How to Restore and Clean Barbie Dolls

Fashion Doll Restoration

Found some vintage Barbie dolls at a yard sale? Rediscovered childhood treasures in your loft? Or 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.

All images except Amazon/eBay products used under a Creative Commons license

A collection of Barbies in need of love and attention.
A collection of Barbies in need of love and attention. | Source
Liquitex BASICS Acrylic Paint Tube 24-Piece Set
Liquitex BASICS Acrylic Paint Tube 24-Piece Set

These tiny tubes of acrylic are perfect for doll restoration. A little goes a very long way.


Supplies for Barbie's Makeover

  • 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 ranges such as Bratz have these
  • Torn pieces of cloth about two inches wide and eight inches long – you only need these if Barbie's legs are bowed, bent or crooked.
  • Liquitex acrylic paints
  • Small paint brush for touching up facial features

Barbie's Clothes

Before you start make sure to wash your hands thoroughly to get rid of any oil residues. 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 thoroughly by immersing 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 have the original clothes to go with her. Meantime, Barbie will need a new wardrobe.

Don't immerse Barbie in water.
Don't immerse Barbie in water. | Source

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, such as 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 the doll's ear due to a chemical reaction with the metal in her earrings and the material that Barbie is made from. If your Barbie is an older one then 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, and style as you wish.

Vintage Snow Bunny Barbie
Vintage Snow Bunny Barbie | Source

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', then here's an easy way to straighten those pins. Use your lengths of soft cloth to tie her legs together tightly at 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.

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?

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Barbies... love 'em or hate 'em? 9 comments

Brainy Bunny profile image

Brainy Bunny 4 years ago from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania

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).

theraggededge profile image

theraggededge 4 years ago from Wales Author

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

GoodLady profile image

GoodLady 4 years ago from Rome, Italy

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.

TreasuresByBrenda profile image

TreasuresByBrenda 4 years ago from Canada

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

theraggededge profile image

theraggededge 4 years ago from Wales Author

Thank you, GoodLady & Brenda :)

NikkiGold 14 months ago

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 :)

theraggededge profile image

theraggededge 14 months ago from Wales Author

Thanks for the tip, Nikki :)

mythbuster profile image

mythbuster 11 months ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide

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.

theraggededge profile image

theraggededge 11 months ago from Wales Author

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

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