How to Restore and Clean Barbie Dolls

Updated on October 21, 2019
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I've been creating since I was a child. My hobbies include watercolor, drawing, art journaling, painting rocks, sewing & crochet.

Fashion Doll Restoration

Did you find some vintage Barbie dolls at a yard sale or rediscover childhood treasures in your loft? Perhaps your daughter's Barbies are in need of a makeover.

You can give a Barbie doll a little attention and bring her back to being the object of adoration that she was meant to be. However, if you have even the slightest suspicion that your Barbie is rare or valuable, then leave the job to an expert. There are many doll restorers who can do the job professionally, so if you are unsure, seek advice. I'll list some resources at the end of the article.

Barbie Cleaning and Restoration Supplies

  • Bowl and lukewarm water (or use your sink)
  • Mild soap
  • Mild fabric detergent for clothes
  • Soft, clean towel
  • Clean, soft cotton cloths
  • Cotton wool, cotton buds and toothpicks for getting into Barbie's crevices
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Shampoo and conditioner
  • Small, doll-size, wide-toothed comb (other toy ranges such as Bratz may have these available)
  • Torn pieces of cloth about two inches wide and eight inches long (only necessary if the Barbie's legs are bowed, bent or crooked)
  • Liquitex acrylic paints
  • Small paintbrush for touching up facial features

Cleaning Barbie's Clothes

Before you start, make sure to wash your hands thoroughly to get rid of any oil residue. We all have natural oils in our skin, and these can damage vintage fibres, hastening their end. Dry your hands carefully.

Give Barbie the once-over. Look at her carefully to see what needs attention. Very carefully, remove her clothes and, if they look like they can withstand it, give them a very, very gentle wash in lukewarm water with a little Castile soap dissolved in it. Alternatively, you may have a gentle detergent especially for delicate fabrics.

Rinse the doll thoroughly by immersing her in a bowl of clean, lukewarm water. Do not hold the clothes under running water. Lay them on a soft clean towel and pat to remove excess water. Allow to air dry flat.

If Barbie's clothes are in poor condition, don't wash them at all. Wrap them in acid-free tissue and store them in a cardboard box away from a heat source. If ever you decide to sell her, then you'll have the original clothes to go with her. In the meantime, Barbie will need a new wardrobe.

Don't immerse Barbie in water.
Don't immerse Barbie in water. | Source

Don't Put Barbie in the Bath!

Time to clean up Barbie herself. Again, using mild soapy water, take a soft cotton rag, dip a corner into the water and gently wipe Barbie all over to get rid of the first layer of dirt. Do not immerse her in water or it will get into her body and she will go moldy inside (this happened to my daughter's Bratz dolls when she took them in the bath—they were so smelly they had to be trashed). Dry her carefully with a soft cloth. This may be all she needs, but if she is still a mucky-pup, then it's time to go in with the hard stuff.

Use a little rubbing alcohol to remove the rest of the dirt. This should also take care of any pen marks (why do dolls collect pen marks?). Use the cotton buds and toothpicks for hard-to-reach spots like limb joints. Watch out for her face—rubbing alcohol may remove some of her make-up and/or facial features.

"Green ear" is a discoloration of a doll's ear due to a chemical reaction between the metal in her earrings and the material that she is made from. If your Barbie is an older one, you can get some great instructions at How to Clean Stuff.

Wash Barbie's hair with a little shampoo, repeat as necessary. Apply the conditioner and gently comb her hair to remove tangles. Rinse well under gently-running lukewarm water. Air dry then style as you wish.

Vintage Snow Bunny Barbie
Vintage Snow Bunny Barbie | Source

Restoring Barbie to Perfection

Hold Barbie vertically in front of you. Turn her in all directions and scrutinize her legs for straightness. If she is a bit "crook," there's an easy way to straighten those pins.

Use your lengths of soft cloth to tie her legs together tightly at the thighs, knees and ankles. Hold her legs in very hot water for a few minutes and they should straighten out. Repeat a couple of times if necessary. Remember, don't immerse her above her hip/leg joints or she'll take on water.

Should Barbie have missing limbs, then cannibalize other unwanted dolls for spare parts. Get out your Liquitex acrylics and teeny-tiny brush and very, very carefully repaint any damaged or missing facial features. If you get it wrong, quickly wipe away with a cloth and warm water. If repainting her face is too difficult then let her go make-up free.

Now you can dress her in her original clothes if they are in good condition. Otherwise, why not buy her a new outfit—she deserves it!

Can You Remember Barbie Facts?

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Questions & Answers

  • How can I remove sticky from Barbie's legs and arms?

    If the actual surface of the limbs are breaking down, all you can do is replace them by taking limbs from another doll. If the stickiness is something else, then follow the steps for gently cleaning as given above.

  • What removes ink from a Barbie's body?

    As it states in the article, most types of ink can be removed with a little rubbing alcohol.

  • I have 5 Barbie dolls, and their head skin tones don't match the body skin tone at all. Can it be fixed?

    Any chance you might be able to swap the heads around to make slightly better matches? As the doll color is based on the tone of the material its made of, there's not a lot you can do. You might try experimenting with a little well-diluted bleach in a discreet area to see if it makes a difference.

  • How can I remove bubbles that look like zits on Barbie's face?

    It sounds like your Barbie's face is de-laminating. You can try piercing the bubbles and pressing gently, but I suspect she might be beyond repair.

  • What removes ink on Barbies face?

    Try a cotton bud dipped in rubbing alcohol to remove pen marks. If that doesn't work, try to determine what kind of ink it is and do a search on how to remove that specific ink. Start with the gentlest removal procedures first.

© 2012 Bev G

Barbies... love 'em or hate 'em?

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    • theraggededge profile imageAUTHOR

      Bev G 

      3 weeks ago from Wales, UK

      Hi Pyper,

      Could you follow the advice given in the article and see if it works?

      Let me know how it goes.

    • profile image


      3 weeks ago

      Hi! So I got a bunch of vintage Barbie dolls from a yard sale. I got two Tutti and Todd dolls for a very cheap price. But the problem is there is blue marks all over their bodies. I have no idea on how to get these stains off. Any suggestions?

    • theraggededge profile imageAUTHOR

      Bev G 

      7 months ago from Wales, UK

      Hi Linda, if it's really beyond all hope, I suggest cutting the hair off as close to Barbie's head as possible. Use a solvent (you must, must test this somewhere unobtrusive first) to clean off the glue as best you can. I can't advise you what to use as I've never tried this procedure.

      Then treat Barbie to a wig of your choice. I had a look and there are lots on ebay. You have to make sure you select 'dolls and teddies' category.

    • profile image

      linda wille 

      7 months ago

      Is there any hope for the 'glue heads' ? I have tried everything to clean the hair but it only gets worse. now I know to pinch the head before I buy one from a thrift store...if it is hard as a rock I dont buy it if the hair is already a mess.

    • theraggededge profile imageAUTHOR

      Bev G 

      16 months ago from Wales, UK

      I don't think there is much you can do without ruining their style. If you can bear to, you could try gently washing one very carefully with a weak solution of hydrogen peroxide.

    • profile image

      Barbara Shandy 

      16 months ago

      I have several 1960s platinum bubblecuts that their white hair has oxidized to a reddish blonde. What to do?

    • profile image


      18 months ago

      I have my original Barbie (bubble cut hair) & Ken doll from the 60’s. The white clothing is DINGY.

    • theraggededge profile imageAUTHOR

      Bev G 

      2 years ago from Wales, UK

      Hi Judy, I'm in the UK, so I would check out thrift shops, and sales, like garage sales, etc. Anywhere where people sell second-hand stuff.

    • profile image

      Judy Johnsen 

      2 years ago

      Where can I find old Barbie's for sale to fix up and sell?

    • theraggededge profile imageAUTHOR

      Bev G 

      2 years ago from Wales, UK

      I'm not certain but I think stainless steel would be fine, Dorothy.

    • profile image

      Dorothy in LW 

      2 years ago

      I would like to know if a stainless steel screw would cause a problem when fixing a vintage Barbie's neck post. I am having trouble finding the plastic screw.

    • theraggededge profile imageAUTHOR

      Bev G 

      3 years ago from Wales, UK

      Do you mean Pinterest, Evelyn? I'd love to see them.

    • profile image


      3 years ago


    • theraggededge profile imageAUTHOR

      Bev G 

      4 years ago from Wales, UK

      Thanks for your comment, mythbuster. Glad to have saved Barbie from a drowning :)

    • mythbuster profile image


      4 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide

      Great tips for restoring Barbie dolls with care instructions I'd never know about otherwise - like not immersing the doll in water to clean. I always saw Barbie in the bathtub as a kid, so I'd have tossed the doll immediately into a bin of water to clean, had I not checked out this hub.

    • theraggededge profile imageAUTHOR

      Bev G 

      4 years ago from Wales, UK

      Thanks for the tip, Nikki :)

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Try using fabric conditioner instead of shampoo and conditioner - doll hair is closer to a fabric than hair and the fabric conditioner will soften and tame frizz better :)

    • theraggededge profile imageAUTHOR

      Bev G 

      8 years ago from Wales, UK

      Thank you, GoodLady & Brenda :)

    • TreasuresByBrenda profile image

      Treasures By Brenda 

      8 years ago from Canada

      You've created a great resource for eBay sellers. I'm off to share it on my Facebook page, Treasures By Brenda.

    • GoodLady profile image

      Penelope Hart 

      8 years ago from Rome, Italy

      Fascinating and really cute reading. I didn't think I liked Barbies till I read this lovely Hub, maybe because my boys preferred cars or dinosaurs. Now I'm going to get one for my grand daughter and start a collection.

      Voting up! and beautiful.

    • theraggededge profile imageAUTHOR

      Bev G 

      8 years ago from Wales, UK

      Thanks, Brainy Bunny. Appreciate your hair-fixing tip. xx

    • Brainy Bunny profile image

      Brainy Bunny 

      8 years ago from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania

      These are good tips, although I've found it easier to fix my Barbie dolls' hair by spraying it lightly with water and then combing carefully, rather than giving them an actual shampoo (especially if I'm trying to replicate an original hairdo).


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