Must be careful. Must not break.
October 27, 2011 6:31 AM   Subscribe

Trying to lightly clean a stuffed toy, how do I ensure I cause no damage?

I'm trying to clean this particular doll. It's in good shape but around the seams on the body it is a bit greyish. I'd like to clean it up, but it's quite important I not cause any damage at all. I read this question but I fear a stiff brush might cause damage and scented detergents scare me and may set off allergies.

I know I'm being a bit picky, but I'd like to keep it in the best condition possible. I don't want dirt to set in if I can help it, but causing any sort of damage would be far worse. My initial thought was to use a soft cloth very lightly dampened with rubbing alcohol, but I'm not entirely sure if that's a good idea either.

It's a pretty light job, but I have to make sure I do it right if it's going to be done at all. Any advice?
posted by Saydur to Grab Bag (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Just hand wash it in the sink in warm water with some soap then hang it outside to dry. It'll be fine. Don't use a brush or anything like that.
posted by joannemullen at 6:44 AM on October 27, 2011

Response by poster: hand wash it in the sink in warm water

Correct me if I'm wrong, but wouldn't that be virtually impossible to ensure the inside dries out completely? Again, not causing damage is the number one priority here. If I can't very lightly clean it without any damage, then I'd rather just accept it that way.
posted by Saydur at 6:53 AM on October 27, 2011

We learned on our first kid to always buy a backup as soon as a child develops a favorite animal, blanket, doll, etc. although at $90 that seems like a lot of money for an insurance policy on a toy doll.

When we could get the doll away from the child, we washed it with a load of towels in cold water and then dried it for 15 minutes on low heat with the towels and let it air dry for the rest. (Towels went back in on high.) Once at grandma's house, she just took the toy ($5,000 in future therapy) and washed it in Woolite in the sink. It survived.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 6:54 AM on October 27, 2011

Try dampening a cloth with warm water and rubbing off the dirt with that. That's the safest thing you can do, even though it would probably be fine in the washer.
posted by DoubleLune at 7:00 AM on October 27, 2011

I would spot clean it in a sink with a little bit of laundry detergent and a soft-bristled toothbrush, trying to keep water penetration to a minimum. I wouldn't soak the whole thing through and through if I could help it.

To dry, wrap tightly in a clean, dry towel and squeeze (don't wring, squeeze), as you would for a sweater. Then hang him up. (Maybe use a hair drier on low (not high, the fur could melt) if you want to speed it up.)
posted by phunniemee at 7:02 AM on October 27, 2011

Just wash it in cold water with clear soft soap in the sink and then wrap it in a big towel and wring the towel. Shake the toy and fluff it to get its shape back. It will be fine.

If you can put it in the washing machine in a lingerie bag, do it on gentle after you rub some clear soft soap on it. Don't put detergent in the wash.

Air dry. It will dry just fine, stuffing and all.

I wash a lot of stuff that you are supposed to dry clean (including an expensive BeBe sport jacket) so no worries.

If you are REALLY afraid of wetting it, buy a Dryel home dry cleaning kit. There is a solution in it that you can use to remove dirt that does not discolor or stain any fabric. Follow the instructions, but don't put the toy in the dryer, just use the solution to remove the stains.
posted by Yellow at 7:06 AM on October 27, 2011

2nding handwashing. At 16 inches, it won't really move well in the washing machine.

I'd dry it in the dryer on low using that shelf insert you've probably forgotten about.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 7:06 AM on October 27, 2011

Put it in a plastic bag with baking soda. Shake it up. Vacuum.
posted by TooFewShoes at 7:07 AM on October 27, 2011

I would just machine wash it on a gentle cycle, then line dry it.

My favorite stuffed toy withstood many washings. He still looks quite dignified today, you know, for a twenty year old stuffed dog.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:11 AM on October 27, 2011

Response by poster: I feel the need to reiterate that "no chance of damage" is the top priority. I'm looking for light surface cleaning, not salvage work. The dry cleaning kit sounds like the best idea so far, I'm really looking for light work, absolute minimal wear, and preferably something without scents or potential allergens. Would that dry cleaning solution fall under the no scents/allergens and minimal wear?
posted by Saydur at 7:29 AM on October 27, 2011

The dry cleaning solution will not have residual smell and I used it for things where it would come into contact with sensitive skin and sensitive to smells and it was fine.

You can try putting the solution on something else and wait a day to see if it bothers you. If it is okay, then use it for the toy.

I would not suggest putting it in the dryer because the painted parts will be damaged.
posted by Yellow at 7:35 AM on October 27, 2011

Best answer: Is this destined for a kid, or for a collector? I'd use different processes depending. (FYI: I'm a toy collector) There is no process that has zero chance of damaging the toy - even letting it gently degrade means it will get damaged. (I'm guessing you have one that you either want to sell or want to preserve as a collector.)

What's the condition of the toy now? Is it just dusty, or does it have ground in dirt? Stiff brushes are good to bring up ground in dirt (I use a firm toothbrush on smaller toys) but if he's just got surface dirt I'd go with the Dr Bronners/Washcloth combo I mentioned in the other post. They also sell specific "teddy bear" detergent that is allegedly formulated specifically for stuffed toys.

Whatever you do, don't get him soaking wet. From the photo, it looks like he's not "plush" in the same way a bear or stuffed animal would be plush, but is made from a flat woven fabric, is that true?

A great first step can be carefully vacuuming him all over (don't get him wet first) with a small drapery attachment to get the surface dirt off. If he's got a lot of surface dirt, a technique that works well is to put the toy in a plastic bag and then use the vacuum to suck all the air (and dust) out of the bag. Vodka is a great sanitizer, but not a great "detergent" in that it doesn't actually break up soil.

If you have this in hand, can you post a photo (or memail me). If I see it's current condition I may be able to help more.
posted by anastasiav at 7:51 AM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've found that there is a Dryel on the Go pen that you can try. This way, you don't have to buy the whole kit.
posted by Yellow at 7:55 AM on October 27, 2011

As an antique dealer, I used to clean things like kid leather by taking dry baking soda, and using my fingers to rub it in a bit, then using a cosmetic brush to brush it away. That took hours, but worked beautifully on gloves and shoes. This would be a very non-invasive and neutral thing to try first.

But, for a toy like this, you may want to add a detergent to attract the dirt. Detergents, rather than soaps, are most attracted to greasy, oily dirt; surrounding it to separate it from the fiber. This chemical action is aided by heat, agitation and time. So, I'd say try making a solution of a few drops of whatever dish soap you use (as you're obviously not allergic to it), and warm water, and add baking soda to deodorize and provide the agitation without your rubbing it - then use a soft white cloth to "tamp" the areas, and let it sit for a few minutes (not more than twenty - longer than that will reabsorb) and use another soft white cloth to blot it away. Finish with a clean, dry paintbrush to restore the pile.
posted by peagood at 8:12 AM on October 27, 2011

PS - I am saying to use the detergent because even if it's been sitting around the house unplayed with and untouched, greasy kitchen dirt can find its way to everything eventually.
posted by peagood at 8:13 AM on October 27, 2011

I too recommend the dry cleaning kit. As long as the dyes are dry-cleaning solvent safe (and most modern dyes are), spot cleaning can be done with very little risk of damage. Dry-cleaning solvents are excellent at removing greases and random dirt.

Give the doll a good airing after you are done, but after a day or two there should be no concern for leftover residues. Detergents and powders are going to be much harder to get off the item afterwards.
posted by bonehead at 8:14 AM on October 27, 2011

I'd use a soft, damp white cloth and wipe where it's gray. Then wipe (gently) with a dry cloth. let it dry overnight, if that has done the job, great. If not, do it again. Watch for pilling, you don't want to do more damage with friction from the rubbing. If it were mine, i'd get a soft bristle toothbrush, sprinkle cornstarch, let it sit, then gently brush it away, then use a dry cloth to brush too. Gentle is great, it does mean you need to keep in mind that it may take some time and repeated tries.
posted by lemniskate at 9:36 AM on October 27, 2011

I just cleaned a beloved bear (Bedtime Bear, but his real name is Fuzzy) from my childhood a few weeks ago with a diluted solution of water and OxiClean in a spray bottle. I was wary but on first spray it was like he was brand new. Just be careful to go light on the spraying so your friend doesn't get saturated. Fuzzy got a little too wet and I had to put him in the dryer, with some towels and inside a pillow case, in increments of 15 minutes til he felt dry. I don't regret it for a second.
posted by moviehawk at 12:53 PM on October 27, 2011

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