How to Clean Stuffed Animals and Toys

stuffed animals and washing supplies

The Spruce / Ana Cadena 

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 15 mins
  • Total Time: 1 day
  • Skill Level: Beginner

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. 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 tag on the toy's packaging that probably had cleaning instructions. Without that, you need to make sure these family members are cared for appropriately. If there is a tag still attached to the stuffed animal, here's hoping it's still readable.

As with all laundry, and if at all possible, read the tag attached to the toy. It may or may not state cleaning instructions. At the very least, it should list the materials used during manufacturing. This will give you a hint on where to start.

How Often to Clean Stuffed Animals

Remove dust and surface dirt at least once a month. (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.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

Machine Washable

  • Washer
  • Laundry tub or sink
  • Mesh laundry bag

Non-Washable

  • Resealable plastic bag
  • Vacuum

Materials

Machine Washable

  • Regular or gentle laundry detergent
  • Water

Non-Washable

  • Gentle detergent
  • Oxygen-based bleach Water White cloths
  • Baking soda or cornstarch

Instructions

items for cleaning stuffed animals
The Spruce / Ana Cadena 

How to Wash Machine-Washable Stuffed Toys

If you have located a tag and it says the stuffed toy is machine-washable, you're in luck. Just a few simple steps might just return the animal to your child in nearly new condition.

  1. Prepare the Toy for the Washing Machine

    After vacuuming to remove dust, place the toy 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, pre-treat following the tips for specific stains.

    placing the stuffed animal into a mesh laundry bag
    The Spruce / Ana Cadena  
  2. Hand-Wash an Older, Worn Toy

    If the toy is older or in a delicate condition, and you don't want to chance it in the washing machine, then you can hand-wash it 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.

    rinsing off a stuffed animal
    The Spruce / Ana Cadena
  3. Dry the Stuffed Animal

    To prevent damage, allow the toy to air dry. Roll the toy in a thick, clean white towel to help remove moisture. It can then be hung to dry using clothespins or dried flat. If you must use a clothes dryer to save time, use the lowest heat setting possible. Some synthetic furs, while washable, may melt in high heat.

    rolling a stuffed animal in a towel
    The Spruce / Ana Cadena 
  4. Groom the Fur

    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.

    grooming the stuffed animal
    The Spruce / Ana Cadena  

How to Clean Non-Washable Stuffed Animals and Toys

If you have a tag that says the toy is non-washable (or there's no tag and you prefer not to risk it by putting the toy in a washing machine), it is often the inner stuffing that is the problem. The toy may also contain a mechanical component, a musical element, or have glued-on decorations that won't stand up to water. There are three ways to clean a non-washable stuffed animal.

materials for cleaning non-washable stuffed animals
The Spruce / Ana Cadena 
  1. Spot Clean the Toy

    To clean non-washable toys, spot clean stains. Start with a white cloth. Do not use a colored cloth which can cause the color to transfer. Dip the cloth in a solution of one teaspoon gentle detergent and one cup of plain cool water. Blot at the stains and keep moving to a clean area of the cloth as the stains are transferred.

    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.

    spot cleaning a stuffed animal
    The Spruce / Ana Cadena 
  2. Rinse and Air-Dry

    Wipe down the cleaned area with a cloth dipped in plain water to remove any cleaning solution residue. Allow the toy to air-dry completely before handling.

    air drying a stuffed animal
    The Spruce / Ana Cadena 
  3. Absorb Odors With Baking Soda

    If the item is a little ripe, slightly 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 it out or vacuum carefully using an upholstery brush.

    dry cleaning a stuffed animal
    The Spruce / Ana Cadena  

Tips to Keep Stuffed Animals and Toys Clean Longer

  • If the toy is well-loved and you know (or lacks a tag with instructions) it's 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 substitute polyester fiberfill which is completely washable. Stitch the toy back together carefully just in case further surgery is needed.
  • Check toys periodically for rips, dangling buttons, loose eyes, or unglued decorations. Make repairs promptly to avoid more problems down the road.
  • Always wash or clean a stuffed animal that was used to comfort a sick child.
  • If the stuffed animal is dressed in colored fabric clothing, do a color test to make sure the cleaning won't ruin the toy. Rub a small drop of diluted detergent on a hidden spot and if color comes off, use only water to spot clean the item.
  • Disinfect a washable toy by using a laundry sanitizer in the wash. Don't spray a stuffed animal with a disinfectant because the spray could ruin the animal's fur.