Doll Eye Removal and Replacement Tutorial

   Let’s talk about eyeballs! Eye replacement can be very scary if you have never done it before. I was really nervous my first time and I’ve messed up some eyeballs along the way but now it’s a common occurrence here at Dandridge House. Today I will share my mistakes and what I’ve learned.

Some might wonder why you would want to remove a doll’s eyes. I’ve done it for several different reasons over the years:

  1. The first reason is non-working eyes. Sometimes a dolls eyes will no longer open and close properly. This can be caused by something stuck in the eye, rust or the weight has fallen off of the eye piece. In this case the eye will need to be cleaned or repaired.
  2. Another reason to remove the eyes is in preparation for a Hot Water Dunk. I sometimes remove the eyes on dolls with bangs, so I can directly pour the water over the face if they have crazy bangs. (To visit my HWD tutorial visit Restoring Doll Hair)
  3. Older dolls can get something called “silver eye”. This is because over time the eye paint color has pulled away from the inside of one or both eyes leaving the doll with clear, very odd looking eyes. Eyes must be removed to paint them.
  4. Lastly there is eye swapping. This is taking eyes from one doll for another. It can really change the appearance of a doll. I like to create historical figures or characters from favorite books and sometimes they need a certain eye color with a particular face mold. Swapping eye colors can be very helpful in achieving the look you want.

EA43F2DC-F7BC-4EBB-A661-D0E265E8BF99Let’s get started with the items I use when removing and replacing eyes. You will need a kettle to boil water in, a towel for protecting the eyes when they pop out, a wooden spoon or dowel rod (maybe), gloves (that can protect from the heat), tweezers, a timer and a glass 4-cup measuring cup. Before I purchased this 32 oz glass measuring cup, I would struggle trying to keep the head propped upright full of boiling water. The 4-cup glass measuring cup holds a doll’s water-filled head perfectly and securely. I would avoid placing the boiling hot head in anything plastic or in anything that has a design or color. It very well could melt onto or transfer dye to the the doll’s vinyl. Once the doll’s head is boiling hot you will have to move FAST!!! Get all of your tools laid out and ready before starting. The last thing you want is to have the doll’s eyes in crooked or damaging the lashes and then decide you need to find the tweezers.

Very Important: Once the boiling water is poured out, every minute that goes by the vinyl is cooling and hardening. I have seen dolls with cracked, non-repairable faces from eyes being forced out once the vinyl had cooled too much. You might have to re-heat the head to get the second eye out or in and that’s OK. I had to reheat a Caroline head multiple times to get an eye back in. It’s worth the time and effort to do it right!

For this post, I am replacing my new Truly Me 80 (Oaklynn) with Addy’s eyes. Oaklynn has the new “cheap” eyes that American Girl started using in 2017. These eyes do not photograph well and give the doll a down-cast, dazed appearance. AG is no longer using these eyes and replaced them in dolls they had already sold with the original, old style for free. I did send 6 of my dolls to the Doll Hospital and AG replaced the eyes for free, but I purchased Oaklynn at the MCM Sale so she doesn’t qualify for the free fix. I could pay to have her eyes replaced but I’d rather not when I can do it myself.

Got your tools ready? Let’s get started!

Fill your kettle with water and bring it to a boil. Remove the dolls head by loosening the neck strings. Make sure she doesn’t have any fiber fill fluff inside the head and place it upside down in the measuring cup. Carefully pour the boiling water into the head and fill just shy of the top. Try to avoid getting the water anywhere but inside the head. Set the timer for 5 minutes. The boiling water is softening the vinyl to make it pliable and super squishy. Get those gloves on and pour the water out of the head when 5 minutes is up.

*If your doll was made in 2016 or after she may not have neck strings. For help on adding or replacing neck strings check out the post Replacing Neck Strings Tutorial.

The best and safest way to pop eyes out is by simply using your thumb. Hold the head securely and squish the back of the eye socket. Using your thumb, pop the eyeball out onto a soft towel. Sometimes they go flying across the counter but try to get them out on the towel for protection from scratches or eyelash damage. Oaklynn’s eyes came out fast and perfectly with one solid push.

When it was Addy’s turn the thumb method didn’t work. I did not have enough strength in my thumb to get Addy’s eyes out of the socket. I quickly grabbed the dowel rod and forced Addy’s eyes out by pushing on the back of the socket.

A word of caution when using a dowel rod: The rod can easily damage the plastic casing that holds the eye and I recommend using your thumbs if at all possible. In my experience it can dent the backside of the casing so that the eyelid will no longer allow the eye to close all the way. This happened to one of the Addy eyes in the picture. I immediately used the dowel rod to tamp the casing back to its shape while it was still hot. The eye works properly now.

Some dolls are much harder to remove eyes from than others. Older Pleasant Company dolls are really easy because they are naturally squishy and you can just pop those out with a thumb. New dolls have thicker, harder vinyl and can sometimes be difficult. Eyes in Asian face molds can be some of the hardest to remove in my experience.

Once the eyes are out, open them up an let them cool down. Remember these eyes were inside that boiling hot head for 5 minutes too. Heat can damage eyes, so give them time to rest. Once cool, you can clean off rust or start repairing them if that is the reason for removal. In a post later this year, we will paint silver eyes and clean rusty metal.

Now it’s time to put the eyes back together. Make sure the eye opens and closes properly before putting it into a doll.

To begin make sure the doll’s face and eye sockets are dry before putting eyes back in. (The sockets should be dry unless water ran in when you were originally pouring.) Start the process and proceed the same as before. After 5 minutes, pour the water out and grab an eyeball. With the head laying flat on its backside position put the bottom of the eye on the hole. Not the back of the eye, the bottom. Push the eye straight down. Once it is in, quickly grab the tweezers and position the eye by grabbing onto the metal part of the casing, NOT the eyelid itself or you will scratch and damage it.

As soon as the eyelashes are safe (not being bent) I move on to the other eye while the head is still hot. Once both eyes are in, I go back and continue to adjust the eyes until they are straight.

All done! I think Oaklynn looks so much more natural with her new eyes. For more repair tutorials check out How To Re-String A Doll, Doll Cleaning and Restoring Doll Hair.


Oaklynn (TM 80) before and after her eye swap.

8 thoughts on “Doll Eye Removal and Replacement Tutorial

  1. Ahh I love it!! What you did with Oaklynn is what I dream of doing one day when I get a #80. She looks so much better with Addy’s eyes!

  2. Your doll care tutorials are the best I have seen and make me confident I can do these things too. Thank you!
    Any advice on finding used dolls? I know “where” is probably specific to your area, but what about what to look for?
    Thanks again!

    • I’m so happy to hear this! I always wonder if I explain things well enough. 😉
      I get most of mine locally from Facebook Marketplace. I live a few hours away from St. Louis but if I know I’m traveling there I check FB Marketplace and set up meets for the day I will be there. (Bigger cities have more to choose from) I also buy dolls in lots on eBay.
      I buy dolls in almost any shape if the price is right. I used to avoid any with chewed fingers or feet since that is not repairable but I now have so many parts that I can replace their limbs. I’ve cleaned EVERYTHING including smoke and cat urine with great results but I will not touch mold. Of course I base my price point on condition.

  3. You are so good at this. I think putting in eyes is like doing an operation. I changed the eyes in my Iplehouse BJD and I don’t know who was more traumatized, her or me (laugh).

  4. I’m so empowered by all your tutorials !!! I’m even thinking of buying a few used ones myself, remaking them & selling them. This is really exciting ❣️

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