Doll Hair Restoration {Downy Bath}

Do you have a special doll that looks... loved? We have a few. One in particular is Beans' favorite Fancy Nancy doll. They sleep together, travel together and play together. They are inseparable.

When Beans got Nancy for Christmas this last year the one thing she didn't love was that Nancy had very curly hair. So the first thing she tried doing was combing out the curls so that she could play with Nancy's hair. That is never a good idea. You know what happened from there. We had out of control fuzzy hair.

That finally got really old! So this last week we were trying to comb through Nancy's hair. I was pulling hair out left and right and by the handful. It was awful! And it was still a tangled mess!!!

I decided to google doll hair. Because it was obviously nothing like human hair. The first lesson I learned:
Doll Hair Should ONLY be Combed When it is Wet.
Who knew?! I googled a few different sites that confirmed that doll hair combs out better when wet.

Well I was learning so much about restoring and fixing doll hair that it only made sense to give this a try and to see what we could do to restore/fix Nancy's hair to a better condition.
Right away I knew Nancy was a special case for this process. I read about a Downy Dunk on several sites. All of them had the same basic idea, but with a little variation. One thing they all agreed on is being leery about dunking dolls with curly hair. You can loose the curl, or just relax it a little.... to sum up, You Don't Know How Curl Will React With This Process, so proceed with caution.
We thought, what do we have to loose? You couldn't put a brush through her hair and it was just a total mess! But to be fair to the process we chose a second doll who needed a little hair love too. We weren't sure how Nancy's hair was going to work out, so we invited Alexia to the Doll Hair Spa Party.
Lexia's hair just has lost its luster. It looks dull and no matter how much you brush it, it just leaves a lot to be desired. Not nearly as tangled as Nancy's hair, but still in need of some love.
Step one: Not every site did this step, but it made sense to me. This was the initial wash and comb out. Most sites suggested washing the hair in a wig shampoo. I found a few that suggested regular dish soap. I found one that said if you didn't use wig shampoo to use baby soap. Well I liked that idea. So we used baby shampoo.

Fill up a sink with bubbly water and just swish the hair in the water, being very careful to not tangle the hair up more. THIS IS A DELICATE PROCESS, be careful. Swish, don't scrub. OH-- AND ONLY USE COLD WATER!!!! If you use hot water you may damage any glue used to hold the hair on the head.
Once your doll is swished in the water to cleans the hair you run it under the water fossett until you get the soap rinsed out. DON'T SCRUB.
Gently use a towel to absorb the excess water, do not twist the hair to do this process, just use the towel to absorb excess water.
Step Two: This is the comb out step. Once you have both dolls on a towel to absorb water you are going to start the comb out process. Remember what I said before about combing doll hair when its wet. WOW WHAT A DIFFERENCE. I wasn't pulling out nearly the hair I was before and I was getting somewhere.
I found that sectioning the hair and combing through the hair in small sections was best. Also I know from my own schooling that when you are working with wigged hair to not use a brush or comb that has those little wax nobs on the tips. They are great for human hair, but are not so great for wigged hair. So don't use them.
Section by section we slowly worked our way through this process. It already looked so much better at this point.
Here's how both girls looked at this point. Also I have to note that Beans was very concerned about the girls being modest and not being photographed with no clothes on, so we did our best to photograph them without showing too much skin.
Step Three: This is the actual Downy Dunk. Okay... so this is where everyone has a different opinion. Some say mix it and pray it on, some say full strength and some say diluted. There are no real step by step this is how its done instructions. So we got some liquid fabric softener. We did an off brand. Its suggested to use one that is unscented on most sites. However if you needed to cover up cigarette smoke smelling hair scented would be a great idea. We like the smell of clean and freshness, so we went with scented just because we wanted too.

We mixed our at a 1:1 ratio, because the sites that claimed it made things feel greasy won me over a bit. So we did three cups water to three cups of the fabric softener. Put them in a Tupperware container and place dolls hair in the bath. 
You realize that there are holes in her head right? So to me it didn't make sense to put the hair all the way into the bath. I didn't want the formula to do in her head, so we just used a cup to drizzle it over her root section every couple of hours.

Some sites say an hour, some say 24 hours. We went with a happy twelve for both girls.
Step Four: Rinse the hair out again. Same as before just running it under the water without scrunching or scrubbing.
I poured out some of the solution mixed 1:1 into a spray bottle.
And I used this while brushing out as kind of a detangler. Some sites only put it in the bottle and use that to brush though the hair without doing the downy dunk at all. Some suggest keeping it on hand in a bottle to use just when dolls need a little tough up.
I laid both dolls out on a towel and let them dry at this point. I can already tell her hair looks so much better.
Nancy hair didn't loose all the curl. Its all still intact actually. Maybe a little less curly, but even the waviness is pretty cute.
And Alexia is in top notch condition. Her hair is smooth and silky and she looks brand new!

But we had one more problem. Apparently Beans was hoping for the curl to disappear from Nancy's hair. Beans was wanting her hair to be more straight so she could practice braids and play with her hair more. Well truth be told her ends were a little fried, so I told beans we could straighten it, but she's have to get a haircut.

NOW--- BE CAREFUL ABOUT CUTTING DOLL HAIR!!! AND STRAIGHTENING!!! As a matter of fact I didn't take pictures of the process because I am a little scared about people trying it on there little girls dolls. Hair doesn't grow back on a doll. And I am trained to cut hair, so I was fine with cutting her hair. I'd ask that you be very cautious if you decide to go this route.

To relax the hair you have really two options. One is the option of purchasing a plastic steamer and steaming the hair, or while the hair is just lightly damp using a flat-iron with adjustable temperature set to the lowest setting. We had ours down to the low to mid 200 degree range. Its PAINFULLY important that you don't use a flat iron at full temperature on the dolls hair. Its plastic and you will ruin the doll and your flat iron.
It was totally worth it to us though. And Beans is so happy with Nancy and Alexia's new looks. Its like Christmas all over again with brand new dolls to enjoy. I shared Nancy's side by side process of the makeover at the beginning of this post, but I wanted to share Alexia's side by side too. The difference is amazing.
Please also note that this was a very long process. A lot of the time is waiting time while the doll is in the bath process. And it takes a lot of time to comb the hair out when it is a tangled mess, so wait until you have the time to do this right. And hopefully Beans and I helped some of you bring back the life to your dolls hair!

Step Five: Love that doll again and take her out for ice-cream or to a tea-party. Even favorite dollies need to be spoiled sometimes too.


  1. Thankyou, I'm going to try it this weekend.

  2. I just love this post! I wish I had it 20 years ago when my dolls needed some TLC. I have a few left over ponies that might benefit from these tips...

  3. OMG! It works!
    After I did a 7hr dunk with her Repunzle baby doll (she wanted to take her to bed), I dipped her matted Barbie dolls head in the 2nd time diluted downy, and combed it out, dunking it each time it got too dry. It looks like new!!
    Thank you so much!

  4. My sister has a salon doll which is great for learning how to braid. You can wash the hair, straighten it, curl it, blow dry it, and anything else that you can think of.

  5. It worked beautifully! I did ALL of the American Girls this week and they look like new. Thankyou for posting this.

  6. Geez, don't you wish we had this when we were playing with our barbies? Amy's poor Jordash doll that got her hair cut off at the roots... :) Thanks for the great tutorial! My girls, and their babies, will benefit greatly from your wisdom.

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