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How to Fix Vintage Doll Hair in Simple Steps

Kate Miller-Wilson
Vintage doll sitting in bed

If your doll is having a bad hair day (or decade), you can restore her beauty by learning how to fix vintage doll hair. From matted hair to less-than-fresh-smelling locks, there are lots of ways to restore antique and vintage doll hair that won't damage the doll.

Identify Your Vintage Doll First

Take some time to identify your vintage doll before you begin working on her hair. There are many different types of collectible dolls, and learning about yours is important. There are two reasons to do this. First, if the doll is especially old or valuable, it may be better to invest in professional doll repair. For instance, antique dolls with china heads are better left to the professionals. Second, learning more about your doll will help you know what the hair is made of. These instructions are for synthetic hair, which is common on vintage dolls.

How to Fix Vintage Doll Hair That's Matted or Bent

Matted and frizzy hair is a problem that many vintage dolls face. In many cases, a doll's face and body can be in perfect condition, but storage, humidity, and play can cause her hair to become frizzy and tangled. Simple combing won't fix the problem because the hair has taken on the shape of the mat and won't lie right again. Some sites recommend Downy and other products, but it's better to learn how to fix vintage doll hair without fabric softener. The softener can react with the synthetic wig material and ruin in. Instead, use this process to fix matted doll hair.

Things You'll Need

Gather the following tools and supplies:

  • Wide-toothed metal comb, such as combs used for pets
  • Pot of water and stove
  • Mild dishwashing soap or baby shampoo
  • Large plastic bags, such as garbage bags
  • Cotton gauze or cotton balls
  • Painter's tape
  • Nylon stocking or knee-high
  • Towel
  • Curlers, if desired

What to Do

  1. Begin by removing the doll's clothing and wrapping her body in plastic bags. You want to protect any cloth from getting wet and keep moisture out of her joints.
  2. Place cotton balls or gauze over the doll's eyes and use painter's tape to hold it in place. This keeps water from getting in the eyes and making them cloudy or causing them to malfunction if they open and shut.
  3. Heat a pan of water on the stove. When it's warm but not boiling, remove it from the burner. Dip the doll's hair in the water for no more than five seconds. The heat helps to soften the hair, but too much heat can destroy it.
  4. Apply a few drops of mild dishwashing soap or baby shampoo to the hair.
  5. Starting at the ends, begin to comb through the hair. You may need to dip it again for five seconds from time to time.
  6. Continue combing until you can get the comb through all the hair.
  7. Rinse the hair well to make sure all the soap is gone. If you leave any soap in the hair, it will become sticky, attract dirt, and quickly get tangled again.
  8. When you're done washing, blot the hair dry with towels.
  9. Comb the hair straight or set it in curlers. Slip a nylon stocking over the hair to help it keep its form but still allow air to flow through it. Leave the doll for 24 hours to allow her hair to dry.
  10. Remove the stocking and comb the hair again. It should be straight and smooth or curly and frizz-free, depending on whether you used curlers.
Combing Doll Hair At Home

How to Reroot Vintage Doll Hair

If a vintage doll has missing or broken hair, you can fix it. If it's only a little missing hair, you don't need to start from scratch. You can purchase some doll hair in the appropriate material and use a needle to glue it in. If there's a lot of missing hair, you may need to pull out the old hair and start over. Either way, this is a project you can do.

Things You'll Need

Gather the following tools and supplies:

  • Doll hair in the appropriate material and color, available from DollyHair
  • Needle for rerooting just a few spots or rerooting tool for more extensive damage
  • Fabric glue
  • Scissors
  • Comb

What to Do

  1. If the doll has only a few missing pieces of hair or hair that is broken, apply a few drops of fabric glue to the root hole. Then use a needle to push several strands of hair into the hole. Skip to step 5.
  2. If the doll has a lot of missing hair, cut all the old hair off. Remove the doll's head and pull the hair out from inside.
  3. Use a two-pronged rerooting tool to add the new hair one root hole at a time. The tool lets you push several strands of hair into the root hole.
  4. Work all the way around the doll's head. When you're done, add fabric glue to the inside of the head to hold all the hair in place.
  5. When the glue is dry, carefully comb the hair. Use scissors to trim it in the desired shape.

How to Fix Vintage Doll Hair That Smells Bad

If a vintage doll has smelly hair, there are some ways to fix the bad odor. Try one of these ideas:

  • For very special dolls or antique dolls, try airing out the hair. Place the doll in a well-ventilated place where she will stay dry and leave her there for several days.
  • Fill a plastic tub with baking soda, and place the doll's head in the tub and bury her hair in the baking soda. Leave her like this for several days. Then brush the baking soda out.
  • Wash the hair using the process for matted or bent hair. Sometimes, the odor will wash out.
  • Cover the odor with a better smell. You can spray a little leave-in conditioner in her hair and comb it through. You can also test Febreze on a small section of hair and use that if it doesn't hurt the hair.

Restore a Vintage Doll's Beauty

No matter what method you use to fix a vintage doll's hair, you may notice other damage too. If she has missing parts, you may be able to use antique doll parts to replace them yourself. Restoring your doll is an act of love, and with time and effort, you can bring her back to her former beauty.

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How to Fix Vintage Doll Hair in Simple Steps