Cleaning Hair on Vinyl Dolls

Stop!! Don't cut the hair off your vintage vinyl doll!
Don't use wigs unless the doll has no hair left:
you CAN restore hair on vintage dolls
even when it's REALLY bad!!

GET YOUR SUPPLIES TOGETHER. Yes, you can fix the rat's nest of hair that's on your vintage doll! Once the hair is wet it's quite manageable. Here's what you will need:

I like to use a metal tooth pet comb... it's not a flea comb, it's just a comb. Not essential but they're nice to have for ANY dolls because they slide through synthetic hair more easily. You can get them at the grocery store, usually. The ones at the grocery will look similar to these, but the teeth might be a little closer together and that's ok too. Even better.

I like to use children's spray-on hair conditioner, to help soften the hair and detangle it. Also very good for most dolls.

You will also need some kind of cleaner such as shampoo, Spray 409 or bleach cleaner or another good spray cleaner. Or all of the above.

CLEAN THE HAIR. Wet the hair with warm water. Use warm water but not HOT. Hot water can destroy some of the old hair fibers.

Use a little teensy dab of shampoo if you must (it doesn't rinse out very easily.) I prefer Spray 409 cleaner because it's an effective but mild cleaner and rinses easily.

If the hair is really grungy-gray and it needs bleach, then I use bleach cleaner spray but only if the hair doesn't come clean with anything else. Bleach is nasty on my hands and it's not so great for dolls either but sometimes nothing else will work.

Sometimes I rub cheap hand lotion into the wet hair to soften it up a little. And lotion will help to dissolve dirt and grime as well.

COMB AND CONDITION. Once the hair is clean and rinsed, then pat dry with a towel and spray on the hair conditioner. Use the metal tooth comb to comb the hair. Work from the ends first and patiently work up to the scalp gradually. This is the best way to conquer those awful tangles. Don't start from the scalp and work down. (If you pull out the hair it won't grow back.)

I have combed out Barbies with two feet of hair that was completely ratted, so I speak from experience: you can conquer the tangles and rescue the doll's own hair! Just remember to start with the ends and work your way up.

Once it's all combed out nicely, then comb into a nice style. If you need curlers, now is the time to add curlers or perm rods.

And finally; put a knee high nylon stocking over the head to hold the hair in place. These are cheap; you can get a package with several pair at the dollar stores. Knee-highs work for most medium size dolls. If you have teeny dolls you may want to use a doll sock to hold the hair down. Allow the hair to dry, which usually takes about 24 hours.

IF YOU NEED CURLS. You can curl the hair while it's still wet. Use small plastic perm rods, the kind with the rubber cap on them. Or small hair rollers, if it's a big doll. Or, we use straws cut into pieces for very small dolls such as Ginny or Barbie. Straws with bobby pins.

You can get small plastic perm rods at a beauty supply store and they're cheap. They're nice to have on hand for dolls. If the perm rods don't stay in the hair very well, I also use small 1 inch rubber bands to hold them in nice and snug. Small rubber bands are really handy if you work with dolls; get them at the beauty supply store, too.

Curling doll hair is not easy and requires a bit of fiddling. Once you've got the hair in curlers, then spritz each one with a little bit of hair spray or dab them with a protein based hair gel such as Crystal Ice. Protein based gel works better on doll hair than glue-y type hair gels.

If you use curlers, it may take a day or two before the hair is really bone dry. You want to wait until the doll hair has "submitted" to the curler and will retain the curl. Once everything is really dry, then comb the doll's hair again and add a ribbon or other trims if you like.

If the doll has mohair, you may need to leave it in the curlers for a couple of weeks, and warm up the hair with a hair dryer to help force the mohair to SUBMIT.

IS THE HAIR DRY? If the doll's hair is dry and brittle, you can use Avon's Skin So Soft on the hair, or baby oil. Don't use food oils, they will become gummy and sticky. Synthetic oils are good for synthetic doll hair because that's what it is made with, originally (Petroleum products.) Mineral oil, baby oil or Skin So Soft will restore the moisture to the hair. You can also use hair dressings such as pommade. I have very dry, dull hair so I often use my own hair products on my dolls.

You're Finished!

Your doll will look much better than you could have believed was possible! And it's better to keep her own hair than to give her a wig. Wigs change the appearance too much.

WHEN DO YOU GIVE UP? Sometimes dolls have synthetic hair that you really can't do anything with. These dolls were made during the 1970's. There was a particular type of hair fiber that was durable but looks awful. It goes frizzy. You can't curl it, you can't clean it. Very frustrating!! (Ideal's 1971 Tubsy doll and many others had this horrid hair fiber.) Other than this ONE kind of hair fiber in the 1970's, most other dolls from other decades have hair that can be restored and it's worth learning how to do it. Dolls with real mohair can be a challenge, but mohair can be tamed too. (Yes, some of the old vinyl dolls were rooted with mohair.)

DOES THE HEAD HAVE STUFFINGS? If your vintage doll has stuffings in the head, it's quite likely those stuffings got wet when you "shampooed" your doll. Some old dolls have paper stuffings, cotton shreds or cloth rags. You will need to remove this filler or it will get moldy. Which means you may need to remove the doll's head. If the head is stuffed with paper or cotton shreds, I think it's best to throw the stuffings away and use polyfill instead.

Some dolls may not need any filler; it depends on how soft the vinyl is. If the head needs the support of some stuffings then use polyfill. Or, if the vinyl is OK without any stuffings then just leave it out and let the vinyl "breathe." There's less chance of vinyl mold if the doll is not stuffed.

Copyright (c) 2002, 2012 Cynthia Stevens All Rights Reserved