How to Wash and Clean Stuffed Animals and Plush Toys

How to Wash Stuffed Animals by Hand

Fill a sink with lukewarm water and a teaspoon of mild detergent. Mix well before submerging the stuffed animal in a pumping motion. Let it soak for up to an hour. Rinse the animal to remove soapy residue before air drying or using a hair dryer.

Step 3: Scrub

Scrub your critter with a mild detergent (i make my own with Ivory soap).  Cold-water liquids like Woolite work well, but your usual liquid detergent or liquid dish soap are good too.  Use a toothbrush to really get down into the fur.  (sorry, no photo of the scrubbing action; can’t do that one-handed)


How to Machine Wash Stuffed Animals

If the care label allows, you can opt to machine wash stuffed animals. This is an easier option but it does increase the risk of damaging the toy.

What You Need

  • A mesh bag.
  • A mild laundry detergent.
  • A washing machine with a delicate or gentle cycle.
  • Hair dryer.

Step by Step Instructions

  1. Test your detergent: Test your mild laundry detergent on an inconspicuous area of the plush toy before washing. If it leaves a stain or damages the fabric, then find an alternative detergent.
  2. Bag it: Place the stuffed animal into a mesh bag. This protects it during the washing cycle.
  3. Empty the washing machine: It’s best to wash the stuffed animal alone to minimize the risk of color bleeding from other garments.
  4. Wash: Select the gentle or delicate cycle. Use cold water. Add your detergent to the drum or using the machine’s dispenser.
  5. Dry: Once the cycle is over, gently squeeze excess water out by pressing the animal against the side of a sink or bathtub. Next, dry on a low heat setting with a hairdryer. You can also air dry outside, but it might take a few days!

7. How to sterilize stuffed animals

If your child’s been sick, or the toy is badly stained, hot water is the most sterilizing option. Most toys can tolerate the heat, assuming there are no glued-in parts – these tend to melt. Avoid spraying disinfectant as this can damage the fur. 

The Best Ways to Wash Stuffed Animals

Most stuffed animals are safe to clean in your washing machine. Others, especially furry stuffed animals or those with electronic parts or embellishments, should be washed by hand. If there’s a label with washing instructions, follow them.

Try the Washer

But if you’ve got a reasonably durable, ordinary stuffed animal on your hands, you can give the washer a try.

Be wary if you’ve got a top-loader, as the agitator might prove a bit too rough for your plush friend. We’d recommend placing that teddy bear a mesh laundry bag, selecting a gentle cycle, and using a mild detergent. Skip the fabric softener, and don’t put the little guy in the dryer—hang it out to dry.

How to Dry Stuffed Animals

You can put some stuffed toys in the dryer, but most do best if they’re air- or line-dried. To speed things up, wrap the toy in a clean towel and gently press it to blot water. Be sure you don’t wring it, though. Repeat with fresh dry towels until you can’t press out any more moisture. Then, fluff the fur with your fingers and place the item on a flat drying rack so it can air dry. If you prefer line-drying, hang it out of direct sunlight to avoid fading or other damage.

Step 6: Hang to Dry

Hang outside on a line, because these guys drip a LOT.  If you can’t put them out in the sun, devise a way to hang them over the bathtub or other area where water isn’t a problem.

How to Dry Stuffed Animals After Washing

Air Drying Stuffed Animals

  1. If the animal is still heavy and full of water (e.g. after hand washing), place the stuffed animal in a sink or tub basin and press the excess water out of the animal. 
  2. To extract even more water, next press and roll the stuffed animal in a thick, dry towel a few times.
  3. Clip the animal to a drying rack to hang dry. An easy way to do this is to use a pants hanger clipped to the animal’s ears. 
  4. Bonus points if you air dry outside or near a sunny window. Doing so will speed up the drying process and enable you to take advantage of the sun’s natural bleaching properties for yellowed stuffed animal fur.
  5. Alternatively, set the animal on a towel to dry (again, in direct sunlight if possible).
  6. To speed up the drying process a bit and minimize the risk of matted stuffed animal fur, you can also use a hair dryer on the lowest heat setting. The faster that animal is dry and back in your child’s hands, the better, am I right?

Machine Drying Stuffed Animals

No time for air drying? Many stuffed animals will survive the dryer if dried carefully following these steps:

  1. Your stuffed animal will be best protected if dried inside of the same mesh bag you washed it in. 
  2. Alternatively, you can dry the stuffed animal inside of a clean pillowcase. Fasten the loose end with a hair tie to keep it contained. If you choose to dry with a heat setting (for disinfecting reasons, perhaps), then this is the better option as heat might destroy the mesh laundry bag material.
  3. In most cases, it’s best to use a low or no heat setting and check on your animal periodically. Regular checks will help prevent over drying (and over agitating/damaging) the animal in a long, continuous dry cycle.

5. Surface clean stuffed animals with electrical parts

A stuffed animal with any form of electrical component (battery packs, mechanical parts and so on) should only ever be surface cleaned – washing stuffed animals like this in water will just ruin them. Mix a mild detergent with cold water then use the corner of a cloth to wipe away the grime. Use a fresh damp cloth to wipe away the soap, then leave to air dry. 

This method can also be used for isolated stains on any stuffed animal (assuming you carry out a spot test on the fabric first to ensure the color doesn’t run) – reducing the amount of ‘full-on’ washes will help your toy last for longer.

Hand-washing plush toys

Not all stuffed animals are created equally, so when it comes to an especially beloved Teddy or Bunny or Squirrely, hand-washing is the better way to go. Do not be daunted! If you can wash a child, you can wash a stuffed animal (stuffed animals are easier … less squirmy).

To wash a stuffed animal or doll by hand, you need three things:

  • A clean space that can hold enough water to fully submerge the toy, like a kitchen or utility sink, or a large bucket.

  • A mild detergent. Wirecutter, a New York Times company that reviews and recommends products, likes Soak, which is a no-rinse formula, for hand-washing.

  • A clean, dry towel.

Start by filling the sink, or whatever space you’re using, with enough cold or warm water to fully submerge the stuffed animal, then add a teaspoon to a tablespoon of detergent per gallon of water. Submerge the toy and use a pumping motion — as if you were performing C.P.R. on Teddy — so that it’s saturated with water and detergent. Allow the toy to soak in that solution for 15 minutes, or up to an hour, before rinsing; more delicate toys should soak for less time to avoid damaging their fibers. When it’s time to rinse, you can either hold the toy under cool running water or drain and refill the sink with clean water, repeating the pumping motion to get rid of soap residue. The latter method is more gentle and will be best for especially tattered toys. Regardless of the state of the stuffed animal, it’s recommended that you not scrub vigorously or wring it out: Overhandling can lead to damage.

To dry a plush toy after hand-washing it, drain the sink and press down gently on the stuffed animal several times to push out as much water as you can, then roll it up in a clean dry towel, which will pull out more water. Allow the toy to air dry, using the lowest heat setting on a hair dryer to fluff up the animal if needed. A slicker brush, like those used to brush out dogs and cats, can also be pressed into service to groom Teddy’s fur.

If a toy is especially grimy, or has a stain, you can also include a laundry booster, such as OxiClean (for grime), or apply a pretreatment product like Zout (for protein stains such as blood or vomit) to the toy prior to washing. However, before using any kind of stain treatment, it’s important to spot test it first, according to Beth Karpas, the owner of Realms of Gold, a doll hospital in Los Altos, Calif. “The fur can react to chemicals, and different furs react to different chemicals differently,” she warned. “Sometimes the fur shrinks or changes color, and you can’t reverse that.”

Tips for Cleaning Stuffed Animals

  • If the stuffed animal has moving joints, it may not survive the washing machine.
  • If the stuffed animal is made with wool, it should not be washed in the washing machine or submersed in water.
  • Firmer stuffed toys are stuffed so densely that they may never fully dry out.
  • Clothing and/or accessories should be removed, if possible.
  • Read the tag to see of what materials the stuffed animal is made and if there is any advice for washing.
  • Some plush toys and stuffed animals can have their stuffing removed and replaced.
  • Ask a dry cleaner if they have any experience with dry cleaning stuffed animals.

What you need:

  • Mesh laundry bag or zippered pillowcase

  • Mild laundry detergent

Step 1: Place the stuffed animal in a mesh laundry bag or zippered pillowcase before putting it in the washing machine. This will protect it from friction and give it a chance to remain looking new. Tossing a few bath towels in the same cycle will also help create a buffer.

Step 2: Pour in a small amount of mild detergent, like Tide Free and Gentle.

Step 3: Use cold water and the gentlest cycle on your washing machine to clean the toy.

Step 4: Hang dry when possible. Many toys come with glued-on eyes and noses that can potentially melt when put in the dryer, even at the lowest temperature.

Step 5: To expedite the drying process and ensure the stuffing doesn’t retain water, hang the toy near a fan or dehumidifier. You can also blow dry (on the lowest setting) animals with fur to get them fluffy again.

What if the toy has an electronic component?

If the stuffed animal has a music box or another electric part inside, your best bet it to spot clean. Housewife How Tos recommends mixing 1 teaspoon of liquid dish detergent into 1 cup cold water and dabbing or scrubbing the toy as needed. Before you scour the entire thing, do a spot test on a hidden part of the toy to test for colorfastness.

While spot cleaning will get rid of the dirt and stains, the toy may still be stinky (and considering all the dragging, throwing and snuggling it goes through, that’s not much of a surprise). To get rid of any icky smells, place the stuffed animal inside a zip-top plastic bag and pour in 1 cup of baking soda. Shake for about 30 seconds, then let it sit for about two hours. Then, vacuum the toy or tumble dry with no heat to remove the baking soda.

RELATED: How to Disinfect Toys (Because, Um, They're Kinda Gross)

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