Care of Cloth Dolls
Cleaning dolls can be difficult and problems can occur:
Older dolls stuffed with Kapok, sawdust or foam chips, for example, do not wash
well, as the stuffing materials clump together and the doll will not be the same
shape afterwards. Felt deteriorates with washing.
Wire, used for internal armatures, (including pipe cleaners and chenille stems) will
rust and leave the fabric brown and splotchy if it becomes damp or wet.
If you spot-clean a cloth doll with a liquid/soap solution, it will sink into the filling
and as it spreads back up it will darken the surface of the fabric in that area.
Saliva is better than water for dissolving blood; so if you prick your finger whilst
sewing, spit onto any blood spots immediately !
Some faces may not be permanent and will run or become patchy if you use water
or certain cleaners.
Pure wool hair will shrink or matt. Some glued hair will fall out if it becomes wet,
where the glue is a water-soluble variety and some may not be colourfast.
Dust and dirt, that can rot the fibres, can be removed with gentle vacuuming or a
quick tumble in the dryer on gentle setting. Place the doll inside a pillowcase first.
Ornamental Collectable Dolls, made entirely from cloth, are not intended as toys,
but are instead, intended to be posed in a display cabinet or on a shelf. They do not
respond well to excessive handling. The clothing is attached or painted onto the
doll and is not intended to be removed.
All fabric deteriorates with age and is affected by strong daylight, which can bleach
and discolour material, so bear this in mind when positioning your doll.
Antique, collectible stuffed dolls should not be tampered with any more than
absolutely necessary, since their value on the antique market can be significantly
It is generally better to leave faded fabric dolls alone, since colour restoration will
reduce their value and may look patchy. It may not really improve the doll's
Fuller’s Earth is a naturally occurring sedimentary clay composed mainly of alumina,
silica, iron oxides, lime, magnesia, and water, in extremely variable proportions.
It was given its name several hundred years ago when wool textile workers or "Fullers"
created a useful concoction to remove the dense oils from sheep’s wool. This brew
included water, urine, soapwort and an abundant "clay" that was readily available.
Because of its ability to literally soak up oil and remove dense properties from any given
material, it was found to be a highly profitable and useful product for modern
Placing your cloth doll in a large plastic bag of Fuller's Earth and leaving it there for a few
days (shaking it gently every now and then), may help to remove stains and dirt. You will
then have to shajke off the excess powder and gently vacuum the rest away.
Storing your dolls with moth balls should be avoided at all costs as the smell is so
obnoxious and invasive. I have heard that being tempted to store your dolls in air-tight
plastic bags or boxes should also be avoided because if there is any moisture in the bag or
box, mould can form on the dolls.
Silica gel is a desiccant; adsorbing and holding water vapor is useful to place inside your
Silica packets are great for absorbing moisture when using sealed plastic bags or boxes,
since the resulting lack of moisture can limit the growth of mold and reduce damage.
It is also good practice to store your dolls inside cloth bags with draw-string tops. You
may then place them in the plastic boxes with lids and put wrapped soap or herb sachets
in the box with them to deter insects including moths and spiders instead of the dreaded
moth balls! If you are not using silica gel, make sure that there is ventilation so that air
circulates into the bag or box.
Link to a website with some useful information on textile doll restoration and conservation.
Modern nursery-style machine washable rag dolls will be stuffed with modern
polyester fibre filling and made from cotton, calico cloth.
Remove clothing and ribbons etc.
Place naked doll inside pillowcase and sew or tie inside
Wash at wool/synthetics setting.
Dry on washing line, airing cupboard or on gentle heat in tumble dryer.
Hand wash clothes separately, especially those where the colours are likely to run.
If you want your doll to last and be safe around children, think about using more robust
materials like good quality calico, polyester stuffing, acrylic wools, embroidery silks and
non-toxic fabric paints. Stuffing material that complies with safety standards also washes
well and keeps its shape.
Cloth Doll Safety
Soft dolls are normally made using materials that you would use for clothing
and should therefore be the safest toys available. However, if you are intending
to make rag dolls for sale in the U.K., there are a few things you should know.
Toys are defined in the Toys (Safety) EEC Regulations as 'a product or material which is clearly intended for use in play by children of less than 14 years of age'.
The Regulations require that toys must:
• not be made from flammable materials and must meet the British standards for low flammability.
• not have any sharp edges or points not have easily detachable parts which may cause a
choking hazard to children under 3 years of age.
• not contain toxic substances or be painted with paints which exceed safety levels for heavy
metals (e.g. Lead, Cadmium, Mercury etc.)
The Law requires that all toys must be safe and comply with Essential Safety Requirements.
The Regulations require that a toy must:
• Comply with the Essential Safety Requirements detailed in the Regulations
• Be correctly marked or labelled
• Have a Technical File kept on them (see below)
• Should be accompanied by the appropriate warnings and indications of precautions to be
taken for their safe use, including any age restrictions
There is a common standard throughout Europe published by The British Standards Institute as British Standard BS5665 (also known as European Standard EN71)
Please note: If you require further information than what you have read here, you must contact your local Trading Standards Office who will be able to send you copies of the references below to give you better clarification:
Anyone who supplies a toy and applies the OE mark is responsible for the safety of the finished product. Otherwise, dolls need to be clearly marked with 'THIS IS NOT A TOY'
• OE marking indicates that the materials used are suitable for use on children’s toys
I'm afraid I have no idea what the letters CE mean. It is not clear in the literature. I believe it refers to 'Conforms to European standards'. It certainly stands for a declaration of conformity to the toy safety legislation and a responsibility for its application as the toy maker.
• Information to include in your TECHNICAL FILES should be obtained by the manufacturers of each of the materials and products used in the making of that toy. (e.g. The cottons and calico materials; polyester stuffing; wool; fabric paints) It is the manufacturers' safety data sheets that you will need to obtain, which give the information on the flammability and toxicity of each of the products that you intend to use in the making of your toys.
• Labelling your soft dolls: If you do not intend to supply cloth dolls as toys, but wish to sell
cloth dolls, you will not be required to keep these technical files. Your dolls should be marked
clearly as 'Collector's Items: 'NOT TOYS' as they will not comply with the relevant safety
Labels should still include safety information, such as 'Keep away from fire' or
'May contain sharp or small pieces which could cause choking'. You may consider
it worth having fabric labels printed that can be sewn onto the doll with 'this is not a toy'
together with your maker's name.
Some Safety Reminders
1. When making dolls for children, make sure you count all the pins you use and count them back as
you replace them in the pincushion.
2. Leather is not safe for dolls as children could suck or chew it.
3. Whilst PVA glue is suitable to use with children, using it to attach strands of wool as hair for a rag doll is not recommended as this could come loose and create a choking hazard. Also, when the doll is washed the hair will most likely fall out anyway. It is best to sew the hair very securely to the doll head, using a combination of machine sewing the strands together and then back stitching them in place on the doll's head.
4. Safe stuffing fibre: You need to look on the packet to see if it says it is washable, non flammable (flame retardant), non toxic and hypo/non allergenic. I use a high quality, lightweight Polyester filling because it passes the British and European safety standards: BS5852; BS1425; EN71 PT2. NB: Kapok is a highly flammable fibre which clumps like cotton wool when wet. It has, consequently been largely replaced by man-made materials which are flame retardant, hypo-allergenic and machine washable.
Please remember: These pages are only here to point you in the right direction.
If you require further information you must contact your local Trading Standards
Office who will be able to send you copies of the references below:
Further References/Leaflets: The Toy Safety Code Toy Safety How to Buy Safe Toys
The Toys (Safety) Regulations 1995
DTI Note for Guidance ‘Toys Safety’
BS5665 European Standard EN71 (Check BSI to check you have current version)
British Toy & Hobby Association
80 Camberwell Road London SE5 0EG
Telephone 020 7701 7271 Fax 020 7708 2437
Email firstname.lastname@example.org www.btha.co.uk
British Association of Toy Retailers
37 Alresford Road, Winchester SO23 OHG, United Kingdom
Telephone: +44 (0)1962 852364 Fax: +44 (0)1962 859194
Contact: Moira Downie (Secretary) or Alison Newbold