A Doll Cleaning Tutorial

 I have a large collection of AG dolls and the majority of them came to me secondhand. I love a good deal and pick up abused dolls whenever I find them. Sometimes I buy them just because I don’t like to see them in such terrible shape. Over the years I have learned how to repair almost every issue I have encountered. Today let’s focus on thoroughly cleaning the limbs and head of a dirty doll.

I picked up these Julie and Mia dolls locally for $30 each. They are dirty, but overall condition is pretty good. (That hair is a little wild though!😂) I do not buy dolls that have chewed or missing fingers, because I cannot repair that. If I do purchase a chewed doll, it is only for parts as long as the rest of the doll is in good condition. You can send a doll to the American Girl Doll hospital, but it can get a bit pricey.

What you will need: A cloth, Mr. Clean Eraser, cotton balls or cotton pads, toothpicks, nail polish remover and a nail buffing block. Of course not all dolls have the same problems, so you might only need a few of the items I mentioned.

The most important thing to remember is do not get the body or eyes wet! In future posts I will show you how I clean both, but for now keep it dry. The eyes can rust and the body will stain, even though it’s just water. I learned this the hard way!

I start with a wet Norwex microfiber cloth.  I use microfiber cloths on dolls because they seem to scrub a little better than regular wash cloths. Rubbing in circular motions, I clean every surface thoroughly. Next I go after stubborn stains with a Mr. Clean eraser. The eraser will also take off the face color, lips and eyebrows (I use it to remove eyebrows when I paint custom dolls), so be careful. Julie’s face had a lot of marks and I did have to use the eraser quite a bit on her face. I plan on re-painting her face anyway, but I tried to avoid her eyebrows and lips. A couple of swipes will not remove the face paint, but adding pressure will. Unfortunately, I have accidentally removed half of an eyebrow on a Kit doll before. 😬 Here is Julie and Mia before and after their Mr. Clean scrubbing.


They are looking so much better, let’s go after that nail polish! In my doll repair bag, I keep two bottles of nail polish remover, one with acetone and one without. If nail polish remover with acetone touches a dolls hair, it will fall off in that spot! (Again, learned this the hard way!😬) I do use nail polish remover with acetone to remove nail polish, but I am very careful. Using the cotton pad, wet with nail polish remover gently start rubbing the nails. Once the majority is off, I use a toothpick to get in the cracks for that last little bit.

Both dolls have rough scratches on their noses from being dropped multiple times. Using a nail buffing block, I gently buff the scratches off. Use sides 1, 2 and 3 in order. DO NOT use side 4, the shining side, because it will put a shine on the vinyl. Here is Mia before and after her Mr. Clean eraser cleaning and nose buffing. The white mark on her nose is a discoloration in the vinyl. I will remove that in a future post for permanent stains!


On to that hair! The very first thing I do is brush it out. It is very important to use only a wig brush for this. American Girl sells doll brushes and this is what I use (American Girl Brush), but a good wig brush would work the same. Always start at the ends and work your way up so you don’t pull the doll’s hair out. Now let’s wash it. There is no reason to remove the head, but you can if you like. I place the doll into a plastic bag and tie it tightly at the neck to prevent water getting on the body. Using a sulfate free shampoo or dish detergent, gently wash the dolls hair in warm water. Avoid soaking the doll’s wig cap if possible. Sometimes, if the hair is smelly, I will let it sit in the water for 20 minutes or so before rinsing under clean running water.

I let a towel soak up the majority of water and then gently brush and the doll’s hair removing any tangles. It shouldn’t be bad if you brushed it out while still dry. Start at the ends and work your way up to the scalp. To continue to protect the doll, you might want to drape a towel around her shoulders while brushing. Style the wet hair into the doll’s original hairstyle. Let the hair air dry.

The girls are clean! Not perfect yet, but clean. Their hair is dry and frizzy. They still have marks that can not be wiped off. The nail polish dyed their vinyl fingers and toes and there noses are “bruised” from being dropped many times. I was able to remove the scratches, but not the discoloration. But it all CAN be done! In an upcoming post I will show you how I remove permanent marks from vinyl. If your doll has floppy limbs visit How To Re-String A Doll Tutorial. Want to see how I fix matted, frizzy hair and how I straighten and curl doll hair? Visit the post Restoring Doll Hair Tutorial! Happy cleaning!


10 thoughts on “A Doll Cleaning Tutorial

  1. Thanks for the tutorial it’s a big help. I don’t collect AG dolls but I have 6, five we loved and the price was right. The only new one I own I won on Pixie Faire and she has the worse hair. I am actually thinking of selling her as I haven’t bonded with her at all.

    This tutorial is great and I’m going to try it on the one doll that needs help.

    • Glad it is helpful Sandra! I’m going to try to get their hair finished and show my tricks in the next couple of weeks. Maybe that could help your girl, and you could bond with a spa day! 😂

  2. So I know you probably just haven’t gotten to it, but how do you plan fixing little hairs that are creating the friz and stand up and are in the doll’s face no matter what? I usually pull out smaller hairs from the wig, but is this a good idea? I hope I’ve explained it well enough, I was just curious if anything could be done about that?

    • I use a tiny little flat iron on some individual hairs. I do pull out extremely stubborn ones or cut them off at the root. A hand-held steamer also works wonders on frizz. Both Julie and Mia have now had wig changes because I bought them for customizing projects. Let me know if you have more questions and I will answer if I can! ❤

  3. I just got a Kirsten doll (so excited!) on Ebay that was not too badly used, but sadly the hair was very matted. I appreciated the tutorial on hair. Not sure how to “dip” Kirsten’s bangs though. Another problem is a slight sticking problem in one of the eyes. Any suggestions?

    • Congrats on your new girl! 🤗 Honestly, bangs can be tough. A HWD can make them stick straight out if the doll is dunked upside down. A hand held steamer can work very well on bangs.
      The sticking eye should be taken out and checked. Most likely there is some “crud” that needs to be cleaned off. If the eyes are both removed, you can pour boiling water over the bangs so they are getting a HWD treatment but in their styled position. Hopefully this makes sense. If not, please reach out! 😊 I have several current restoration projects and will try to address these things in an upcoming post. Thanks for your questions.

      • Thanks so much for your quick response! I don’t remember seeing one, but maybe have a tutorial on how to remove the eyes? That’s a little scary!

      • I do not have a tutorial currently on eyes but it was in future plans. I will try to get one up within a few weeks! There are a few ways to remove them and I have tried all of them but have also damaged eyes doing it. It can be scary but it isn’t hard. I will try to get something posted sooner rather than later! 😊 Have a great day!

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