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Caring For Your Collectible Doll

by Evelyn Whitaker

It can sometimes be difficult to know how to clean your cherished collectible without causing harm. The following are simple guidelines to help you learn which way is the best way to care for your doll.

Porcelain Dolls
With porcelain, the decorations are usually fired on, so it would be unlikely that that you would hurt them by cleaning. Use warm soapy water. If this doesn't work well enough, try a wet eraser to remove marks. As a last resort, very, very gently clean with a low abrasive cleaner such as Tilex or Soft Scrub. Use caution because some cleansers have bleaching agents that could be devastating to antique clothing, wigs or bodies. Ultra violet rays can be very damaging to porcelain dolls, so when you are displaying your doll, avoid direct sunlight.

Celluloid Dolls

These dolls are extremely perishable. They are easily broken and can become very brittle over time. Proper care and respect of a celluloid doll helps a perfect example remain in that condition. Heat is celluloid's worst enemy. Keep these dolls in a cool room with good ventilation - and never store celluloid in a sealed case - it can combust!

Cloth Dolls
Vintage cloth dolls can be worth thousands of dollars and deserve your best efforts to preserve them and prevent needless deterioration. Keeping the fabric clean is important because it's exposing the fabric to pollutants that will weaken the material. Direct sunlight is not good for these dolls. You should also inspect your cloth dolls every now and then for insects. There are insecticides designed especially for textiles under many brands and the results can be excellent if used according to instructions.

If you decide to vacuum your doll, place a nylon screen over the fabric first to protect the delicate fibers. Most often, a good vacuuming is enough to restore a doll to display condition. If you doll is badly soiled, get the advice of a professional who specializes in preserving textiles.

Sometimes you can use an eraser or art gum, tapeten and reinger-and-absorene to clean your cloth doll. These seem to give the best results. Ink can be removed with hairspray, but first test an area on the doll to assure that no damage will occur. Apply the hair spray with a cloth, and wipe in a light rubbing motion with a clean white cloth.

For display purposes, it is best to keep them in protective cases and inspect them regularly. Moth crystals should be placed near your dolls. Many collectors recommend making a small cloth pouch, filling it with moth crystals and placing it under the doll's hat or tying it around its waist beneath the clothing.

Composition and paper-mache Dolls

These dolls pretty much require the same care as the cloth type dolls. They are especially susceptible to damage from temperature changes. Never store composition or paper-mache dolls in a hot or cold attic, or in a damp basement.

Most collectors will accept some signs of aging on composition dolls - fine craze lines or cracked eyes, for example.

There are many popular ways for cleaning composition, but first always test it on an inconspicuous area of the doll and work quickly - never leave any cleaning agent on the doll for any length of time. Pond's Cold Cream or Vaseline and a soft tissue work well for these dolls. Another option is paste window cleaner but not the ammonia type. You want the old fashioned paste that you can get at most hardware stores.

Wigs can be restyled after spraying with Johnson's & Johnson's No More Tangles. Faded or worn-off facial features can be touched up with artist's colored pencils. When moistened, they are very easy to apply. Crackled eyes are best left alone.

Hard Plastic Dolls

These types of dolls are very resilient and can be cleaned with almost any soap detergent. You can clean stubborn stains with cold cream or waterless hand cleaner. Avoid chlorine, bleach and ammonia. Never use fingernail polish remover or lacquer thinner which may eat into the plastic! You can use Oxy-10 to remove stains that are not close to painted surfaces. Just moisten a cotton ball and allow it to sit on the stain for several hours. You may have to repeat this process several times. After each cleaning, wash the doll with mild soap and rinse well.

For displaying purposes, avoid direct exposure to ultraviolet light. Although they may seem indestructible, hard plastic can slowly oxidize and change color and direct heat can also cause warping.

Rubber Dolls

These dolls will deteriorate no matter what precautions you take, but you can delay the process. Any form of grease is harmful and accelerates deterioration. If you have a "Magic Skin Doll" always wear cotton gloves when handling her. Rubbing corn starch on these kinds of dolls twice a year will help to preserve the dolls' life. Maintain an even temperature and avoid changes in humidity.

Tin Dolls

These dolls often have chipped paint which can happen from the metal getting cold which in turn causes the paint to lift off the face. Try to keep these dolls in a constant temperature environment.

Vinyl Dolls

Vinyl dolls are probably the most lifelike in appearance and touch. In order to keep them looking that way, special care is needed. Extreme room temperatures are harmful. Even quality vinyl dolls subjected to heaters or air conditioners can be damaged in just a few months. Direct sunlight can be deadly. Vinyl is also sensitive to fluorescent light; use indirect non-fluorescent lights. Finally, avoid tightly sealed show cases or glass domes because condensation can form and damage vinyl dolls.

Wooden Dolls

Chipping paint is a major problem with wooden dolls. Humidity and mistreatment are the two main culprits. Keep wooden dolls in a dry atmosphere. Expanding and contracting associated with high humidity causes paint to chip. Knocks and bumps can also chip paint, so take care in moving or displaying wooden dolls.

Wax Dolls

Wax dolls can be intimidating to many collectors. They do require special care, but so do all types of dolls. Basic care and common sense will help preserve a wax doll in perfect condition. Of course, never place a wax doll in direct sunlight or near any heat source, such as a fireplace mantle.

The best way to start cleaning these types of dolls is to use a solution of cool water and Woolite. Saturate a cotton ball or a Q-tip and wash the wax. If this doesn't work, try a dab of cold cream on a Q-tip, followed by a rinse of the Woolite solution and then clean, cool water. As a last resort, try denatured alcohol on a cotton ball, followed by a through rinsing. Never use turpentine to clean wax dolls because it can soften the wax!

Tips for Barbie Doll Collectors

Remember those Barbie Dolls with the earrings and how it would eventually create green deposits around the ear? Here's a way to remove it:

Cover the ears with a small piece of cotton soaked in Tarn-X silver cleaner. Wrap the head in saran wrap to keep the application moist. Check after two days. If the ears are still green, replace the saran wrap. If, the ears are still green after four days, repeat the procedure with fresh cotton balls. Once the green is gone, rub a paste of baking soda and water over the treated areas. After several days, flake off the dried baking soda and clean the area with warm, soapy water on a Q-tip. Tarn-X causes a chemical reaction that acts as a bleach; the baking soda neutralizes the reaction; and the warm, soapy water removes any residue. It is important to perform each step as described and to inspect the doll periodically throughout the process.

Bubble cut Barbies often have sticky or greasy faces. This is due to an ingredient being emitted by the vinyl. Here's a tip to take care of that:

Carefully remove the head from the body and clean inside and out with a Q-tip soaked in alcohol. Dry it good and fill the head cavity with baking soda. Then replace it on the body. The baking soda will neutralize the chemicals and absorb the extracted grease.

Old Tips Recommended By Some Doll Collectors

About the Author

Evelyn Whitaker writes articles for Deutsches Haus which is located in St. Paul, Minnesota. Deutsches Haus offers German collectibles, souvenirs, gifts and foods.

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