Restoring Doll Hair Tutorial

   Let’s get our glam on! Nothing makes a doll look worse than bad hair! I see dolls that aren’t in bad shape but their hair makes you cringe. As I have already shared with you, I love to fix up abused dolls and restore them to their former glory. Because of this, I have been able to add a lot of dolls to my collection for a fraction of the cost and so can you!

I started fixing up this $30 Julie doll in A Doll Cleaning Tutorial. (If you just bought a tlc doll you will want to start there.) In that post I washed and brushed out the tangles and it really helped but today we are going to take it a step further. Please make sure to only use a wig brush on your doll’s hair. (I use this one American Girl Brush.) Below is Julie’s hair when I first bought her, after washing and brushing and lastly after a hot water dunk (HWD) and straightening. Nice and shiny!


American Girl dolls have nice quality wigs of blended mod-acrylic fibers. Since their hair is basically plastic, the best way to return it to it’s original shape and shine is to heat it up. The internet is filled with videos and posts telling you to do a Downy Dunk on your doll’s hair to make it soft again. PLEASE DO NOT do this. It does help remove tangles but the fabric softener changes the hair. I made this mistake on my first fixer doll. She had a matted clump of hair and the internet told me to give her a Downy Dunk. Her hair became limp, greasy and it didn’t restore shine at all. I was able to comb out the tangle, but the good part of her hair became gross. Her hair attracted dust and had an overall filmy coating. I was able to repair the hair a few years later but let’s learn a better way!

An American Girl doll has three styles of hair: Straight, Large Curls (or wavy) and Tight Ringlets. How you dunk the hair will depend on the style you want. First let’s cover the dunking basics.

A8BD0C02-87BD-4AF9-9BD8-B87D3A570777You do not want to get any water in your doll’s eyes, the heat can damage them and the water will eventually make them rust. With the doll’s eyes in the closed position, tape a cotton ball or chunk of cotton pad over each eye. Protect the doll’s cloth body with a plastic bag. I always start with a good hair washing especially if the doll is used. For instructions on washing your doll’s hair visit A Doll Cleaning Tutorial.

Bring a large pan of water to boil. Remove the pan from the heat and set your timer for 5 minutes. Once the water has cooled for 5 minutes it’s time to dunk.

You only want the hair to be in the water for 5-6 seconds at a time. I let the stop watch run and repeat the following: dunk hair into water for 5 seconds, pull it out for 5 seconds, dunk for 5 seconds, out for 5 seconds. I dunk about 6 times total. This places the hair in the water for a total of 30 seconds in 5 second intervals. Now lay the doll aside and let the hair cool down. I place the hair in the sink so it cannot puddle around the doll.

For Straight Hair: Flat iron the hair while it is still wet. I lay the doll on her face (on a cloth for protection) and comb out a small section. With a flat iron on its lowest setting (mine is 140 degrees) start running it quickly over the combed section. If the flat iron is too hot or the hair dries out, it will melt the hair. (Remember your working with plastic.) I keep a spray bottle of water handy and spritz the hair if it starts getting dry. Steam will roll off as you go down the strands, this is normal. I go over each section 3-4 times and then comb down a new section and start over. Once you are finished, let the hair air dry.


Now for curls! If you want curls or waves, you need to put the hair into curlers before dunking and then follow the dunking process.

For Big Curls or Waves: Roll your dolls hair into sponge rollers. Start by spritzing a section of combed hair and roll it up into the rollers. I start in the back at the bottom. If you put the rollers against the scalp it will create poofs. You can find foam rollers anywhere. I use these inexpensive ones, foam hair rollers and keep multiple packs on hand.

Once the hair is rolled, follow the dunking process above. Let the hair dry completely (over night). Once the hair is completely dry, unroll your beautiful curls. If you just want it to be wavy, use fewer curlers with larger sections of hair. Gently run your fingers through it until the curls loosen to the look you want. My Sonali’s hair had been over-brushed by her previous owner, but after a curled HWD it’s beautiful and shiny.

For Tight Curls: Using a pen, pencil or small dowel rod wrap thin sections of wet hair around the pen and secure it with a bobby pin. (Make sure they are tight and secure or the water will pull them out.) Once all curls are in place follow the dunking process above.

Once the curls are completely dry, remove the pins for tight, fun curls. If the curls are to tight, spritz with water and gently tug on them. This is a great style for dolls with textured hair. I hope this post can help you. If your doll needs help Restoring Doll Bangs, Pin Curls and Hair Parts check out the post. Have fun styling those dolls!


I have also made How To Re-String A Doll Tutorial. Check it out! 😉

33 thoughts on “Restoring Doll Hair Tutorial

    • No, shampooing won’t reverse the effects of a Downy Dunk. What I did to repair mine, was multiple hot water dunks. I did one, let it dry gently brushed it and did it again and then a third time. By the third one it was fully restored. I guess it stripped off the fabric softener’s film. I would not use a straighter until you know the fabric softener is completely gone. It might completely melt it. Hope this helps! 🤗

      • The dolls “my friend”did the downy dunk on were not American Girl dolls, thankfully. They have all gone to new homes. “Friend” is me 🙄. I don’t think I’ve done an AG. Now I never will!

      • Glad they weren’t AG! 😉 Now you know what do if you find a fixer that needs you! ❤️

  1. Super happy that you mention not doing a downy dunk! It was kind of a trend years ago and for cheaper costume wigs it can do wonders but AG wigs are just different and downy dunks should never be used, and I’m glad someone else besides me is saying that.

  2. Hello,

    I was wondering if you knew if this process would work on an original Pleasant Company doll from 1992? Or if it is just for the newer Mattel dolls?

    Thank you.

    • It will absolutely work on the older dolls! I mostly restore 80’s and 90’s dolls. Just as a reminder, protect those eyes! Good luck! 😊

  3. I was about to do a “downy dunk”. Bought fabric softener and foam rollers based on everything I read last week. Was double checking the instructions before getting started when I found this. THANK YOU FOR SAVING ME! I will definitely try this instead starting with your wash instructions!

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      • Would this work on the hair of an AG horse? I’m probably over thinking this but since I almost Downey dunked I want to be really sure lol.

      • It might. I haven’t done a horse before but since their hair is finer, I’d use hot water but not boiling. You might test a piece first. Good luck!😊

    • Please refer to my post on this subject, Restoring Doll Bangs, Pin Curls and Hair Parts. The link is in this post or you can look under the Doll Repair category at the top of the page. Have fun!

    • I have no experience with Madame Alexander dolls so I cannot recommend it. You could try a test piece and see what you think.

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  8. Amy, I have no idea why it’s taken me years to find your site. I guess it’s all in the timing! I’ve been an adult collector of AG / PC dolls for maybe 10 years, but only had Kristen and many of her outfits and accessories. Recently, for no apparent reason, I picked up a TLC Felicity. She has red hair and soft, red lashes, so I believe she’s an earlier version. The seller indicated ‘will need a rewig’ – ha! I wanted to think that I was up to the challenge. Many hours later, and prior to reading your exceptional tutorial, I had used all kinds of methods, and product, and while Felicity’s hair was shinier and much less tangled, it was just… not right. I followed your HWD and am blown away with the results. Felicity’s hair, while very thin (her wig cap shows through in the back if I don’t carefully arrange her remaining hair) is brushable and combable (it was not previously), soft, shiny and beautiful! I had never tried the HWD followed by an iron straightening and the combination worked perfectly. AND NO PRODUCT NEEDED! Her hair is so much cleaner than when I thought I was following good advice. I’ve concluded that Felicity’s hair was in such poor condition that going straight to wash / HWD / straightening was what had been needed all along. (When I got her, her hair was dry, frizzy, and knotted / snarles right up to her scalp.) While I did lose still more hair, what she has left is so beautiful that I’m going to have a blast with both her, and Kristen. Thank you again for your prcise, and concise, tutorial. I knew what I was getting into and you have removed needless steps and clarified the process to make it foolproof. I am so very glad I found your site! Best, June

    • I am so happy you found my site too June! Thank you for such a lovely comment! I am glad you found it helpful! I have been away from blogging for awhile but will start posting again this week! I hope you follow along! Have a wonderful day with Felicity and Kirsten!

  9. Hi! Thank you so much for this amazing tutorial. I followed it and had so much success on a TLC Josefina with completely wrecked hair, except the ends of her hair are still looking a little rough. Would a second hot water dunk repair the ends?

    • Hello! I’m so glad the tutorial helped your Josefina! Sounds like you did a great job! ❤️ I wouldn’t dunk everything again, just those ends. Once finished, sometimes I neatly trim just the very, very tips. Nothing to take off length, just the damaged tips. Have fun!

  10. I am so grateful for your advice. Is it safe to hot water dunk a 1993 Addy? Or a tinsel hair Kirsten with a white body? These are the two dolls in my collection I’m most scared of damaging, so any advice you can give would be most appreciated. Thank you!

    • Hi Rebecca! It is safe to HWD them, but make sure to protect the eyes. Dolls of this age tend to get silver eye and we do not want any steam affecting them. Have fun!

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