How to Wash and Clean Stuffed Animals and Plush Toys

Published by 
Jess Miller
Last updated: 
April 9, 2023
Adorable stuffed toy bears

We all know how important stuffed animals are. Whether it’s yours from childhood that you keep for the memories or the one that your child is best friends with, they are invaluable.

So what happens when they get dirty?

The more loved a stuffed animal is, the messier they get. They will go everywhere and fall in the dirt, be close to your child when their sick, and get passed around with other children.

You will want to clean it so that your child can stay healthy since kids seem to get sick so often.

Do you know how to wash stuffed animals without ruining them?

Why Do Kids Get Sick So Often?

Doesn’t it seem like kids can’t catch a break when it cold season comes? They get over one cold, only to get another the next day.

A huge component to children getting sick so often is spending time in school or daycare. They are spending a lot of time with other kids and swapping toys. They are swapping germs every day.

Kids aren’t great at sneezing into their hands or washing their hands either.

According to WebMD, children’s airways are narrow, and germs get stuck more easily. Plus, their immune systems aren’t strong enough yet to fight off the germs like an adult can.

How Long Can Germs Live on Toys?

Brown Teddy bear sitting on grass
Image source: pexels

Have you ever wondered how long germs live on toys? Depending on their lifespan, it could affect how often you wash your child’s toys.

Germs, aka bacteria, fungi, and viruses, have different lifespans. Bacteria and viruses don’t live very long. Viruses are harder to shake due to their viral components.

How to Wash Stuffed Animals

There are many different ways to learn how to wash stuffed animals. Depending on your needs, one may be better than another.

Method One: Washing Machine

Before putting any stuffed animals in the washing machine, make sure to read the tag to see if it will survive a spin. Most stuffed animals can, but it’s always good to double check.

You should also make sure the animal doesn’t have a music box, batteries, sequins, delicate clothing, or long strings. They will get damaged and probably ruin the animal as a whole.

Also, animals filled with fiberfill or foam beads, or have paper plastic joints can’t go into the washer.

Use the gentlest cycle that’s on your machine, use cold water, and mild detergent. Though if you are trying to disinfect it, you can use warm water and use a laundry sanitizer. Do not use bleach.

A crucial part of machine washing a stuffed animal is putting it in a mesh bag. This helps protect all its parts and stops it from getting tangled up. For extra security, you can pad your washer’s drum with towels.

Can you throw your child’s stuffed animal in the dryer? Technically yes, but it’s better to stick with air drying. A dryer can affect their shape and size.

You can let it hang and dry out, or you can use a hairdryer. If you aren’t sure how to hang the animal, you can use hangers with the clips on them.

If you really need to use the dryer, use the low heat setting.

Method Two: Handwashing

Sometimes a child’s stuffed animal is too precious even to run the risk of your washing machine destroying it. This is when handwashing comes in.

Start with picking the place you want to wash it. You can use any kind of sink or even a washing bucket if you have one.

Make sure the space has enough room for you to submerge the animal entirely. Your hands need to move around without causing a huge mess too.

It will also be kind to yourself if the area is simple to clean when you are done.

Once you have your space prepped and ready to go, fill it with lukewarm water and a little bit of mild detergent. If you use too much detergent, it will be hard to rinse out. A right amount to aim for is a teaspoon.

You can use regular detergent and not a specialty item, though if you want something special that isn’t a problem.

Toys that are stained and discolored, you should use baking soda or something similar and let it soak for a while. This should help brighten up the colors.

Dunk the plush in water using a pumping motion so that it’s soaking with the detergent. Leave it soaking for fifteen to sixty minutes. The dirtier the toy, the longer it should stay in the water.

You can also swish it around every once a while to shake up any dirt that’s stuck in the toy’s fur.

If there are any stubborn stains, use a toothbrush to scrub stains away gently.

When it’s done soaking, drain the dirty water. Clean the sink of anything that remains after the draining and refill it with clean water. Dunk the animal in a few times, using that same pumping motion, to get the soap off.

If the toy is sturdy enough, you can save yourself some time and running it directly under water.

When it’s all clean, squeeze it gently to get all the extra water off. Then wrap it in a towel and squeeze it again to get even more water off. Then let it air dry.

If the fur still looks a bit matted, you can use a hair dryer on its lowest setting to fluff everything up.

Method Three: Vacuum

This is an excellent method if you feel like your child’s stuffed animal is getting dusty, but doesn’t need a full washing. This is also a method that can be helpful if your child has allergies.

Even if can’t see the dust, dust and mites can build up.

You can loosen up the dust by giving stuffed animals a nice brushing or by using a dust cloth. Then use a vacuum cleaner with a hose and attachment and run it over the stuffed animal gently a couple of times.

You can change the attachment depending on the size of the stuffed animal. Don’t use the short or long-pile adjustment.

Method Four: Spot Cleaning

Accidents happen, and things get stained. Sometimes there isn’t enough time for a full washing. Try using a multipurpose stain remover to spot-clean. The faster you can do this the better, that way the stain doesn’t have time to sink in.

A good recipe is a color-safe, multipurpose, oxygen-based stain remover with warm water. Make sure the powder is dissolved before using it.

Use it in the fabric in small areas and wait around ten minutes, but don’t let it dry on the stuffed animal. Use a white towel to dab at it until the stain is gone. Finally, rinse the animal and dab it dry.

Method Five: Baking Soda

Baking soda is great at absorbing oil from fur and making them smell better. Use around a tablespoon of baking soda for a small animal.

Once the toy is covered in baking soda, toss it into a pillowcase. Close it, shake it hard, and leave it be for a half hour. This gives the soda time to get all the oil.

Once thirty minutes pass, wipe the powder off with a damp paper towel. Put it back in the pillowcase and throw it in the dryer for a few minutes.

If needed, you can use a vacuum or soft brush to fluff up the fur once the whole process is done.

Method Six: Changing the Stuffing

This may be extreme, but if you can’t get rid of the smell, try changing the stuffing. Only do this if you are good at sewing.

You can also use this as an opportunity to wash the outer shell of the stuffed animal by hand before putting the new stuffing in.

Just make sure your child doesn’t see you do this, or they may become very upset.

Method Seven: Freezing

Do you know how people say you should freeze your jeans instead of washing them? The same can be applied to old stuffed animals that you are afraid are falling apart.

Leave the animal in the freezer for twenty-four hours, and it should kill off any dust mites and germs.

Material and Stuffing Cleaning Cheat Sheet

Brown bear plush toy holding red rose flower
Image source: pexels

We know this is a lot to take in, so here is a cheat sheet based on what the stuffed animal is made of.

  • Terry cloth can handle the washer and dryer
  • Stuffed animals with extra stuffing will change their shape in the washer, make sure to check in on it while it dries to retain its shape
  • Polyester fiber can be machine washed and dried and fluffed in your dryer
  • Styrene foam, foam beads, or excelsior can’t be washed
  • Synthetic fiber filled with a polyester fiber or plastic beads can be washed, but it’s better to wash by hand
  • Cardboard or hardboard stiffeners could fall apart and should only be surface cleaned
  • Metal stiffeners or shapers could start to rust. It’s best to spot treat the toy
  • Stuffed animals with plastic joints can handle water, but can easily fall apart, so hand wash it

Products to Help Clean Stuffed Animals

If you aren’t sure what products to use while cleaning your precious buddies, here is a short list to point you in the right direction.

ARTIKA Sewing Kit

If you don’t already have one, it’s good to have one nearby. This sewing kit features forty sewing pins in a round stand, a wonder kit, thirty-eight spools, metal thimble, golden eye needles, and stainless steel scissors.

The kit has spool colors that are necessary like black and white, but then has colors like for red and blue for more colorful toys.

This kit is perfect for any operations a stuffed animal might need or if you have to change its stuffing.

People like this kit because it comes with so many different colored spools, that it all comes in a kit, and that the scissors are good.

Primo Passi Antibacterial Sanitizer

This is great for a quick spray down in between washes. It should get rid of any bacteria, viruses, mold, fungus, and germs.

It’s a hundred natural anti-allergen made with probiotics. It’s eco-safe, made without any chemicals, and is non-GMO.

There’s no rinsing or wiping needed with this spray.

People like that they can spray their toys without having to do a full washing. There isn’t any smell to it and that it’s made without chemicals.

GOGOODA 7 Piece Mesh Laundry Bags

This is a great deal because each of the bags is a different size, which will come in handy with your child’s plushie collection.

Each bag has an automatic lock on its zipper so that it doesn’t come undone during the wash. The mesh is made of durable polypropylene nylon.

You can even use them for your regular laundry too.

This is liked by people because it’s cheap and there are a lot of bags. The size variety is a plus.

Babyganics 3X Baby Laundry Detergent

Babies are sensitive, and so are stuffed animals. This laundry detergent should be gentle enough for any stuffed animal. It’s made without optical brighteners, dioxane, chlorine, phthalates, phosphates, sulfates, fragrances, dyes.

It’s a plant and enzyme-based cleaning solution.

People appreciate that it has a light smell to it, but is effective against stains. Parents love using this for kids with sensitive skin.

3 Pack Tide Liquid Laundry Detergent Smart Pouch

If you would rather have a familiar name than a more expensive specialty item, then this three pack of Tide will be good for you. It’s powerful against dirt, while soft against items.

This particular item uses sixty percent less packaging, and you can reuse the bottle.

The fact that there is less packaging is a huge perk for many reviewers. There’s no overpowering scent, it’s gentle against cloth, and it’s a great price.

Sky Organic’s Castile Unscented Organic Soap

This soap is safe for babies and those with sensitive skin. There is Aloe Vera in the formula to soothe for all skin types.

You can use this on stuffed animals, on your hands, floor, or anything else in your home that needs cleaning.

It’s a hundred percent natural, organic, non-toxic, non-GMO, Vegan, and cruelty-free.

It’s beloved because despite being organic and gentle on skin, it’s powerful on objects. It’s unscented which should make it easy for people who have allergies.

Frienda 6 Piece Mesh Stuff Sack

If your child doesn’t like the idea of their favorite stuffed animal being in a bag, this set of colorful bags may make them feel better. Featuring bright colors like pink, orange, and green, they look a lot friendlier to a kid’s eye.

Drawstrings make for smooth closure while making sure it stays closed. It’s made of nylon and water resistant to prevent any mold.

People like that these bags are versatile and can be used for any task. The colors are as bright as they appear in the photos and are durable.

How Often Should You Wash Stuffed Animals?

Now that you have seen all these different methods on how to wash stuffed animals, you might be wondering how often you need to do this.

Depending on the stuffed animal and how attached your child is, it may be a battle just to get the stuffed animal away from them. Of course, naptime is always worth a shot.

Other than washing them after every bout of illness, you should clean stuffed animals whenever you feel like it would be good. Though depending on your lifestyle, like if your child goes to school or daycare, it may be good to wash their favorites every couple of weeks.

This schedule will keep them clean, smelling good, and your child healthy.

But, if you feel that it should be longer between washings, like a month, then that’s perfectly fine. The only type of cleaning that isn’t good is washing them daily. That will make them fall apart.

Give Those Stuff Animals a Bath

It’s good to be aware that once a stuffed animal is washed, it’s never going to look the same again. Don’t expect that it will look as good as it did in the store. You’ll just be disappointed.

It may be worth explaining that to your child as well so that they don’t think anything is wrong.

Make sure that you read the tags before using any of the methods above because some toys can handle these methods better than others. Consider what will get the stuffed animal clean without damaging it.

We can only give you the options for cleaning. We can’t tell if it will suit your specific toys or not.

Hopefully, you feel more secure about washing the stuffed animals in your life. The hardest part of this process will probably be getting the stuff animals away from your child long enough for proper washing and drying.

Featured image source: pexels

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