Hello everyone. Many of you have requested that Malachi and I put together tutorials on techniques for restoring and repairing vintage dolls, particularly the large Playpal type. Well, we are happy to tell you that we plan to oblige you and will including our tips and techniques on our blog and our Youtube channel as we put together material. As we tend to work on repairs as new dolls come along, please be patient with us as it may take some time put together the different tutorials!
In the meantime, one of our latest additions, a 36-inch Madame Alexander Janie has undergone her "spa day" (the generic term in the doll community for the cleaning/styling process) as well as received some orthopedic "surgery" for split heels.
We have had several people as about recommendations for cleaning vintage dolls. Our favorite product for cleaning vintage vinyl dolls is Twin Pine's of Maine Formula 911. Formula 911 is by far the best cleaner that we have used and is made specifically for cleaning vinyl dolls. We normally scrub the limbs with this using a magic eraser (melamine) sponge for the body and a soft bristle toothbrush for the face and hands. However, if you don't have Formula 911 liquid dish soap is the next best thing. The elastic that help Janie's arms to her body needed to be replaced so we removed it before cleaning. Normally we lie the doll down on a towel, then scrub the limbs, torso and using a melamine sponge, such as a magic eraser. You can also use this on the face, but do not scrub the painted features too hard or you may remove some of the paint. A soft bristle toothbrush works best to get into the crevices around the fingers, nose and ears. Avoid getting water in the dolls eyes to prevent the sleeping mechanism from rusting. After scrubbing with cleaner, we rinse the the doll by wiping her several times with a damp washcloth, until any residual soap is removed.
Once she is clean, we start work on the hair. Unfortunately, I did not take as many photos during the process as I should have, so this will just be a basic overview - we will try to put a video together next time. We use a handheld sprayer, such as one connected to a shower or a sink. Ideally you want to prevent water from pooling inside the dolls eye mechanism - so it is a good idea to place a washcloth or towel over the dolls face. Leaning her over the bathtub or sink, soak the hair with the sprayer. We usually wash the hair with liquid dish soap to remove dirt and grime. Once the soap is rinsed out, we use start the process of detangling the hair.
Higher end vintage dolls such as Janie or the Playpal doll line used very good quality saran hair - this hair is much less prone to breaking than the less expense dolls such as those made by Horsman, AE and Eegee. The best technique that we have found to detangle saran and nylon hair (this applies to all vintage dolls including Barbie as well as my little ponies) is to saturate the hair with very thick conditioner, such as Pantene. Once the hair is coated (and we recommend doing this over a bathtub or sink) take a metal comb and gently work out the tangles working from the ends up to the roots. Although you may lose some hair in the process, this works extremely well with even heavily matted hair - just remember to work slowly and methodically doing small sections of hair at a time. After all the tangles have been worked out, rinse the hair thoroughly to remove the remaining conditioner. Once rinsed, the hair can be styled with curlers if desired and allowed to air dry. To help curls set, we have found that using a garment steamer to steam the hair (while in curlers) then allowing them to air-dry overnight works well, however, you must be careful not to allow the steamer to get too close and scorch the hair. Because Janie's bangs were originally curled, we set the curl with bobby pins. Her original outfit was mended and steamed. We also repaired her heels using artist epoxy clays (the process we will highlight in our next blog post) and reattached her arms with new bungee cord. As you can see, Janie is now fresh and clean and looking oh so much better!