Monday, February 20, 2006

Cleaning The Stuffed Animal Collection

Stuffed animals can become a problem early in your parenting years. You will find that all of the cute and cuddly animals you find somehow end up in your nursery. Relatives will buy bears, rabbits, and even reindeer that they have seen and think are cute. Chances are that they are cute, but you are the one who has to find a home for them.

When you have a baby, you will need to go through your stuffed animals every so often to determine what to do with them. How often you go through them will depend on how many your child has and how much energy you have. For starters, you should be sure not to let your baby near any stuffed animals that are broken or have small parts. Take buttons or bows off the animals before you let baby play with them. When you are going through the toys, or playing with them with baby, set aside any that have hanging threads or other problems. You will need to look at them later to decide whether or not you should toss them or repair them. If you are going to repair them, do it immediately. Otherwise, you will forget, and by the time you get around to it, baby will have outgrown them.

When you have stuffed animals that you are going to keep, you need to be sure that you keep them clean. Check the tags. Most of the animals will have tags to let you know how to clean them properly. You should stick with what is on the tags, or you could end up with a pile of fluff in the dryer when you are done. If you can wash stuffed animals by machine, that is ideal. (Look for machine-washable stuffed animals when you are shopping for baby.) You can just toss them in without any detergent if they are not particularly dirty or with a bit of detergent if they are really worn. Then you can put them in the dryer on the lowest possible heat setting. You should not keep them in the dryer long and check on them every 10 minutes or so.

If you will need to hand wash the stuffed animal, as is the case with many clothed animals, then you can stop up your bathroom sink. Run warm water with a gentle laundry detergent, preferably the ones you use for the baby clothes. Then you can use a washcloth and pat the areas of the animal that needs cleaning. Leave it out flat to dry.

Another option for cleaning the stuffed animals is to dry clean them. No, you do not need to take them out to the cleaners to get this done. Gather up all of the stuffed animals that you have that will need to be dry-cleaned. Then you should put two or three of them (or greater or fewer depending on size) in a plastic bag. Drop in 1/2 cup of baking soda. Use your hand or a twist tie to shut the bag tightly. Then you will shake for a couple of minutes. Get out the animals one by one and brush them with a very soft brush, such as the one you use on baby, to get the baking soda out of their fur. You can try a small hand-vacuum or the attachments on your vacuum cleaner if you are dealing with particularly sizable stuffed friends.

You should be sure that you go through this ritual at least once every couple of months when your baby is small. Babies put everything into their mouths, without regard to germs or filth. That means that you will need to be sure that you have all of the stuffed animals clean regularly.

You can make this process less painful by doing it while baby is asleep. Babies often latch on to a specific stuffed animal for comfort, and you should encourage this dependence on others. It is a healthy action for a baby to take. Unfortunately, these animals need to be cleaned more often, so you may have to get creative about what you need to do to clean them. Just keep an eye on the stuffed friends and be ready to clean them when needed.

By Julia Mercer

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