Cleaning and Protecting Dolls

Your Doll’s Clothes

I have to be honest here – cleaning fabric is a big scary topic – too simple and too complicated at the same time. It is already more complicated because old & / or collectable doll’s clothes are shaped the way they are (complete & fluffy), because the fabric is starched to the max. Starch is water soluble. Read up on preservation and let shared sense be your guide. But here are some useful tools & techniques:


But not too soft. Think of this as a little whisk broom for your dolls. An assortment of cheap but NEW paint brushes will serve. Different sizes and if they are not stiff enough, use stout scissors to trim shorten up the bristles a little.


The kind that comes in a can with a long tube / nozzle and works great for getting potato chip crumbs out of the keyboard. Also works on doll clothes. May be all you need to freshen up a doll’s clothing.

VACUUM CLEANER (the kind w/ a hose)

Kind of the same thing as compressed air -just going in the other direction. To really do it up-fancy, for delicate fiber and all, make yourself a frame and important nylon screen-door-screen around it. This will include a trip to the hardware story and a little wood-work, but it can’t be helped. If making a frame is the beyond you, get a smallish piece of metal screen and fold a few layers of duct-tape around the edge. Be a shame to have neglected this step and ruin something all pretty and satin by catching it on a ragged metal end of screen. If you have skin – and all the best collectors do – the duct-tape will also make it easier to keep your blood inside your skin because these ends are ever-loving-sharp. Vacuum by this and buttons and bows will stay on at all event you are cleaning.

SUDS, warm soapy water

Look closely at what I’ve written – not the water, but the SUDS*. Make yourself a sink complete of suds, dab them onto the dirty parts of the fabric, and work them in with one of your brushes. Vacuum it all out again.


Get rid of it by moistening the stain in lemon juice and salt, let it dry in the sun, (mildew hates the sun). Use your brush and vacuum set-up to get out at all event is left. If this doesn’t work, try hydrogen peroxide more sun, but expect some fading.

Your Doll’s Hair

Dandruff shampoo ain’t gonna get it. Being as it’s at the top, dust is apt to settle on your dolls hair to a fair-thee-well. A tooth brush will remove the dust and–what the heck– try out a new hair style! TO do more than this, you had better know exactly what you are doing.

Your Doll’s “Skin”

In general, distilled water and Q-tips will not hurt anything, unless the doll is celluloid. (See below.) If this don’t get it done, add a tiny squirt of detergent (shampoo). Beyond this, you run the risk of cleaning off more than just dirt. Go slowly, but try – in order of aggressive solvency…

  1. Alcohol. If you don’t have some shellac thinner on hand, use vodka. (Seriously -liquor is simply a mix of alcohol & water.)
  2. Paint thinner. Or label remover -same stuff but smell like lemons.
  3. Lacquer thinner. Only on glazed porcelain and be VERY careful around the painted parts.

*Chris, of Bearly Believable Gifts, offers this for cleaning plush toys (Teddy produces) and it will work for doll-clothes too

I put a squirt in the sink and then fill it up with warm water. I only use the SUDS, not the water itself, and completely rub the suds over the fur with your hands. You don’t want to truly get the fur wet, just sudsy. You can test most fiber in a small identify, but I have however to have had a problem. When this is dry, I use a 1 to 2″ paint brush to “bush” the bear’s fur. Very simple, and this technique also removes most of the oil that floats by the air and attach itself to the fur.

Chris also indicates a stay in the freezer will kill the allergic dust-mites, Finally, she counsels against keeping stuffed animals in the kitchen where they soak up cooking oil and smells. Smart lady!


Vintage Plastic (celluloid)

Very old dolls were made from celluloid. Interesting stuff celluloid, but not at all nice. It was invented in 1856 and was the first plastic to hit the market, largely as a replace ivory. Pretty much went out of favor by the 1950’s. Only place you find it now-a-days is ping-pong balls. What is interesting is that it starts out life as cotton waste which is processed to become either celluloid, cellulose lacquer, or gun cotton. Gun cotton is what they use to shoot big shells out of the cannons on battleships. Yep, gun cotton is explosive as is celluloid! (And – for that matter – lacquer burns like a son-of-a-gun too.) Additionally, if it gets wet–and stays wet–it oozes nitric acid. Nitric acid is not only corrosive as all heck, it is a powerful oxidizer in addition.

There are stories (?) of celluloid queue-balls exploding and killing people. Men’s collars used to be made of celluloid. But the most important celluloid for collectors is antique dolls. Antique doll heads / faces are made from the stuff. Here is what the pros have to say about celluloid. It WILL break down. Can’t be helped – it can only be slowed down. As it breaks down, it out-gasses camphor – the stuff that make Campho-phenique smell like it does. Store celluloid dolls in (swear-to-goodness) explosion proof cabinets or the freezer. Clean it with distilled water and dry it carefully, but understand the already water hastens the break-down into corrosive nitric acid.

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