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Clean an American Girl Doll

Updated: Jul 5, 2023

Running a doll hospital is hard work. There are so many little issues that can decrease the value of a doll, or make her less than the favorite. I hear questions all the time like "How do I safely remove nail polish", "What can I do about my dolls permanent sharpie glam up" or "How can I remove stains".

This blog is going to be all about cleaning an 18" doll specifically American Girl.

If you are looking to give your doll a new wig or makeup please subscribe for our next blog articles coming soon.

If you are interested in restringing a dolls limbs read here. If you need to know how to replace eyes you can read that here.

Doll has marker on head, chipped paint on eyelid and scuff mark on nose.
Here Gabriela has red marks on forehead, chip off nose and paint missing from eyelid, and piling.

I'm going to use this Gabriela doll as an example of how to fix throughout this article. Gabriela came to me as a second hand doll who appears to have had a child companion her previous life. She has what looks like red permanent marker on forehead, a chip on her nose and paint missing from her eyelid. I'm not discouraged. I've seen way worse dolls and Gabriela has a bright future full of party dresses and play.

Before I get too far I have to give this disclaimer.

And this disclaimer too.

I enjoy finding and fixing dolls and I love to show you how I do it. I am not responsible for any issues or damages that arise from these instructions. This article is meant to be informative and any action taken to any doll that results in damage to property or person is not my responsibility. I will show you what I do to repair dolls in my home.

So, however you found yourself here you have a doll with a cosmetic imperfection. Maybe your child had fun with sharpie, maybe you acquired a doll that has a defect. Either way, don't stress. There are a lot of cheap, easy solutions for common doll stains and issues.

Marks on Vinyl

Most common problem we see at the doll hospital is marks to a dolls vinyl. Vinyl is the hard limbs and face of a doll.

The first thing you want to do is use a magic eraser dipped in a mixture of baking soda and water to scrub marks. Lots of marks are removed this way including surface grim, white paint like marks and surface stains.

Two things to take care when scrubbing with Magic Eraser and the Baking soda/water mixture are not to get water in doll eyes and not to scrub hard or long on any painted parts.

Doll eyes have metal workings that will rust if water gets in them. Magic Eraser/Baking soda will remove factory paint including freckles, eyebrows, blush and lip color. It's fine to scrub a little on the paint, but excessive scrubbing is going to knock that factory paint job right off her face.

Rinse limb in water when done scrubbing and Wipe face with damp cloth to remove any baking soda residue. If this removed stain yeah! Good job.

If not, then we move on to the next fix.

Marks on Vinyl part 2- acne cream

When does a doll need acne cream? When they have marks on their vinyl that won't come out with a good scrub. If your doll has permanent marker, or dye transfer in their vinyl they will need acne treatment to remove the stain.

This step isn't hard, but it does take time. One note of caution- do not allow acne cream to get on the cloth body or in eyes. Acne cream has a beaching agent that will bleach a cloth body white. Acne cream or any wet substance needs to stay away from inner eye mechanisms too.

You'll want to use acne cream with the key ingredient of 10% benzoyl peroxide.

Put the acne cream on stain, cover the acne cream with clear wrap like Saran Wrap and set in direct sunlight. The clear wrap helps keep acne cream from drying out before it works.

This treatment can take as little as 3 days to as long as weeks depending on what the stain is from, what color the stain is and how deep the stain is.

I've had many stains disappear on the 4th day of treatment, but I've also had a couple dolls that needs 3 weeks of treatment straight.

A black or brown permanent marker seems to be one of the quickest to remove. Marker sits on surface and reacts well to treatment, whereas dye transfer from older clothes usually takes me 2-4 weeks of treatment. Those stains are from dolls who were packed into attics with dark clothing on resulting in the clothing bleeding their color over time.

No matter what stain you're working on the key is to keep it moist by reapplying acne cream if the cream drys and to not loose hope.

It works every time. You'll check each day and finally tell yourself " This isn't gonna work!" And the next day you'll notice stain is much lighter, day after that it's gone.

Doll has acne cream on stains
Gabriela hangs in the sun with acne cream

Clean cloth on doll torso

We cannot put acne cream on a doll body so what can we do if marker or pen is on the cloth?

Rubbing alcohol to the rescue.

You may be able to rub spot with a rubbing alcohol wipe if you are lucky, but for larger stains you will need to disassemble doll to soak body in rubbing alcohol.

We have an easy to follow disassembly instructions here.

Rubbing alcohol is amazing for removing ink from cloth. Just soak body for about 10 minutes, rub stain, rinse under sink and repeat until stain is removed.

This also works for pen or marker on doll clothes and human clothes.

Be sure to thoroughly dry cloth body before putting doll back together. We don't want moist parts molding inside the doll.

Remove water marks from cloth body

This one only requires you to disassemble doll, hand wash body, dry and reassemble.

Piling on body

This Gabriela has came to use with pills on her cloth body. It appears she was washed in washing machine along with a scratchy material like a towel. Please remember I only advise washing doll bodies and clothes by hand in sink with a touch of Dawn dishwashing liquid and lukewarm water in order to avoid this issue.

We can remove these pills using a razor. Simply (and carefully) run a shaving razor across the fabric and the pills will shave off. You don't need to press too firmly, just gently and slowly. We want to maintain control of the razor to avoid accidental knocking the fabric, ourselves or cutting the fabric near the limb holes and seams.

Fuzz and piling on doll body removed with straight razor
A simple razor has this body looking new

Knick on Nose

I'm fixing this nose! 🥰. I will first run my fingernail across the Knick to decide how deep it is and try to loosen any debris left in the cut.

Then I use 2700 grit micro mesh to gently sand the middle. Switch to 3200 micro mesh to continue sanding and smoothing surface.

Finish off with Magic Eraser to reduce any shine in area.

Doll nose is smooth after sanding with micro mesh
The knick in nose is no longer visible

Chipped Paint on eyelid

We're entering Artist territory and a different blog article here, but I want to mention how we will fix Gabriela's missing eyelid paint.

The eyelid is made of a light metal. Extreme heat or hitting eyelid against something can cause the paint to chip and fall off exposing the metal base.

For Gabriela, we will have to repaint the eyelid. Use Liquidtex brand acrylic to blend a color that matches the rest of eyelid and apply with a light hand and brush. When the paint application is dry, seal with liquitex Matte sealer.

Doll has eyes closed and perfect coloring
Paint has covered the previous visible metal scrape on eyelid

Glam up, Marker on Eyelid

I find a lot of dolls that have been given eyeshadow (usually terrible, bright colors) by a child in their previous life. Sometimes the color was colored in so well that the eyes won't come clean and unfortunately that doll will need an eye replacement or new head.

But there's hope for most dolls with this issue.

First, I'm going to go against the grain and tell you "We're going to get the eyes wet". Wait isn't rule number one to not get eyes wet? Yes and no.

Eyes absolutely do not need to get "wet". Preferably the doll in question would not have gotten painted eyelids, but here we are so...

It is ok to use a barely damp cloth or in this case magic eraser to wipe eyes. I seriously mean barely damp.

In order to remove marker from eyelids you will wet a magic eraser, wring it out really, really well and gently scrub eyelid slowly.

I make sure no drip of water comes from eraser while I'm working and I go slow to avoid lodging a chunk of eraser into eye. Those magic erasers tend to loose chunks while I work.

A lot of the marker will easily rub off. To get to the corners I put a small piece of magic eraser in eye corner and use a cotton swab to rub the eraser against eye lid.

You can be a dolly doctor too

Miss Gabriela looks and feels like a new doll. She has plenty of doll adventures to look forward to now that she's been reconditioned.

She even has a new girl to call her own and they will meet in a week!

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