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Self-Help Care for Sasha Dolls

Topics Discussed:
Cleaning Dolls
     Definite No-No's
     Body Cleaning
     Stain Removal On Vinyl
     Stain Prevention From Clothes
Cleaning Clothes
     Washing
     Steaming
     Corroded Snaps
Hair Care
     Falling Hair

     Hair Brushes and Combs
     Cleaning Rooted Hair
     Cleaning Human Hair Wigs
     Cleaning Synthetic Hair Wigs
Displaying Dolls
     Doll Stands
     Environment
Long-term Storage
     Play Dolls

     MIB Dolls
Products and Resources
     
Recommended
     Not Recommended

Updated: July 21, 2011

Disclaimer: The statements that I make below are based upon my knowledge of museum conservation and restoration techniques, and many years experience taking care of Sasha dolls. You can take it or leave it, but you proceed at your own risk. I do not in any way, take responsibility for damage you may inflict upon your doll by following these instructions. I expect at the outset, that you have and use your common sense. To the best of my knowledge, this information is correct and true, but is subject to change at any time. If you have questions, please send an email (bottom of page). And, before laying a hand on your precious Sasha: When in doubt, don't do it!
(Signed) Susanna Lewis

Cleaning Dolls
Definite No-No’s
When you first begin to think about cleaning your Sasha or its clothes, there are two things that dominate your thoughts: HOW do I clean, and WHAT do I use to clean with? How to go about it is not as critical as what you use to do it with. Most collectors reach for the common household cleaning products we use every day without thinking much about it. After all, they are tried and true and we know how to use them. Furthermore, Sasha is meant to be a play doll and is supposed to tolerate a child’s often rough love, washing and care, so why all the cautions about cleaning? The answer is two-fold. First, Sasha dolls are worth $$ these days, sometimes a lot of $$, and you want to protect your investment for the future and not have it deteriorate through carelessness or ignorance. Secondly, Sasha dolls and their clothes from the first two productions are getting on in years, and as they age the fabrics, vinyl and nylon hair are aging too, sometimes not very gracefully. Older plastics and fabrics have their own special care requirements. Therefore the questions of how to clean and what products to use become very important considerations for the conservation and preservation of our precious dolls and their clothes. So, to begin, eliminate any product in your doll-cleaning cupboard that contains the following: ammonia, alcohol, acetone, chlorine (in bleach and mothballs), or any kind of abrasive. There are others too, but these are the most commonly found offenders that are known to cause long-term damage to vinyl, nylon, and fabric, and you will likely have nothing left in your doll-cleaning cupboard. Now go to the end of this page and refill your cupboard with a few of the cleaning products that are known to be safe for Sasha.

Body Cleaning
To clean Sasha’s body, use a Buf-Puf™ or generic equivalent; it is a facial cleaning sponge of a special texture, available at most large drugstores. It comes in basically two forms. One is in small white pre-soaped pads. The other is a larger pink or white pad that is not soaped. You can use either one. If you are doing a lot of cleaning the large pad might be better. If you can't find a sponge, you can use a soft toothbrush. Use it with Orvus or Dawn soap (see end of page). Wash Sasha's face very carefully and DO NOT rub the painted areas. Use a cotton swab, with soap, to clean her eyes and lips. Be very careful not to get water inside the body or down in the arms and legs or in the head. That invites mold and mildew. Washing Sasha’s body will remove accumulated plasticizer, surface dirt, and skin oils from play and handling. It will not remove stains or odors that have been absorbed by the vinyl. Stain removal is discussed next. Odor removal is very difficult if not impossible. In my experience a spray-on odor-remover such as Febreze™ is not effective in removing odors on vinyl, probably because the odor is trapped within the vinyl and not on the surface. Please protect your dolls from perfumes, cigarette smoke, mold infections, and flood water. I have never been totally successful in removing odors from these sources.

Stain Removal On Vinyl
Stains in the vinyl that are the result of corroded or rusted snaps, dye from clothes, magic marker, and pink fungus can usually be removed. The acne cream Clearasil® or Oxy10® is what you use, you get it at the drug store. The active ingredient that bleaches and disolves the stain is 10% benzoyl peroxide. Get the plain cream, without any other additives such as tints. You also need some sunshine or a light bulb. Start by cleaning the vinyl with soap and water, and Buf-Puf (see under body care) to remove accumulated plasticizer, dirt and oils from being handled. Even on new dolls, there will be plasticizer that has to be washed off first. Then put some acne cream on the stained part so it is well covered, but keep it off the surrounding area as much as possible (apply with a toothpick). Be very careful not to get the cream on any painted areas. Put the doll in the sun or under a light bulb, but first wrap all the parts of the doll that are not affected in one or two large towels or a blanket for insulation and protection, leaving just the treated parts exposed. Leave the doll in the heat for awhile, then let her cool off. You don't want her to get so hot that she starts to get softened vinyl, as that leads to misshapen joints and other problems. You can do it without heat but it takes longer, heat makes the peroxide work faster. After one or two days, wash off the dried cream and start the process again. You probably won't see any improvement until after two or three treatments, and then the stains will slowly disappear. Several days after the treatment ends you may notice that the treated area appears lighter in color. This is the peroxide still at work, migrating to the surface of the vinyl. Wash the area with Buf-Puf, soap and water to remove it. NEVER use any product that contains ammonia, alcohol, acetone, bleach, or any kind of abrasive.

Stain Prevention from Clothes
You can protect the vinyl from future clothes stains by using a close-fitting body stocking made of white stretch fabric, that will make a barrier to the dye but won't add bulk under the clothes. Cut-off legs on small doll tights work well to cover Sasha's arms, larger cut-off tights protect the legs. For torsos, white stretch children's socks work well, with the toes cut off and using just the cuff or just the foot part, and maybe a slit each side for armholes. You don't have to finish cut edges with hems, that just adds bulk you won't want, leave the edges as they are so they are smooth under the clothes.

Cleaning Clothes
Washing
Clothes worn by vinyl dolls should never be washed in a product containing bleach (hypochlorite), and should never be dry cleaned. Chemicals in both will bond to the fabric and over time, will result in chemical reactions that are harmful to both the fabrics and the vinyl. Safe products for washing the clothes include Orvus WA paste, Dawn dishwashing liquid, and Perk made by Twin Pines of Maine. All three of these products will clean but will not remove stubborn yellowing or stains. Boost by Twin Pines is made for that purpose and is safe to use and highly recommended for both colored fabrics and whites. After soaking and washing the clothes, be sure to rinse in plenty of water to remove ALL soap. You can use a spoonful of white vinegar in the next-to-last rinse to help remove remaining soap, then rinse once more to remove the vinegar. Keep in mind that washing is not always the best method for cleaning mint or previously unwashed clothes, as that can lessen the clothes’ value. For example, the brown and navy cord dresses and the green poplin dress for Sasha girls, all three of which have very strong dyes in the fabrics and white collars at the neck, will almost certainly suffer a run of the dye into the collar during washing, so I do not recommend washing these dresses, unless they are played-with and have all ready been washed. Spot-washing with soap, and Boost if needed for a stain, is a better alternative for cleaning mint or previously unwashed clothes if it is important to retain the mint condition.

Steaming
I do not recommend ironing any factory-made clothes. As the fabrics on the clothes age, they become weaker and the heat and pressure from an iron weakens them even more. If a garment needs freshening up, the best way to do it is with a steamer. Use a small garment steamer that will sit in a vertical position on its own (a travel steamer). Then use both hands to hold the fabric taut and let the steam shoot right through the fabric, one small area at a time, to relax the wrinkles. The fabric will hardly even become damp. Velveteen and corduroy benefit greatly from steaming, use a small soft brush to raise the pile and to remove surface dirt as you steam.

Corroded Snaps
The snaps on English-made clothes and shoes can corrode if the doll has been exposed to a damp environment over time. Corrosion will make green stains on the vinyl that will even pass through a protective barrier like socks or a body stocking. After 1980, the English factory designed the shoes and sandals so that a vinyl tab is underneath the snap to prevent corrosion stains. But the snaps from the 1960’s and 70’s have no such protection. You can prevent staining if you leave the snaps unsnapped while the doll is in storage, or place a small folded piece of white tissue between the snap and the doll’s skin. If the vinyl has all ready been stained you can remove the stains with acne cream (see stain removal), but you must also clean the corrosion off the snaps. A common practice is to use nail-polish remover to clean the snaps, but DO NOT do this on Sasha’s clothes and shoes, because the acetone is toxic to you, it will harm vinyl and plastic, and also make the green stain spread into the surrounding area. A much better method is to use an eraser. An ordinary white plastic eraser works very well, or an artist’s “kneaded eraser” allows you to make your own shape to work with. Just gently rub the back of the snap with your eraser, and use the point of a pin to carefully dig out corrosion in the little hole in the middle of the snap and also under the edges of the snap. Corrosion is never ending, you must check the snaps again periodically.

Hair Care
Falling Hair
The rooted hair on dolls from the first two productions is made of nylon, which is a plastic. The nylon strands are dyed and texturized during the manufacturing process. There are many different kinds and colors of nylon hair on our Sashas, and some of it is not aging very well. The breakdown of the nylon causes the strands to become weak and break off at the rooting hole when the hair is brushed. For several years now, this condition has been found on English-made brunettes in particular, but not all brunettes. It has also been found on some early English redheads, Götz brunettes, and Götz blondes. There are various degrees of falling hair, some dolls have it worse than others. In extreme cases, the hair strands are so weak that they break and fall out on their own, just from the forces of gravity. In less serious cases the strands are stable as long as the hair is not brushed or disturbed very much. No one knows exactly what is causing the strands to become weakened, although it appears very likely that moisture is the catalyst for the chemical reaction that is taking place on the dolls that are prone to this condition. Dolls that have spent years tightly sealed in their boxes, or stored in other airtight conditions, are more likely to have developed falling hair, than those who have always been in circulating air. This is because changes in ambient temperature causes moisture to condense on the vinyl, and without circulating air, the condensed moisture makes the vinyl damp for a very long time (besides falling hair, the condensed moisture also causes mold infection in the vinyl, and makes snaps corrode or rust). At this time there is no known treatment that will halt or reverse the breakdown process. The main treatment is prevention: keep your dolls clean and use only the safest products to clean them, treat the hair gently, and store your dolls in open containers.

Hair Brushes and Combs
Brushes and combs with wire bristles and metal teeth are recommended for synthetic hair. A "wig brush" is the name given to the appropriate hairbrush, it consists of stiff wire bristles set into a flexible rubber base, and can be purchased in wig shops, large drug stores, and smaller ones from doll shops and doll-supply mail order catalogs. The bristles should be smooth thin wire, be careful not to get one intended for pets, which has little knobs on the ends of the bristles. For a comb, a metal pet comb does work very nicely, get one with smooth nickle-plated teeth that are spaced fairly closely together. Brushes and combs with natural or plastic bristles and teeth are not appropriate since dirt and oils adhere to them and transfer onto the doll's hair, and they also do not run through the doll's hair as smoothly as metal ones.

Cleaning Rooted Hair
Orvus or Dawn can be used to wash Sasha's hair. Hold the doll upside down under the tap, or into a bowl of water, being careful not to get water inside the body, arms, legs or head. Be sure to rinse ALL the soap out, check swirls and rooted parts especially. You can use a spoonful of white vinegar in the next-to-last rinse to help remove remaining soap, then rinse once more to remove the vinegar. Dry the hair with a fan, or a hair dryer set to NO HEAT, better yet, just wait 24 hours for it to thoroughly dry itself. Some kinds of nylon hair gets so squeaky clean that it is hard to brush. For these dolls you can use a spray-on human hair conditioner and brush it through the hair, it contains lubricants that help with tangles. Don't use very much, just enough to make the hair manageable, and spray it only on damp or wet hair. It will wash out at the next shampoo. If the doll is being cleaned for long-term storage it is better not to use conditioner, or rinse it out after combing, as we don't really know the long-term effect it might have on nylon.

Cleaning Human Hair Wigs
There are three Sasha serie dolls with real-hair wigs: Pintucks, Kiltie, and Princess Sasha. It is very common for human hair wigs to dry out and get brittle with age on any kind of doll. This is partly due to the dye in it, but mostly from being displayed in a dry environment. Since it is human hair you can use a spray-on vitamin/protein conditioner which will clean, soften and strengthen the hair, because it will break and fall out if you don't take care of it. It is not necessary to remove the wig from the doll, you can clean it with the wig in place. The way to do it is to first dampen a small batch of hair with a wet washcloth, all the way to the wig cap. Don't get the hair dripping wet, just very damp, because you don't want to get the wig cap soaking wet. Then spray some conditioner on a cotton ball and gently wipe it on the damp strands, wait a few minutes for it to soak in, then gently wipe the wet strands with a wet washcloth to remove both loosened dirt and excess conditioner. If you use a white washcloth you can see quite dramatically how much dirt comes out! It takes patience and time to do a whole head and you cannot hurry it, but the hair will look and feel much better afterward.

Cleaning Synthetic Hair Wigs
There are two Sasha serie dolls with synthetic-hair wigs: Velvet and Prince Gregor. You can clean their hair the same way as a human hair wig, but use water with some Orvus or Dawn in it to loosen the dirt. Use a wet washcloth to remove the soapy water and dirt. While the hair is still wet you can spray on some conditioner to lubricate it and make it easier to comb out.

Displaying Dolls
Doll Stands
Sasha's torso can easily be damaged by a doll stand that has not been modified. The inexpensive two-part adjustable stands used today have a waist clamp that is much too small for Sasha's waist. If you use the stand as-is, the clamp exerts a lot of pressure against the vinyl and causes deformation of the torso over time, sometimes a very short time, like one day. Typical damage can be seen by two dents at the front of the waist caused by the two ends of the clamp, and an abnormal protruding of the chest and abdomen with a corresponding narrowing of the sides of the torso. If you feel your doll needs a stand, as when required for display in a public exhibit, or if you live in an earthquake zone, then you can prevent damage to the doll if you simply widen the waist clamp by bending the two arms outward, so it barely touches the doll around the waist. You can add padding around the waist or the clamp to prevent scratches on the vinyl, but you must still widen the clamp first.

Environment for Display
Sasha needs to look at the world from a cool and dry, dust-free place without strong light, and at a safe distance from pet dogs and cats. If she is displayed in the open there isn't much one can do to control dust and damp. But a bit of common sense can protect Sasha from her two worst environmental enemies, heat and light. Remembering that Sasha is made of semi-soft vinyl (plastic) and is held together with tensioned elastic, one can understand that heat will make the plastic soften and pressure from the tensioned elastic will make the softened plastic deform. Most often the deforming occurs in the five joints - the sockets of the doll's torso and the tops of the limbs, where the tensioned elastic pulls the various limbs very hard into the sockets. There is very little deforming if the doll is cool and the head and limbs are set straight into the sockets. But when Sasha is posed in various positions the limbs are not straight in the sockets and if the doll is also very warm, then deforming in the joints will slowly occur. You can prevent problems if you remember to change the doll's position frequently so the limbs are never set in any one position for a long time, and if you keep the doll away from heat sources (light bulbs, hot air ducts, tops of computers), and allow her the pleasure of an air-conditioned room in the middle of the summer. Sasha also needs to be protected from ultra-violet radiation in sunlight and artificial light. Ultra-violet rays cause brown-eyed dolls of the 1970's to become green-eyed dolls and pink-lipped dolls to become white-lipped dolls. It also causes fading of practically everything else, including the hair on redhaired dolls in particular, fading and breakdown of fabrics, and breakdowns in the plastics of shoes.
And, as for the dogs and cats that live in your household, a reminder that for some reason Sasha's vinyl tastes very good to most animals, and her hands and feet are just the right size and shape for a good chew!

Long-term Storage
   When it's time to put Sasha away for awhile you need to think about the conditions the doll will live in until you can see her again. These conditions are similar to those discussed for display above. It needs to be a place that is clean, cool, dark, dry, free from mice and insects, and free from extremes in temperature and moisture. The back of a closet in your bedroom is a good place; the attic, basement, or crawl space is a terrible place. There are many opinions from experts on the pros and cons of various preparations for storage, so that when the doll emerges from storage in the future, it will be perfect. My argument is: know your doll and tailor it's storage conditions to suit its particular needs, which will not be exactly the same from one doll to the next. Common sense and knowledge of pitfalls are the rule. I will discuss two kinds of dolls common to many of us, a played-with doll that has no box, and a mint doll that does have a box. You can select preparations for storage from these two situations to suit your particular doll.

Play Dolls
   A played with doll going into storage at first needs to be a clean doll. Give it a bath and shampoo, as outlined in the discussions above, and remove stains. Make certain it is completely and thoroughly dry inside and outside, including crevices in the joints. Brush and style the hair so it is perfect. Put a hairnet over the hair to hold the style in place, covering the hair and face completely. Do not dress the doll, store it nude so it has no contact with dye, metal or plastic parts of clothing. Position the head and limbs so they are perfectly straight in the sockets, to prevent deforming. You can tie some unbleached twill tape around the legs and arms if it helps to hold them still. Wrap the doll in a piece of washed, unbleached muslin, or acid-free white tissue, which allows the doll to "breathe" but protects it from contact with the storage container, pin a label on the outside of the wrapper, then put it in it's storage place. Chances are you have several dolls that must be stored together. I store mine standing up together in a carton - they support each other rather than create weight on top of each other, then cover the carton with a cloth so dust stays out but air can circulate around the dolls to keep them dry. This prevents condensation of moisture due to temperature changes, which is especially important for brunettes with their delicate hair.
   The doll's clothes should be clean and stored separately from the doll. Stuff shoes and garments made of plastic with acid free tissue so they hold their shape (London outfits, etc) and I am careful to put tissue squares under soles of shoes and strongly-dyed garments, to prevent transfer of dye or varnish onto other clothes. Last, I wrap all the doll's belongings together in a muslin or tissue package (NOT plastic bags) and label it. NEVER use mothballs around a vinyl doll or its clothes, and NEVER use bleach in washing products. Both of these cause chemical reactions which will damage the doll and other plastics during quiet, long-term storage.

MIB Dolls
   Storing a mint doll has most of the same considerations as a played with doll with this major difference, the doll is stored in its box with its clothes on. This is never the ideal situation but most collectors feel it is necessary in order to retain the value of a mint-in-box doll. If you understand that clothes can be dangerous to a vinyl doll because of dye transfer, corrosion of snaps, etc, then you can take steps to insure that the doll is safe from its clothes during storage.
   First, examine the doll and wash off any visible dirt and spots. Gently arrange the hair so it is perfect, then cover the hair and face with a hair net. The doll must be protected from clothes that have snaps or strong dye, and from elastic and rubber bands which tend to "melt" when in long-term contact with vinyl. Put strips or folded squares of acid-free tissue between snaps and the vinyl, and between neck, waist, sleeve and leg cuffs and the vinyl, if garments with elastic bands or strong dye are in contact with the doll's skin. You can also remove shoes and garment pieces and put them in folded tissue envelopes, keep them in the box with the doll if there is room. Snaps on shoes, sleeve cuffs, and fronts of garments can be left unsnapped to prevent contact with the vinyl. When the doll is ready, arrange the head and limbs so they are perfectly straight in the sockets. Wrap the doll loosely in a sheet of acid free tissue or a rectangle of unbleached muslin, to prevent contact with the inside of the box, which is probably not acid-free. Lay it in the box or tube, making sure that the box's rubber bands for securing the doll, are no longer in contact with the doll. For brunette dolls in particular, the box should not be closed tightly, which would prevent air circulation, leave it open and cover the opening with a cloth.


Products and Resources

Recommended Products and Resources
     Buf-Puf™
is a facial-cleaning synthetic sponge marketed as both pre-soaped and plain sponges. You can use either form for cleaning Sasha's body. It is made by 3-M Health Care and can be purchased over-the-counter in a drug store.
     Dawn Dishwashing Detergent® is a liquid dish-washing cleaner made by Proctor & Gamble. You can buy it at the grocery store. Although it contains colorants and perfumes, it can safely be used as a cleaner for Sasha's hair and body, and her clothes. For years this cleaner has been the number one choice among knitters and quilters, as the least harmful to new and antique fabrics and woolies over the long term. Although there are newer products on the market now, this one is the easiest and least expensive to obtain.
     Orvus® WA paste, also known as "horse soap" or "quilter's soap," is a commercial-use detergent made by Proctor & Gamble. I think it was originally formulated for cleaning farm animals, as it is a very basic cleaning agent containing nothing that will hurt the animal should it be ingested or get in the eyes or nose. Because it has no colorant, perfume, or other additives to make it attractive to the consumer, it has thus become attractive to museums and conservators, particularly for use in cleaning textiles. It is pH neutral, making it also suitable for cleaning plastics like Sasha's vinyl and nylon hair. Orvus WA paste is extremely concentrated, a little goes a very long way. Because it is a commercial product, it must be purchased in bulk and repackaged in smaller quantities for consumer use, which has been done by some mail-order companies that cater to quilters and sewers. You can find it at Clotilde under the name Orvus Quilt Soap.
     Spray-on Hair Conditioners. There are many brands of conditioners that contain vitamins and/or proteins that are useful for conditioning damaged human hair, and they work just as well on dry and dirty human hair wigs. All the brands that I know of are packaged in a plastic pump-spray bottle, allowing you to control the amount that is put onto the hair. These conditioners will not improve damaged synthetic hair, but because they contain lubricants that are safe for plastic hair, they can be used after a shampoo to make brushing of wet hair easier. Besides the conditioning and lubricating agents they all contain perfume, which is not desirable for plastic hair, but I haven't yet found a brand that is hypo-allergenic and perfume-free. My advice is to visit your local health food/products store and purchase a conditioner containing recognizable ingredients (other than the chemical names for the various vitamins and amino acids). The lubricants will be either lanolin or glycerine, both of which are of no danger to human or synthetic hair.
     Clearasil® is an acne-treatment cream marketed by Proctor & Gamble, that is useful for stain removal on Sasha's vinyl. There are several variations, use the plain, extra-strength form with 10% benzoyl peroxide in a squeeze-tube, and buy it over-the-counter in a drug store.
     Oxy10® is another acne-treatment cream made by SmithKline Beecham, that is practically identical to Clearasil and also comes in several variations. You want the plain cream with 10% benzoyl peroxide, and it comes in a tube over-the-counter in a drug store.
     Perk!®, Booost® are two products made by Twin Pines of Maine, especially for cleaning and removing stains from antique fabrics. Perk is the cleaner and comes in very concentrated form and is reusable, while Boost is the stain remover and remains active for a few days after being activated by water. They are available only by mail order or at their website. I highly recommend both products for safely cleaning Sasha's clothes.

Not Recommended
Two products, Remove-Zit® and Formula 9-1-1®
are also made by Twin Pines of Maine. I am sure they are very good products and are popular among doll people, but I do not recommend them for Sasha dolls. Remove-Zit, a plastics stain remover, will remove stains from Sasha’s vinyl but it will also leave a permanent raised scar which I don’t think you will like. Formula 9-1-1 is a doll cleaner and works very nicely on Sasha except that it softens the paint on Sasha’s face. Therefore be very cautious around the painted areas if you use this product to clean a Sasha doll.

If you have questions or comments, or would like to recommend an additional topic, please send an email.

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