[This is incomplete. Need pictures!!]
Fixing a doll that is stinky is one of the toughest restoration problems. So, the most important thing is to always ask about odors before you purchase a secondhand doll. Many sellers neglect to mention this on eBay, for instance, because it's easy to just say "I didn't notice it". Some odors are minor and take care of themselves after a little while and some require a whole lot of work.
Note that the suggestions below are for the dolls themselves, not stinky clothing. I'm assuming you've removed the doll's clothing and you'll deal with that separately, though most of the techniques apply.
Sources of Odors
The most common source of odor on a doll is cigarette smoking. So, the obvious prevention tip is that if you're a doll collector, quit smoking! ;-) Other sources of odor are mustiness, usually caused by mildew growth from being stored improperly, and smells from things applied to the doll like hair spray, conditioner, etc.
Odor Removal Options
There are five basic ways to deal with the odor:
Wash It Out
This is my preferred method for dealing with odors. First, wash the doll's vinyl thoroughly, then wash the doll's hair. This may be enough to do the trick. If the doll's cloth body seems to have absorbed the odor, if it's minor you can use the "air it out" or "absorb it" techniques below. If it's strong, you'll need to wash the cloth body. For all of these washings, use a little baking soda in the water.
Air It Out
This is the simplest odor removal method but the one that's going to take the longest. If you have a safe, well-ventilated, low humidity place to leave the doll (like a screen porch), her odor will likely dissipate over time. This may be the best choice if you have a special doll (like a signed American Girl Collection doll or an artist doll) and you want to avoid as many interventions as possible.
There are several substances that are very good odor absorbers: charcoal, baking soda, clothes washing powder, even crumpled up newspaper. One low-risk option to de-strinking a doll is to place her in a air-tight box (like a Rubbermaid container) with one of these substances and leave it for several weeks. Go purchase a bag of charcoal briquettes (or one of the other odor absorbing materials), put a layer at the bottom of the box, cover it with a cardboard box to hold the doll away from briquettes, and place the doll on top. Put the lid tightly on the plastic container and put it under your bed or in a closet. Check on the doll every week or so and be patient.
Cover It Up
For minor odors, you can try the classic solution: Fabreeze. My experience is that this only adds to the problem, however. The smell of the Fabreeze will fade and the smell you were trying to eliminate will remain. Twin Pines makes a product called D-Stinker which is an odor neutralizer. I haven't tried it personally but I have had good experiences with several of their other products.
A last option you can try (especially if you've tried the others) is to replace the two parts of your doll that are the biggest culprits in retaining odor: the hair and the body stuffing. If you're doll's hair isn't great to begin with, this can be an easy option. Replacing the stuffing with new PolyFil is an even easier operation: follow the instructions in the Restringing article for removing the head and the stuffing, replace with new stuffing, then follow the instructions for replacing the head.
Hopefully, your doll's B.O. problem is now gone and you can enjoy her like you should!
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This page was last updated 08/12/06