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How to Restore and Clean Barbie Dolls

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I've been creating since I was a child. My hobbies include watercolor, drawing, art journaling, painting rocks, sewing and 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.

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

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.

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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?

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. Barbie was originally inspired by a German doll popular with middle-aged men - True or False?
    • True
    • False
  2. What is Barbie's middle name?
    • Suzanna
    • Matilda
    • Genevieve
    • Millicent
  3. When did Barbie and Ken split up?
    • 1998
    • 2004
    • 2007
    • They have never split up.
  4. Barbie is banned where?
    • Saudi Arabia
    • Egypt
    • Iran
    • Great Britain
    • Australia
    • All of the above
  5. A mint, boxed Barbie sold on eBay in 2004 for how much?
    • $1,929.35
    • $3552.50
    • $5,771.51
    • $974.91

Answer Key

  1. True
  2. Millicent
  3. 2004
  4. Saudi Arabia
  5. $3552.50

Questions & Answers

Question: How do I remove highlight marker stains?

Answer: See if there are any directions on the highlighter packaging or on the manufacturer's website. If it says that the highlighter ink is water soluble, you can clean with a damp cloth and a little mild soap. If it is solvent based, then you will need to moisten a cloth or paper towel with a small amount of rubbing alcohol or hairspray. Wipe carefully and then again with plain water.

Question: What removes ink from a Barbie's body?

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

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

Answer: 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.

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

Answer: 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.

Question: What removes ink on Barbies face?

Answer: 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.

Question: Bought a #3 blonde Barbie at a thrift shop. She has her ponytail and bangs cut off. Can she be fixed?

Answer: Her hair can be rewoven by a professional doll restorer. As she is, she's not worth anything much - basically what someone is prepared to pay for her. In original, mint condition she may be worth around $300 - $400. Restored dolls don't usually sell for as much.

Question: Can a 90's era Barbie with a sticky soft vinyl face be cleaned?

Answer: If the surface has started to break down, then no, I wouldn't try it. If it looks like it might hold up, just try a tiny little test spot with a cotton bud, as per the directions above.

Question: I have a 1961 Barbie with a ponytail, and her hair is stiff solid with hairspray. What can I use to soften it?

Answer: Hold your Barbie upside down and immerse her hair into a small tub of lukewarm water with a little mild dish soap and a touch of fabric softener. Gently massage her hair with your fingers until it begins to loosen. Repeat, if necessary, and rinse thoroughly.

Question: How do I apply blush to a barbie's cheeks again?

Answer: Use acrylic paint and very carefully rub on a tiny amount of the required shade with a cotton bud. Do lots of trial runs on card first.

Question: What kind of glue sticks on the heads of Barbies? I need to glue a cracked neck on 1960s doll.

Answer: Try a tiny amount of rubber cement or, if you are very careful, you could use an inexpensive pyrography (wood burning) tool to melt the cracked area and then press it back together. The pyrography tool comes with various attachments and one or two are very thin like needles which would be ideal.

Question: How can I fix Barbie's loose waist?

Answer: You may not be able to tighten her waist without replacing her bottom half altogether with another doll. Gently see if she will come apart. If not, then you might try fixing her in place permanently with a dab of plastic cement or appropriate glue. Another solution may be to very carefully use a heat tool (such as a pyrography tool) to 'rough up the plastic of her waist to make it more grippy. You'd have to get someone to hold her so the joint is exposed a little.

Question: How best should I clean a doll's face without removing the hair dye?

Answer: If you are referring to her eye-brows, simply follow the instructions above and clean her face with very mild soapy water. Her actual hair isn't dyed, so you don't have to worry about that.

Question: What sealant should I use once I'm done painting an early vintage Barbie?

Answer: I wouldn't use any sealant over acrylic paint. It will change the color of the paint and may damage the doll. It's better to simply touch up the paint when necessary.

Question: Trying to fix a broken hip/leg joint on a vintage talking Barbie. I got the broken piece out of her hip. What kind of glue can I use to reattach the broken piece?

Answer: If the joint is metal, you may need to solder it with a crafter's soldering kit. I've never tried this so can't help you further, however, I found this site which details how to repair a broken shoulder joint.

Question: I have BTS Idol dolls and their faces are getting dark from skin oils. I've used Dawn, but it's not removing dark stains on their noses. Do you have any tips?

Answer: These dolls may be made from a different material than vintage Barbies so I advise you to contact the manufacturers, either in writing or via their social media pages.

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

Answer: 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.

Question: How do I clean a Barbie doll with a stained face?

Answer: Once you've tried the suggestions given in the article and Barbie is still stained, try a cotton bud and a little rubbing alcohol. If that doesn't work, gently rub a little undiluted dish soap on her face with your finger. Wait for three minutes and then wipe off. Wipe again with a clean damp cloth.

Question: How do you put pants on a rubber bendable leg Barbie? I am afraid to tear her clothes!

Answer: You might try a light application of talc or even corn starch. That will help the garment slide on more easily.

Question: Discovered decades-old Barbie with soiled clothes; vintage and hand-made by my mother, are these safe to wash?

Answer: Only you can make the decision. The thing is, they are not very nice in their current soiled state, so I would think it is worth the risk. A tiny amount of pure soap (check for added chemicals) and blood temperature water. Gently push each garment separately under the soapy water. Squeeze and relax a couple of times then immerse in clean lukewarm water to rinse. You may need to repeat it.

Question: How can I fix cracks on Barbie's face?

Answer: Your Barbie's plastic may be breaking down, i.e. biodegrading. However, there is an epoxy glue that might help - it's called Kwik Plastic by JB Weld. Ask at your local hardware store. I believe there's a clear version that may be suitable. If you can't get hold of it, then ask for a similar epoxy glue.

Question: Why does my Tropical Tan Skipper have spots?

Answer: It depends if these are spots that have developed because of a fault in Skipper's manufacture, or if they have occurred through some accidental spillage. If you are unable to clean her by normal means, then you probably won't be able to remove them at all.

Question: I have a 3ft tall Barbie who has a broken leg from inside hip, how could I repair it?

Answer: If you can remove the leg, you may be able to see how to repair it. I have no experience with Big Barbie, so you may need to have her repaired professionally.

Question: Can you direct me to a UK doll restorer who can re-string my 1970’s ‘Living Barbie’?

Answer: You might try Margaret's Doll World:

© 2012 Bev G

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

Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on July 11, 2020:

Hi Pyper,

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

Let me know how it goes.

Pyper on July 11, 2020:

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?

Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on December 13, 2019:

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.

linda wille on December 13, 2019:

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.

Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on March 31, 2019:

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.

Barbara Shandy on March 30, 2019:

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

Francene on February 01, 2019:

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

Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on April 11, 2018:

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.

Judy Johnsen on April 10, 2018:

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

Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on March 24, 2018:

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

Dorothy in LW on March 24, 2018:

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.

Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on March 19, 2016:

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

mythbuster from Utopia, Oz, You Decide on March 19, 2016:

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.

Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on December 13, 2015:

Thanks for the tip, Nikki :)

NikkiGold on December 12, 2015:

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 :)

Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on May 21, 2012:

Thank you, GoodLady & Brenda :)

Treasures By Brenda from Canada on May 21, 2012:

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

Penelope Hart from Rome, Italy on May 21, 2012:

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.

Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on May 21, 2012:

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

Brainy Bunny from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania on May 21, 2012:

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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