Two clean and washed stuffed animals wrapped in a towel

How to Wash Stuffed Animals: A Tale of Three Bears and Some Barf

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Have you ever thought about all the gunk your child’s stuffed toys collect? That’s why it’s so important to wash stuffed animals now and then, whether you do it in the machine or by hand. But there’s a right way and a wrong way, as I learned over the years.

When my son was little, he had a plushie toy called “Bear Bear” that he took everywhere: in the car, to his room, to the bathroom. Ew, right? When he needed a napkin, he used Bear Bear. Sneezed? Wiped it on Bear Bear.

What he didn’t know was that Bear Bear was a triplet, and there was almost always one version of him in the wash. As I’ll explain, that turned out to be a genius move. But if you don’t have triplets, be sure to test for colorfastness to be on the safe side.

Spot-Cleaning Stuffed Animals

To spot clean small messes on stuffed animals, like when they’ve been used for a napkin, use a soapy, white cloth and dab lightly to lift the mess.

Once it’s gone, wipe away the soapy residue with a fresh damp cloth. Let it air dry then fluff up the fur with your fingers or a brush and your work is done.

Washing Stuffed Animals by Hand

Sometimes, spot cleaning just won’t do—like the time my son got carsick while we were on a cross-country roadtrip and Bear Bear took the full force of it all.

Pro Tip

Wipe off any wet messes and brush away the dry ones before hand washing your child’s stuffed toy—especially if an upset stomach was to blame.

Hand-wash stuffed animals in a sink of cool water with a little dish soap. Work the soapy water through by gently squeezing, and rub any stubborn spots with your fingertips. Then, drain the sink, press the toy lightly to squeeze out soap suds, and rinse until the water runs clear. Blot with towels and air dry.

Machine Washing Stuffed Toys

To protect stuffed animals in the washer, pop each one into a separate mesh laundry bag or pillowcase that you knot at the top.

Machine wash stuffed animals using a cold, gentle cycle with mild detergent, but skip the fabric softener since that make the stuffing clump. Blot the toy with a clean, dry towel then let it air dry.

Cleaning vintage stuffed toys

Cleaning vintage, antique, irreplaceable, or sentimental items is best left to professionals. Consult your dry cleaner who may be able to do it, or may know of someone who can. Other options are stuffed animal hospitals (yep, they’re a thing) and toy repair businesses.

FAQs about Cleaning Stuffed Animals

How often should I wash stuffed animals?

There’s no firm rule about how often to do this. If your child plays with the toy all the time, spot cleaning once a week and a washing it once a month is good.

Kids with allergies may do better if you clean their stuffed toys more often. And any time a child is sick, it’s important to clean their toys, including stuffed animals.

Can I put my child’s stuffed toy in the dryer?

It’s best to air dry stuffed animals so they don’t shrink or get lumpy from clumped filling. If you need to speed things up, use a blow dryer on a low heat setting for 5 minutes, let the toy cool, press between fresh towels again, and repeat.

How do I get barf off stuffed animals?

Shake off the big chunks over the toilet then use a plastic spoon to scrape off the excess. Wipe with paper towels until you’ve got off as much as possible. If you have a washing machine, don’t delay. Otherwise put on rubber gloves and start hand-washing it, because stomach contents and stuffed animal filling are not a good combination. Guess how I know?

How can I freshen a smelly teddy bear without washing it?

To freshen stinky stuffed animals, sprinkle them all over with baking soda and wait a few hours then shake it off. Finally, vacuum the toy but be careful around the eyes and decorative embellishments.

But What About The Three Bear Bears?

When my son was a toddler, both of his grandmothers and I bought the exact same bear for his birthday. It was serendipitous. Because on that road trip I mentioned? We learned that my son is super prone to car sickness, and Bear Bear took the full force it.

Fortunately, since Bear Bear was a triplet, there was always a stuffed animal for him to snuggle while I washed and dried the others. Every. Single. Night. And that’s how I got so good at cleaning stuffed animals. The End.

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  1. Thank you! My comfort animal was getting quite dirty. I acquired him at a Dollarama in June 2020, and he means a lot to me. A snuggly little orange pillow. I am terrified about drying him properly because he just wouldn’t drain out, and the rolling in the towel didn’t do much. I put him in a pillow case in the dryer with a blanket, and am cycling him 10 mins on low 10 mins tumble. He does look a lot cleaner. 😀

    1. Katie Berry says:

      I’m so glad! It’s always nice when they’re cleaner. 🙂

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. Patience R says:

    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.

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

    1. Katie Berry says:

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

  6. 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.

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