Children And Kids Toys: How To Clean A Stuffed Animal

A guide to cleaning plush stuffed animals, including surface cleaning, machine washing and drying, and techniques for delicate or extremely dirty toys.

Every child has a favorite stuffed toy that is a friend, playmate, and constant companion. For health conscious parents, that constant companionship fosters concern as the stuffed animal is routinely exposed to food spills, dirt, pet hair, and potentially harmful germs. Regular cleaning protects the child and refreshes the stuffed animal to guarantee that they share a long and happy friendship.

The first step in cleaning a stuffed animal is to check the manufacturer's instructions. If the toy is stuffed with polyester fiber, as most modern stuffed animals are, machine washing is safe if the proper precautions are taken. Any other instructions should be followed carefully to avoid damage.

If the toy is not heavily soiled, surface cleaning may be sufficient. Gently brushing the toy with a hairbrush removes dust, dirt, pet hair, and food crumbs. Do not use a brush with metal bristles, because it tears the fabric more easily. After brushing, rub the fur with a damp cloth to remove any additional dust or dirt the brush loosened. A vacuum bristle attachment or lint roller is a good substitute for a hairbrush. These methods are also effective at fluffing the toy after it has been machine washed.

To treat stains or spots, test cleaners and detergents inconspicuously to be sure they will not damage the fur or alter its color. If the spill is fresh, shake the toy vigorously to remove as much liquid and residual material as possible. Avoid rubbing a fresh spill, because that only presses material deeper into the stuffing. If a dried spill resists spot cleaning, it may be necessary to trim the fur in order to remove the damaged area.

Machine washing is the most convenient way to clean a stuffed animal. First, remove any accessories such as clothes, collars, or sound boxes that may become damaged when exposed to water, heat, or detergent. Pretreat stains and repair loose buttons or eyes. Stuffing can clog filters and drains, so be sure to close any torn seams or other rips before washing. Place the stuffed animal in a linen pillowcase, tie or pin the case closed, and wash it with mild detergent in a warm water gentle cycle. Including fabric softener keeps the toy fluffy and in peak condition.

To dry a stuffed animal, the pillowcase can be transferred to the dryer just like regular laundry. A longer than normal drying cycle may be necessary to insure that the interior is thoroughly dry - residual moisture could mildew and eventually ruin the toy. If the stuffed animal is too delicate to for the dryer, place it near a dehumidifier for a few days, laying it flat to keep its shape. This method takes longer but is gentler. A quick brushing will help restore the fur's fluff once the animal is dry.

Some stuffed animals cannot be machine washed and dried. If a toy is too big or delicate to withstand machine cleaning, place it in a large plastic or paper bag with a cup or two of baking soda or baby powder. Shake vigorously to coat the entire toy, and leave the bag closed for an hour or two for the powder to absorb odors and surface stains. When finished, remove the stuffed animal and use a damp cloth to collect the powder from the surface.

A toy that is very firmly stuffed or contains wires or other shaping devices should not be machine cleaned. The vigorous nature of the washing machine and dryer can shift the stuffing and destroy the animal's shape, and very firm stuffing may not dry thoroughly.

For toys that are drastically dirty or have been a child's constant companion through a contagious illness, more extreme cleaning is necessary. Carefully slit the toy's seam and remove the stuffing, setting it aside. The fabric should then be washed in a pillowcase just as the entire toy would be if it weren't so dirty. After it is dried, new stuffing can be used to refill the animal - compare the type and volume of the new stuffing to the old to achieve a similar texture and firmness. The seams can then be carefully restored.

To an imaginative child, a stuffed animal is more than a toy: it is a treasured friend with whom many adventures are shared. Proper cleaning is necessary to prolong its life and to protect the child from excess dirt and bacteria. Taking care of the stuffed animal insures that it can share experiences with the child for years.

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