Jolie Kerr is a cleaning expert, advice columnist and author of the New York Times bestselling book, My Boyfriend Barfed In My Handbag ... And Other Things You Can't Ask Martha. Her flagship column, "Ask a Clean Person", debuted in 2011. Here on Lifehacker, we're launching a new iteration of it, focusing on parenting and all the messes it brings.
I came across you while searching the internet to find out how to clean my stuffed lamb, named LambChop. I have an old, old stuffed Lamb that belonged to my mother before she passed away four years ago. When she was ill for 10 years she slept with it every night and cuddled to it. After she passed away I kept it and sleep with it, thinking of her.
Poor LambChop is very, very dingy and kind of worn. I need to clean it so that it will be white again, and not so grey looking, but I'm afraid to put it into the washing machine. I wouldn't care so much, except it was Mum's and she loved it and so do I. How can I clean it without it falling apart and still get it white again? It is now tagless so I can't read the instructions on it. Thank you for any help you can give me, I appreciate it.
This is very sweet, and as a fully grown adult lady who loves my Paddington Bear more than just about anyone or anything in the world, I understand you completely. (As I write this, Teddy is draped over my shoulder - working from home is a great gift!) I also liked this question because it illustrates so well the differences there can be in laundering plush toys; some plush toys are older, or more beloved, than others, which may dictate the choice of how you clean them.
In the case of LambChop, we will treat her (him? My apologies if I've misgendered ole Lammy!) to a gentle hand-washing experience. But in the case of a run-of-the-mill plush toy, machine washing is perfectly fine. Let's start with those instructions, since they're relatively straightforward, before we get into the hand-wash method.
Machine Washing Plush Toys
Most plush animals can safely take a spin in the washing machine, though of course, there is always the possibility of damage, which is a thing you'll want to take into consideration.
With that said, machine washing will be a great choice for most parents looking to clean their children's stuffed animals (or kids looking to clean their parent's stuffed animal!) Here are the best practices for that operation:
- Use the gentlest cycle available on your washing machine.
- Wash plush toys in cold water using a mild detergent.
- If disinfecting is a concern, opt for warm or hot water, and/or considering using a laundry sanitiser that is safe on both whites and colours, unlike chlorine bleach.
- If the toy's size and shape makes it possible, placing the stuffed animal into a launderable mesh bags will help to protect its parts. Padding the drum of the washer with towels can add another layer of protection.
- Air-drying will be the gentlest choice, and a hair dryer turned on low- or medium-heat can help to fluff up fur once the toy has reached the just-damp stage (think of it as a finishing touch!).
- Machine drying is also fine, and it will be best to use the low-heat setting.
Hand-Washing Plush Toys
Before I get into hand-washing instructions, just a quick note so you don't see this WORD WALL and think that hand-laundering is some crazy involved chore! I like to be thorough when I write out instructions, but don't let the number of words here freak you out: Hand-washing is actually a fairly painless endeavour.
Step 1: Pick a location where the hand-washing will take place.
The kitchen sink is perfect for hand-laundering, but a roomy bathroom sink, a utility sink, the bathtub or a washing bucket are also fine choices. What you want is a space roomy enough for you to submerge the item in water, with enough space for you to get your hands in there without making a huge water-y mess. And, of course, make sure the space where you're hand-washing is clean.
Step 2: Introduce water, detergent and a booster, if needed.
Fill the sink with lukewarm water, and add a small amount of a mild detergent. It's easy to overuse detergent, which will make the rinsing part of the operation a nightmare; measuring out a teaspoon and then adding more if needed is a good way to avoid over-detergenting.
In terms of products, regular laundry detergent, Dr Bronner's, or even Johnson & Johnson's Baby Shampoo are fine - you don't need a specialty product, but if you'd like one, The Sweethome recommends Soak, which is a no-rinse formula, for hand-laundering.
In the case of stuffed toys that are dingy, stained or otherwise discoloured, using a booster such as Borax or bicarbonate of soda, coupled with treating the toy to a long soak in the detergent solution, will help to brighten your friend right up.
Step 3: Wash.
Submerge the plush toy in the water using a pumping motion, so that it becomes saturated with the detergent solution. Then let it hang out and have a nice soak for 15-60 minutes, depending on its condition and how dirty it is. Heading in to agitate it from time to time will also help to release dinge.
Step 4: Rinse.
After allowing the item to soak, drain the wash water. It will probably be pretty gross-looking! It's OK if you find the state of the water oddly satisfying. (As an aside, my longtime readers and podcast listeners send me photos of their dirty wash water because I have a strange set of interests/an indulgent audience!)
After the water has drained, wipe or rinse the sink free of suds, then fill it with clean water and give the stuffed animal a few pumps while submerged to help release the soap. Repeat as needed until the toy is free of suds. If the toy is sturdy, you can also rinse it directly under running water.
Step 5: Dry.
Before removing the stuffed animal from the drained sink, press down gently to extrude as much water as possible. Next, transfer it to a clean towel and roll it up, pressing again to extract more water. Then lay the item on the towel to air dry. If, when the toy has dried to the point of being just-damp, it looks a bit matted, use a hair dryer on to its lowest setting to fluff the fibres back up.
In future columns, we'll for sure tackle the cleaning of hard plastic toys and dollies, as well as ones that contain electronic or musical components. In the meantime, this is a safe space to talk about your beloved stuffed animals, if that's a thing you feel like sharing!