Sunday, January 5, 2020

Do you wash your doll clothes?

Newly washed nightie. Good or bad? See below.

Every now and then a discussion on washing doll clothes and the fabrics used to make them starts up.

If you are not sure about washing your doll clothes or the fabrics that you use to make them then you should read on. I have included articles, tips and tests and my conclusions about:

  • Ways to wash
  • Colour fasting
  • Pre-washing
  • Shrinking
  • My recommendations

Ways to wash

Efferdent denture cleaner in a litre or so of cold water will clean most doll clothes and keeps them looking as new.

Dishwashing liquid in cold water is good for getting greasy marks out of doll clothes. This probably would work for my clothes too. I am always getting greasy spots on my tee shirts.

You can read more about these methods on this website -

Colour Fasting

Reds and deep dark colours can run and ruin white collars or cuffs or trims so it is best to try colour fasting such items before washing. This is done with salt and vinegar in cold water. You can get the details on this website -

I thought my dark velvet fabrics might run but surprisingly the swatches I tried seemed very good. What I thought might be colour was mainly reflection. I would never consider washing a doll dress that I made of velvet but it is good to know that I could spot wash it without creating a big faded spot.
The dress I made also has a detachable collar. A good idea if you think a white collar might get stained.

There maybe a slight colour in this water. This was my expensive velvet.

The colour fasting directions are for people clothes and says you can safely put then in the wash after the process. I would never wash doll clothes in a washing machine. I would stick to hand washing even if I new the item was colour fast.

I have only occasionally had the need to wash doll clothes and I have always done it in cold water with a bit of washing powder or liquid. I swish them around then lay them on a towel in the shade to dry.
The instructions on this website - - are pretty comprehensive and I imagine that if I had lots of second hand clothes I would want to give them a good wash.

Prewashing fabrics

When it comes to prewashing I am of the opinion that prewashing makes fabrics look used.
Also, if I know that a fabric is not colour fast then I probably wouldn't buy it. No one wants their doll body to get stained. If I want bright colours I will buy polycotton.
These days cotton fabric used for quilts doesn't need prewashing. I have made several quilts and washed them when they needed it. They washed perfectly. So quilting cotton is great for doll clothes.

I love rayon fabric for doll clothes because it has a nice soft feel and it falls well for a small garment. It is probably the only fabric that I would consider prewashing because it shrinks a lot.

You can find details for prewashing a variety of fabrics in this article


I decided to wash the flannelette nightie I made for the doll. I know that flannelette shrinks a bit but I thought I should check how much.
I used cold water and some dish washing liquid. Maybe a wool wash would be less harsh if I tried this again or perhaps a fabric softener after washing.

I swished it around in the kitchen sink.

I squeezed it as dry as possible then shook it out to reduce creasing.

I just hung it on the line but laying it on a towel and pushing it into shape would be a good idea for more delicate items.

I was surprised how stiff it went after washing. I didn't like how it felt and looked. I wouldn't wash flannelette for the dolls unless the doll clothes were second hand. You would need a fabric softener to  stop it gong stiff. I would try to spot wash and only if it was absolutely necessary.

What about shrinking? 

This is before and after. I guessed that it had shrunk just a bit.

After: it is a bit shorter and doesn't fall
as softly.
Before: it looks fluffier and it feels softer

When I put the pattern pieces next to the sleeves and skirt I could see that the sleeves were 1/4" shorter and the main skirt was 1/4" shorter. The nightie didn't seem to be any tighter in fit so it doesn't shrink on the cross grain, mainly the lengthwise grain parallel to the selvedge.
So, I am not going to wash or prewash my flannelette.

Just a note about flannelette. I think the same fabric is called flannel in the US. It is highly flammable and should not be used for nighties or flowing clothes on children. I think it is illegal to manufacture nighties in flannelette for children. Children's pyjamas should be close fitting to reduce fire danger from heaters, fires or candles.
Original flannel is made from wool. So historical flannel nighties are made from wool flannel not cotton flannelette.

My Conclusions

  • Don't wash doll clothes unless they are second hand and you want to clean them.
  • Musty smelling clothes from storage can be aired
  • Stains should be spot washed
  • Rayon needs prewashing by hand. It frays a lot if machine washed.
  • Basically no other fabrics need prewashing
  • Avoid fabrics that run but this is not necessary if you don't wash your doll clothes.
  • The harmful affects of chemicals used in fabric manufacture are a problem for people who work in the factory and are exposed to lots of chemicals often.
  • Formaldehyde can cause a rash when new clothes are worn without washing. This is because large areas of your skin are exposed and formaldehyde dissolves in moisture and sweat so it can penetrate the skin.
  • I thought this fact sheet on formaldehyde was informative. I don't seem to have a sensitivity to it but I always wash new clothes for people, sheets and towels.

Your Comments

  • All fabric must be pre-washed to remove chemicals used in fabric making. It is not good for children to play with unwashed fabrics
  • All fabrics should be pre-washed to remove dirt and grime accumulated after manufacture from handling in transport and being on shop shelves.
  • Fabrics from shops that look clean don't need to be pre-washed
  • The small amount of fabric in doll clothes doesn't seem to cause a problem when handled so pre-washing is not needed.
  • A personal sensitivity to the chemicals in fabrics means they have to be pre-washed before being handled for sewing.

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