Part One: Costs & Sources
Part Two: Ease of Use
I raised two kids who owned at least a dozen quality polyester fiberfill stuffed dolls that bunched and matted and got all clumpy and uneven after machine washing. So it's not true that plastic polyester fiberfill is the toy stuffing that dreams are made of.
Is the problem in the stuffing or in what we expect from products that were never intended to be soaked through and through, roughly agitated, and then overheated? Well, in my opinion, the toy is going to lose the washer/dryer battle in most cases regardless of what kind of toy stuffing is used.
But just for giggles, I threw all eight little dollies into the washing machine with stinky synthetic liquid laundry detergent (SSLLD). I don't use SSLLD. I use grated Ivory soap and washing soda mixed together. But since wool shouldn't be washed in either washing soda or borax and because you probably don't make your own homemade laundry powder, I used a little bit of my housemate's SSLLD.
The dolls were washed in cold water in a top loader with a central agitator on a short but normal cycle. I don't own a dryer so I took the washed dolls directly to a local laundromat to dry them. The dolls were dried for 30 minutes on high heat. I have compared the overall results of washability to the end result of washing and drying a polyester fiberfill stuffed doll.
Here's what happened:
I only had a large handful of this stuffing to work with. I filled the arms, legs, and head completely, but the body was super lightly stuffed. After washing and drying, it has just gone all wrong. It didn't dry completely and 10 hours later is sitting on the table still slightly damp. Overall - inadequate testing.
One day later, this doll is still wet. The hemp stuffing has shifted and bunched and if you squeeze the doll, it feels as though it has plasticine inside. And it has a moldy smell when wet or damp. Overall not recommended.
I think this stuff would be brilliant in a craft not likely to be thrown in the washer, like pincushions or doll furniture. It has a quality of being a good solid, old-fashioned stuffing. It would be a great product for a doll's faux horsehair filled sofa for example.
Corn PLA feels like bunches of very soft, fluffy steel wool right out of the bag. It's next to impossible to stuff the doll due to its slippery, oily nature. It's very difficult to work with. But it fills the toy really well and creates an almost seamless quality leaving very little puckering of the outer fabric shell. It washed and dried almost perfectly. The only problems seem to be that 1) the stuffing in the arms separated from the rest of the body so the arms are slack where they jut out from the body and 2) even when completely dry, the doll feels cold to the touch, much like linen fabric. It's cold! I'm not sure I want to give a child a cold toy to cuddle. Overall great washability - except for that armpits thing.
And remember that whole stinky synthetic liquid laundry detergent thing? This is the ONLY doll that smells of the detergent. The fragrance has clung to the corn like cat hair to a black skirt.
This washed and dried doll is brilliant! It retained its shape and looks great. The only drawback for some people might be its squishability because cotton is not a springy fiber. It's not hard as a rock or anything, just not as bouncy as what we normally think of when we use fiberfill. It's one of the two dolls whose stuffing didn't shift completely out of the neck and armpits. Overall great washability.
After washing and drying, this doll feels a bit slack in my hands. It has that cold quality, like the corn, even when dry though not nearly as frigid as the corn. If you squeeze the doll, the stuffing shifts inside. This was my favorite stuffing to use, but not my favorite results for washability. This doll came out closest to what happens when I have washed a polyester fiberfill doll. It goes slack due to bunching and shifting of the filling. Overall average washability.
This doll came out as lovely as the doll filled with cotton but the difference is in the texture of the fill. It's more bouncy and lighter than cotton. It has retained its shape and looks and feels wonderful. The stuffing shifted out of one of the armpits but was retained in the other which leads me to believe, it was how I stuffed the doll. Overall great washability.
WOOL (UNCARDED TOPS)
Surprise!! This stuff started out looking and feeling like dreadlocks, remember? This doll looks and feels better after washing and drying than it did before. It's as if washing and drying has melded all the wool fibers together. It's full and well-shaped and has a warm, squeezable quality and the stuffing stayed in the neck and armpits. Wool warms to the touch so it feels more alive and comforting than other stuffing. Frankly I'm shocked! Overall good washability.
WOOL (CARDED FLEECE)
While wool tops did beautifully, sadly, fleece does not wash and dry as well. It did much better than I expected though. Wool can be thrown in the washer and dryer, although it will lose much of its lanolin and it might shrink if you don't know what you're doing. These dolls were washed in cold after all which is 1) recommended for wool and 2) the only temperature we have hooked up to our washing machine. But it feels like it has indeed shrunk a bit within the doll shell. It's not terrible. It's not a doll I would throw away if that happened by accident. It has similar qualities to the eucalyptus and to my own polyester fiberfill results. It's just not the best result for automatic washing machines and dryers. Overall average washability.
FINAL RESULTS FOR WASHABILITY:
- Corn PLA, cotton, and kapok out-performed plastic fiberfill in washability.
- Wool tops came in next.
- Wool fleece and eucalyptus looked just like dolls stuffed with plastic fiberfill and washed: not so good but no worse.
SPOT CLEAN YOUR TOYS. That's my best advice. The dolls filled with fleece, cotton, kapok, eucalyptus, and corn looked great after stuffing. If they are spot cleaned, I would recommend all of those for look and feel of the finished doll.
But if you are going to throw them in the washer/dryer, corn, cotton, and kapok (and maybe even the wool tops) look and feel better than similarly cleaned polyester fiberfill toys.
Thanks so much for sticking with these posts. It's been great fun to play with new fibers and see how they perform against the toxic poop of the oil industry: plastic polyester fiberfill. And yes, I will keep saying it with that bias because that's what it is. Waiter: reality check, please!
I have to thank Amanda Lerum of Corsetra Designs for sending me a handful of the bamboo stuffing just for fun. It was really lovely, but unfortunately, I didn't have enough to really test it for washability.
And many many thanks to Melissa of EcoFilling for the samples of the different natural fills she sells. She doesn't normally sell those smaller quantities and took the time to sort out and send 100gm quantities for me to test. I hope you'll avail yourselves of her business. It's small and mom-run and provides products that can't be found anywhere else.
Stay tuned. And please share your results in the comments if you use a natural doll and toy stuffing. We'd love to hear about it.