Thursday, January 9, 2014

Natural Fiberfill Comparisons - Part Three: Washability

Eight little dolls were filled with natural fiberfill: bamboo rayon, corn PLA, organic cotton, eucalyptus tercel, hemp, kapok, uncarded wool tops, and carded wool fleece. In my last post, I outlined what each one was like to use and what the material looked and felt like. But how would these fare in the laundry room?

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.

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.

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.


  • 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.


  1. Thank you soooooo much for your experiment! I am attempting to make my first doll for my baby girl's 1st birthday. I am trying to make the doll as natural & organic as possible & was unsure how filling would hold up in the wash. This helps so much! Thank you again.

    1. You're so welcome and thanks for taking the time to read the test results! Hand washing or spot cleaning is always going to be the best option for a stuffed toy. We are so used to convenience, but sometimes we have to get real and simply learn to take care of things properly, even if that means taking a little more time.

      Please come back and share your experience. It will help other makers if you share what filling you used and how you care for it. If it works well in the washer/dryer, we're going to want to know your secret!

    2. kapok here in my country is not treated. kapok stains when washed, do you have suggestions?

    3. Queenie, do you mean when used as a filling, it stains the fabric? That would be very frsutrating to be sure. In that case, I wonder if it can be pre-washed in a sealed pillowcase and see if that first wash removes any natural color in the fibre.

      If that doesn't work, you may want to try another natural filling. If you are having a hard time finding something where you live, perhaps you have friends in countries where natural stuffing is more available, or order directly from a natural fibre company, and because it's lightweight, can be shipped to you for not too much money.

    4. Hi Allison! Thanks for responding. I went to EcoFilling's shop and found out you actually remove the seeds and the pods. In my country, we don't do that. And we don't have natural fibre companies. So I'll have to clean kapok myself. I can do it haha! I sell embroidered dolls and imagine my shock to see my finished doll having stains all over?!! I'm switching to natural fibres because of your blog post which I read many months ago. Thank you and More Power!

  2. This is wonderful! Great research, great experiment- thank you! I use Alpaca shavings from the necks and legs. I wanted something soft, organic, natural and sustainable. Plus, I fell in love with Alpaca's after hand feeding them in Peru. Not as soft for making sweaters and scarves, these "Alpaca Seconds" are great for stuffing toys. I clean and dry it at my house. It's a long process, drying it out.

    I stuff my organic toys with it and tell customers to spot clean the surface. Soaking it all the way through, would be difficult to dry out in the middle and probably cause mold. No body wants to hear this. I don't even like saying it. I realize that I am in the minority and line dry our family of four's laundry. We all have grown addicted to the convenience, no matter the cost to our health or environmental detriment and it's going to take some effort to get off all these bad habits.

    After reading your post, I've decided to leave a pull cord at the opening of my toys. If they really want to soak it, they can untie the cord, remove the stuffing from the animal, hand wash the body, let it air dry, re-stuff him and tie back the cording. That's my plan, until we come up with something better. Thanks so much for sharing. I'm at WyomingAlpaca's is where I get my seconds...they're also on Etsy.

    1. Angela, thank you SO much for your input. It IS a rather unpopular stand to take to ask people to do as mothers have done for centuries and simply hang toys in the sun to disinfect and dry.

      I like your idea about the pull cord. I used to make meditation cushions that had a zippered removable cover. Many dolls and toys are a whole outer shell so that could work really well.

      In Australia, EVERYONE has a clothesline in the yard. Most people don't use a dryer because power costs costs so much. One of our hosts showed me an electric bill at 57 cents per kwh and last year my stepmom in Kansas said she still paid 10 cents per kwh. No wonder women here hang their clothes.

      Thanks so much for sharing the link. I encourage readers to try out new stuffings and find a favorite or two.

      Honestly, my loyal readers, I switched to wool fleece originally because I loved the feel and look so much more than polyfill. I encourage you to run your hands through some other fiberfills. If you can't be enticed by "natural" and "ecofriendly" then be enticed by "sensual" and "delightful" and "delicious"! After all, you're giving a child a cuddly comforting toy. Why not look for the most delightfully cuddly filling that YOU enjoy holding and giving?

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.