Like all two year olds, my daughter Janavi prefers to play rather than sleep. When she does feel sleepy, she invariably lets us know of the fact by reaching for her beloved soft toy. Intended by its makers to be a giraffe, my girl had decided it was a ‘pony’, and Pony became its name forever. However, Pony has been Janavi’s bedtime companion for quite a while now, and it was beginning to show. Janavi plays rough with Pony, sometimes even biting the soft toy. Her attempts to share her meals with Pony had left numerous spots and stains. We tried replacing Pony with a new (identical) soft toy, but it did not work. Janavi preferred her dingy looking Pony to the shining new replacement we tried to entice her with. Naturally, we could not let her continue to play with her dirty soft toy. Naturally, we could not separate Janavi from her precious Pony either. And so, naturally, there was only one option left to us. Pony needed a wash.
Washing Pony was not an easy matter though. How does one wash a soft toy? Should we follow my mother’s suggestion of just dropping Pony into the washing machine? But what if Pony was ruined in the process? Janavi would never forgive us. At least not for a long, long, long time. Or worse- she might refuse to go to sleep without Pony!
This required extensive research, and my wife and I turned to the wisdom of the internet for help. We hope that the information and advice we obtained would be of help to you too, if your little ones are just as attached to grimy stuffed toys as our girl is.
Our first discovery was that there was no ‘one-size-fits-all’ method for cleaning stuffed toys, because not all stuffed toys are alike. Many soft toys in fact come with a tag that usually contains useful information. Sometimes the tag tells you exactly how to wash that particular soft toy. If not, it might inform you what kind of material and parts the stuff toy contains, and that indicates what washing methods might or might not work for that toy. The information might also be on the packaging the toy came in, so it might be a good idea to not throw them away the next time you buy a stuffed toy for your child.
For instance, some soft toys come with mechanical parts for movement or a music box for sounds. There might be buttons or ‘eyes’ sewn on. There might be elements glued on, like clothing. The presence of these items might simply mean that the toy cannot be placed in a washing machine (although buttons and glued-on eyes are generally fine). The stuffing or filling of the soft toy is also important, as some filling might make the toy unwashable! Toys stuffed with straw cannot be cleaned in a washing machine.
If your stuffed toy is machine washable, first remove any part of the toy that might be harmed (such as clothing) and place the toy in a mesh laundry bag for protection. Keep the washing machine at the ‘gentle’ cycle – the normal cycle would be too aggressive for the toy. Normal detergent can be used, but the water must be cold, as warm water can ruin the toy. A pillow-case can be used instead of the mesh laundry bag, but the mesh allows the water and detergent in better, so the toy would end up cleaner. Using a colour run prevention product might be a good idea to ensure the colour of the stuffed toy is preserved. The milder the washing machine, the better. So using a machine without an agitator is ideal. Washing the toy in a dishwasher is a bad idea, as the machine is too aggressive for the toy and the water too hot.
After the washing, the toy must be dried. Wipe with a towel first. It is best that the towel is white, as a coloured towel might result in colours running and staining the toy. Using a dryer is not advisable, again because of the heat, which can warp the toy or destroy elements glued on like eyes. If the stuffed toy has a covering of fur-like synthetic material, the heat could make it melt. The most recommended method is to air dry the toy just like normal clothes by hanging the toy up with clothespins. Be careful though to use clothespins that do not damage the toy. Sunning the toy is usually a good idea unless the toy is very old, in which case drying it in room temperature might work better.
If the stuffed toy is not machine washable, or if it is too old and fragile to be placed in the washing machine, then different methods have to be employed. First, you will need to decide just how dirty that stuffed toy really is. If it is just a matter of dust and surface dirt, a brush might be more than sufficient. Be sure to use one with soft bristles though to prevent damage to the toy. It might be a good idea to brush the toy regularly anyway, to prevent the build-up of dust and surface dirt. For slightly more stubborn dust and dirt, you could use a vacuum cleaner set to low power using a brush or upholstery attachment.
In the case of stains, use a piece of cloth dipped in a solution of mild detergent and cold water to gently rub out the stains. Again, white cloth would be best to prevent the colours staining the toy. For tougher stains a solution of oxygen bleach and cold water can be used. However, oxygen bleach is incompatible with toys made of leather or wool. Later, the toy can be wiped with a towel and left to dry.
For stuffed toys that are dirtier but are fragile, it would be best to hand-wash. Place the toy in a solution of mild detergent and cold water. Squeeze the detergent solution through the toy. Then rinse the toy in cold water, again squeezing the water through the toy. The toy cannot be wrung, so this squeezing technique would be gentle on the toy while still getting rid of the dirt. A sponge can also be used. It might be a good idea to add fabric softener.
For toys that cannot be cleaned with water, there is a special technique. Place the toy in a ziplock bag with a sprinkling of baking soda powder, seal the bag and jiggle it energetically. Later, remove the toy from the bag and rub off all residue of baking soda, which would have absorbed the dirt. This technique is also good for removing odours. An alternative to baking soda is cornstarch. The baking soda can also be directly sprinkled on the toy and later rubbed off with a dry or damp towel. Sometimes this method works best with repeated sprinkling and rubbing off of baking soda powder. After the first couple of attempts, rub off only with a dry towel as the toy should not get wet. Multiple trials have proven to be very successful with a number of stuffed toys.
If you are worried about germs, lice or dust-mites, then the technique recommended is to put the stuffed toy in a plastic bag and place it in the freezer. This would be most effective if you kept the toy in the freezer for two days, provided your child agrees to be separated from her cuddly companion for that long!
As mentioned earlier, sometimes the reason the stuffed toy is so difficult to wash is because of its stuffing or filling. In such cases, an option might be to carefully open up the soft toy by undoing the stitching on one side and remove the filling. The outer ‘skin’ can now be washed using normal methods. After washing and drying the ‘skin’, replace the stuffing you had removed with polyester fiberfill and stitch back. This makes the toy washable in the future. Of course, this is a very drastic measure and the risk of ruining the toy is very high. You might want to make the stuffing or filling an important consideration when buying a new stuffed toy for your child.
Fortunately for us, we managed to successfully navigate internet wisdom and make Pony sanitary again, so Janavi still goes to sleep cuddling her bedtime companion and we no longer worry about her being affected by germs and allergies. Hope some of these tips help you maintain the cleanliness of your child’s cherished stuffed toys.
For more information, watch this youtube video: