Cleaning Clothing for Antique Dolls

antique dolls clothesFor the avid doll collector, a doll’s wardrobe is just as important and valuable as the doll itself. When antique dolls are appraised, the order and cleanliness of their clothing is taken into high consideration. Whether you collect antique dolls for pleasure or profit, knowing how to properly clean their clothing is a must, if you want to preserve the legacy.

There are steps that must be followed to protect your doll’s clothing, therefore also maintaining the doll’s historical presence. This particular instruction is geared towards clothing that is able to be salvaged. Unfortunately, as a collector you may come across a doll you really love, but whose clothing is unable to be cleaned or repaired without it falling apart at the seams.

  • All antique doll clothing must be handled very gingerly and delicately. Beginning with “whitewear” dresses, silks with patterns, and vintage fabrics. Most whitewear dresses typically found on antique dolls can come to us with mold stains and old soap residue. Not all of these stains can be removed but many of them can be faded.
  • Test the fabric with your hands to make sure that it is still strong enough to withstand washing. If the fabric seems sturdy, it’s best to begin by filling up a basin with water and add a chemical found at chemical stores called Sodium Perborate. You can also purchase this product online. One of its brand names is Nancy’s Vintage Soak.
  • Orvis is another great soap to use, as it is used in many museums due to its gentle quality, and non-acidic, non-alkaline Ph, both of which can be destructive to old fabric. Start by using a little of cleanser, no more than one or two tablespoons to two or three gallons of water.
  • Make sure that the cleaner is completely mixed in with the water and don’t add any other types of cleaners or chemicals to the mix. Lay the doll dress gently into the bucket. Try not to agitate the dress by having to twist, turn, or fold it in the process. If the bucket is too cylindrical, then maybe use a dish basin. Whatever container allows you to place the dress into the cleaning solution without wrinkling or folding it.
  • If your doll clothing is extremely soiled, you may need to check the water/cleaner solution, if it turns brown, remove the dress, and create a new solution of water and cleanser and continue to soak the dress. Repeat this process until the water mixture is fairly clear.
  • Much of the yellow stains we see on antique doll clothing is really just old soap that was never properly rinsed. So don’t forget to rinse the clothing when you are finished with the cleaning.
  • Silk clothing can follow the same procedure, however, you must be even more careful to inspect the fabric before exposing it to water. Damaged silk can actually disintegrate in water and cleanser. If there are any holes, rips, tears, it may not be the best thing to submerge that particular piece into water. For any other vintage fabrics, as long as they are sturdy, you can wash them with same water/cleanser ratio in a large basin. For really sturdy vintage fabrics, you can place two to three outfits at a time in the cleansing basin. Once again, if the water gets really filthy, dump it out, fill with fresh water and cleanser and continue to soak until the water is clear.