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Lovies in the Laundry: How to Get the Stink Out of Stuffed Animals

Lovies in the Laundry: How to Get the Stink Out of Stuffed Animals

By Amalah

A nice easy one for you, but I’m having a hard time finding a good Google answer, so I thought I would ask you.

My daughter (2.5 years old) loves her stuffed animals.  Her Curious George in particular, but she has several favorites.  They all have a slight “pee” aroma from naps and overnights in the crib which occasionally involve leaking diapers.  I know the waterproofing on my cloth diapers is on its last legs, just a month or 2 more. . .  I’ve tried Febreeze, and now I have a chemical “fresh” smelling stuffed thing that stinks worse to me than before.  I’m very scared to run them through my High Efficiency (HE) washer, so how do I get the funk out without making it funkier smelling?  Any hints would be appreciated.

Me Monkey stinks! (her words. . .)

So I’m not exactly sure what’s up with the sudden uptick in laundry/cleaning-related questions, but I’m gonna roll with them because I dig it. It’s like you guys think I’m clean, or something! That’s fabulous! Though now I can never have you over for a dinner party because THEN YOU WILL KNOW THE TRUTH. I live in a hovel made of Lego-sized dust bunnies and rogue superhero underpants.  (Editor: this answer was actually from quite a while ago and was buried in in our database in error.  Sincere apologies.)

But I do have experience with what you speak of, as this exact scenario has happened with every last one of my kids. Beloved stuffed toy gets caught in the leaking diaper line of fire (or worse — poop blowout or vomit or FREAKING HEAD LICE) and needs something more than the tag’s instructions to “spot wash only” can handle.

The reality is that most stuffed toys will survive the occasional go in the washing machine just fine. (I agree with you about Frebreezing them. It doesn’t full deodorize — probably because the urine odor is deep in the stuffing — and tends to leave a chemical/fake/unfamiliar smell behind.) Here’s what I’ve done many, many times, and I haven’t lost a toy yet.

1) Check the toy over carefully first.

Look for any loose or open seams and repair anything you find with needle and thread. Make sure things like eyeballs and other non-removable embellishments seem secure. If the toy is musical or talks, check to see if the battery pack and speaker can be removed completely. (OBVIOUS DISCLAIMER IS OBVIOUS: Do not put musical/talking/light-up toys in the washing machine if you cannot fully remove the electronic guts. But sometimes you can, so it’s worth checking.)

2) Put the toy in a lingerie bag or pillowcase.

Maybe two, if there’s room, but don’t pack it too full.

3) Wash on cold, gentle cycle. Low or no spin.

For odor problems, I usually skip the detergent and use baking soda only, or use my cloth diaper detergent (Charlie’s Soap). Obviously for poop or vomit you’re gonna need to spot-treat with Shout or something first and then wash with actual detergent.

4) Dry carefully.

DRYING is actually the trickiest part, because you want the stuffing to dry completely and avoid mildew. Drying in the sun is GREAT for getting rid of urine odor/stains, but it’s admittedly the wrong time of year for that. (Unless you live somewhere wonderfully warm and consistently sunny. If so, let the toy dry in the sun and FEEL THE HEAT OF MY JEALOUS RAGE.)

I basically always tumble dry. Keep the toys in the bag or pillowcase and dry on low/delicate. It usually takes me a couple cycles until I’m satisfied that it’s fully dry.

5) Special situations.

For toys that are really old, worn or fragile (beyond anything you think you can repair/reinforce yourself), you could try talking to a good dry cleaning place and see what they recommend…or just try handwashing it. Fill up a sink, add baking soda, let it soak for awhile. Then rinse and rinse and rinse until the water runs clear. Air dry only — maybe help it along with your hair dryer.

If the unthinkable happens and you do inadvertently destroy or damage a beloved toy (that can’t be easily re-purchased or tracked down online), get to Google and look up “teddy bear hospital” and see if there’s one in your area. Most will also accept and handle repairs via mail, as well, and provide online estimates. (And “rush” options, if you’ve got a kid who will basically refuse to sleep until his or her beloved Binky Boo Boo Dog is back safe and sound.) Again, it’s NEVER come to that for me, and all of my kids’ toys have been through the HE washer multiple times at this point.

Unrelated side story, for encouraging similar confessions in the comments: We did leave one of my middle son Ezra’s Taggie blankets behind at a hotel once, and he seemed okay with it. So I — gulp — didn’t call the hotel’s lost and found. (To be fair, he had two identical blankets already — I bought a back-up once it was clear how attached he was to it; he promptly found the back-up and needed BOTH of them to sleep from that moment on. He also had a matching Taggies ball that he would wrap the blankets around and cuddle up with. Kid was not lacking in Taggies lovies, is my point.) Anyway, we interpreted his easy acceptance of the loss as a sign that he was getting ready to separate from his blankies and let it be.

Many, many months later, I went into his room to check on him and found him quietly sobbing into his single blankie and ball and talking about the blankie we left at the hotel and how much he missed it, and how he didn’t understand why the hotel wouldn’t give it back to him.


The hotel no longer had any blankies meeting my description in the lost and found, and SURPRISE, the blanket’s fabric had been more or less discontinued and I couldn’t find a similar one anywhere, and showing Ezra alternative patterns/colors only made him even sadder.

Anyway, that’s how my preschooler (at the time) ended up with a $45 discontinued Taggies blanket I bought on eBay. Sigh. Luckily it’s machine washable?

Photo source: Depositphotos/saphira


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About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • Lily

    February 28, 2017 at 6:31 pm

    My 5yo girl has a beloved penguin stufftie. I used to throw it in the washer (cold, gentle cycle) inside a stuffed-animal-laundry bag once a year. Now poor Penguin’s eyes are terribly scratched up (even black nail polish won’t fix it) and she’s worn down a lot faster than if I hadn’t put her in. Now I only spot clean her all over and occasionally hand wash her as needed. Still, Amy always has great advice, so try the machine…. maybe we just have a really fragile lovey over here! Good luck!

  • Kim C-S

    February 28, 2017 at 9:01 pm

    My potty training 3 year old has hit his beloved, slightly fragile panda stuffy a couple of times. A small stuffie can easily be washed in the sink and dried under a fan and then finished wit the hair dryer. I used lingerie soap and it worked fine. He has also been accidentally washed in the day care laundry and I’m certain it wasn’t a gentle cycle. He came through fine.

  • Mary Ann

    February 28, 2017 at 9:11 pm

    I will pour white vinegar over basically any toy. Just really saturate it and hang to dry. Gets rid of the smell, won’t mildew, bonus sanitation. So far everything that’s come into contact with any kind of horror has come through the “set in the sink, saturate with vinegar” method none the worse. It’s great for stink, particularly.

  • Kelsey

    March 1, 2017 at 12:04 am

    I had (and still totally have, NO SHAME) a stuffed dog and my baby blanket that I’ve had since infancy, which are WORN. DOWN. like you wouldn’t believe. Once my dog started to get pretty worn, on the occasion he got super nasty (I dragged him EVERYWHERE until I was about 11 and even still in my 20s I sleep with him every night, sorry husband) we hand washed him in the sink with a tiny bit of detergent, gently rang him out like a fragile towel, and put him in the dryer on the no-spin cycle on the shoe-shelf that came with the dryer, so it was a lot quicker than air-drying or a hair dryer. Always came out as good as new, except super old and threadbare and fragile.

  • biteycat

    March 2, 2017 at 3:08 pm

    Hydrogen peroxide and baking soda often kills anything and is usually fabric safe. Try a small test swatch. Also, Oxyclean (name brand not needed) works wonders. JfYI, we made sure our kiddos lovey cane from ikea because they’re super cheap and and all machine washable and dryer safe. And as crazy as it sounds, going over toys with a baby hairbrush and comb (gently) after washing can help them look almost new.

  • Lisa R

    March 3, 2017 at 3:56 pm

    What worked impressively well for our puke smell problem ( 😛 ) was doing the ol’ spot rinse, and then putting it in a garbage back with baking soda. We shook it all around and left it for a few days. All better!