Recently I was asked by a reader if I would share some tips about how to tidy up the pre-loved dolls that we find in Op Shops and markets. Most of what I know I learned from other collectors on the internet so in this post and the next one I will share some of the links I”ve found and also illustrate what I do myself with my latest batch of Op Shop dolls.
In most cases unless the doll is very old and rare you don’t have much to lose if you experiment with cleaning methods for dolls that you picked up for a couple of dollars. There are always going to be more cheap modern era Barbies and footless Bratz dolls right?
I would not recommend trying the same cleaning methods on vintage dolls especially if you are not sure what they are made of. I would not try to do anything to our Shirley Temple for example as she is made of composition and very delicate. I would not try to do too much to dolls whose hair is made of mohair either because I’m not so familiar with it.
This post is strictly about modern vinyl dolls with Saran type hair and is more about cleaning and re-styling than restoration to original condition. I will include a couple of good links I’ve found about that as well either at the end of this post or the next one..
Most vinyl dolls that are just a bit grubby will come up fine after a wash with dish washing liquid. I usually start with that and then if there are other stains that won’t come out I’ll look at other methods. Things like crayon, dried food and so on will usually come off fairly easily. Marker pens can be more of a problem and it will depend on the type of vinyl and the type of pen whether you will be successful or not. I like to use a microfibre cloth and sometimes an old toothbrush for getting into indentations for larger dolls. Cotton buds are very handy for cleaning eyes on dolls of all sizes.
A quick word about those baby dolls with vinyl heads and limbs and cloth bodies like Blue-Face Baby in the pictures below. If they have painted on eyes and no mechanical parts, battery boxes or anything of that type I’d consider putting them in a wash bag and popping them in the washing machine on cold, gentle cycle. I usually put them in with other items so they don’t bang around too much but I have a front loader. I don’t know if I would do it with a top loading machine. If you are not game to do that you can try putting the doll in nappy soaker for a while and then washing in a mild detergent by hand. Rinse it well and roll in a towel to remove as much moisture as possible. I think I actually hung Blue-Face Baby on the washing line on a sunny day for a few hours but sitting the doll wherever you air your clothes would do. Don’t put them in the dryer though will you? Don’t do this at all with old dolls as they may have foam chip stuffing which will probably disintegrate, or even older ones may have cotton waste which goes all lumpy; the polyester stuffing is machine washable.
If a cloth body is really disgusting you can usually remove the head and limbs and carefully unpick the body to use as a template for making a new one. New stuffing will restore the shape. Keep that favourite baby doll going a bit longer.
This doll was donated to the Op Shop and he would have been thrown away but I offered to take him home and see what I could do to clean him. I think this was an acrylic paint and luckily it all came off because it was water based.
This next one was just really dirty. As he had fixed eyes and polyester stuffing I decided to soak him first in Vanish Napisan Oxy Action Powder for a few hours then I put him into a wash bag and popped him into the washing machine with a load of towels, washed on a gentle cycle and sat on the airer in a sunny spot he came up fine. I am sure any soaking agent would work for this too.
Those of you who live in North America may have heard of this company who produce cleaning products specifically for vinyl dolls. I have not used all their products but I have used their Formula 9-1-1, a general cleaner and Remove-Zit for stains. I have the book written by Nicholas J Hill who developed them. I’ve had reasonable success with these products but you can’t buy them in Australia so I have had to have them sent from the USA which costs a lot plus they only have a shelf life of about a year and I don’t go through that much usually so it is uneconomic for me to buy it. However, if you have vintage dolls or those that have sentimental value and access to the products at a good price I would say use them by all means.
Several articles I have read on the subject of stain removal suggest that acne cream will remove stains. I’ve seen several brands mentioned and the main thing seems to be that they contain the ingredient Benzoyl peroxide. I’ve bought a tube of Oxy 10 and have some success with it. As I said it seems to depend on the type of vinyl. You have to be patient as sometimes it will take a few applications before a stain completely fades away.
The dolls I am cleaning for the Op Shop have been played with by small children and once they are sold again they will probably end up getting more of the same so my clean ups are probably not going to be as meticulous as for my own dolls.
Here is one that came in recently. As you can see she’s been attacked with markers.
I tried washing her face first and as the stains did not come off I covered the marks with acne cream. I used Oxy 10 but people have had success with other brands the main thing is that they have Benzoyl Peroxide in the formula. I then sat her in a sunny spot and checked her every day. Two or three days later I cleaned the cream away and “Viola”. No stains.
Quite often dolls clothing and shoes leaves stains that won’t come out. One particular playline Barbie I bought came in a red dress which ended up leaving stains on the torso of any doll that wore it too long. Another doll suffered totally blue feet from a pair of boots. I used Remove-Zit to clean this stain and after some weeks it did mostly all come out. I don’t seem to have an “after” photo unfortunately. Some of the links below describe the acne cream method which is more or less the same but my advice is if you are storing a doll for some time take her clothes and shoes off.
In the next post I’ll talk about de-tangling hair and different products I have used on dolls hair.
Below are some links to articles about cleaning vinyl dolls. I have not used all of these. I’ll comment on the ones I have. I think that the best thing to do is to start with the mildest solution and go on from there. You don’t want to put strong chemicals on your dolls if you don’t have to. I have not as yet tried baking soda or toothpaste.
Most US articles on the subject specify Dawn dishwashing liquid as being excellent for doll cleaning. I don’t know what the Australian equivalent is but a good quality brand ought to do the job.
A couple of articles about using acne cream. I would add that if you are going to leave a doll in a sunny window to fade the stain it might be a good idea to cover up the part of her that is not stained so that doesn’t fade from excessive sunlight.
This one is about using nail polish remover. Naomi has successfully used nail polish remover to remove painted on beards from Ken dolls so be aware that it will take face paint off and don’t get it on facial features you want to keep.
A YouTube Tutorial- about 11 minutes long.
Thanks to all the doll collectors and mothers out there who share their advice and experience with us all.