Advanced Hair Care ~

   Shampooing, Conditioning, Steaming and Styling

   Co-authored by Joy


About Just Magic
Meet the Dolls
Pictures and Stories
Message Boards
Contact the Webmaster   


You've gone through the steps of detangling and brushing out your doll's hair from Hair Care 101 but you're still not happy with how her hair looks.
bulletIs it dull? It's probably dirty and needs to be shampooed.
bulletIs it dry? It needs some deep conditioning with a Downy dunk.
bulletIs it frizzy? Try steaming it.
bulletDoes it still look messy after all this? It needs to be trimmed and styled.

Felicity is looking pretty good after basic brushing and detangling, but her hair is still a bit dry and frizzy

Even dolls who don't get played with much can get dirty or damaged hair; in fact, even more so if they aren't behind glass and they never get the dust brushed out. If you have a doll who is going to be standing on a shelf a lot, periodically shake her hair out, brush it gently and even use compressed air (available in spray cans from office supply stores) to blow off dust. Also, don't leave dolls in a sunny place, like in front of your bedroom window. The ultraviolet rays are going to make the hair dry and brittle and can even change the color. I once owned an American Girl Kirsten with very pink hair -- she had spent too much time modeling dresses in a storefront window. (Those ultraviolet rays are going to fade her clothing too.)

For shampooing and conditioning, you might want to protect your cloth-body doll by tying her body in a plastic grocery bag so you don't get her body wet. This will also keep her neck strings (if she has neck strings) out of the way. You can also take her head off which is an easy operation if it doesn't weird you out! (See the detailed pictures in the Restringing article.) If your doll has sleep eyes, you can tape cotton balls over her eyes with non-marking masking tape (like you use when painting). You don't need to do this -- just be very careful to keep the water away from your doll's body and especially sleep eyes. If you ever do get water in her eye sockets, leave her lying face down for a few days in a well ventilated place to let them drain and dry out. You don't want the sleep mechanism to rust or her eyes will stick. Try not to get your doll's "scalp" too wet -- if your doll is wigged it might loosen the glue holding the wig cap on, and if it is rooted you might get the inside of the head damp.

Note: the instructions below assume your doll has synthetic hair. If your doll has human hair, mohair or other natural fibers, these techniques may not be appropriate.

How to Shampoo a Doll's Hair

Click on a thumbnail to see a larger version of the picture.

1. Fill a large bowl with cool water and put it in your sink. Don't use warm water, because If your doll's hair is wigged, warm water could loosen the glue on the wig cap and make your doll's wig come off. Warm water will also relax curls.

Add a capful of synthetic wig shampoo and blend in. You can buy people wig shampoo (like Revlon brand) at large beauty supply stores (like Sally's). Or you can buy special doll wig shampoo from Twin Pines. There's not much difference between people wigs and quality doll wigs, so it's up to you. If you don't have wig shampoo, you can use a very mild shampoo like baby shampoo, a mild dish soap like Dawn or even Woolite. If the wig has any odors, add a teaspoon or two of baking soda to your bowl, and blend it in.

Gently swish the hair in the water for about 30 seconds to a minute until the hair is saturated. Tilt her around and use your hand to get the water all the way to her hair roots.
4. Leave as much of the hair as possible in the bowl and let it soak for about 15 minutes
5. Empty the bowl and rinse the hair with cool water. A kitchen sink with a pull-out spray nozzle makes this easier. Be careful of those eyes!
6. Gently squeeze excess water out of wig with your hands. Do not rub or twist.
7. If all you're going to do is shampoo, then spread the hair out on a thirsty towel and leave in a ventilated area to dry. Otherwise, go on to the conditioning step.
8. You can brush the hair out gently while it's damp. (In fact, you should always make the hair damp when you brush it.) Don't try to brush it if it's super wet -- it'll be harder to get the brush through -- wait until it dries a little. Make sure you brush the hair correctly. If you're going to Downy Dunk anyway (see the next section), you might as well wait since the fabric softener will make it much easier to brush.


After you've washed the hair, try conditioning it by soaking it in fabric softener: this is known as "the Downy dunk".

How to Condition a Doll's Hair with a "Downy Dunk"

Click on a thumbnail to get a larger picture.


Find a large, shallow container like a casserole dish and fill it with an inch or so of Downy or any other brand of fabric softener. Buy the unscented, kind (white bottle for Downy) unless you have a doll with cigarette smell in her hair and you might want the scent. Buy the non-concentrated kind unless you can't find it, in which case you can dilute the concentrated with water.

2. Lay your doll down next to the dish and place her hair in the fabric softener. It helps if you put your doll on a prop or something so that she is at a better angle to get as much of the hair in the liquid as possible.
3. Ladle some of the fabric softener over her hair and try to saturate every strand.
4. Let her soak for an hour or more.
5. Occasionally ladle more fabric softener over the hair that isn't submerged.
6. Proceed with rinsing and drying as from Step 5 in the shampooing instructions. When you're done, pour the fabric softener back into the bottle with a funnel and re-use it if you're just using it for doll hair restoration.

If your doll's hair is very damaged, the biggest benefit you're going to see is from steaming.

How to Steam a Doll's Hair to Tame the Frizzies

Click on a thumbnail for a larger version of the picture.

1. It's very important to obtain a steamer that is all plastic. Do a Google search for "Steam Quick" for a good one. "Wonder Steamer" is another. They retail for $20 or so but you can often find it for under $10. (Have you seen those silly infomercials on T.V.?) Never use a steamer with metal parts! You'll end up making the frizzies worse, not better.

The directions say to add salt to the water. You'll need to do this or your steamer won't produce enough steam. I haven't noticed any salt deposits on the hair as a result.


Put the steamer right up close and run it along the hair. You can use a wig brush to pull the strands tight as you steam them if you want.

Lay the doll on her front and brush all her hair up straight over her head so you can steam the underside too.

Pay special attention to the ends of the hair which are often the frizziest.

Felicity looking lovely after her treatment

Note that the benefits of a Downy dunk and steaming seem to be fairly temporary. Be prepared to repeat the process every once in a while. You can add even more shine now if your doll needs it with a dab of baby oil or a spritz of Son of a Gun brushed through the hair. This Felicity obviously doesn't need it!

Doll's Hair Styling Tips

Now that your doll's hair is as nice as it is going to get (without rewigging), you can have fun styling it. Here are a few tips:

bulletIf you have an American Girl doll and you would like to return her hair to it's original style, JuliaAM and Emily have scanned and posted the pamphlets from Pleasant Company showing how to accomplish this.
bullet The washing and conditioning, and particularly the steaming may have relaxed the curl in your doll's hair. You can use the curlers that come with many doll hair curling kits (like American Girl's) if you want small curls or people-sized ones if you want big curls or waves. Dampen the hair before rolling it into curlers. If you want loose curls just let the hair dry on the curlers. If you want tight curls, pour hot water over the curlers and let it air dry. (You can get the right temperature if you bring the water to a boil and then let it sit for five minutes.) This is known as a hot water perm. You can use the steamer on the curled hair if you an intermediate amount of curl.
bulletSimilarly, you can straighten your doll's curly hair by dipping it in hot water. Blot the water out until it's just damp and then brush it out. You can repeat with the hot water until it is as straight as you'd like. This method can also be used to tame a doll's bangs if they don't lay down nicely: pour very hot water over them and then put a nylon stocking (or something similar) over her head to flatten them out. Let them dry for a few days before taking the stocking off.
bullet Pin curls (like AG Felicity's and Elizabeth's) can be restored if you're patient. Use a toothpick to tease out the short hairs of the pin curls. De-frizz them if you need to with steam or hot water. While they're damp, use a soda straw or pencil as a curler to curl the hair, slip it off the curler and then secure it with a bobby pin.
bulletAfter you're all done brushing, cleaning, conditioning and styling the hair, don't be hesitant about using sharp scissors to trim it. If you've gone to an American Girl Place and watched the professional stylists, you've seen them doing this. Hair gets pulled down during brushing and the ends will start to look ragged and uneven. And if a Downey dunk and steaming didn't cure your doll's split ends, a little trim might make her look much better. Don't cut your doll's hair with kids around! You never want to send them the message that it's an OK thing to do. Note that you don't need to lop off the ends of braids so they're completely blunt, like the manufacturer does. (How many real little girls have you seen with ends of braids that look like tassels?)  You can carefully modify your doll's hair as much as you like, she's your doll! Are her bangs in her eyes? Trim them! Do you think she'd look better with a shoulder-length do? Cut it! Just think long and hard about whether you will like her better that way because it's not going to grow back. (Of course, there's always rewigging.)

If you got here from the Doll Restoration Wizard, click the button below to go on to the next step.

Next >


Copyright 2004 Maria Greene All Rights Reserved

Home • About Just Magic • Meet the Dolls • Articles • Pictures and Stories • Message Boards • Links • Contact the Webmaster

This page was last updated 08/10/06