Either you pulled your own dolls out of storage, or you bought some second-hand dolls, and YIKES. Barbie’s hair is a complete rat’s nest. What do you do? Do NOT just attack it with a Barbie brush! The better option is to get that hair looking good again with a simple wash. Here’s how to wash barbie hair easily.
Step 1: Gather your supplies.
You will need baby shampoo, a detangler, conditioner (optional), and a METAL tine brush that has never been used on people hair. I also recommend grabbing an old decommissioned toothbrush, but that’s not for the hair. It might also be handy to have blunt tweezers on hand. If your dolls are really crudy (second-hand thrifted dolls!) then I’d also recommend having dish soap. These are the products I’m using, if you’d like to save yourself some research.
A Note on Brushes:
Let me take a minute to discuss brushes. It is very important to have the right brush. You can’t use a hair brush that has EVER been used on people’s hair because we have oils in our hair that are NOT GOOD for doll hair. The oil that our scalps make is vital to keeping our own hair silky smooth, but very detrimental to doll hair as it attracts dirt and makes the hair clump. Washing a hairbrush won’t be enough either. The oils have sunk into the space where the bristles are attached. You need a dedicated brush for dolls. It’s easiest just to buy a new one if you don’t already have a doll brush.
Next, check to make sure it has entirely metal tines. Plastic tines or plastic tine tips cause static in doll hair which will make styling it a nightmare. The handle can be plastic, but the tines need to be metal only. Next, you don’t want the tines to be TOO close together, because it will make detangling much harder than it needs to be. Save the closely spaced tines for the styling comb. Lastly, I find a small brush is easier to work with on dolls than a large brush, but that’s just personal preference.
I can’t stress it enough. This particular set comes with 2 brushes, and is very inexpensive. If you only buy one thing for this project, I’d recommend the brush over all the others. A good detangler would be my second pick, but I’m not die-hard in love with the brand I am using. Seriously, THIS BRUSH though. Dang. Worth it. Please do yourself a favor.
Step 2: Prep your dolls and your work area.
Undress your dolls and remove any existing hair accessories. Sometimes the plastic hair bands deteriorate on their own, so make sure you pick out all the pieces. Sometimes they have plastic crowns/tiaras/sunglasses sewn into their heads and it’s really easiest to just snip the thread holding it in place. Having nothing in the hair to start with helps when we go to wash barbie hair.
Clear a space near a sink. You’ll want a bit of counterspace to let the dolls drip dry on. Rinse out the sink and find the drain stopper. Then fill the sink with warm/hot water. It should be warm enough that you can keep your hands in it without them burning. We’ll need the hot water here in a minute. Keep the tap going if you don’t have instant hot water (the water in my apartment can take up to 3 minutes to get hot!).
Step 3: Wash the doll.
Put a bit of the dish soap or baby shampoo into the water in the sink and make a nice bubble bath for Barbie. Then put another dollop on the old toothbrush/wash cloth, and use this to wash her face and her body. Make sure to get under arms and legs and the back of her head. The face is usually what gets the dirtiest, but don’t neglect the rest of her since you’ve gone to this much trouble. Keep putting the doll (and her neck especially) under the running hot water every so often as you wash her.
Step 4: CAREFULLY pop her head off.
This is the scariest part. Hold the doll’s neck joint under the running hot water. We need the plastic to soften up. After about 30 seconds to a minute, carefully try to pull her head off. In one hand hold her neck from the front and back. There is a seam on either side of the neck and we DON’T want to stress it more than we have to. Hold it shut! Turn the doll’s head to the side, and try to slip the back of her head off first. You can use the blunt tweezers here to help ease the head off the neck prongs. If the hard plastic neck seems to be stressing or cracking, STOP. Put the doll back under the hot water and change your hand position and the direction you are pulling from.
Here is a YouTube video I found that shows the process well. The clip is from 2015, and the production quality is not the best, but you can speed up the video, and nothing happens until 0:50, so you can scrub ahead to there (puns!).
Side note about head detachment:
You don’t actually NEED to remove the head to wash barbie hair, but removing it at this time is a very convenient point to do so if you need to reroot her hair later, or if the doll you are washing has joints. Dolls with metal joints need to be dried THOROUGHLY so their joints don’t rust. One of the dolls I’m washing here doesn’t have metal joints and she still has a nice thick head of hair, so you can see I’ve left her head on. I’m taking a chance on her body being fully dry, but since the water can only enter her body at her neck rather than at all the other joints like with the other dolls, I was just careful when washing her.
Step 5: Rinse the body and hang upside down to dry.
Set the head aside and rinse all the soap off the body. Position the doll in such a way that all the limbs will drain out the neck hole. You do NOT want mold growing in your doll, so we have to make sure that she is completely dry before we put her back into circulation. I’ve set some of them leaning up against the backspace of the wall, but taller jointed dolls can actually be hung from your shower rod! However you do it, make sure all the limbs will drain. Do not forget about the arms and have them down to support the handstand. Some arms are hollow and this would be bad.
Step 6: Wash barbie hair with shampoo.
This is the step you’ve been waiting for, right? Squirt some baby shampoo right into her hair and start massaging it. Get the suds going nicely here. Rinse her hair and repeat. I find that to wash barbie hair a second time is usually a good idea. You’ve already gone to all this trouble, why not be sure it’s good and clean? If you are doing multiple dolls at the same time, I usually let one sit with suds in her hair while working with the next one. This gives the soap some time to soak into the deepest part of the rat’s nest and really get stuff clean.
Step 7: Rinse and add detangler.
Time to rinse out all the soap. Once all the suds are gone and her hair isn’t bubbly anymore, it’s time to detangle. The detangler I use is a spray bottle and I HEAVILY spritz each doll’s hair with it. Like 10 to 20 pumps per doll. I ain’t going light on them. It’s WAY cheaper and easier to buy more detangler than it is to buy more doll hair and reroot it (but that will be our next tutorial in our series!). Let the detangler sit in the hair a bit. Again, if you are doing more than one doll, this works really well as an assembly line.
Step 8: Brush the hair.
This is probably the most satisfying step in the process. Working from the bottom, carefully start brushing the ends of the hair. When you’ve gotten just the bottom pretty good, flip the head over and brush out the underneath side of just the bottom. Add more detangler as needed. Then slowly start to work a bit higher up the hair. You should NOT be pulling much hair out. If you are, add more detangler and go slower and work in smaller sections.
You can section off parts of the hair if it’s already naturally divided. This should help pull less hair out. Curly hair will give you the most difficulty because the curls will fight the brushing process, but keep at it. You’ll end up with a frizzy but clean and tangle free head of hair. We can fix that with styling (the third tutorial in this series), so don’t worry. When the brush runs through everywhere perfectly with no more snarls, you are done.
Step 9: Rinse (and condition) and set to dry.
I personally don’t like to leave any product in my doll’s hair, even though the detangler says it is ‘Leave In’. I rinse out the hair and continue brushing it under the running water. This just seems like a nice way to finish. All the hair is smooth and straight. If you want to condition her hair now, carefully squeeze the water from her hair and put a bit of conditioner on your fingers and run the product down her hair, staying away from the scalp. Try to focus mostly on the frizzy ends, or the frizzy bangs.
Leave the product in for as long as you like, but not long enough that the hair dries. Rinse and brush the hair again and set the head to dry. I like to set the doll’s head on top of her hair, which helps to force the hair into a more naturally flat-laying position, but if you are planning a high ponytail, it might make more sense to have her hair drying in a flipped up position.
Step 10: Periodically brush the hair as it dries.
I leave my dolls to dry for a day or so, and every so often I come by and brush the hair. I don’t want it drying in weird clumps, but you must be careful that you don’t pull the hair too hard. Brushing dry hair is the easiest way to damage hair, so people recommend having small spray bottles on hand for styling. Just be gentle and use common sense. If it’s pulling, it needs water or detangler, and always start with the bottom section. Your newly washed hair should not have any tangles though, so it should be pretty safe. Still, go slowly and carefully!
Congrats, you now know how to wash barbie hair! If you only needed to wash, detangle, and brush the doll’s hair, you can go ahead and pop her head back on (squeeze and push), but if she had lost a significant amount of hair previously, or during this process, stick around for the next tutorial where we discuss adding doll hair or ‘rerooting’.
I wish I knew this when i was a kid. I saw somewhere else that fabric softener helps to untangle the hair as well.
Fabric softener can work, but it can also damage or discolor some types of hair, so that’s why I didn’t recommend it. Thanks!
OMG! I never know all these tricks when I was young…and alas, I broke my Barbie’s head (displacement) from the neck back then! And when I tried to put it back on, it’s totally ‘off’ (the neck can no longer hold well onto the head-meaning neck ratio somehow shortened-and unable to make heads turn anymore…unintended pun here!). This has caused a major heartache to me during my childhood..*sobs*
Anyways, thanks for these tips. Reckon more children can benefit from your posting here as maybe mamas, sisters etc who chance upon your self-help & care tips here can properly manage or teach them how to take care of their dolls. : )