Beloved stuffed animals and toys are part of your child's family. And just like your kids, they need to be washed every once in a while! As with the rest of learning to be a parent, it's your job to make sure these members of the family are cared for in an appropriate manner. If we could only know which toy is going to become "The One", then we would buy an extra or at least save the original paper tag that probably had cleaning instructions. But we all the best we can.
As with all laundry, first read the tag attached to the toy if it is still available. It may or may not state cleaning instructions. At the very least, it will list the materials used during manufacturing. This will give you a hint on where to start.
Cleaning Tips for all Stuffed Toys
Remove dust and surface dirt often. (Nap time or night hours are good cleaning times) Use a soft bristled brush or the vacuum upholstery tool to prevent dust from becoming the base for heavier soil.
Check toys periodically for rips, loose buttons, eyes or glued on decorations. Make repairs promptly to avoid more problems down the road.
How to Wash Machine Washable Stuffed Toys
If it says that the toy is fully washable, place it in a mesh bag or zippered pillowcase and wash on the delicate cycle using your regular detergent and cold water. If there is a really difficult stain like paint or blueberry juice, pretreat following the tips for specific stains.
If the toy is older or in a delicate condition, hand wash with a gentle detergent and cool water. Be sure to gently squeeze the cleaning solution through the toy and then rinse by squeezing clean water through the toy with no wringing.
I prefer to allow the toys to air dry. You can roll the toy in a thick, clean white towel to help remove moisture. They can then be hung to dry using clothespins or dried flat. If you must use a clothes dryer because your little one is screaming or refusing to go to bed, use the lowest heat setting possible. Some synthetic "furs", while washable, will melt in high heat.
If the toy has "fur", use a soft-bristled brush to fluff up the fibers. Work slowly and in a small section at a time to prevent tangling and pulling out the fibers.
How to Clean Non-Washable Stuffed Animals and Toys
If the tag says the toy is non-washable, it is often the inner stuffing that is the problem. The toy may also contain a mechanical or musical element or have glued on decorations that won't stand up to water.
To clean these types of toys you can spot clean stains. Start with a white cloth. Do not use a colored cloth which can cause color transfer. Dip the cloth in a solution of one teaspoon gentle detergent and one cup of plain cool water. You can also make a solution of oxygen-bleach (brand names are: OxiClean, Nellie's All Natural Oxygen Brightener, or OXO Brite) and water. Follow package directions to mix the solution. Do not use oxygen bleach solutions on wool or leather toys. Blot at the stains and keep moving to a clean area of the cloth as the stains are transferred. Follow the cleaning by wiping down the cleaned area with a cloth dipped in plain water to remove any cleaning solution residue.
If the item is only dusty or lightly soiled, place it in a resealable bag and sprinkle with baking soda or cornstarch and shake vigorously. The dry materials will absorb any grease, odor, and dust. Remove the toy from the bag and take it outside to shake out or vacuum carefully using an upholstery brush.
If the toy is well-loved and non-washable, it may be time for surgery. Carefully split a side seam and take out the stuffing. Hand wash the outer skin with a delicate detergent and cool water and lay flat to allow it to air dry. Replace the original stuffing or fill with polyester fiberfill which is completely washable. Stitch the toy back together carefully just in case further surgery is needed.