How to Clean Stuffed Animals by Machine or Hand

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Did you know you need to clean stuffed animals? 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. As a mom, I know it’s important to wash stuffed animals the right way, because our kids get so attached to them. So I’ve put together this guide to help you safely get your children’s’ stuffed toys clean, whether they’re just a little dirty or downright gross.

Before You Begin

The right method to clean your child’s stuffed animals depends on two things: how the toy is made, and how dirty it is. If it’s delicate or has electronic parts, I stick with spot washing. Otherwise, I wash them in the sink if they’re just a little dirty or pop them into the washer if they’re grubby.

  • Spot wash toys containing electronic parts including lights and music boxes, those filled with foam beads (like Beanie Babies) or rice, and those embellished with delicate fabrics.
  • Hand wash stuffed toys decorated with sequins or ornaments that are glued on, not sewn.
  • Machine wash other stuffed animals and plush toys following directions on the care label, if there is one, or use the method below.

Spot-Clean Stuffed Animals

For non-washable toys, or just to clean up surface messes, I recommend using a white cloth and cool, soapy water to wipe away messes. It’s a good idea to test for colorfastness first. Once you’ve removed the mess, rinse the spot with a clean, damp cloth to get rid of the soap reside. Let the toy dry and fluff it up with a brush.

Two clean and washed stuffed animals wrapped in a towelPin

Washing Stuffed Animals by Hand

It’s easiest to hand-wash stuffed toys in the sink, though you can use a bucket or bathtub if needed. As I show in the video at the top of the page, washing a stuffed animal by hand is just like hand-washing laundry.

  1. Fill the basin halfway with cold water and add two tablespoons of mild dish soap or liquid laundry detergent. Swirl to mix.
  2. Soak the stuffed animal and gently squeeze soapy water through it. Use your fingers to rub any particularly soiled spots or stains.
  3. Drain the sink and rinse the toy under cold running water, pressing it gently to squeeze out soap suds.
  4. Once the water runs clear, blot the toy in fresh towels and let it air dry.

Machine Washing Stuffed Toys

To machine wash stuffed animals, it’s best to put each toy in a mesh laundry bag or pillowcase that you knot at the top. Launder the stuffed toy using a gentle cycle, mild detergent and cold water. Once the cycle’s done, blot each toy separately in a towel then let them air dry. Use a brush to fluff up their fur when they’re dry.

Infographic for how to wash stuffed animal toys and plushiesPin

FAQs about Cleaning Stuffed Animals

This blog exists to help people, so I encourage readers to ask questions in the comment section. When many people have the same question, I update the post to include the answer and increase the article’s helpfulness. If you have a question not answered in the article or FAQs below, please leave it in the comments and you’ll be helping others, too.

How often should I wash stuffed animals?

Wash your child’s stuffed toys after every illness or bout with lice. If your child has allergies or asthma, clean their stuffed animals monthly to remove dust, pollen, and other irritants. And, of course, wash them any time they look grimy or smell musty.

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

I don’t recommend it. Tumble drying plush toys sometimes makes them shrink or get lumpy. It’s better to blot the wet toy with fresh towels then air-dry or line-dry it. If you absolutely must use a dryer, blot the toy then use a low heat setting for 15 minutes to get most of the damp out but let it finish air-drying to avoid shrinkage.

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

To freshen musty-smelling stuffed animals, put them in a plastic bag with a cup of baking soda, seal the bag, and give it a shake so the baking soda covers the toy. Let the toy deodorize overnight, then shake off the powder outside. Remove any remaining baking soda using your vacuum cleaner’s dust attachment, taking care around the eyes or other decorative embellishments.

How do I clean a vintage or sentimental Stuffed toy?

Damaged, vintage, or valuable stuffed animals require professional attention. Talk to your dry cleaner who may be able to help. Otherwise, check local business listings for places like “stuffed animal hospitals” or toy repair services.

The Takeaway

Our kids get so attached to their stuffed animals, but that also means their beloved toys can get covered in grime and filled with germs. Spot cleaning works for surface messes, but there will be times you’ll want to clean stuffed animals more thoroughly. Wash stuffed animals by hand or in the machine using cold water if they’re not electronic or vintage, blot them with towels, then let them air dry. Your child will be so happy when their clean stuffed animals are good as new!

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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. Marilyn Flowers says:

    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!

    1. Katie Berry says:

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

  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.

    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. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.