How to Clean Stuffed Toys – A Step By Step-By-Step Guide

updated: 17/06/2024

A large Teddy bear next to a Christmas tree

Everybody Loves a Stuffed Toy

Everyone loves stuffed toys, whether it’s your kids’ toys or mementoes from your youth. They have a special quality about them that no other toys, especially the modern electronic ones, can ever have. And if properly looked after, they can last for ages. Unfortunately, because of their nature, stuffed toys attract dust and dirt and must be cleaned regularly to keep them looking and smelling fresh.

Children’s toys get grubby if they are used how they are supposed to be used – played with and loved- meaning they will need to be cleaned periodically for health reasons.  This is especially the case if a child has been ill and kept a favourite toy in bed with them during that illness.  Soft toys can be natural breeding grounds for germs.  However, soft toys do not need to suffer the sad fate of the Velveteen Rabbit in the classic children’s story – a good disinfectant solution and a wash are enough to kill the germs.

Cleaning a special cuddly toy is a lot less traumatic for a child who won’t go anywhere without the beloved bear, panda, elephant, or puppy if you can involve them in the process. You can even start the washing process with your child when the child is in the bath. Just this once, Teddy can actually come in the bath with you!

You can also have a particular “bath time for teddies” session. This makes a great activity, but it is probably one you want to save for a sunny day, as the person doing the washing often ends up as wet as the teddies.

Stuffed toys on a kid's bed

How To Wash Teddy Bears

Handwashing is the best for soft toys, which can often get buttons knocked off or delicate parts tugged and pulled if you try machine-washing soft toys. And hand washing is much better than dry cleaning. Dry cleaning uses a lot of harsh chemicals that produce toxic gases. As soft toys are often sucked, chewed, kissed and held close to little faces, it’s best to keep chemical nasties well away.

So, you must start with a large bowl or bucket of warm water. Grab a bar of ordinary soap or make soap gel. Soap gel is particularly fun for small children. Make this by chopping up a soap bar and saving soap scraps in a container. Pour boiling water over the bits of soap and stir well. When the mixture cools, you should have a slightly translucent gel that your children will think looks like snot.

Now start the washing process. Dunk the teddies into the warm water and massage well with the soap or gel. Make lots of lather. This process can last as long as you like, as this is where the dirt is cleaned out.

If your child has been sick, you might like to add some disinfectant (the sort you’d use to dress wounds) to the water to kill any lingering bacteria or viruses.

Once you’ve gathered the teddies to your heart’s content, it’s time to do the rinsing. Squeeze as much soap out of the teddies into the water, then go and throw the soapy water all over the roses to deter the aphids. Refill the bucket with fresh water and soak the teddies. Watch the soapy water come out. Squeeze Mr Ted and his friends again, then throw out this second lot of water. Repeat the rinsing – add vinegar as a fabric softener and lavender oil to give a pleasant scent.

Stuffed teddy bear put next to a big window

How To Clean Soft Toys With No Water

  1. Use a vacuum cleaner to suck off as much of the surface dirt as possible. Be careful not to suck up any accessories that may be loosely attached to the toys.
  2. Next, use a cloth dampened with plain water to wipe the surface of the stuffed toy and remove surface grime.
  3. Let any residual dampness dry, and then brush the surface areas. The best brush is one with well-spaced-out plastic bristles. Do not use a hairbrush you have used before—oils and grooming products sticking to the brush may stain the toy.
  4. Cover any grease or oil spots with talcum powder, allow the powder to sit for about 15 minutes, and then brush it off. This should remove most, if not all, of the stain.
  5. If the grease stains remain, you can use a homemade cleaner if you find other spots of dirt that have not been cleaned so far. Mix a quarter cup of water with half a cup of rubbing alcohol and half a teaspoon of dishwashing soap. Mix well until a foam appears on top.
  6. Use a cotton swab to apply some of the foam to an inconspicuous part of the toy. Let the area dry, and if there is no discolouration, whip up the foam again and apply it to all the stains. Wipe off immediately, and do not let the liquid soak into the stuffing.
  7. Many newer stuffed toys can be machine-washed. Check the labels to see if the toys are suitable for machine washing. Remove any batteries and detachable accessories before placing the toy in the machine. Follow all the manufacturer’s instructions. If nothing is mentioned about machine washable, presume that the toy should not be placed in a washing machine.
  8. Even if a toy is machine washable, if it is old or in a delicate condition, it is best not to subject it to the strain of the washing machine.

Extra tip: Never wash plastic dolls (Barbie(TM) and the like) this way.  If their nylon hair gets wet, it will tangle hopelessly and permanently, and the owner of the aforementioned doll will not be able to brush her hair any more. If these fashion dolls get dirty on the plastic, scrub the dirt off with dishwashing liquid and rinse off, just like a plate, but be very careful not to get the hair wet.

About the author 

Nick Vassilev

Nick blogs about cleaning. He is a cleaning expert with more than 25 years of experience. He is also an NCCA-certified carpet cleaner. Founder and CEO of Anyclean.