Fixing messy doll hair and removing surface dirt from your doll is easy and just takes a few things you probably already have on hand. These techniques can be used on almost any doll, old or new.
I found this vintage 1970's Fisher Price My Friend Mandy doll at a local thrift store and almost left her there because she was in pretty rough shape. Her hair was messy, her arms and legs were dirty, and she had a large dark spot under her chin.
But I decided to try giving her a makeover, and she came out looking adorable!
To clean surface dirt and grime from vinyl doll skin, plain, unscented lotion or cold cream works well. It breaks down the dirt so you can remove it with gentle scrubbing.
I spread a thick layer evenly on the doll's skin and let it sit for a few hours. Depending on how dirty your doll is, you may not need to leave it on this long. I spread the lotion on her face, arms, and legs.
With a cloth or sponge, gently scrub a few areas of the skin to see if the dirt comes off. Don't use anything rough or abrasive or it may scratch the vinyl or remove the doll's blush or makeup. An old kitchen sponge works fine for this.
Rinse the cream off thoroughly and pat dry.
The dark spot under her chin didn't come off after using the cream, but a few rubs from a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser took them right off. The Magic Eraser is a sponge made of melamine foam and is great at removing marks from doll skin. It also works on My Little Pony toys. I have better luck using it dry rather than wetting it like you do for regular cleaning. Be careful if using the Magic Eraser around cheek blush, eyebrows, My Little Pony symbols, etc. - it works like sandpaper and can remove the paint.
To Fix Messy Doll Hair:
Now it's time to fix this messy hair!
Wet the doll's hair and shampoo it with whatever shampoo you happen to have on hand for yourself. Rinse thoroughly and apply conditioner. I use a LOT of conditioner for this step and make sure the hair is thoroughly coated.
Let the doll sit for awhile to give the conditioner a chance to work. Depending on how tangled the hair is, I let the condition work for anywhere between 20 minutes to a few hours.
With the conditioner still in her hair, take a fine-toothed comb and start combing the tangles out from the ends of the hair. Work your way from the bottom of the hair to the top. Working small sections at a time works well, and leaving the conditioner in during this step allows the comb to slide through and detangle the hair without stretching it.
Be careful not to pull the hair to force the tangles out. While human hair strands can stretch a little bit and return to their original size, strands of plastic doll hair can't. So it's very important to comb the hair slowly and gently, adding more conditioner if needed. Stretched-out hair can't be repaired and is what causes that frizzy, ratted look so often seen on old dolls.
Patience during this step will pay off in the end. For a large doll with lots of hair (like the Baby Crissy doll for sale in my vintage shop on Etsy), I've spent over an hour on this step alone, working small sections at a time. The more you can work the tangles out naturally, the better the hair will look.
For dolls with really dry and brittle hair, or if the tangles aren't coming out, you can wrap the hair in plastic wrap and let it sit overnight.
Once you have all the tangles combed out, gently rinse out the conditioner, allowing the water to flow in the direction of the hair so it doesn't add new tangles. Gently work out the conditioner with your fingers.
I like to rinse until there's just a little conditioner left in the hair, but you can rinse it all out if you want. If I'm styling the hair into curls, leaving just a little bit of conditioner in the hair seems to help the curls hold better.
Carefully squeeze the hair dry and comb it the way you want it. For dolls with rooted hair, look closely at the hair plugs to find out which way the hair should go. Lots of hair plugs close together is usually a sign that this is where the hair should be parted, with half the plugs going to one side and the other half to the other.
Mandy's hair originally had a bit of bounce to it, some versions had the hair curled under and others had it flipped out to the side. I like the flippy look, so I rolled her hair in foam rollers.
Tear tiny pieces of paper towel to use as curling papers. This will prevent the ends of the hair from having that "crimped" look when they come off the rollers. Folding it over the hair gives you something to wrap around the curler to get the curl started.
Since the weight of the hair will pull the curls out a little when dry, it's a good idea to use curlers one size smaller than the size of curls you want. I rolled the curlers pretty tight and still got looser waves.
Set the doll somewhere where the hair can dry naturally. While some people use a blowdryer on low heat, I haven't had good luck with this technique and it made the doll's hair permanently frizzy. I usually let the doll's hair dry for a day or two before removing the curlers.
If you leave a little conditioner in the hair like I do, the hair may have a greasy and stringy look, but running your fingers through it a few times and fluffing it will fix this.