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The Beauty Parlor

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Doll Care Tips and Tricks to Enhance Your Collection

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The utmost thought in doll care should be to uphold the value and integrity of your doll.  One should be careful about how much restoration is too much, especially if you are buying a doll for an investment.   However, if you find some waife under the table at a doll show or lying in the back of an antique store that obviously is in need of extensive repair (and the price reflects this), and she is crying out to you to save her, then by all means, fix her up, patch her up, rewig her, and love her!  She will bring you great joy (but don't expect to get top dollar if you decide to sell her).  This holds true also if she was your childhood doll.  If she is not in the best shape due to years of neglect, do what you feel necessary to bring her to a condition with which you will feel comfortable (i.e., if this was your own Barbie and she has lost her face, by all means, give her back her face!)

First step in doll care is cleanliness.  My local doll repair lady's motto is: "There is no value in dirt!"  She's right.   There are many factors in determining the value of a doll; age, type, originality.   Dirt is not one of them.  If anything, a dirty doll decreases the value.   To simply wash your dolls face will not hurt her and will brighten her smile.   To wash OFF her face is another story! One must be careful, become knowledgeable on doll care,  take reasonable precautions and your rewards will be many.  

Listed below are some of the tips I have found in doll books, doll magazines, and on the Internet.  These tips are for those of us who want to do minor things to take care of our dolls.  Any major undertaking should be left to the professionals.  If you feel uncomfortable at all, don't do it!  Consult your local doll repair specialist.  If you determine that you must send your doll to a professional, click here for some important questions to ask.  I have links to some doll repair sites as well.

I am a collector and I am not an expert.  You must try these tips at your own risk, I can not be held responsible for damage to your doll. Unless I have stated otherwise, I have tried these myself and they have worked for me but each situation is unique based on the condition of the doll, the materials, etc.  I would always suggest to be safe that you try a product on an inconspicuous area of your doll or clothing item, first.

If you have a "tried-and-true" doll care tip that you would like to share,  please e-mail me and I will add it to the list.

Never display your collectible dolls in direct sun!  Before you know it they,
and their clothing, will have faded!!!!   Keep an eye out as the seasons change.  The sun has a sneaky way of changing direction and what you thought was a safe display area may now be directly in the path of Mr. Sun.

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Tools of the trade:  old toothbrush works great for getting in between fingers & toes.  Cotton swabs for ears and eyes.  Flat head toothpicks (slightly frayed) become like tiny brushes.  Hair pick helps detangle hair.  Soft terry towel for working area.  An old cotton t-shirt is great as a polishing cloth. Drinking straws, cut into sections, make great curlers for tiny curls.   Small baby scissors to trim loose hairs or threads from clothing.  Glass jars in various sizes for washing clothes. Flat plastic tray for washing larger clothes too.

Doll Cleaning and Simple Restoration Tips

CompositionHard PlasticVinyl
Do not use water! Jubilee Kitchen Wax (liquid not aerosol type) works well at buffing to a like-new shine (does require elbow grease though) This cleans and conditions the compo at the same time.

Twin Pines of Maine has several products for cleaning both hard plastic and vinyl.  They are safe and non-toxic, can be ordered on line.  I have found them very effective in most cases.

If  you are having difficulty reattaching a head or limb, run the parts under very hot water, they will be more pliable and should slip in easily.
Work carefully around the face, using a cotton swab.   Avoid facial paint.A mild soap such as Joy, Ivory, or Dawn will work well on ordinary surface dirt. Try not to get any water into dolls eyes.  If so, dry doll face down so water can run out.After cleaning plastic or vinyl dolls, rub baby powder into the entire doll (not eyes or hair). Will make them look like new.
Fantastic or 409 can be used but work quickly to minimize moisture (spray it on rag not doll and wipe).Do not bath a mechanical doll. Surface wash only.I've scrubbed some pretty dirty Cabbage Patch Kids with liquid non-abrasive type cleansers and it did not hurt the vinyl.
Twinkle Silver Cream also works well however if you get it in the nooks and crannies around eyes, ears, etc., it will dry to a powdery white.Use a toothbrush to gently scrub nooks and crannies like ears, fingers and toes.I've thrown CPK's into the washing machine, first treating the soiled areas with spot remover stick, and they come out beautifully (protect the yarn hair with a washcloth secured around the head).

Crystallized or foggy eyes can be brought back to life by putting a tiny drop of sewing machine oil on each eye then rubbing it in. Lay doll on its stomach for about an hour (check once or twice).  Be very careful to use a minimal amount and make sure it does not touch the compo as it will tend to be absorbed and may lead to cracking around eye.

You can touch up a doll's lip color if there are rubs by using a lip pencil in a similar shade.  This is not repainting as it is a temporay fix for display. 
 Use a touch of sewing machine oil on a cotton swab to rub the eyes of the old hard plastic dolls and they clean to a nice shine. Rub lightly so you don't pop the eyes out of their casing.Deep rust and scorch spots probably cannot be removed.
All displayed dolls would benefit from an occasional gentle vacuuming.  If you have a small vacuum for computers these work great. If not cover the hose attachment of your vacuum with an old piece of pantyhose (this will minimize suction) then gently vacuum doll.All displayed dolls would benefit from an occasional gentle vacuuming.  If you have a small vacuum for computers these work great. If not cover the hose attachment of your vacuum with an old piece of pantyhose (this will minimize suction) then gently vacuum doll.All displayed dolls would benefit from an occasional gentle vacuuming.  If you have a small vacuum for computers these work great. If not cover the hose attachment of your vacuum with an old piece of pantyhose (this will minimize suction) then gently vacuum doll.




No more tangles will help detangle. Work carefully on a compo doll not to wet the hair too much (slightly dampen)Twin Pines of Maine has a product called Perk which is great for washing clothing and wigs. They say it is even safe for taffeta though I have never used it for that yet.
Before attempting to wash a wig (especially if it is its original set) try vacuuming with either a computer-type handheld vacuum or by putting a filter (such as an old piece of pantyhose) over the hose nozzle on a low suction setting.  If your vacuum does not have settings, put more filters over the nozzle to adjust the suction.Remember, take care when washing outfits of older dolls as the fabrics may be more delicate than they look. Wash doll clothing in COLD water only. If not using Perk from Twin Pines, use a gentle product like Woolite.
After shampooing hair on plastic or vinyl doll with straight hair, comb out then place a plastic bag over dolls head poke a few holes, and let dry (few days).   Dolls hair will be smooth.Use caution when attempting to launder an outfit that has both red and white on it as the red may bleed when wet.  Try a hidden area first.
Although conditioners do not really condition synthetic wigs, it does help to minimize tangles.  If your doll has very matted hair, work the conditioner in and pick through the hair while conditioner is still on hair.  Rinse out and style.Remove any accessory items such as flowers or felt bows, if possible, before washing.
When restyling your dolls hair, refer to a picture of the dolls original style.When finished washing doll clothes rinse in clean cold water thoroughly to get out all residue detergent. Do a final rinse in a solution of white vinegar and water.
Drinking straws cut in 2"-3" lengths work well as mini curlers for small dolls such as Ginny, Muffie, etc. Secure with bobby pins.After washing doll clothes I pat dry to get as much excess moisture out of the item as possible.  I then dry the dress over an empty glass jar (size depends on dress).  This lets the dress skirt dry very full, with less wrinkles as well as lets the air hit it from all angles.
Sometimes you may inherit a doll with a wig that is beyond much hope. I had one that had gobs of hair and no matter what I did, I realized that because the wig's fiber cap was delicate and falling apart, I was not going to have much luck.  The hair around the face was still very nice so I bought a hairnet and scooped up all the unruly mess and secured it with a bow at the top.  It actually turned out quite nice and saved her from being rewigged.If it is necessary to press the garment, use a cool iron (remember these items are old) and DO NOT USE STARCH to stiffen the outfit.  Even though it would give a crisp look to the outfit, it is hard on some older fabrics and can break them down.  Also, bugs like to feed on starch and will be attracted to your doll, thus causing damaging results to the doll (especially compo) and the outfit as well!
To add luster to a human hair wig, when finished styling, rub your hands with small amount of baby oil and gently touch the hair.De-Solv-It, a citrus solution for removing gum, glue, etc., works well on cleaning cotton dresses.  Just use a couple of drops in a quart of cold water.  Soak item for about an hour, then rinse and dry.
To thoroughly wash a doll wig on a compo doll you will have to completely remove it from the doll.Newer clothing (CPK, American Girl, Fisher-Price Kids, etc.)  can be laundered in a washing machine as you would any item.  Pre-treat stains first.  I would suggest putting the items into one of those netted bags used to wash delicates.  This way it is easier to find them and they won't disappear down the drain like "runaway socks."
To remove a wig on a hard plastic doll, soak a paper towel in Perk and wrap it around the dolls head.   This will loosen the glue and you should be able to peel the wig off, working slowly and gently.Store clothing in acid free tissue to protect fibers from damage caused by the chemicals in ordinary paper products.
Armorall for cars works well for taming frizzy hair on hard plastic dolls, especially saran type wigs.  Work it in, wipe off excess then set the wig and when it is dried thoroughly the hair will be less frizzy. (have not tried) 
If you're lucky enough to find some of the old metal curler rods with the clips, they work great for styling those barrel curls, Shirley Temple is so famous for. 
(From a viewer:) How to curl Ginny's wigs. Clean the wig and then boil some water (make sure you can still put fingers in it, you don't want to scorch the wig. ) Pour the water into a bowl and add some sugar (that's right, sugar).  Set her hair in the curlers and then dunk her wig in it. Have a second bowl of ice water and then dunk her hair into that to set the curls. Lay doll face down, flat, let dry and when dry, perfect style! 

Below are some places I have discovered on the Internet that specialize in doll repair.  I will continue to add more as I become aware of them.   I am only adding these as a service to those of you who are trying to find help and may not have local resources.  I cannot personally recommend any because I have not utilized them myself.  You should contact these folks and ask questions.  If you are looking for a major restoration, I would ask if they have any photos or references of their prior work.  If you have a valuable doll, I would suggest asking for references, as well.  

The first question you should ask, is to ask YOURSELF, what do I want the final result to be?  Do I want to do only the minimum to get my doll back in working order (i.e. wig styling, re-stringing, minor crazing repair).  Or, do I want her to look brand new, a total make-over (which may include complete repaint).  

When you have determined what it is YOU want, then I would recommend asking the following questons, prior to sending your doll:

1.  How long have they been in the doll repair business? 

2.  Have they had experience in doing the type of repair you are requesting?

3.  Have they worked on dolls like yours before? 

4.  How will the repairs affect the value of the doll as a collectible?  And, if the repairs you're asking for are expensive, are they worth it in comparison with the overall value of the doll? (Sentimental value comes into play here if this is your own childhood doll, only you can be the judge of this one.)

5.  What is the procedure for determining the price of repair?  Do they provide a written estimate prior to doing any work?  Is the price quoted for the total job? Does it include both labor and parts?  

6.  What are the risks that a problem will develop with the type of repair or restoration you are requesting for your doll?

7.  If you decide to have the doll repaired, ask how long it will take.

8.  Do they guarantee the repairs, and if so, for how long?

9.  While the doll is in the shop, how is the doll protected from any harm? (i.e. theft, fire, etc.) Do you get any kind of receipt while the doll is being repaired?  

10. What method of packing and shipping is used to return your doll and is it insured?

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Here are the links I have found so far (if you know of one, email me and I'll check it out):

The Doll Spa
 (they specialize in hard plastic)

Krista's Doll Repair
(specializes in Barbie restorations)

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