How To Clean Stuffed Animals without Ruining Them

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Plush toys get dusty or dirty, plus they pick up sweat and other odors. Below are the best ways to clean your child’s stuffed animals with or without water, in the washing machine, or by hand.

Stuffed teddy bear and plush dog toy

When your child gets covered in dirt or sweat from playing hard, you make sure they take a good bath. Their stuffed toys need cleaning now and then, too, and for the same reason.

Most stuffed animals can and should be washed, especially if you bought them at a thrift store or garage sale. You’ll also want to wash your child’s stuffed animals after any illness or bout with lice. If your child has allergies or asthma, it’s important to clean their stuffed animals regularly to get rid of dust or other irritants. And, of course, you should wash them any time they start to look grimy or smell musty.

Machine Washing

Most stuffed animals are safe to clean in your washing machine. Others, especially furry stuffed animals or those with electronic parts or embellishments, should be washed by hand. If there’s a label with washing instructions, follow them.

If you’ve determined it’s safe to launder your child’s toy in the machine, put it in a mesh laundry bag or zippered pillowcase to protect it from friction. (You can also put it into an old stocking or plain pillowcase, then tie a knot at the top.) Use a separate bag for each toy. Wash on the delicate cycle using cold water and your usual detergent. Run a second rinse to get all the suds out, then remove it from the mesh bag.

When Should You Choose Hand-washing?

  • The toy is made of a fabric that might get damaged in the machine.
  • It has a music box, lights up, or has electronic parts.
  • Things like sequins, eyes, or beads are just attached with glue.

Washing by Hand

It’s easiest to hand-wash stuffed toys in the sink, though you can use a bucket or bathtub if needed. Fill the basin halfway with cold water and add two tablespoons of laundry detergent. Swirl to mix. Soak the stuffed animal and gently squeeze soapy water through it. Use your fingers to rub any particularly soiled spots carefully. Drain the sink and squeeze water out of the toy but don’t wring it, or the stuffing may bunch. To rinse, turn on the tap and continue squeezing under running water.

Cleaning Non-Washable Stuffed Animals

You don’t always have to launder stuffed animals to get them clean. If they’re only a little dirty and you want to spot clean or freshen them up, it’s possible to surface clean them. You can also use this method to clean delicate stuffed animals or those filled with rice, dried herbs, or foam beads (like Beanie Babies).

Spot Cleaning

Mix one teaspoon of liquid dish detergent into one cup of cold water. First, do a spot test for colorfastness by dipping a cotton swab into the water and dabbing an inconspicuous area on the toy. If the dye doesn’t transfer from the toy to the swab, then you can use the corner of a rag to lightly wipe the toy’s surface to get rid of grime. Use a fresh cloth dampened with plain water to wipe away the soap once you’re done, and let the toy dry.

Deodorizing

To freshen musty-smelling stuffed animals, shake them in a plastic bag with a cup of baking soda. Let the toy sit in the bag for a few hours to deodorize, then shake the powder off outside. Remove any remaining baking soda with your vacuum cleaner’s dust attachment or tumble dry it with no heat for a minute. (Be sure to clean your vacuum afterward, so the baking soda doesn’t cake in there.)

How to Dry Wet Plushies

You can put some stuffed toys in the dryer, but most do best if they’re air- or line-dried. To speed things up, wrap the toy in a clean towel and gently press it to blot water. Be sure you don’t wring it, though. Repeat with fresh dry towels until you can’t press out any more moisture.

Then, fluff the fur with your fingers and place the item on a flat drying rack so it can air dry. If you prefer line-drying, hang it out of direct sunlight to avoid fading or other damage.

What if It’s Vintage or Sentimental?

Damaged, vintage, or valuable stuffed animals require professional attention. Your dry cleaner may be able to clean these or other non-washable stuffed animals. Otherwise, check your local business listings for places like “stuffed animal hospitals” or other services that repair and clean stuffed toys.

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21 Comments

  1. Brenda Benson says:

    How do you clean a stuffed animal that smells like lavender, one of those. I’m not sure if it has beans or not.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Hi Brenda,
      To preserve the lavender fragrance, I’d skip the washing machine and do a surface cleaning with a washcloth and warm, soapy water. Follow with a clean, damp cloth to remove any soap residue, then let it fully dry.

  2. Hello!

    Any advice on cleaning a pillow that is shaped like a character? So it doesn’t have a case that can be removed. My problem is that our daughter peed on on it in her crib and the tag says you can hand wash the exterior but you can’t machine wash the whole thing. So i’m at a loss how to get the urine smell out. It’s a pillow is really like to keep as i’ve had it a long time and it was a mistake to put in there. Thanks!

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Oh no! I’m assuming from your description that it’s dry now but still smells of pee. In that case, I’d put it in a large plastic bag and sprinkle it liberally with baking soda. I’d recommend working the baking soda into the surface, too. Knot the bag and let it sit away from direct light for a few days. The baking soda should neutralize the odors, so just take it out of the bag and shake it outside well. Then surface clean it using the directions above for spot cleaning.

    2. Lida Waugh says:

      If the pillow has a side seam gently clip the seams and remove the stuffing. Wash the cover separately, then resting and sew up the seam. I have had to do this several times with pet bedding. Polyester pillow replacements are available at many craft stores.

  3. My son passed away in Sept. I found his white stuffed cat his grandma gave him 30 years ago. It’s not white and he also smoked, can u add some bleach to the detergent when washing. I really want to preserve it, very sentimental. Please help. Thank you.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Please accept my condolences for the loss of your son. I understand not wanting to lose his stuffed white cat toy, too. As I indicated in the article, vintage or valuable stuffed animals need professional attention, and your dry cleaner is a good place to start. This would certainly count as a valuable one.

  4. How to clean dusty ( very dusty) furry grandpa snoopy as well a Dr Snoopy who is 50 years old and has been stitched ?
    Thanks

    1. Katie Berry says:

      As indicated, if it’s vintage or valuable you should take it to a professional.

  5. My 2 year old threw up on her favorite stuffed animal puppy. This one would fall under the “spot-clean the surface” category under normal circumstances, but I’m pretty sure the stomach acid went deeper than that surface. What should I do?

    1. Katie Berry says:

      You could try handwashing in that case, if you think it’ll hold up to it.

  6. My daughter has a large collection of stuffed animals that I am keeping for her until she is settled in her new home after her marriage, she is 33 years old. We recently has a mouse infestation and after we eliminated all of them I found several have been stained with mouse urine. They are large and small size and various made of long to the shorter versions of fluff. I appears the stains are mostly on the surface with little to no saturation. Can you advise me on a safe and sanitary way of cleaning without ruining her collection?
    Thank you for your help, any and all suggestions will be greatly appreciated.
    Sue

    1. Katie Berry says:

      With irreplaceable items like this, there is too great a risk that I’d misunderstand your question or you’d misunderstand my pointers, and the item would never be the same. Please take it in-person to a professional dry cleaner who can examine the item’s construction, materials, and condition and come up with the personal answer you’re seeking.

  7. Marilyn Flowers says:

    Hello,
    I am concerned that washing stuffed animals would allow for mildew or mold to grow inside the animal because it would take so long for it to air dry and it would be damp inside. Is this a legitimate concern?

    Also, I was told years ago to put stuffed animals in the deep freeze to get rid of dust mites. Have you ever heard of doing that? I have done it multiple times.

    Thank you!
    Marilyn

    1. Katie Berry says:

      It’s never been a problem as long as the directions are followed correctly.

  8. Patience R says:

    Hi
    I’m curious if I would be able to wash a plushie that can purr if you squeeze it ( its like a dog toy but it’s a real plushie ) I’m asking because I have a Simba plushie that I’ve had since I was five. I had also been wondering if there is a blanket that attaches to the back and comes to the front with Velcro to wrap the plushie would that be a problem. ( im also 14 it’s not a really old plushie)
    Thank you

    1. Katie Berry says:

      I’d recommend spot cleaning it with a damp cloth.

  9. Phyllis Yingling says:

    How do we clean a stuffed toy that has electronic sounds? The dog got to it amd it needs cleaning and sanitizing. He puts it in his mouth and we can’t use cleaning solutions.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      I’d use the spot cleaning method to wipe the entire item down with a warm, soapy rag then let it dry in a sunny spot. Sunlight provides mild disinfection. Once it’s dry, you can go over it again with a disinfecting wipe if you want.

  10. Claire Hall says:

    Hi, is there anything to add please to get white bits of a soft toy white again? My daughter has a black and white cat which is very loved, it goes everywhere with her, but consequently very grubby looking! I’ve tried gentle machine washes occasionally but it doesn’t really improve. Thank you!

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Hi Claire,
      You could sponge-cleaning the area with hydrogen peroxide, or stir 1 tablespoon of oxygen bleach into a cup of water and use that to sponge clean the area. Either one should help lift more grime and brighten the white spots.