April Tip of the Month: Grime & Punishment Part One


In case you haven’t guessed from the corny title this month’s tips are about cleaning and fixing up dolls. Unless you only buy brand new dolls there is a good chance you have done some extreme doll cleaning. Dolls that come from op shops, markets, and garage sales have often led tough lives.

Some dolls are just a bit grubby and have messy hair. Others are filthy and may have stains from marker pens or biros and even food stains. These are the ones I often bring home from the Op Shop to fix up as I can’t abide the thought of selling dirty dolls to people.

Op Shop dolls at my house awaiting beauty treatment.

First Do No Harm

I am saying this first because there are some things that you shouldn’t attempt unless you are really sure that you know what you are doing. Antique dolls are fragile and restoring them is probably best left to an expert. Materials like composition, papier-mache, wax, and porcelain can easily be damaged by over-enthusiastic cleaning. If you are going to try to clean these old dolls at home I’d suggest first reading all you can about the materials they are made of and then trying out your cleaning method on an unobtrusive part of the doll or better still one that is only fit for the bin.  My experience is mainly with vinyl and hard plastic dolls and those with cloth bodies so I’m just going to write about that.

I am no expert on doll cleaning techniques, most of what I do I’ve learned from other collectors websites or YouTube channels so I’ll just go through some of the basic stuff for those people who might be new to our hobby. At some point, I intend to set up a page of links to useful articles about cleaning and maintenance as a resource for readers.

There are several commercial doll cleaning products available both from doll dealers and online. I haven’t had the opportunity to try most of them because they are either not available in Australia or are just too expensive to use on rescue dolls. If anyone has used some of them please feel free to comment on what you have used and whether it worked for you.

Washing Dolls

I usually use dishwashing liquid to clean vinyl and hard plastic dolls. Many collectors recommend Dawn as being excellent for this. In Australia Dawn is only available as an import, at least I haven’t found anywhere local that sells it. It’s very expensive. I have a little sample sized bottle and I keep it for extreme cases. Normally I just use a good quality dishwashing liquid. I have read that Fairy in Australia is made by the same company that makes Dawn but I don’t know if the formula is exactly the same. If I’m cleaning a hard plastic doll or a doll which shouldn’t be immersed in the water I will just wipe it down with a cloth dipped in soapy water. When I am cleaning fashion dolls I usually wash them under running water in the kitchen sink.  I don’t like to use anything abrasive to scrub dirty dolls but I do have a few old toothbrushes for doll cleaning and I find cotton buds are handy too for getting into crevices. I wash doll hair either with dishwashing liquid or whatever shampoo I have on hand.

These poor dolls came with a variety of problems but mostly they were all absolutely filthy.

These poor toys barely escaped with their lives.

For cloth dolls, it depends on whether they have any interactive features and what they are stuffed with too. Modern soft toys are usually stuffed with polyester fibre fill which is safe to wash.  I occasionally put dolls and toys in the washing machine on a gentle cycle but always in a lingerie bag. If that’s not possible I like to sponge them down with a gentle cleaner like the ones designed for woollens.  As with your own clothes, read the care labels. If I think that colours might run, and almost anything red seems to do that, I use cold water. I rarely wash anything in hot water anyway. Vintage dolls and toys may be stuffed with rubber foam, cotton waste, kapok or excelsior (wood wool) Getting any of these wet is A VERY BAD IDEA.  If you really want to wash a doll stuffed with one of these materials it would be best to carefully unpick a seam and take the stuffing out first.  I will talk about restuffing dolls and toys in another post.

Haircare

Fashion dolls with nylon or Saran hair I will wash with either dishwashing liquid or shampoo. Afterwards, I’ll comb conditioner through it although fabric softener also does quite a good job. Styling is another topic that I’ll cover in a different post. These Monster High dolls all arrived with tangled hair which responded very well to treatment.

Here the girls have just had their hair washed and conditioned.

Stains

A lot of stains made by water-based markers and paints will come out during the washing process but some require more work. I have used Remove Zit by Twin Pines of Maine for removing marks from vinyl dolls. The first time I tried it was when I had some dolls with stains on their bodies from shoes and clothing and Naomi had some Ken dolls who had suddenly acquired marks on their faces. The product did a good job but it is not something I can afford to buy often and the shelf life is only about a year so if it isn’t all used up it gets wasted. Instead, like other collectors, I started to use acne cream. I use Oxy 10 but any cream with the active ingredient Benzoyl Peroxide will do the same job. Remember though it is a bleach and may discolour the surrounding area. I’m not fussed about doing this with dolls that are going back to the Op Shop if it doesn’t work it’s not a major disaster but you may not want to do it on precious dolls from your collection. I tend to leave it on for short periods of time, wipe it off and reapply if necessary.

Below is a before and after photo of the first doll I took home from the Op Shop to fix. Those blue stains came off with a good wash.

Ashley Olsen had some of the worst stains I’d seen on a fashion doll.

Doll care is such a big subject that we’ll definitely come back to it in future posts.  In the meantime look out for the new page of links which I’ll be publishing soon.

 

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15 comments

  1. Thank you so much! This is the post I’ve been waiting for! I’m always wondering how you do these remarkable doll rehab projects. I’ve been rescuing and reselling myself, so this is so very, very helpful!!! Bookmarked!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. A very apt title for your tips about restoring dolls. Thank you for sharing all this info. There is a lot of satisfaction in bringing “punished” dolls back to their original condition.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow, you have a lot of dolls to work on! Good information. Sometimes the cleaning up of the dolls is the fun part of buying them…bringing them back to life. I am glad to see the Monster High girls are so modest. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Happy Mothering Sunday,(well it’s Sunday for me).The care you give all these dolls is so amazing. The subject is so apt for me who is finding dolls in storage in need of work too. Also any dolls I rehome need help and newer dolls need stuff out of their hair before I can display them. Occasionally I can’t donate boxed dolls because slight damage to a box let dirt in, or the seller/e-bay was a smoker and the box smell so the doll has to be removed to clean. I know it wasn’t a topic but I’ve had two de-boxed dolls have spots on their legs. Does anyone know if “bleaching/treating ” them fixes this?

    Liked by 2 people

    • We’re certainly going to revisit the cleaning subject again never fear. I haven’t had to deal with nicotine smell but I know there are methods for it we should talk about. The spots you are talking about what do they look like, discolouration of the vinyl? Naomi had that with some near new Ken’s and we used Remove Zit so the Oxy 10 treatment might work on that too. It is tricky with new dolls because you don’t want to bleach the surrounding area just the spot.

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  5. I used to buy doll-cleaning liquid and I always preferred dolls with wigs because it is always easier to rewig a doll. There is also special doll hair cleaner and conditioner that I used. As for washing fragile old clothing, I used straight Oxyclean, let it dry (NOT in a dryer!) then sprayed it with a TON of starch and very carefully ironed it. I learned to repair it pretty well, too. I learned to restring dolls, too. I never learned to replace eyes, though.

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    • You did a great job with yours Marilyn. I have soaked things in Oxyclean, hadn’t thought of starch. The commercial doll cleaning products are quite hard to come by over here. Not the same market for them I suppose.

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  6. Great idea(s)..will have to try the clothing fix..too many e-bay finds..not enough dressed..have to make do with the home-mades and what-ever vintage I can scrape together. A Bionic woman will be tricky as she is missing an arm. Missing leg dolls can become mermaids but I’ll have to put her in long sleeves and fold her arms I guess.The Ashley Olson doll transformation always amazes me. I love those dolls! Can’t wait for part 2!

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    • Naomi is working on something we hope will be ready for next month and I might include more on repairs as well. Ashley was in horrible condition when I found her and I am truly amazed that all that ink came off so well. I kept her. Couldn’t send her back after what she had been through so she hangs out with Skipper now.

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  7. lol, he was a little scary. I was more of a cabbage patch kid-ish and the gal who inspired the dolls at one time had a set of her patterns. I found my Olson twins hiding with the spy and agent dolls. They are both wearing Posh Spice doll dresses, and gave Barbie her bright pink coup back in favor of the roomier Tammy car. Haven’t seen any great dollies in the thrift store lately. I did find both Laura Crofts guns in the agents bin thankfully as so many accessories go astray.007 Sean Connery needs new paint and clothes but even though he has Tammy’s brothers body my clothes for boys is slim, and the ken/like togs on-line are undersized. Many of my dolls have condition issues, it’s what I can afford to buy.Any tips/ideas on keeping them nice is soo welcome.

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    • It is so hard to find nice clothes for the male dolls, they are often too short in the arm and leg due to Ken’s changes in size and the action figures with their muscled shoulders and big hands can’t get into fashion doll clothing easily. I really wish I was better at sewing. I can make things but not really as tailored as we would like but I will keep trying.

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    • I haven’t tried but I would say there would be a slight risk that you might get a pale spot where the mark was as the Oxy bleaches the vinyl. I think that some people use a particular type of marker to blend over the fading. I’ll look into it. Anyone else got any thoughts about this?

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