How to Wash Stuffed Animals

How to wash stuffed animals

Stuffed animals so often become the most beloved play things for toddlers and children. Translation: stuffed animals so often become the dirtiest toys owned by our toddlers and children. After being chewed on, spilled on, dragged in the dirt outside, stepped on, and eventually it comes time to wash their beloved stuffed animals. Here’s how to wash stuffed animals of any fabric or stuffing material both by hand and by washing machine!

How to Machine Wash Stuffed Animals

Before we move on to the how-to, it’s extremely important to first check the care label of your child’s stuffed animal before machine washing. Listed below are stuffed animal materials that should never be machine washed.

Caution: Stuffed Animals that are NOT Machine Washable

  • Animals that contain polystyrene foam, foam beads, or excelsior
  • Plush animals that contain leather, natural fur, mohair or wool fabric
  • Stuffed animals that have sound machines or electronic components
  • Animals with glued on elements like eyes need to be machine washed with caution – it’s possible (dare I say likely?) that an eye might pop loose in the machine!

If you have determined that your child’s stuffed animal is not safe for machine washing, skip below for hand washing methods. If you’re in the clear, keep reading for how to machine wash stuffed animals.

Materials Required:

Stuffed Animal Machine Washing Instructions:

  1. Toss your child’s stuffed animal(s) into a mesh laundry bag.
  2. Set your machine to a gentle or delicate cycle with cold water.
  3. If you’re interested in disinfecting the stuffed animal, you can try a warm water cycle and add a sanitizing laundry product.
  4. No matter what you do, avoid using fabric softener as it will ruin the stuffed animal material.

How to Hand Wash Stuffed Animals

Hand Washing via Water Submersion

  1. Submerge the stuffed animal in a cleaning basin (sink, tub, bucket) filled with lukewarm water and a tiny amount of your favorite gentle detergent (seriously, less than a teaspoon is sufficient). Baby shampoo works well here as well.
  2. For badly stained stuffed animals, use a gentle stain removal product like baking soda, OxiClean, or Borax. Soak the stuffed animal in water mixed with one of those products for a longer period of time.
  3. Regardless of what product you use, let the stuffed animal soak for 30-60 minutes (15 minutes is probably sufficient if you’re in a rush to return teddy to your child).
  4. To rinse, drain the dirty, soapy water then re-fill your basin with clean water. Press the stuffed animal in the clean water to pump out lingering soap residue. Repeat this step a few times until the toy is clean and no longer soapy.
  5. Drain the basin one last time then press on the stuffed animal to remove excess water – do not wring out the stuffed animal. You can remove even more moisture by pressing and rolling it in a towel a few times as well.

Dry Washing Delicate Stuffed Animals

  1. If your dirty stuffed animal is made with more delicate fabrics that can’t be submerged in water, you can try spot cleaning stains with a damp cloth and gentle detergent or baby shampoo. 
  2. You can also try a “dry wash” to reduce weird smells. Place your child’s stuffed animal into a pillowcase and generously sprinkle it with baking soda. Shake the animal inside the pillowcase to thoroughly distribute the baking soda in the stuffed animal’s fabric.
  3. If you’re concerned about dust mites or other gross organisms living in your child’s stuffed animal, some recommend placing it in a freezer bag and placing it in the freezer for 8+ hours to kill the bugs. With that said, I have also read that this technique does not effectively kill any bugs unless you store it in the freezer for multiple days. So if the thought of keeping your child away from their favorite plaything for that long is unbearable, the freezer step might not be worth it.

How to Dry Stuffed Animals After Washing

Air Drying Stuffed Animals

  1. If the animal is still heavy and full of water (e.g. after hand washing), place the stuffed animal in a sink or tub basin and press the excess water out of the animal. 
  2. To extract even more water, next press and roll the stuffed animal in a thick, dry towel a few times.
  3. Clip the animal to a drying rack to hang dry. An easy way to do this is to use a pants hanger clipped to the animal’s ears. 
  4. Bonus points if you air dry outside or near a sunny window. Doing so will speed up the drying process and enable you to take advantage of the sun’s natural bleaching properties for yellowed stuffed animal fur.
  5. Alternatively, set the animal on a towel to dry (again, in direct sunlight if possible).
  6. To speed up the drying process a bit and minimize the risk of matted stuffed animal fur, you can also use a hair dryer on the lowest heat setting. The faster that animal is dry and back in your child’s hands, the better, am I right?

Machine Drying Stuffed Animals

No time for air drying? Many stuffed animals will survive the dryer if dried carefully following these steps:

  1. Your stuffed animal will be best protected if dried inside of the same mesh bag you washed it in. 
  2. Alternatively, you can dry the stuffed animal inside of a clean pillowcase. Fasten the loose end with a hair tie to keep it contained. If you choose to dry with a heat setting (for disinfecting reasons, perhaps), then this is the better option as heat might destroy the mesh laundry bag material.
  3. In most cases, it’s best to use a low or no heat setting and check on your animal periodically. Regular checks will help prevent over drying (and over agitating/damaging) the animal in a long, continuous dry cycle.

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