How to wash your kid’s favorite stuffed animal and not kill it

My mother didn’t intend to kill my sister’s favorite toy but the soft, stuffed lamb didn’t stand a chance after she tossed it into our washing machine tub loaded with bath towels.

At the end of the washing cycle, the once fluffy-fleecy toy my sister called Lambie was a torn, matted rag with a single, loose button that was once an eyeball. Lambie underwent reconstructive surgery with a needle, thread and replacement stuffing but he wasn’t the same. He looked rough. He looked a little, well, frightening. My sister was understandably devastated at first but she didn’t mind his scars (stitching of the tears), the unevenness of the stuffing or the replacement eyeball that was noticeably larger than its twin. Lambie was toted around in public and often prompted the dreaded question from a kid or a mother: “Oh, no, did he get washed in a washing machine?”

Yes, yes he did.

He was public evidence of my mother’s tendency for frequent washing machine no-nos.

Therefore, on behalf of my mother, who has since learned from her laundry mistakes, I give you: How to wash a stuffed animal or cloth doll without killing it:

1. Read the care-information tag.

Most fabric toys are spot-clean only. If the tag reads spot-clean only, it’s most likely not going to survive the washer, even if washed on a gentle cycle.

What definitely can’t be washed in a washer:
• Ultra-stiff toys you win at carnivals or pluck with a claw in one of those arcade games.
• Toys with non-removable embellishments like sequins, net-y skirts, crowns, etc.
• Toys stuffed with tiny beads or balls (i.e. Beanie Babies).
• Toys with music boxes, batteries or electrical components of any kind.

Use your best judgment to determine if a toy can be hand washed.

Here’s how to hand wash a toy:

  • Remove loose dirt by running cold water over the toy in your sink. There is always far more dirt in a stuffed toy than can be seen.
  • Mix a small amount of mild detergent with warm water.
  • Gently scrub the toy with a toothbrush. If you have a small child who may put this toy in his/her mouth, consider using a detergent that’s free of dyes and perfumes.
  • After a thorough scrubbing, rinse the toy with cold water.

Pay attention to clothing, bows or other accessories that may not have originally been attached to the toy; accessories made of wool or another delicate fabric cannot be machine washed.

2. Get it ready for the machine.

Don’t mistake machine washable with indestructible. Machine-washable stuffed animals still require TLC. Remove the toy’s clothing or bows, if applicable. Close zippered or hook-and-loop fastened (most well known as Velcro® brand) components. Place the toy in a garment bag (a.k.a. mesh laundry bag). This is our favorite one. It’s also great for washing undergarments and other clothing items that are prone to tangling or getting caught on washing machine agitators. If you have trouble keeping pairs of socks together while doing laundry, this bag is also a great solution.

Toys that have attached, protruding features (such as buttons) should be placed in a pillowcase. This will reduce chance of losing the items inside of the machine.

3. Air dry it.

It’s best to air dry stuffed animals and toys.

Wring out excess water immediately after removing the toy from the washing machine. Clip it to a pants hanger and periodically check on it. You may need to squeeze water from it multiple times to aid with drying. Avoid putting toys in direct sunlight to dry, as this can fade colors, melt plastic parts and do other damage. I know this from experience, though the green freckles that covered my Cabbage Patch Kids® doll’s head made her even cuter.

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