Should I Discard these Dirty
Vintage Doll Dresses
or Try to Restore Them?
Decisions, decisions ... as a
collector of vintage dolls, I have come across dolls that I truly loved
and, in fact, added to my collection in spite of the poor condition of the
clothing they wore. This happened to me approximately four years ago with
One doll is a circa 1940s, 25-inch Mama Doll composed of hard
plastic, Magic Skin (stuffed latex), and cloth. The other is a 1950s,
27-inch transitional doll (a black Shirley Temple look-a-like) that is composed of hard plastic, composition, and
I received these dolls through a trade
deal with a doll dealer. I traded my eBay selling expertise for this
pair. The dealer sent me the above individual pictures of the dolls before I
agreed to trade my services for them. She described the fact that the larger doll was missing one
arm and explained that their clothing was soiled. Upon
viewing their pictures, I WANTED them and asked her to ship them to me
immediately! We all know, however, that pictures
do not show the true detail of dolls, but I was willing to take the risk.
Besides, my service was the only thing at stake.
Upon receipt of the dolls, I had to
immediately remove their worse-than-filthy clothing and store it far away from
my eyesight, inside a cardboard box. It was so filthy, I thought I might
catch an incurable disease just looking at it. I wiped the soot and filth
from each doll's surface. Unfortunately, I was only able to completely
clean the transitional doll, whose hard plastic surface also had some areas of
mildew! This was an indication that the doll had probably been stored in a
damp area. I used a diluted solution of bleach and wiped the mildewed areas
to prevent the mildrew from spreading. None of this was visible in the picture that
I had viewed. I stored the Mama Doll inside the cardboard
box along with the filthy, deteriorating clothing that the two dolls arrived in.
For the transitional doll, I found a
yellow dress with a smocked bodice, an off-white baby bonnet for her head, and
some new socks and shoes. All of these items had been previously worn by other dolls
that I had redressed, then stored the items away for another doll that I would eventually receive. In this case, it was the transitional doll. Even though the
transitional doll was and still is missing one of her composition arms, I have kept her on display along
with my other composition dolls.
Recently, some four years
after having received both dolls, I decided to remove the Mama doll and both
dolls' original clothing from the cardboard box. Before doing this, I put
on a pair of disposable gloves to protect myself from germs since I do not know what these dolls were
exposed to before they reached me. I was able to clean the Mama doll's body a little
better with Spray 'N Wash. (The tips of her toes still have some dark
stained areas but her tights and shoes cover these.) Her hair, which
is a wig sewn to some netting that is glued to her head was a mess. I detangled it as
best I could, tucked the uneven ends under and covered it with a black hairnet.
Next, I saturated her original dress and the
original dress of the transitional doll with Spray 'N Wash.
I then boiled enough water to fill
my bathroom sink and separately soaked both dresses in the sink for several
hours in the boiled
water with Surf Detergent added to it. The water turned a disgusting brown
color! I used a stick to "agitate" the clothing in the water to
help loosen up some of the years of filth that had accumulated on it.
I rinsed the
dresses, undergarments, and bonnet several times and then hung them up to dry on my shower curtain
rod. I disinfected my bathroom sink by filling it up with hot water and
adding 1/4 cup of bleach. I wiped the counter surface with Comet to
Both dresses had tears at their
bodices. So after they were allowed to air dry, I hand stitched the
tears. Next, I ironed the dresses and the transitional doll's bonnet using
a warm iron. I redressed both dolls in their original late 1940s/early
1950s organdy dresses and cotton under garments.
They both look so fresh and so
Eventually, I will find Valencia, the
transitional doll, a new arm. Vivi, who is now on display in my bedroom, looks as though she is quite thankful that I finally rescued her from that
cardboard box after four dark years.
The moral of this doll-care
story: When faced with filthy, vintage doll clothing, please do not
discard it. Disposable gloves, Spray 'N Wash, boiling hot water,
and regular household clothing detergent should solve the filth problem. A
needle and thread will also be useful for any rips and tears in the vintage fabric.
Comet and chlorine bleach can be used to disinfect the area used to wash the
Whatever you do, please do not machine wash the clothing.
Hand washing and a little patience (not necessarily four years, though) will
provide the best results.
Last but not least, please do not forget to wear disposable gloves (and a mask, if necessary)! You want to preserve your health as well as the vintage clothing.