How to Protect Old Dolls

By Grace Dobush Premium

Dolls have been beloved playthings for centuries, so it’s no surprise they sometimes look worse for the wear. But if you take these precautionary measures, Great-grandma’s childhood sidekick still can bring joy to more generations.

• Keep it clean. Before you store a doll, remove grime and dirt that’s built up over the years, but be careful your well-intentioned efforts don’t cause damage. Cleaning methods vary by the doll’s makeup—porcelain, bisque, plastic or cloth. See’s tips and links to conservation Web sites, and consult these books: The Handbook of Doll Repair & Restoration by Marty Westfall (Three Rivers Press) and The Care of Favorite Dolls: Antique Bisque Conservation by Mary Caruso (Hobby House Press).

• Let them breathe. Keeping dolls in airtight plastic containers puts them at risk for mold and mildew. Instead, keep them in closed cabinets, away from pets, dust and sunlight, in a temperature-controlled area of your home. Place dolls in archival boxes (rather than acidic wood or cardboard) and cushion them with acid-free tissue or cloth. Turn bisque dolls with glass eyes facedown in their boxes.

• Do it in the dark. Direct sunlight can fade doll clothing and hair, and fluorescent lights can turn vinyl dolls green! Indirect lighting is always best. If you want to show off your prized playthings, change out the dolls on display to minimize their exposure to light and dust.

• Handle with care.
Wash your hands—and don’t put on lotion—before touching a doll. Keep food away from them and their storage areas. Though dolls are kids’ toys, it’s best not to let your little darlings play with the antique variety.

• Watch for invaders. Unwanted creatures like to nest in doll wigs (often mohair or human hair) and clothing. Before adding a new doll in your collection, inspect it thoroughly for signs of insects and eggs. The United Federation of Doll Clubs recommends fumigating contaminated dolls with moth crystals for at least six weeks to rid them of pests.

• Be fashion-minded. Your doll’s original clothing, shoes and other accessories add value, so keep them even if you buy her new togs.

• Go to the hospital. Call the doctor if you need help with intensive repairs, such as resetting displaced eyeballs or making over a “basket-case Barbie.” Contact the American Institute for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works or your local historical society for doll hospital referrals.