Stuffed Animals and Plush Toy - How To Clean

9 Ways to Clean and Care for Stuffed Animals

Every child has their share of plush toys. Watching an adorable kid curl up with their favorite friend is super cute until you consider where that plushie has been. Anything is possible from school, their bed, the beach, or a pet’s mouth. Then think about what your child may have wiped on them. Gross!! We’re not getting out of giving stuffed animals to our children, so we need to stay on top of the situation. No matter what we all do to mitigate the situation, all toys are a magnet for dust, dirt, sweat, and germs. We’re here to help you through this. Here are the safest ways how to clean stuffed animals.

Machine Wash

The most straightforward answer to cleaning stuffed animals is throwing them in the washing machine. Yes, most plush toys can be machine-washed. Before you do this:

  1. Verify – Check the label
  2. Secure – Once you’ve determined machine washing is safe, put each toy in a separate mesh laundry bag or zippered pillowcase to avoid friction. If you don’t have either of these, try placing the stuffie in an old sock and tying the top.
  3. Wash – Wash in cold water on delicate with a small amount of detergent.
  4. Rinse – Run an additional rinse cycle to ensure all of the soap is out.

Hand Wash (Submerged)

clean plushies

If machine washing isn’t an option, you can still clean your child’s stuffed animals in the sink. Hand washing is also the preferred method for cleaning larger stuffed animals that don’t fit in your washing machine. Some other reasons to consider hand washing are:

  • Made of delicate fabric that your washing machine might damage.
  • It has added parts such as a music box, lights, or electronic components.
  • Your plushie contains pieces secured with glue like sequins, eyes, or beads.

Most people prefer hand-washing push toys in the sink, but anywhere that can hold enough water will do (tub, bucket, pool, etc.)

  1. Mix – Mix 2 tablespoons of detergent in cold water.
  2. Soak – Soak the stuffed animal for as long as needed (15 minutes minimum) and squeeze soapy water through it to achieve maximum coverage.
  3. Clean – Rub any extra dirty spots carefully with your finger or brush.
  4. Rinse – Drain your sink and squeeze water out of the toy but don’t wring it. (Wringing can cause the stuffing to bunch)
  5. Finish – Continue squeezing under running water until you don’t see any soap bubbles.

Surface/Spot Cleaning

cleaning supplies

Some stuffed animals can’t go underwater and need to be surface cleaned. This tactic is especially effective if they’re only a little dirty and can be spot cleaned. It is also the best method for delicate stuffed animals or those filled with things other than stuffing like rice, dried herbs, or foam beads (Beanie Babies). A proper spot cleaning can be tricky because you can’t always see the dirt and germs. Here’s how to do it effectively:

  1. Mix – Add cold water to a cup and mix a teaspoon of liquid dish detergent. Mixing warm water, baking soda, and vinegar can work as well.
  2. Test – Don’t go all in just yet. Do a spot test to verify it’s safe to clean by attempting to clean an inconspicuous area with a cotton swab.
  3. Clean – Once confirmed that the stuffed animal will not be harmed, use a small rag to lightly wipe the toy’s surface.
  4. Rinse – Once cleaned, pass over the same areas with a clean, damp cloth to remove the soap.
  5. Dry – Air dry once the process is complete.

Surface cleaning can also be ideal if the stuffed toy needs a little freshening. You can only machine wash so many times before the seams start breaking apart.

Drying Methods

clean and dry stuffed animals
  1. Remove Excess Water – Wrap the plush toy in a clean towel and gently press to remove excess water. Remember, don’t wring it out. Repeat with fresh towels until you see no excess moisture.
  2. Air Dry – Put them in a place where they will get lots of air but not too much sun to avoid fading). Using a close line tends to be the safest method. It’s also a good idea to use a fan or dehumidifier to shorten drying time.
  3. Dryer – Put your stuffed animal in the dryer on low heat. Machine drying is the most aggressive approach so keep an eye on it until you are comfortable the dryer won’t do any damage.

*Note – Make sure to fluff the fur and stuffing to keep its shape and feel and speed up whichever process you choose.

Deodorizing (baking soda)

Maybe your plush toy doesn’t “look” dirty but smells. Before going all in on washing:

  1. Coat – Shake the stuffed animal in a plastic bag with one cup of baking soda.
  2. Let Sit – Leave the toy in the bag for a few hours, then shake off the powder.
  3. Vacuum – Finish by vacuuming any remaining baking soda with the dust attachment. You could also tumble dry without heat for a minute.

Disinfecting (freezer)

freeze stuffed animals kill germs

One way to kill germs or dust mites is to stick stuffed animals in the freezer overnight. Germs die instantly, and leave your stuffed animal as clean as can be. Many people like doing a quick wash first, placing the toy in a freezer bag, and freezing it overnight. If you want to ensure those germs are dead, try spraying it with Lysol before putting it in the freezer bag. You can save this for the filthy cases to add an extra layer of sanitation.

Things to Avoid for the Extra Plush Toys

things to avoid cleaning stuffed animals

Many stuffed animals are especially plushy. They come decorated with long, plushy hair that is soft as a feather. Sometimes it’s over an inch in length. Think of a bear’s coat or lion’s mane. In these situations, avoid using the washing machine. Washing machines will cause permanent deformation to these types of toys. The feather-like material will be destroyed and lose its soft, fluffy texture.

Cleaning Very Old Stuffed Animals

A professional may better handle damaged, vintage, or valuable plush toys. For the less valuable or non-washable stuffed animals, your dry cleaner should be able to help out. If not, many businesses, such as “stuffed animal hospitals,” repair and clean plush toys.

Strategies for Extra Large Sized Stuffed Animals

clean giant stuffed animals

When your stuffed friend is too large for the washer, just putting them in the dryer will do wonders. Place them in a pillowcase, and don’t forget to remove parts that a hot dryer might damage. Then run them on an air cycle for around 10 minutes. Make sure you take them out immediately. Staying in a hot dryer for an extended period may cause damage.

If your stuffed animal is one of those human-sized toys, then your only actual option is spot cleaning. You can also spray them with Lysol to kill germs.


These tips will keep your stuffed animals looking new year-round. No matter how many adventures or accidents your child has, their plush friends will be dust-free and sanitary.

If you would like other options on the subject, take a look at what Housewifehowto has to say on the subject. The NYT also did an article on the topic.

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