Cleaning Cloth Body Dolls
Caution: I do not use this method on dolls that have internal mechanisms such as Thumbelina or Baby Secret. I also do not use bleach or mildew remover on dolls that have colored cloth bodies such as flannel or cotton prints because the bleach would ruin the colors. If I have any doubts, then I spot clean the doll with a little Spray 409 instead and I do not soak the doll with water.
Cloth body dolls can really get filthy, but it's possible to thoroughly clean the doll and make her beautiful again.
DON'T BE SHY, SHE NEEDS A BATH!! I like to use the kitchen spray hose and I work in the sink. I don't submerge the doll. I get the doll damp with water and then lightly spray the entire body, cloth and vinyl, with mildew remover or some other kind of spray with bleach in it. I rinse the cloth body almost immediately before the chemical can harm the fabric. Then scrub the vinyl parts of the doll as needed.
Mildew remover is actually a specialized kind of spray bleach. I have found it useful for cleaning up cloth body dolls. It is also useful for cleaning grubby Baby Faces and it's good to use on dolls that have mold or musty odor.
SPIN THE WATER OUT. When the doll has been rinsed very very well and the body looks as clean as it's going to get, then I put the doll in the washer on spin cycle only. I absolutely do not agitate the dolls in a wash or rinse cycle: it's too hard on them. But, the spin cycle will get the water out of the stuffed doll. Remember to empty the vinyl limbs, and squeeze them out if necessary. You may have to spin the doll again after you've emptied the limbs and head.
CONSIDER THE STUFFIN'S. It is important to consider what the doll is stuffed with. Shredded foam is good. Many stuffins are good for this kind of cleaning, but some kinds of stuffin's are not. Sometimes I have to remove the stuffing if it is the old paper type or heavy rag type stuffing. Some cloth body dolls in the 60's were stuffed with kapok, such as Kitten by Madame Alexander. Kapok tends to stain the doll body when it gets wet, therefore there is no way to get the doll clean without removing the old kapok stuffing.
If you know the stuffin's are not the good kind, then remove them before cleaning and it's much easier to clean a cloth body doll that is flat and empty. Restuff her after she's dry.
If you find out after you've washed the doll that the stuffin's are Not Good and won't dry out, then remove all the wet filler and throw it away. Lay the doll on a towel to dry.
TURN A FAN ON. I turn a fan on my cloth body dolls when they are drying. I lay them on a table or on a sheet on the floor and place a fan so it will blow on them directly. I've found this reduces water stain considerably, almost eliminates it. I turn the dolls occasionally so they dry evenly. The fan makes a big difference.
STUFFIN'S AND WEIGHTS. To restuff a doll, I use new polyfill and I add a beanbag for weight because polyfill does not weigh as much as the old kinds of stuffin's. I put a plastic bag with beans in the rump of the doll, then fill the rest of it with polyfill. The plastic beans are available in our doll shop.
CONSIDER THE RISK! Whenever I try to clean an old vintage doll, I do so at risk of ruining it. I never know when the fabric might be too old to be cleaned. I have to weigh the risks and the value of the doll. Sometimes it is better to sponge the doll body lightly rather than do a thorough cleaning, especially if you think the doll would be ruined by anything more aggressive.