It was requested a while ago that I do a piece talking about plushy cleaning, so I figured I’d cover plushy care in general. Cleaning and caring for your NEW plushies can be pretty easy, but if you buy something used and receive it in less than desirable condition you’re going to have some work to do to help it look new.
PLEASE NOTE: This blog post was written considering mostly Japanese Sailor Moon Crane Game plushies from the 90’s. Feel free to ask about specific plushies/issues in the comments, or do some research on the fabrics in your plushies and apply the appropriate techniques! There should still be a lot here to help you at least get started.
Lint rollers are basically my life saver. I use them on my every day clothing, but I also use them on my fabric back drops, and plushies! The sticky won’t transfer onto fabrics, and they won’t pull apart plushy fabric. To get into those hard to reach places just pull off a clean sheet and manually clean the areas yourself. If the sheet is too big cut or tear pieces that will work better.
Makeup brushes are also a great way to pull dust out of tight spaces. They’re also soft enough to not scratch or rip fabric.
Pilling is something that happens when the fabric is rubbed a lot in wear or use. It balls up into little puffs of fabric until the fabric wears away entirely and forms a hole. This doesn’t usually reach hole status in collectible plushies, but it’s common in a plushy that gets a lot of love, or underarm of knitted shirts.
There are tools for doing this. It’s a little blade connected to a casing that will suck up and hold the cut off bits of cotton, but shaving razors work just as well.
There are lots of things to consider when washing a plushy. First consider how the plushy is assembled. If there are elements that are hot glued it may be better to hand wash the plushy in colder water. How old is the plushy? If it’s old and fragile it might not make it through the cycles in a washing machine. Last, are there any existing damages that might push further if it is machine washed?
Remove any tags that can not be washed safely. If the plushy has a card board tag that has a plastic tab on it, bend the tab and slip the tag off. This shouldn’t damage the plush or tag, and it’s easy to put the tag back on: just do the exact same thing, except slide the tag back on.
Once the plushy is tag free and you’re sure it’s washer safe put it into a washer bag. They’re typically for bras, but they will protect your plushies as well. If you don’t have a washer bag use a pillowcase instead, and tie over the end with a hair elastic. Set the washer to delicate or a setting you use for delicate items.
There are multiple options for hand washing. Fill a washing pan or sink full of soapy water or can spot wash. Either way, if you use soap I recommend Dawn Liquid Detergent.
Sink: Fill with cold to warm water depending on dirty it is and add soap. Place plushies in water, let soak, and lightly scrub as needed with a wash cloth (preferably something microfiber that won’t leave bits of itself in your plushy). A kids toothbrush can also be soft enough to help scrub out stubborn stains.
Spot Wash: Dip a cloth into cold to warm water and only use the cloth on the area of the plushy that requires cleaning. Use clean, non-soapy water to clear off the area of soap or cleaners.
Most plushies will be better off air drying. Long furs, and plastic-y fabrics should definitely air dry. So should any plush with damage that weakens its integrity.
Air Drying: Lay flat in a safe, dry, and warm space.
Sun Drying: Be sure to flip it every hour until dry. Do NOT let the plushy sit in the sun for several days. You risk sun damaging it, more especially if it is old.
Blow Drying: Be cautious of the heat settings. Do not let it accidentally melt your plushies if they are made of synthetic materials. Game machine plushies are often made of felt or a similar fabric and can be heat sensitive. It is not easy to melt fabric with a blow dryer, but is possible on higher settings.
Spot removers that are for clothing, or gentle on fabrics should be safe. ALWAYS test these in a spot that is not usually visible (bottom side of a skirt, under a tail, etc.). Be sure that the remover is safe for colours! Many of them contain bleach. Tide-To-Go pens are a popular choice and have a lot of good reviews. Just remember that they are a step previous to washing. If you do not want to wash your entire plush spot washing with a cloth is a good option after using the pen.
Lysol wipes are my FAVOURITE for spot washing plushies. It disinfects and removes dirt at the same time and won’t damage anything. This CAN be kind of wasteful if you don’t like the sheets. I invite you to buy the equivalent Lysol and a cleaning cloth.
For items I can’t get clean or stain hard and CAN go into the washer I LOVE Resolve Spray Wash. This stuff is AMAZING at removing stains. I recommend following the directions which is usually to spray the stain, scrub, let sit for 5 minutes, and wash.
I have used this product on synthetic products that do not leak dye and I’ve had no problem letting it sit longer on harder stains. If an item has dyed fabric I recommend being cautious doing that. The instructions warn that it could remove dye.
Ripped Seams/Pieces that have come Unglued
Repairing a plushy will always depend on how the actual plushy was made to repair it to like-new state. Most of my modern plushies are sewn together 100% with some embroidered elements, while my older plushies from the 1990’s are a mix of sewing, hot glue, or a glue that resembles super glue.
Before moving forward, clear up the area you are repairing. Remove any loose threads, or old glue. Old glue can be removed with glue dissolvants that are meant for that glue. Goo-Gone is a good place to start, but I like to use 100% Acetone (aka nail polish remover). ALWAYS test that it won’t damage the plush first. Acetone is GREAT for removing hot glue from acrylic yarn and felt.
Seam Rips: These can be repaired several ways. I only suggest resewing the patch if you know how, or carefully fabric glue the section together. Be sure to follow the directions on the bottle. Not following the proper procedure WILL result in the fabric glue not holding well enough.
Sun bleaching happens when an item fades in colour after long exposure to the sun. This normally takes quite a few days to years to happen in items like plastic, but it can take a few days on fabrics.
On fabrics there is no repair process for this without re-dying the fabric. Be sure to colour test swatches before dying a full section of fabric affected. If part of a panel is damaged do not dye just the damaged section. It will be less noticeable if the full panel is dyed. If the plush is intact use a paintbrush and mask off the areas you do not want to paint with tape so that it is easier to complete the job without mistakes.
While I highly recommend synthetic fabric dyes, in a pinch, watered down Acrylic paints CAN dye fabrics, but I recommend not calling that a repair, as it can harden the fabric.
A lot of collectible plushies will come in bag plastic wrapping. If the bag does not obstruct any part of the plush that you want visible it’s worth keeping it in the bag just to avoid dust contamination. If there IS an issue with how the plush is bagged it should be okay to open it and adjust things. The bags do not really affect their worth the same way an open or sealed box affects a figures value.
A small collector secret is Cling Wrap! It’s not the most attractive way to protect a plushy, but it’s cheap, and it CAN look good if you apply it properly. This was a method my parents used with my china dolls when I was a kid. They created a small bag out of the wrap, and while the outside of the cling wrap yellowed with smoke the doll stayed perfectly clean and did not turn, even after 20 years.
When looking for replacement bag options avoid bags (and cling wrap) meant for freezers. These can sometimes have chemicals in them meant for protecting food and can yellow collectibles over long periods of time.
Plushies can be easy to maintain in a display case. This can range from things like shadow boxes to full on book shelves with doors. I even use a china cabinet to display dolls and plush in, and this keeps out a lot of dust.
For large displays I have used the Ikea Detolf. It’s a great tempered glass display shelf that’s compact, but has just the right dimensions to play around with. It’s easy to wrap something like cling wrap around the front display and pile plush behind it so they don’t fall out when the door is opened.
Book shelving is one of the more obvious answers, but I am tossing this in in 2021 as an update to the post. I have since sold my detolfs in exchange for shelving because I maxed out my detolfs in the space I had available. When I moved out I was broke af and went with the Ikea Gersby shelf, but a couple years in and I think my next move will be to upgrade to Ikea Billy shelves. The Gersby shelving is great and uniform with their unadjustable shelves, but that has greatly hindered my ability to display larger items, or keep items in boxes. I can also upgrade my Billy shelves in the future with doors
If you DO buy a Billy shelf with doors be sure to anchor it to the wall no matter where you live or if you have earth quakes. The doors make the shelving front heavy and unreliable as free standing.
This post is a living document and is updated with my favourite products from time to time.
Last Updated: March 13, 2021