Antique Tips: Caring For Vinyl Dolls

Vinyl dolls are great collectibles. They can be smart investments if you care for them correctly. These are some dos and don'ts.

Vinyl was invented in the 1920's and was used for dolls' heads by the 1940s. In the mid-1950s, all-vinyl dolls became popular, including Barbie dolls.

Today, vinyl remains a leading material among doll manufacturers. If you collect 20th and 21st century dolls, it's important to know how to care for vinyl.


Many collectors treasure dolls that were never removed from their original boxes, a quality called NRFB. However, the original boxes were usually designed for the safe shipping of dolls, not their safe storage.

If your doll was never removed from the box and is still held in place with rubber bands and pieces of foam rubber, you already have a problem. Rubber and especially foam deteriorate quickly, and seem to melt into--or at least stain--vinyl figures.

Likewise, the colorful tag at your doll's wrist may have left marks on her arm or hand.

Even the clothing that came with your doll may not be colorfast, and leave permanent stains on vinyl.

Finally, early Barbie dolls often display "green ear" where her earring wires discolored the vinyl around them.

If your doll has never been removed from her box, examine her for these kinds of damage.


If your doll is a very early, mint condition Barbie, or another valuable design, it's best to bring your doll to a professional doll hospital. Be sure to ask for--and check--references before allowing them to work on your doll. Also get an estimate in writing, covering all planned repairs.

But, if your doll is not especially valuable and you'd like to learn doll cleaning and restoration, vinyl dolls are easy to work with.

Most dust and dirt can be washed off with warm water and a neutral soap. In fact, at Mattel's Testing Laboratory, Barbie dolls are subject to harsh treatment--including scrubbing with sand--to make sure that these dolls are durable.

However, many stains cannot be removed with simple soap and water. "Green ear" and related problems are more than skin deep.


There are home remedies for these cleaning problems, although these are not recommended for valuable or highly collectible dolls.

If your doll is already badly damaged, you may want to experiment with natural olive oil soap to wash her body and hair. Vaseline is a favorite among some doll collectors, for removing light stains.

A few collectors report that Magic Eraser and Mr. Clean will remove most crayon and marker stains. For deeper stains such as "green ear," Extra Strength Clearasil or Oxy-10 can reduce the problem. Unfortunately, these products can also bleach the skin of your doll, leaving a different--perhaps worse--stain.

If your dolls have an odor, especially dolls stored in plastic or in a cedar chest, you can put them into a paper bag with some clay kitty litter. Do not allow the litter to touch the vinyl. Leave the doll in the bag for about three days; in many cases, the litter absorbs the unpleasant odor. You may need to repeat this treatment for strong smells or sensitive noses.

No matter which home remedies you use, be certain to wash the products off completely when your work is finished. This includes dust from kitty litter, which may not be obvious to the naked eye.

Also be certain that your doll dries completely, inside and out. Mold and mildew can result if water remains inside your doll.

Keep in mind that even a thorough rinsing may leave chemicals behind if they were absorbed by the vinyl. It can be risky to use another product if the first one doesn't work. Unexpected and damaging chemical reactions can occur.

In general, no home remedy should be used unless you are willing to ruin the doll. Experiment only on dolls that are otherwise worthless.


Doll shops, doll hospitals, and online doll suppliers carry a variety of safe cleaning products. They are a far better choice than hit-or-miss home remedies.

Some companies, such as A Dolly's World and Twin Pines of Maine, specialize in cleaning products for doll collectors. Twin Pines also publishes a highly respected book detailing the care and preservation of vinyl dolls.

You can find advertisements and reviews of other products for doll cleaning and restoration, in popular magazines for doll collectors.

If you are serious about your doll collection, use only tested and guaranteed professional-grade products.


Whether you display your dolls or keep them in storage, be careful what comes in contact with the vinyl. Anything that can melt, such as rubber, or stain, such as dyed products, should be used with caution and checked regularly.

Never display your dolls in direct sunlight, or in a room with fluorescent lighting; the doll and its original box can fade.

No matter where you display or store your dolls, be sure to avoid temperature extremes and high humidity.

Never display or store a doll in a plastic bag or container. Vinyl needs air circulating around it. Most collectors recommend displaying your vinyl dolls in a cabinet where glass protects them from dust, sunlight, and children's hands.

When you store your dolls, never keep them in a cedar chest or in a closet with mothballs. One of the best choices for doll storage is acid free tissue paper, in an acid free box. Many doll hospitals sell these supplies.

Some collectors recommend removing all jewelry and clothing from each doll, and storing it separately in an acid-free paper bag. Mark the bag clearly so that you can tell which doll the items belong to.

It's also wise to catalogue your dolls with detailed photos showing them in their jewelry, clothing, and accessories. When you display each doll again, the photos can be a helpful reference if you aren't certain how an item should be placed.

Check your displayed and stored dolls regularly for dust and damage. Repairs and restoration are easiest when only a small amount of work is necessary. An ideal repair is one that cannot be detected afterwards.

Most collectors recommend rotating your doll collection, so that each of your dolls is displayed for at least a few weeks each year. The movement of air around your dolls can help them stay fresh and in good condition.

In general, doll collections are best enjoyed where you can see them. When your collection needs special attention, experiment only on dolls that have very little value. It's far better to use professional products or a doll hospital for cleaning and restoration of your more important dolls.

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