How To Clean Stuffed Animals without Ruining Them

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.

Can You Wash Stuffed Animals?

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.

The Best Ways to Wash Stuffed Animals

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.

How to Machine-Wash Stuffed Animals

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.

How to Hand-Wash Stuffed Animals

If you don’t have a washing machine, you can still get your child’s stuffed animals clean in the sink. Hand-washing is also the best method to clean large stuffed animals that can’t fit in your machine.

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.

How to Wash Stuffed Toys 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.

How to Clean Stuffed Animals You Can’t Wash

You don’t always have to launder stuffed animals to get them clean. If they’re only a little dirty and you just 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. Do a spot test first 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.

How to Dry Stuffed Animals

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.

Cleaning Very Old Stuffed Animals

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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4 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.

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