Parents know that stuffed animals eventually get dirty. Some children take them wherever they go, exposing the plush toys to soil, grime, dust, soot, and other forms of dirt. Other kids take better care of their animals, being careful to arrange them in a corner after playing with them, though they don’t notice the dust that slowly collects on the toys’ bodies. Regardless, all stuffed animals are guaranteed to get a stain or more throughout the child’s lifetime. This presents a problem to parents, because dirty toys, much like anything else that gets dirty, are a health hazard around the child; and while some stuffed animals can be thrown into a washing machine and come out clean, others are not so sturdy. Thus, the question becomes: how do you clean a stuffed animal without destroying it?
There is only one important thing to consider above all else when cleaning a stuffed animal: what is it made of? Many stuffed toys are structurally strong enough to survive a washing machine, but how strong they actually are depends on what material was used to make them. For instance, if it is stuffed with plastic-based materials, it may be placed in the washing machine. Foam however, might end up in a deformed shape if put through a laundromat. It may have fabrics that might survive a washing machine as well – examples are cotton or wool – but if packed very tightly, it may become impossible to dry the animal out. Most stuffed animals come with a label that indicates what kind of cleaning is best suited to it if it gets dirty, so be sure to check for that as well. Also, it is advised to use only a gentle cycle when cleaning plush toys in a washing machine.
Assuming the toy is not washer safe, there are a number of alternative ways to remove dirt.
If the problem is dry dirt such as dust, it is possible to use a cheap lint remover to clean the toy. If one is unavailable, carefully using a strip of transparent adhesive tape. Just be sure the adhesive doesn’t leave any residue on the toy, or you will end up with a sticky dust collector instead of a huggable bear.
Another good solution for dust is using a vacuum cleaner on the toy. Most vacuum cleaners won’t ruin the toys as long as care is taken. If a brush attachment is available, use it.
If the toy is dirty from a liquid spilling on it, resist the temptation to dry it with a clean rag. Applying pressure the wrong way on a wet surface will push the liquid deeper into the toy, possibly damaging it. Use physics to your advantage when cleaning a toy exposed to moisture; shaking the stuffed animal vigorously will force the liquid away from the center of the plushie’s mass. Afterwards, holding the stuffed animal so that the wet area faces the ground will reduce the chances of the liquid soaking in. Dab – not wipe – the spot clean with any material more absorbent than the plush toy.
Finally, if the toy is stained, it is possible to use commercial cleaners or detergents to clean the surface of the stuffed animal. This is done by applying the detergent to a cotton swab, or a sponge, and carefully scrubbing at the stain hard enough to remove it, but not so hard that the detergent seeps into the stuffing. Cleaning the entire stuffed toy is a good way to maintain its quality, as one clean spot of plush tends to look different from the rest of the surface. When the stain is gone, shake the toy, dab it, and leave it to dry. Also, while it goes without saying, choose a mild enough detergent that won’t cause color to fade, or fur to fall off from the toy.
While the toy will only remain clean for so long, it is still a better option to take some time off to maintain its quality than expose your children to potential health hazards. Remember that a child’s plush toy is as personal to the child as his/her clothes, and must be kept in just as good a shape.