A Guide to Cleaning and Fixing Toys
For These Serious Cases, Seek Out a Specialist
- If a stuffed animal has been maimed. Hanna Hach of Hanna Bruce Bears & Teddy Hospital, in Lititz, Pennsylvania, recently healed a rabbit melted by a lamp, then overnighted it back to its relieved owner, vacationing at Walt Disney World.
- If an eye or some other critical part is missing. “I just fixed an American Girl doll who had been injured when two brothers pulled off her arms and a leg,” says Cheryl DuFresne of Cheryl’s Doll Hospital, in Almont, Michigan.
- To restore an heirloom, like a Madame Alexander doll.
For a directory of doll hospitals, check out DollDoctorsAssociation.com. Visit AmericanGirl.com for the American Girl hospital.
For plush creatures, Google “stuffed-animal hospitals.” Some hospitals can diagnose patients by mail. E-mail a photo and the hospital will send you an estimate. (Toy fixes start at about $30.)
Health and Hygiene
Cleaning: Battling enemy droids in the driveway is dirty work. Submerge combatants in dish soap and lukewarm water (not hot water, the archenemy of plastic), says Reis O’Brien, an action-figure-collecting expert. (You can also add fizzy denture cleaner.) After five minutes, brush gently with a soft toothbrush, rinse in cold water, and pat dry.
Major mess: For crayon marks and gum, O’Brien rubs on a drop of Goo Gone ($4, googone.com) with a Q-tip. If the figure is painted, “test it first on the bottom of a foot,” he says.
Bent parts: To reset Thor’s crooked ankle, submerge it in hot-to-the-touch tap water for 60 seconds and rebend the now pliable piece. Set it by running it under cold water for 30 seconds.
Limb amputation: O’Brien likes Future Glue Gel (about $1 at hardware stores). Use a tiny drop, then secure the limb with a rubber-band sling to set.
Rubbed-off facial features: Use water-based acrylic craft paint and a tiny brush. But if the disfigurement is major (a lawn-mower injury, for example), embrace it, says O’Brien: “Those are battle scars.”
Health and Hygiene
Grooming: Winnie the Pooh is all pilled up? Use a lint brush. For matted fur, try a wire dog brush (available at pet stores).
Cleaning: To get rid of loose dirt, stretch panty hose over a vacuum’s hose nozzle, then run it over the fur. For a deeper cleaning, pour a capful of baby shampoo into warm water, dampen a washcloth with the mixture, then rub in circles, suggests Hach. Rinse with a clean, damp washcloth, and air-dry in a shaded area.
Major mess: If Snuggle Kitty has been in the sandbox, you may be able to put her in the washing machine.“Look at the care label—if it hasn’t been chewed off,” says Hach. Secure in a pillowcase with a twist tie, use Woolite, and tumble-dry on a cool setting.
Popped seams: Lash the wound together with cotton embroidery thread using a durable ladder stitch. (For a tutorial video, visit blog.craftzine.com.)
Missing stuffing: Buy a bag of hypoallergenic polyfill at a craft store, then get ready to play surgeon. “Most stuffed animals have a short seam on the back or belly where the stitching is reinforced,” says Hach. “Open the toy there with a seam ripper, insert the stuffing until he’s plump again, then stitch him back up.”
Health and Hygiene
Primping: Shampoo those flowing locks with a little clear dishwashing liquid and warm water, says Doctor Krista of DollRestoration.com, whose company specializes in vintage-Barbie repair. (Skip the blow-out—her hair will melt.) If she gets unwanted dreadlocks, soak them in hair conditioner overnight, then gently work at the knots with a fine-tooth plastic comb. For dirty skin, try De-Solv-it, a gentle citrus-based household cleaner ($9, orange-sol.com), and a cotton ball or swab. Be careful around her face and nail paint.
Major mess: Barbie may never get zits, but benzoyl peroxide, the active ingredient in many acne creams, can help clear up ink and Sharpie stains. Dab it on, then let Barbie sunbathe in a window for a day, keeping the unaffected areas covered. Repeat if necessary.
Bad smells: If Barbie has been languishing in the basement, remedy any musty scent with this luxury spa treatment, courtesy of Krista: Wrap her in white tissue paper, then tuck her into a shoe box filled with dryer sheets for a few days to draw out the odors.
Cuts and wounds: Repair leg splits and other ouchies by dabbing on a little Super Glue with a toothpick.
Health and Hygiene
Cleaning: Spray her with Formula 409 All Purpose Cleaner, let it set for a few minutes, then gently scrub all over with a toothbrush, as DuFresne does. Wipe her off, then shine her with a little Armor All. The American Girl company suggests cleaning their dolls’ vinyl parts with a paste of baking soda and water. If a doll’s hair is a glued-on wig (not rooted through the scalp like Barbie’s), skip the shampoo. Lightly dampen the hair, then loosen tangles from the bottom up with a wire dog comb.
Major mess: As with Barbie, use benzoyl peroxide to help bleach out pen marks (test a small area first). Jill Alvord of the Jack and Jill Doll Hospital, in Omaha, Nebraska, also swears by nail-polish remover.
Broken limbs: Choosing what to tackle at home depends on how skilled—and brave—you are. “If the doll is still being made, contact the manufacturer and see if there’s a replacement limb,” says Alvord. (And check out the slightly macabre YouTube videos of resourceful tweens tightening floppy American Girl limbs with elastic bands.) Most major surgery, however, should be left to a pro.