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How to machine wash stuffed animals

January 23, 2020

Does your child have a favorite stuffed animal or other stuffed toy that you know better than to replace? (My grandson has stuffed French fries he adores!) Or maybe you have one that you’ve been holding on to for sentimental reasons? Wondering if you can machine wash stuffed animals? The short answer is yes (usually). Here’s how you can bring them back to life—without following The Velveteen Rabbit plot.

Preparation

First, prepare the animal for washing. Start by sewing any rips or tears, loose parts, etc. Especially make sure that any seams are securely sewn shut.

Next, check the care label, if there is one. It might warn you to spot clean only or to hand wash. Not that I’m suggesting that you need to heed all the warnings. I’ve certainly machine washed many things in spite of that warning! If you have a very grubby stuffed animal, spot cleaning isn’t going to cut it. But keep in mind that if you do machine wash a fluffy lovey that’s designated “spot clean only,” you’re taking a bit of a risk. 

Stuffed animals I wouldn’t machine wash:

• A very old piece, especially if it has sentimental value (Why else would you keep it?)

• Something that contains delicate items (think sequins and hand-sewn hair)

• Any toy or stuffed animal that has batteries or electronics inside

• Beanie Babies or animals stuffed with little Styrofoam balls instead of foam or cotton batting (I’d even machine wash these if dirty enough!)

With those exceptions, most stuffed animals can handle a gentle spin in the washing machine. The animal won’t look brand new (even clothes lose that new look once washed), but it’ll be free of dust, dirt, and some germs, too.

When you’re ready for your stuffed animal to go for a swim:

• Pretreat any stains with your favorite stain remover.

• Place the stuffed animal in a mesh bag used for washing delicates, if you have one that’s big enough. If you don’t, you can use a pillowcase or skip this extra precaution.

• Use a gentle cycle and warm (not hot) water to machine wash stuffed animals. Include just a little bit of low-sudsing detergent and no fabric softener. Fabric softener or too much detergent can ruin the fibers, and hot water might fade the fabric and/or melt glued parts. 

Note: Stuffed animals do best in a machine without an agitator. (The agitator is that center column found in many top-loading machines.) That’s because it can give the animal too rough of a ride, wringing the stuffing out of shape. If you have a machine with an agitator, you might gather up all the stuffed animals for an outing to the laundromat. Or visit a friend with a front-loading (or top-loading but non-agitator) machine and wash your stuffed animal while sharing a cup of tea or coffee and the cookies you brought.

Afterwards

• Reshape the animal if it’s a little wonky when you take it out of the machine. Just use your hands to work out and move around any balled-up batting. 

• Hang the animal up to dry. Use clothespins to hang it by its ears or whatever piece you can clip on a clothesline or a hanger indoors. Try to find a dry place, because the sooner you get the animal dry, the less chance of any mildew developing. Outdoors on a breezy day is ideal; just don’t hang it in the bright sunlight or it might fade. 

• If it’s a little stiff once dry, give it a few minutes in the dryer on the no-heat setting. Or use a hair dryer on a very low setting and a soft brush to fluff it up.

Tip: Be sure to time the washing and drying of stuffed animals so that your child doesn’t have to do without a favorite buddy at bedtime.

You might also like: Pillow care—How to wash and otherwise take good care of bed pillows and throw pillows.

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