Cleaning and washing stuffed animals is a lot easier than you think (at least for most of them), and I'll tell you how to do it mostly in the washing machine but also by spot cleaning them too.
First, let me tell you why cleaning these little guys can be so important though. Most stuffed animals are loved on by kids, and little kids can be quite dirty and messy.
In our house we've had stuffed animals dropped on the ground (including in mud and dirt), peed on with potty training accidents, drooled on with teething, and vomited on when they're sick in the night.
Since kids hug on these stuffed toys, holding them close to their little faces, and even chewing on them, you've got to clean them on a regular basis.
Fortunately, there are several ways to do it, and trust me I've tried them all.
The way I always like to wash stuffed toys, whenever possible, is in the washing machine. It is just so much easier and quicker than other methods (plus it works the best for actually cleaning).
I will caution, however, that not all toys can be washed this way. Anything that has electronics in it cannot get submersed in water, for example. Plus, there are some toys that are so old (or antique) that this wouldn't work for at all.
However, none of the instructions on this page are really meant for antiques or collectibles. What I'm talking about here are the little animals your children love -- hard, and need to get cleaned up for another round of imaginative play, cuddling, and sleep soothing.
Mesh washing bag
[Click to buy on Amazon]
If you decide to wash these items in your washing machine, know there is always risk involved that it will ruin the toy, but frankly depending on the dirt level (or other yucky stuff) covering the toy, it may frankly be unsalvagable if you don't clean it too, so I say give it a try!
All you need is a mesh washing bag (such as the one on the left), mild laundry detergent (such as Woolite), cold water and the washing machine's delicate cycle.
Throw the little animal in the mesh bag and zip it up (you can use a pillowcase if you don't have a bag), fill the washer with cold water on the delicate cycle and let it wash. The bag keeps the stuffed animal from snagging in the machine.
I tend to wash just one little animal at a time, but if you want to wash more than one that should be OK assuming they are all similar colors. You don't want one to "bleed" dye onto another one while trying to get them clean.
I will caution, from experience however, that before you wash any stuffed toys in your washing machine, make sure to properly secure any little items on it, like bows, ribbons, etc. and be prepared to re-glue on eyes if they are loose since they might come off (the bag catches them and keeps them from getting lost).
In addition, sew up any little rips and tears in your little friends before washing because otherwise they may lose their stuffing in the wash.
I find washing the animals on the delicate cycle keeps them from getting too beat up in the washing machine, but if you're concerned that your toy is too delicate for agitation you may want to consider hand washing instead.
I prefer hand washing, with full immersion in water for cleaning stuffed animals though, rather than spot cleaning for the simple reason that dirt doesn't just stay on the surface of your stuffed animal. Instead, it soaks through the surface and into the stuffing and can linger there.
Consider the potty training accident victim stuffed animal. If your child was sleeping with a toy and had an accident the urine didn't just soil the surface, it is soaked into the innards of that poor teddy bear. Immersion lets you rinse away all the yuck from the inside and out, so when you're dealing with major accidents such as this I always recommend immersion cleaning, not spot cleaning.
To hand wash you just need a sink full of cold water and a small cap full of a delicate wash, and you just immerse and gently clean the toy.
Be sure to thoroughly rinse out all the soap (so don't use too much to start with), and also get out as much water as possible afterward to let it dry more easily.
I suggest pressing the stuffed animal gently between old towels to squeeze out as much water as possible, and then refluffing him up and reshaping him before he dries so he stays his original shape.
Perhaps you've just got a little dirt spot on a stuffed animal, or the tag for the toy says to "surface clean only," so in those instances spot cleaning stuffed animals may be the best way to proceed.
Please note, however, that even when a stuffed toy says to spot clean or surface clean it only, I've had great success washing stuffed animals of this variety. However, cheaply made ones or ones that have sawdust stuffing have to be spot washed, and you're always taking a risk if you do something more agrressive than what the tag says to do.
When spot cleaning, you're basically doing the same thing as when you clean upholstery. Therefore, many of the same recipes you can use to clean your upholstery can be used to clean stuffed animals. Here are some homemade upholstery cleaner recipes you can use. I suggest the first one listed, which is the homemade upholstery shampoo since it creates a nice foam for spot cleaning, and it contains safe ingredients in it. That way you don't have to worry about a child getting chemicals in their mouth if they chew on their toy. (Use castile soap, such as Dr. Bronner's (click the link for reviews), for the safest recipes!)
No matter what method you use for washing or spot cleaning your child's stuffed toys, you'll need to let them dry before returning them for another round of play.
Obviously, the wetter the toy (including on the inside) the longer it will take to dry. That means a spot cleaned toy doesn't take as long as either hand or machine washed ones to get dry.
If its a nice sunny day a nice gentle way to dry the toys is on a clothes line out in the sun. Sunlight is a natural stain remover and sanitizer, so that is an added bonus.
However, you can also just let them air dry or place them in the dryer, typically on permanent press on low heat. I've also used a hair dryer to get a stuffed animal dry.
Heat obviously helps dry the toy more quickly, and to get the inside dry, but heat can also damage them or mat their fur too much. That's why I suggest using low heat, or if you're just trying to fluff the little animal back after washing you might just use the "fluff air" setting of the dryer.
Also tumbling in the dyrer can be rough on a fragile little friend, so add a couple of towels into the load to help soften the "blow" a bit, and be sure to add some dryer sheets to prevent too much static electricity build up.
Make sure both the outside and inside of the stuffed animal are dry before you begin to play with them again. The inside takes longer to dry, and the outside can feel dry long before the inside really is.
It is important to get the inside dry rather quickly (within a day or so) otherwise it can begin to mildew, which will ruin the toy. Therefore, if air drying doesn't seem to be making quick enough progress go ahead and throw it in the dryer or use the heat from a hair dryer to make the drying process go faster.
Be aware that your child's stuffed toys will not look exactly the same after washing and drying, since their stuffing will move around a bit, and their fur will not lay exactly the same. My kids have not really been bothered by this, especially when I discuss how their friend just got a bath and looks so beautiful now.
Repositioning stuffing after washing, and before it begins to dry can help this issue though, so be sure to fluff and correct the look of the stuffed animal as much as possible before drying for the best results.
There are several stuffed animal cleaners on the market, designed to spot clean the outside of your favorite teddy bear or other stuffed toy.
Honestly, I've never tried one, and frankly I'm not sure they're needed because you can use the instructions above to spot clean your children's stuffed friends with the homemade cleaner, and feel better about what ingredients are in the mixture.
However, I understand some people don't want to make their own cleaners. Instead, they want to buy something, and the best rated cleaner I could find on Amazon is shown on the right.
If someone has used this Teddy Bear Cleaner, or another variety, and would be willing to share their review I would really appreciate it. You can share your review here for this or any other household cleaner, telling me what you liked, or didn't, about it and why.
I've shared with you my methods for cleaning and washing stuffed animals, and this is what has worked for me. However, the beauty of cleaning is that there are almost always multiple ways of doing something that all work.
If you've got a great tip to share on this topic I'd love to hear it. You can share your cleaning tips here!
Further, this post in part of a series called "How to Clean Anything, Even if You're Not June Cleaver." I hope this series will become a good resource for you, with instructions on many different cleaning projects around your home.
I'm honored to be part of a great group of blogging ladies who all discuss topics from around our homes. Each month we choose a different room as our theme, so we can all get some inspiration in this area of our homes. We call it the Room by Room Inspiration for Every Room in Your Home.
This month each of us is discussing some aspect of the kids' rooms. Please check out these other great blog posts from the group:
First photo adapted from Brandi Jordan's original from Flickr CC, third photo courtesy of two photos from Alyssa L. Miller
Hi, I'm Taylor, a busy mom with 3 kids, so I have lots of hands on experience with house cleaning, laundry and my fair share of spots, spills and other messy catastrophes. Thanks for visiting my site.
I update the website all the time with tips, tutorials, cleaning recipes, reviews of products from readers like you, and tests I've done on various cleaners, removers and laundry supplies.
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CAUTION: This website is provided for informational purposes only. It is provided as is, without warranties or guarantees. Some stains and messes just won't come out, and are permanent. Further, some cleaning methods can harm your item, so if what you want to clean or launder is sentimental or expensive call a professional. See disclaimer of liability for more information.
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