Washing a stuffed animal that you bought secondhand or thrifted can seem like a daunting task. You want to clean it thoroughly to sanitize it, but you don’t want to damage or ruin it in the process. With some care and the right techniques, you can successfully wash most thrifted stuffed animals and give them a new life in your home.
Should you wash a thrifted stuffed animal?
When buying a used stuffed animal from a thrift store, garage sale, or other secondhand source, it’s generally a good idea to clean it before letting a child play with it. Here are some key reasons to wash a thrifted stuffed toy:
- Sanitize – Washing can help remove germs, dirt, and bodily fluids from previous owners.
- Freshen up – A good wash can make a thrifted toy look and smell new again.
- Check condition – Washing gives you a chance to closely inspect the toy for damage or defects.
- Allergens – It can remove dust mites, pet dander, mold, and other allergens.
- Peace of mind – Knowing the toy is clean allows both you and your child to feel comfortable playing with it.
In most cases, a thorough cleaning is recommended before using a secondhand stuffed toy, especially for infants and young toddlers. However, if the toy is clearly brand new with the original tags, washing may not be required.
Before washing a thrifted stuffed animal, gather the following supplies:
- Mild laundry detergent or delicate soap
- Toothbrush or washcloth
- Vinegar (optional)
- Cleaning brush or old toothbrush
- Pillowcase or mesh laundry bag
- Baking soda
- Laundry drying rack or clips
You likely already have most of these items at home. The toothbrush, vinegar, and baking soda will help with stain removal and disinfecting. The bag will keep the toy contained in the washing machine, while the rack or clips allow air drying.
Inspection and spot cleaning
Before fully washing, inspect the toy thoroughly. Look for any stains, dirt buildup, odors, damage, or signs of pests. Target any problem areas with spot cleaning:
- Surface stains – Dab gently with a damp cloth and mild detergent. Avoid rubbing to limit fabric damage.
- Matted fur – Use a soft brush or comb to loosen debris and feathers trapped in the fur or pile.
- Odors – Sprinkle baking soda on the toy and let sit overnight before brushing off.
- Pest infestations – If you see signs of insects or rodents, the toy may need professional cleaning or disposal.
- Mold or mildew – Spot treat any moldy patches with vinegar and rinse thoroughly.
This prep work helps limit the need for heavy-duty washing on the entire toy. Be careful when spot cleaning – test on a small hidden area first to prevent color loss or damage.
Read toy washing labels
If your thrifted stuffed animal has a sewn-in fabric label, read the care instructions prior to washing. Common labels you may find include:
- Machine washable – Can be safely washed in the washing machine.
- Surface wash only – Only spot clean the surface; cannot be submerged or machine washed.
- Dry clean only – Must be professionally dry cleaned to prevent damage.
- Hand wash only – Can be hand washed but not machine washed.
Follow these instructions closely to prevent harming the materials. If no label is present, use your best judgment and start with the gentlest cleaning method.
Choose your washing method
For most thrifted stuffed animals the recommended cleaning method is hand washing or the gentle cycle of a washing machine. Here are some options from mildest to most intense:
For surface cleaning only, you can start by rubbing the toy vigorously with a dry microfiber cloth to lift off dust and surface debris.
Fill a sink or tub with cool water and add a small amount of delicate laundry soap. Submerge the toy and gently clean by hand using a washcloth or soft brush. Rinse thoroughly.
Gentle machine cycle
Place the toy in a pillowcase or mesh bag and wash on the delicate or gentle cycle with cold water. Use a mild detergent. Either air dry or tumble dry on low.
Sanitizing machine wash
For a more thorough disinfecting clean, wash in hot water with detergent and 1⁄2 cup of white vinegar or bleach. Use the gentle cycle, then air dry the toy.
It’s best to start with a gentle hand or machine wash and only use sanitizing methods if needed. Hot water and harsh chemicals can damage many materials over time.
Keep these precautions in mind when washing any stuffed animal:
- Always check labels and follow instructions.
- Pretreat any tough stains first.
- Use a mild detergent for sensitive skin.
- Wash on the gentle or delicate cycle.
- Air dry instead of using a hot dryer.
- Avoid soaking or over-washing.
- Do not iron or bleach.
- Remove batteries from electronic toys first.
With some care, even more delicate stuffed animals can be freshened up. Just take it slowly and avoid over-wetting the materials or letting it sit soaked.
Drying and maintenance
After washing, be sure to dry the stuffed animal fully before use. Trapped moisture can allow mold and mildew to grow.
- Lay flat or hang up to air dry. Direct sunlight can help kill bacteria as well.
- Fluff up the fibers while drying to prevent matting.
- Use a hair dryer on a cool setting if needed.
- Add a few dryer sheets or tennis balls to the dryer on air fluff if the toy is machine dryable.
Once dry, you may wish to brush the pile gently with a soft bristle brush. Avoid using fabric softeners and “fluffer-upper” sprays, as they can leave chemical residues.
To help your thrifted stuffed friend last longer, display them out of direct sun, keep at a comfortable temperature, and avoid letting children eat or sleep with them. With occasional washing, your thrifted treasure can provide years of use and enjoyment!
FAQs about Washing Thrifted Stuffed Animals
Can you wash most thrifted stuffed animals?
Yes, most plush stuffed animals can safely be washed, either by hand or on the gentle cycle of a washing machine. Exceptions are toys labeled dry clean only or antique collectibles that may have fragile materials.
What temperature water should be used?
Wash stuffed animals in cool water to avoid damaging the fibers, adhesives, and plastic parts. Use cold water for hand washing and the cool or delicate setting on a washing machine.
How much detergent should you use?
Only use a small amount of mild laundry detergent, around 1-2 tbsp. Overuse of detergent can be hard to rinse out fully. Choose a fragrance-free and sensitive skin formula.
Should you dry thrifted stuffed animals in the dryer?
Air drying is best to avoid heat damage or shrinking. Machine drying on a no heat air fluff setting is OK if the toy’s label permits it. Add a couple dryer sheets or tennis balls to help separate the fibers.
How do you sanitize secondhand stuffed animals?
For a deeper clean, wash with hot water, add 1⁄2 cup vinegar or bleach to the wash cycle, and dry toys fully in sunlight. This kills more germs and bacteria than regular washing.
Can you wash stuffed animals with sound or motors inside?
Yes, but take some added precautions. Make sure to securely close any Velcro openings, then place the toy in a tied pillowcase or mesh bag before washing. Remove batteries first and don’t submerge the toy.
When should you discard a thrifted stuffed toy?
If it has signs of pests, mold, or mildew that don’t come out with washing, it’s best to throw it away. Severely damaged or torn toys should also be discarded to prevent safety hazards.
Tips for Successful Stuffed Animal Washing
Follow these handy tips to get the best results when cleaning secondhand stuffed toys:
- Unbutton plastic eyes and remove any accessories before washing.
- Turn the toy inside out if possible to better expose the inner fabric to cleaning.
- Use a toothbrush or bottle brush to scrub areas like the mouth, armpits, and bum.
- Add OxiClean or borax along with detergent to further disinfect and deodorize.
- Rinse several times in clean water to remove all soap residue.
- Blot wet fur with towels before air drying to remove excess water.
- Speed up drying by placing next to an AC vent, fan, or dehumidifier.
- Use baking soda or charcoal bags to absorb lingering odors.
Common Stuffed Animal Materials and How to Wash Them
The materials used to make a stuffed toy will determine the best washing methods. Here’s how to clean common types of stuffed animal fabric:
Cotton stuffed animals can usually be safely machine washed and dried. Wash on cool and air or low heat dry.
Polyester fur and fabric is often washable but air drying is best. Use low heat if needed.
Another very washable synthetic fabric. Can machine wash cool and dry on low.
Wash by hand only with a special silk detergent. Allow to air dry fully as heat can shrink silk.
Felt or wool stuffed animals should also be hand washed gently with woolite detergent. Lay flat to air dry.
Rayon pile is prone to matting when washed, so spot clean only. If washing, use cool water and air dry.
Acrylic faux fur toys can go in the washing machine on cool. Dry on low heat.
Cleaning Specific Types of Stuffed Toys
Certain specialty stuffed animals require adjusted washing techniques. Here are tips for cleaning some common specialty plush toys:
– Surface wash with a damp cloth to avoid over-wetting the pellets inside.
– Carefully hand wash and air dry while keeping the electronic tag dry.
– Check the red flag sew-in tag before washing. Most are machine washable on gentle cycle.
– Super gentle hand or machine wash on cold is best for the ultra-soft microfiber fur.
American Girl Dolls
– Hand wash doll clothes only. Clean doll hair by combing and spot cleaning.
– Both hand and machine washing work for most plush Pokémons. Air dry completely.
When to Take Special Care
Use extra caution when washing the following types of delicate or valuable stuffed animals:
- Antique collectibles
- Toys labeled dry clean only
- Items with glued-on parts or decorations
- Electronics that shouldn’t get wet
- Valuable out of production toys like early teddy bears
- Toys in poor condition with loose seams or parts
It may be best to display these fragile items without washing or have them professionally cleaned. Doing it yourself risks damaging irreplaceable materials and collectible value.
Stained Stuffed Animals – Special Wash Tips
Thrifted stuffed animals often come with a few mystery stains. Try these methods for stubborn spots:
- Dab the stain right away with dish soap and rinse thoroughly in cool water.
- Make a baking soda paste with just enough water to scrub onto the stain.
- Spray stain with vinegar and let sit for 30 minutes before washing.
- For oil-based stains, use cornstarch or talcum powder to absorb before washing.
- Try a color-safe bleach pen or diluted hydrogen peroxide.
- If needed, use a small amount of oxygen bleach detergent like OxiClean.
When using any stain removal method, first test on an inconspicuous area of the toy to ensure the chemicals don’t damage the color or fabric. With patience and persistence, even tough stains can often be removed from washable stuffed animals.
Washing secondhand stuffed animals takes a little more care than machine washing a brand new toy, but with the right techniques it can be done safely and effectively. By following fabric care labels, using mild detergent, washing and drying gently, and taking precautions for more delicate materials, you can freshen up most thrifted plush toys. They’ll be clean and sanitized for children to love all over again.