A close-up shot of a child's beloved teddy bear, its worn fur and stitched seams capturing years of love and grime, prompting the question: "How often should you wash stuffed animals?"

Stuffed animals provide comfort and joy to both children and adults alike. However, with frequent handling and exposure to the environment, they can accumulate dirt, germs, and allergens over time. As a stuffed animal owner, you likely wonder – how often should you toss your plush pals into the washing machine?

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: the recommended frequency for washing most stuffed animals is every 1-2 months or as soon as they look visibly dirty. However, factors like your climate, storage conditions, and your stuffed animal materials play a role in ideal wash frequency.

How Dirty Do Stuffed Animals Get?

Stuffed animals might seem like harmless fun for kids, but they can harbor surprising amounts of dirt and germs. To keep your family healthy, it’s important to understand how grungy these toys can get and clean them regularly.

Dust Accumulation

Even if stuffed animals just sit on a shelf, they still collect dust. Dust contains tiny particles of dirt, textile fibers, pet dander, dead skin cells, pollen, and more. When particles settle into the fibers and fabrics of a stuffed animal, dust bunnies start to accumulate.

One study found that even when a stuffed animal wasn’t touched for 30 days, the amount of accumulated dust was staggering – over 1/10th of the toy’s total weight! Just imagine how dusty a beloved stuffed animal gets when played with regularly.

Bodily Secretions

Kids love to drag around, cuddle, and even drool on their stuffed animals. All that contact transfers things like saliva, mucus, sweat, and skin oil onto the toys. Food residue and dribbles of milk or juice also end up on them.

These bodily secretions provide an ideal home for microbes to multiply. A study cultured bacteria from stuffed animals after just a week of use and found a wide variety of organisms.

Bacteria and Allergens

In addition to bodily secretions, stuffed animals readily pick up environmental bacteria, mold, mildew, and allergens like pollen and pet dander. Bacteria clings to the moist saliva and mucus transferred onto toys, allowing it to thrive and double in number every 20 minutes!

Plus, anywhere from 10-20% of bacteria on stuffed animals may be pathogenic (disease causing). And allergens in fabrics can trigger reactions in sensitive kids. So while it might seem harmless for a child to carry their favorite toy everywhere, it can make the toy a bacteria and allergen magnet!

Ideal Wash Frequency Based on Stuffed Animal Materials

Plush Stuffed Animals

Washing plush stuffed animals like teddy bears or other furry friends once a month is typically recommended. Plush fabrics like faux fur or velour tend to attract dust, dirt, and even food or drool if young kids are playing with them. Frequent washing keeps them fresh and safe for continual handling.

The ASPCA suggests washing plush stuffed animals in the washing machine once monthly using a gentle cycle and cold water. Make sure to use a small amount of gentle laundry detergent. Take care to thoroughly rinse out all soap then air dry the stuffed animals to keep the fabrics fluffy and soft.

Plastic Stuffed Animals

For plastic stuffed animals, general guidance is to wash them by hand on a monthly basis using warm water and gentle soap. Check the toy’s tag to see if machine washing is allowed if hand washing seems too tedious.

Washing plastic stuffed animals monthly removes accumulated dirt, sweat, saliva, and other grime. Avoid using harsh chemical cleaners which could damage the plastic material. Be sure to completely rinse off all suds and allow toys to fully air dry before letting a child handle them again.

Wood or Metal Stuffed Animals

For stuffed animals constructed using wood, metal or ceramic parts, frequent washing is not advised. The ASPCA notes that spot cleaning as needed is best for this type of stuffed animal.

Use a disposable disinfectant wipe to gently rub any visibly soiled areas on wooden or ceramic stuffed animals when necessary. Check manufacturer guidelines prior to using any cleaning product on specialty materials other than fabric.

Be very careful if metal pieces have any rust or sharp points which could harm a child. It may be best to only display, not play with, metal stuffed animals to prevent injuries.

Stuffed Animal Material Ideal Wash Frequency
Plush Fabrics Machine wash monthly
Plastic Hand wash monthly
Wood/Metal/Ceramic Spot clean as needed

Be sure to regularly wash kids’ stuffed animals that get dragged everywhere and handled a lot! Check out the ASPCA’s stuffed animal cleaning tips for more great advice.

Washing Tips for Stuffed Animals

Read Care Tags

The most important tip when washing stuffed animals is to always check the care tag. This will tell you if the stuffed animal is machine washable or needs special cleaning instructions. Many modern stuffed animals are made from durable fabrics that can withstand regular machine washing.

However, vintage or collectible stuffed animals may need hand washing. Ignoring care tags can cause damage like fading colors, ripped seams, or stuffing clumps.

Hand Wash or Machine Wash

If the care tag says “machine washable,” you can clean the stuffed animal in the washing machine using a gentle cycle with cold water. It’s best to place it inside a wash bag first to protect the fabric and prevent the stuffing from escaping.

Allow it to air dry completely before giving it back to your child.

For stuffed animals labeled “hand wash only,” mix a small amount of mild laundry detergent with cool water in a basin. Gently scrub the toy with a soft brush to lift dirt and bacteria from the fabric. Rinse thoroughly then gently squeeze out excess water.

Lay flat on top of a towel and reshape the stuffed animal as it dries.

Drying Stuffed Animals

It’s important not to put stuffed animals in the dryer, even if the care tag says machine washable. The heat can damage the fabrics, distort the shape, or even cause the stuffing to melt or catch fire! Always allow machine-washed stuffed animals to air dry completely before use.

Make sure to shake out soaked stuffed animals gently and reshape them as they dry. You can speed up drying time by placing them in sunlight or in front of a circulating fan. Just don’t apply direct heat.

Once totally dry, use a pet brush or soft-bristled hand brush to restore any matted fur or feathers to fluffiness again.

By following care instructions, washing stuffed animals regularly in the washing machine or by hand, and letting them air dry, you’ll keep cherished plush pals clean and huggable for years to come!

Storing Stuffed Animals Between Washes

Keep Them in Clean Spaces

When it comes time to store your stuffed animals between washes, be sure to keep them in clean spaces to prevent dust and dirt buildup. Some good storage spot options include inside closet shelves, bins, or storage containers.

You can place stuffed animals inside a storage bin or clear plastic sealed container to keep dust and dirt at bay.

If storing stuffed animals out in the open, aim to put them somewhere high up, such as on a closet shelf. This prevents them from collecting as much dust and pet hair that may gather on lower surfaces.

Wherever you store them, be diligent about weekly dusting around stuffed animals to clear allergens and keep their environment fresh.

Use Protective Dust Covers

For extra protection against dust, allergens, and dirt, use a dust cover over groups of stuffed animals when storing them. Dust covers act like mini garment bags, protecting what’s inside from airborne particles that can settle on surfaces over time.

Look for breathable cotton dust covers so air can still circulate around stuffed animals. Some covers feature clear vinyl windows so you can peer inside and see your plush pals without fully removing the cover.

This comes in handy if kids want to play with specific stuffed animals between wash cycles!

Freeze Them

If you’re concerned about stuffed animals harboring dust mites, bacteria, or other microscopic organisms that thrive at room temperature, freezing plush toys can offer added protection.

Simply place stuffed animals inside sealable plastic bags and squeeze out excess air. Pop them in the freezer for 24-48 hours, which can kill most bugs, mites, and microbes that might be lurking inside. Once frozen, return stuffed animals to regular cool, clean storage spaces.

Freezing may seem extreme but can provide useful peace of mind between wash cycles. Just be sure stuffed animals are completely dry first so no moisturegets locked into the fibers when frozen.

When to Wash Stuffed Animals More Frequently

Regular Handlers with Colds or Illness

When a child or regular stuffed animal handler is sick with a cough, cold, or other illness, it’s best to wash the stuffed animals more often during this time. Viruses and bacteria can live on surfaces for hours or days, and frequently handling stuffed animals can easily transfer illness-causing germs to the soft toys😷.

Washing every 2-3 days removes a significant portion of microbes and greatly reduces the chance of reinfection or spreading the illness to others.

The CDC recommends washing surfaces touched often, including stuffed animals, regularly when someone is sick in the home🏠. Remember to use sanitize mode on the washing machine and air dry or put stuffed animals in the dryer on low or no heat to kill remaining germs without damaging the toys.

With some extra attention while under the weather, you can keep illness contained and stuffed pals clean!

Daycares and Doctor’s Offices

Stuffed animals at daycares, pediatrician offices, and other child-focused facilities tend to need washing more often than usual due to frequent handling by many children. Kids may sneeze, cough, or drool directly onto toys or transmit germs through touch 🤧😥.

Washing every 1-2 weeks reduces the spread of illness in places with high toy turnover.

Because of the increased likelihood of spreading infection, many of these facilities already have standard protocols for toy washing and disinfection in place. However, if you bring personal stuffed animals to appointments or for your child’s comfort at daycare, be sure to gently machine wash them yourself more frequently during cold season😀.

Excessively Hot & Humid Climates

Warm, humid environments allow microbes to thrive more than other climates🌡️☀️🌧️. Stuffed animals and their handlers in tropical, subtropical or temperate climates may deal with mold, fungi, and bacterial growth more often.

In hot and humid parts of the world, washing stuffed animals can be needed every 1-2 weeks even with minimal use.

If stuffed animals are kept in air conditioning or climate control, this extends the length between necessary washes. Storing stuffed animals in mesh bags or bins when not in use prevents dust and moisture exposure.

Proper drying after washing also inhibits microbial growth long-term in warm, damp areas of the world.


While most stuffed animals only need washing every 1-2 months, being aware of visible dirt buildup and other factors can cue you in to when more frequent laundering is ideal. By following fabric-specific care instructions and proper wash techniques, you can safely keep your stuffed pals fresh and clean for years of cuddles to come.

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