Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Science of Animal Cleaning

In a previous post I discussed the science of (stuffed) animal sorting for our Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes. Once the sorting task has been completed it's time to move on to the task of dealing with the pile of animals that need to be cleaned and refurbished. Up until last year I only spot-cleaned my dolls and animals. That meant that any that had more than a small spot of dirt were discarded and that was a shame.

Then last year I went to a yard sale that had a blanket out on the lawn that was covered with nice Beanie Babies but they were all quite dirty and had a musty smell to them. The seller said I could have whatever I wanted for free and at first I was going to decline but then I got adventurous and decided to try to breathe new life into them. So I took them home, ripped off their hang tags, and threw them all into the washer. When they came out I set each of them carefully on top of the washer and dryer to air dry and I was amazed at the results. Those bedraggled beanies looked and smelled pristine again. No longer would I pass up soiled animals. A recycler was born.

I'm pretty low-key about my cleaning methods. Some of my team members use lingerie bags to contain their animals before they put them into the washer. Some are careful to use the delicate cycle. Me? I just toss them into the washer on the regular cycle and hope for the best. A few times I've had an animal or doll spill its guts into the washer, leaving it full of plastic pellets, but they aren't that hard to clean up. I do look the animals over before I toss them into the washer and use a small, stiff brush to rub detergent into stubborn spots.

Ever since my children were small I've kept a bottle of hairspray in my laundry room. If a doll or animal has marker or pen marks on it, I know I can spray it with some hairspray before rubbing detergent into it and the ink will then generally disappear during the wash cycle. If a doll's face has paint or another stubborn mark I will often try using a bit of nail polish remover on the spot.

Another trick for stubborn spots--either on the body of the doll or on the face is to use a solution of bleach and water (about half and half) to soak on the spot. This doll had a brown stain on her head but after standing her on her head in a bowl of bleach solution she looked new again.

This sweet rag doll had brown stains on her feet that I thought was going to make her unusable. Even washing wouldn't remove them. But, I tried the bleach and voila--she looks great and will be the perfect huggable companion.

Same thing for Dora here whose white shoes didn't pass muster until they were subjected to the bleach treatment--

Just a few little remedies can make many dolls or animals look new. If they have fuzz or pet hair on them that washing won't remove, sometimes the stickiness of using a ring of packing tape on my hand will lift it off. Also, the small tags on animals may look worn and are better carefully cut off. Sometimes parts of the clothing that may be frayed can be trimmed off or even removed. Occasionally the black plastic eyes on a toy like Cookie Monster will be scratched and can be revitalized with a bit of permanent black marker.

Hair is another thing. I've spent many an hour combing out a doll's rooted hair. If the ends look frizzy after combing you can trim them. Another Operation Christmas Child volunteer also gave me the idea of using a spritz of a solution of half rubbing alcohol and half water. When sprayed on the hair it will give it a like-new sheen. Another volunteer also gave me the hint of using Clearasil (or a cheap substitute) on stains on plastic doll or animals faces that you can't remove. She said to put a dab of the product on the stain and leave it in a sunny window for a few days before washing it off. I haven't actually tried this but one of these days I'll have to do that. Here's the result of a few TV shows' worth of hair combing.

With just a little extra time I can 'rescue' beautiful dolls and animals so they look brand new. Many of the animals I get would be worth $15.00 or more if purchased in a store. Instead they are often donated to me or purchased for 25 cents or less each. Knowing how they will be loved by children who receive them in their Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes--children who may have never owned anything of their own and may have been praying for just such a gift--well, that makes it worth that little bit of extra effort.

It's another fun challenge and I'm getting it down to a science.

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