind seems to really and truly evaporate out. Oh, and it's great for, you know, cleaning.
posted by anaelith at 10:29 AM on February 24, 2011

oh really: My one-year-old daughter has a favorite stuffed animal, a fairly small white bunny who has, of course, been discontinued. She sucks on said bunny's ears enough that he really needs to be washed about once a week (the ears get crusty).

I would merely point out that we are unique in living in the anti-bacterial age. I had a stuffed monkey I slept with, dragged around, snotted on, cried on, and generally made disgusting not only through the traditional childhood years, but right up until my dog finally dispatched it when I was 35 years old. He was laundered a grand total of four times, all of them involving actual vomit.

You might consider if a little crusting from your child's own spit is genuinely something you need to launder weekly, especially considering that the saliva you are washing off is present in her own mouth. Certainly no matter what washing routine you adopt, the bunny will live longer if just left to bask in the glory of his devoted owner.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:42 AM on February 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

We faced a similar, but more acute and less ongoing, situation with a stuffed monkey that was sacred to my youngest. It turns out that eBay can remove even the most stubborn stains.
posted by richyoung at 11:03 AM on February 24, 2011 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: anastasiav: maybe the vodka idea isn't that bad if she's teething? haha just saying.

DarlingBri: the main reason I feel like I need to wash him is NOT germs but is the SMELL. No clue what's going on in this kid's mouth that makes the ears smell like that! I actually totally agree with you -- my own bear from childhood was washed twice between my infancy & when I moved out of my parents' house at 24.

artychoke & richyoung: we already purchased a back-up on eBay!

everyone else: thank you so much for the advice!
posted by oh really at 11:35 AM on February 24, 2011

I am 26 years old and have a Mr. Dog who is also 26 years old. And a little bald, but his seams are totally solid. And I still "pet" him when I have a bad day.... He has been thrown in the wash many times, always in a pillow case that's tied shut, throughout my life, but that may have contributed to his... sparse fur problem.

He recently had a misshap with some beer under my bed (yeah I"m an adult and I keep a stuffed dog under my bed. What'cha gonna do about it? :) )and I had to wash him again, so I just filled a big bowl up with tepid water (Mr. Dog is only about 10 inches tall.) and some mild detergent (I like the Trader Joe's biodegradeable detergent because it smells of actual lavander and I like that. It also seems to be pretty gentle but i'm not an expert) and just swished him around a bit 'till he was less... beer-y, and he survived just fine. Didn't even loose any of the precious fuzz still left on him.

I figure a gentle swishing in a bowl of water followed by a good rinse would do just fine for a white bunny. My sister's favorite for a long time was a white bunny, aptly named "Fuzzy Bunny" and when his ears got crusty, he would go to the "salon". Which meant we filled a bowl with water and a little detergent and dunked his ears in it. Then we'd towel them off and my sister would put his ears up in a scrunchie becasue he was getting his ears styled at the salon. duh.

I totally agree that a stiff brush and mild detergent is the way to go for antique toys as mentioned by the previous user, but if Bunny is a modern sort of bunny, "bunny ear salon" might be an easier option than brushing him every time. Modern plushes are pretty much made out of 100% polyesther inside which is pretty sturdy. You just have to be careful of pulling out or breaking the fuzzy pile of the fur with too much abrasion, and of the seams which aren't always sewn together very well. (but if a seam pops, it's usually an easy fix if you know someone who sews. )

The other thing that can really harm modern plushes is heat. Don't ever put bunny in the dryer, because bunny will get some nasty melted fur. Polyesther is plastic, high heat will melt and kink the fur fibers especially on longer haired stuffed animals.

Always make sure you rinse your Bunnies, Dogs, Bears, Kitties or whatevers really well after you wash them though. Detergent left on cloth can cause premature aging in fabrics. The small detergent particles will stick to dirt particles, and the dirt is abrasive and will contribute to wear on the fabric. Like microscopic sand paper. Even if it's not sticking extra because of the detergent, dirt particles in general can still do this. So gentley washing Bunny will help him live a longer life than leaving him dirty,and in the long run a gentle hand wash or partial hand wash is probably best.
posted by RampantFerret at 12:21 PM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

PS. Replacement Mr. Dog was never ever as good as the real Mr. Dog. I could tell the difference. (Mr. Dog was never actually lost for good though, but he did dissapear at cousin's houses quite often and have to catch up to me in the mail.)

Fluffy Bunny could never replace Fuzzy Bunny for my sister, even though they were the same plush. (Fuzzy Bunny also was never lost.)

I swear kids can tell, so don't always count on a replacement to do the trick.
posted by RampantFerret at 12:23 PM on February 24, 2011

Just a data point against using the dryer: I also had a stuffed rabbit as a child. She was shaped like a regular rabbit crouching, with a big puffy body and a smaller head. Ursula Rabbit went into the washing machine and the dryer and came out... different. Her body somehow shrunk but her head didn't. I can't actually remember what she looked like, pre-dryer, but she sure looked weird afterwards and I'm afraid to say that I abandoned her for cuter toys. Sorry, Ursula Rabbit!
posted by Georgina at 6:39 PM on February 24, 2011

I use Gund Teddy Bear Bath on my kids' animals.
posted by candyland at 7:06 PM on February 24, 2011

I suggest the pillow case method of washing. Making sure that the pillow case is tied shut. Use the second rinse setting and then dry the stuffed animal in the pillow case, on low heat with a couple of dryer balls or tennis balls. The pillow case in the dryer will prevent the eyes or buttons from getting scratched. I have had great success with this method. The only misstep was when I took a Teddy out of the pillow case to dry and learned about scratched eyes. :(
posted by saradarlin at 12:24 AM on February 25, 2011

Oh, and if you ever do an eBay replacement, the important step is to put the old one in the wash with some laundry, and then pull a switcheroo when the stuff comes out of the dryer. That way, you have a clear explanation for why the new one is so different.
posted by richyoung at 9:42 AM on February 25, 2011

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