Doll Repair: Common Problems and How to Fix Them

by Katharine Swan - Date: 2007-03-08 - Word Count: 747 Share This!

Not all doll repairs are difficult and time-consuming endeavors. Some repairs can be made quickly and don't require extensive knowledge of doll repair. See below for a few examples of common problems and the easy repairs that will fix them.

Problem: Doll has an odor. Many dolls, particularly hard plastic dolls, have a nasty odor. The odor typically comes from the conditions of careless display or storage: for example, cigarette smoke, mothballs, or moisture.

Solution: Leave the doll in open air. Keeping the doll in a box or cabinet will cause it to retain the smell (not to mention make everything else smell, too). Leaving a smelly doll in open air for several weeks or a month will allow the odor to dissipate. If that doesn't work, try putting it in a bag with a little bowl of baking soda. The baking soda should absorb the odor -- just don't let it get on the doll or her clothes!

Problem: Doll is dirty. Surface dirt is common on vintage dolls, even those that haven't been played with. Dolls that are displayed often collect dust, especially if they are displayed on a shelf in open air. Dolls even get dirty in storage, as few attics, basements, and other storage areas are perfectly clean.

Solution: Carefully clean the doll. Whether your doll is made of china, composition, or hard plastic, it could probably benefit by a gentle cleaning. The important thing is to use a cleaner that is mild enough that it won't remove the doll's paint -- many vintage dolls have their flesh color painted on to all of the parts of their body, in addition to their painted facial features (i.e. eyelashes and eyebrows, cheek blush, and lipstick). Your best bet is to buy special doll cleaner, available from from doll supply stores and a number of sellers on eBay.

Problem: Doll's clothing is dirty. Just as dolls themselves get dirty, so do their clothes. Vintage doll clothing can't simply be thrown into a washing machine, however -- it would destroy the like-new crispiness of the fabric (known as sizing). Also, many vintage fabric dyes are unstable, and will bleed in the washing machine.

Solution: Gently soak the clothing. Doll clothing CAN be cleaned without removing the sizing or causing the colors to bleed. To soak your doll clothing, fill a large bowl (such as a mixing bowl) with cold water and a scoop of Biz (available in the laundry section of most grocery and superstores). The clothing should be soaked according to the instructions on the box, but with extra care taken, as vintage fabrics are usually not as durable their modern counterparts. Be sure to rinse the clothing thoroughly in cold water after they are done soaking.

Problem: The doll's limbs don't hold a pose or are detached from the body. Strung dolls are held together inside the torso with hooks and rubber bands. Over time these rubber bands tend to stretch, harden, and crack. Many times, the problem is not identified until the rubber band breaks and the doll falls apart.

Solution: Restring the doll. Strung dolls can be restrung using round sewing elastic. The elastic is strung through the hooks, pulled taut, and tied off in a knot. It is important to get the right tightness when restringing a doll: if it is strung too loose, it won't hold a pose, but if it is strung too tight, it can cause other problems as described below.

Problem: The doll's limbs feel too tight and move stiffly in their sockets, and/or the mold seams are started to open up. The biggest problem with dolls that are strung too tight is that the mold seams in the torso separate, causing long cracks in the doll's body. Dolls that are held together by small strings instead of rubber bands, such as American Character's Sweet Sue walker doll of the 1950s, may have the same problem.

Solution: Restring the doll. As noted above, while stringing a doll it is important to maintain the correct amount of tautness in the elastic, so that the limbs can hold a pose without exerting too much pressure on the socket. In dolls that are held together with springs, the springs can be removed and elastic can be used to string the doll instead.

As you can see, not all doll repairs need be difficult. With a little bit of knowledge, a determined doll collector can easily make minor repairs to her own dolls, improving their value and displayability while saving money on doll hospital expenses.

Related Tags: restore, do-it-yourself, fix, doll, doll repair, doll collecting, vintage doll, old doll

Katharine Swan is a longtime doll collector and enthusiast. Also a freelance writer, she has written many articles on collecting and repairing vintage dolls.

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