How To Wash Your Kid’s Favorite Germ Factories (AKA Stuffed Animals)

How to wash stuffed animals

Before we start, you might be wondering: can you wash stuffed animals? And the answer is that most stuffed animals can, and indeed should, be washed. ‘There’s no need for a beloved toy to get binned just because it’s as dirty as in The Velveteen Rabbit; kids can enjoy giving their favorite toys a bath,’ says Nick Vassilev, founder of Anyclean.

The key is deciding on a cleaning method that suits. Just like their owners, every stuffed toy is a little different, so there’s no one rule that suits all. 

While most stuffed animals cope fine in the washing machine, some are older, more fragile, extremely precious, perhaps, while others have electrical parts, plush fur or embellishments that simply don’t do well in water. For these, handwashing or a simple surface clean are better routes to go down.  

In terms of how often, it’s a good idea to wash them after your child has been poorly, or weekly if they sleep with them. Otherwise, you can usually tell when they start to look – or smell – like they’re in need of a bath. 


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.

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.

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.”

How to Clean Stuffed Animals You Cant Wash

You don’t always have to launder stuffed animals to get them clean. If they’re only a little dirty and you want to spot clean or freshen them up, it’s possible to surface clean them. You can also use this method to clean delicate stuffed animals or those filled with rice, dried herbs, or foam beads (like Beanie Babies).

Spot Cleaning

Mix one teaspoon of liquid dish detergent into one cup of cold water. First, do a spot test for colorfastness by dipping a cotton swab into the water and dabbing an inconspicuous area on the toy. If the dye doesn’t transfer from the toy to the swab, then you can use the corner of a rag to lightly wipe the toy’s surface to get rid of grime. Use a fresh cloth dampened with plain water to wipe away the soap once you’re done, and let the toy dry.


To freshen musty-smelling stuffed animals, shake them in a plastic bag with a cup of baking soda. Let the toy sit in the bag for a few hours to deodorize, then shake the powder off outside. Remove any remaining baking soda with your vacuum cleaner’s dust attachment or tumble dry it with no heat for a minute. (Be sure to clean your vacuum afterward, so the baking soda doesn’t cake in there.)

When Not to Machine Wash Stuffed Animals

You definitely don’t want to ruin your children’s stuffed animals. So let’s review some instances where you cannot machine wash stuffed animals! This will save you tears (and money).

You cannot wash stuffed animals if they:

  • Have a music box inside.
  • Are old or fragile.
  • If the care label says “hand-wash” or “surface clean” only.
  • Have items glued on, like sequins. Eyes will probably be okay, but you can hand-wash to be safe.
  • Have delicate clothing, like glittery outfits or plastic crowns.
  • Have foam balls — not batting — inside. Beanie Babies tend to be made this way.

Cleaning Very Old Stuffed Animals

Damaged, vintage, or valuable stuffed animals require professional attention. Your dry cleaner may be able to clean these or other non-washable stuffed animals. Otherwise, check your local business listings for places like “stuffed animal hospitals” or other services that repair and clean stuffed toys.

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Give Your Steam Dryer a Whirl

There is one instance in which you may not want to skip the dryer. If your machine has a steam clean or steam sanitize option, it may prove even more effective than a washing machine when it comes to safely cleaning stuffed animals.


Credit: / Kori Perten

If your dryer has a steam clean cycle, it might be a great option for cleaning your stuffed animals.

We weren’t sure how well this would work, so we pulled a few well-loved, furry specimens out of storage to see how they fared in the LG DLEX5000V’s Steam Sanitary cycle. We were nervous about the heat and the loud clinking noises the animals’ plastic noses made as they banged against the dryer drum, but we breathed a sigh of relief when they emerged no worse for the wear.


Our plush toys started out musty, bedraggled, and allergy-triggering, but the 30-minute cycle took care of all of that. So if you have a dryer with a steam option, it might be a great alternative to washing stuffed animals by hand, or in the washer.

How to Surface Wash Stuffed Animals

If the care label on your child’s plush toy says to surface wash only, follow these steps. This is very common for stuffed animals and while it doesn’t get a thorough clean of the inside, it will keep it clean enough!

Step by Step Instructions

  1. Dampen a cloth: Use a clean white cloth — this is to reduce color transfer — and soak it in cool water.
  2. Make a solution: Water is fine, but if you want, you can make a solution of cool water and a mild detergent. You can even use something specifically for toys!
  3. Clean: Gently wipe the stuffed animal. Be a little more vigorous on the dirty areas. If you’re using a detergent solution, make sure to use a separate cloth dampened with only water to rinse the soapy residue from the toy.
  4. Brush: Use a plastic brush with wide bristles to brush out the stuffed animal’s hair. Fluff the hair well.
  5. Alternate: Alternate between wiping the fur and brushing the fur in all directions until the stuffed animal is clean.
  6. Dry: Use a hairdryer on a low heat to dry the stuffed animal.

How to Dry Stuffed Animals

Now that we know how to wash stuffed animals, we should chat about drying them!

How to Air Dry Stuffed Animals

The dryer’s heat is harmful to soft toys, so they must be air-dried instead.

  1. Wrap the stuffy in a clean hand towel and gently squeeze, changing towels as needed to remove as much water as possible. This helps to remove excess water and speed drying time.
  2. Fluff the fur with your fingers then place the item on a flat drying rack.
  3. Turn every few hours to ensure even drying.
  4. Use an old, clean toothbrush to comb it and restore texture.

How to Dry Stuffed Animals in the Dryer

Every now and then you just don’t have time to air dry because your child needs their favorite pink unicorn NOW. So, you must use the dryer.

  1. Add a few clean towels to the dryer. This will help speed drying time and fluff the fur on the stuffed animal.
  2. Toss in the stuffed animal and set the dryer to a low/medium heat setting. High heat can damage any parts of the stuffed animal that are attached with glue.
  3. Boom. Dry.

How do you clean stuffed animals that cannot be washed?

If a stuffed animal can’t be washed by submerging it in water for whatever reason, a surface clean might suffice – simply sponge away the stain with a damp cloth. However, damaged, vintage or precious stuffed animals that can’t be washed may require professional attention. 

‘An upholstery expert may be able to help – they will have the right equipment to clean delicate fabrics properly,’ says Nick Vassilev. ‘Otherwise, look for a toy repair service in your area, they’re often referred to as “toy hospitals’, or “stuffed animal hospitals”.’


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