Hill, Nicholas J
TREATING DOLL PROBLEMS WITH CARE
Question: want to clean an old doll dress that looks like velvet, but I am afraid it will be ruined if I wet clean it. How can I tell if a fabric is velvet and not flocked?
Answer: Flocked fabrics are made by blowing short fibers onto an adhesivebacked cloth. Flocked fabrics and velvet sometimes appear to be the same in that they are both pile fabrics. To determine the difference, hold the fabric with your forefinger in an unobtrusive place under the fabric and your thumb on top. Push up with your finger so as to make the fibers separate. With a tweezers pull on one fiber. If it comes off of the backing, the material is flocked. The backing used for flocked fabrics is usually an inexpensive muslin. Wet cleaning will most likely soften the glue holding the fibers, which will release the flocking.
There are different kinds of velvet. To identify each one we referred to Antique Children’s Fashions 1880 – 1900, a book by Hazel Ulseth & Helen Shannon. The authors identify the following seven different kinds of velvet: velveteen has a cotton backing and cotton pile; cotton-backed velvet has a cotton backing with silk pile; silkbacked velvet has a silk backing and silk pile; upholstery velvet has a wool, mohair, or linen backing; Lyons velvet has a cotton or silk back that is very close (closely woven) and firm; chiffon velvet is an all silk velvet woven so that the pile is in very narrow stripes, so fine that they are not noticeable unless examined closely; panne velvet has a cotton or silk backing with pile longer than that of ordinary velvet and is pressed to give a smooth shiny effect.
Velvet can be wet cleaned with PERK!(TM). However if you are not sure, both flocked fabrics and velvets can be cleaned without risking possible damage of soaking in water. Simply dampen a white, lint-free, unbleached cotton cloth, e.g., a cotton diaper, with the water-based cleaner solution and wipe the fabric in one direction. To rinse, repeat the process using plain water to dampen the cotton cloth.
Question: One of our members at doll club said that Plexiglas gives off a gas that destroys dolls. I have a doll cabinet that has Plexiglas doors. Should I have them replaced with glass?
Answer: Plexiglas is a tradename for acrylic sheet. The owner of the tradename is AtoHaas North America, Inc. Acrylics have gained wide acceptance in the plastics industry for their high optical clarity, exceptional weatherability, good surface hardness, and excellent chemical and environmental resistance. Plexiglas is an excellent choice for the front of a doll cabinet. The suggestion that a gas, much less a harmful one, is given off by this material simply has no technical merit.
Question: Can Energine(R) be used safely to clean doll clothing?
Answer: Energine is dry cleaning solvent. It is a chlorinated compound. The primary reason not to use this type of cleaning material on fabric that is to be preserved is that chlorine will be left on the fabric. Chlorine is corrosive to fabrics and can, in time, lead to fiber breakage. The chlorine on the fabric can also damage a doll wearing it.
There are other reasons not to use this type of cleaning material. Chlorinated solvents used in dry cleaning are classified by OSHA as hazardous chemicals. In addition to being unsafe for humans, some chlorinated dry cleaning chemicals are known to be ozone depleting materials. For that reason some states ban their incidental use by individuals. Similarly, professional dry cleaning establishments are strictly regulated by EPA.
All this means the answer to the question is no.
Question: How cool should I keep my doll room to prevent a mildew or fungus attack?
Answer: The primary requisite for microbial growth is moisture, not temperature. In a completely dry environment at any temperature these organisms cannot survive. On the other hand, we are all familiar with the discovery of fuzzy mystery food containers on the back shelf of the refrigerator. Certainly they will grow faster if moisture is present and the temperature is elevated, but moisture is still the critical factor.
To prevent an attack by bacteria, mold, or fungi the key is to keep the relative humidity below about fifty percent. Note though if the doll is composition, relative humidity below about thirty-five percent will result in a loss of moisture that will cause the material to shrink and crack.
Question: I read in another doll magazine that airborne dirt can cause microscopic abrasion of a doll surface. Aside from putting all the dolls in cabinets, how can they be displayed so this doesn’t happen? Answer: The notion of microscopic abrasion of a doll surface by airborne dirt is a real stretch of logic. In order for a particulate (airborne dirt) to be airborne it must be very small and light in weight or there must be a really strong and continuous air current. A dirt particle that is airborne in a normal household environment probably has all of the abrasive power of a down feather. If there is a really strong and continuous air current, it seems prudent to either stop the air current or move the doll(s).
Question: To remove mildew from the legs of a Barbie, I stood her in a glass of bleach and water. The legs are clean, the color didn’t change, and the mildew is gone. I read in one of your columns that chlorine should not be used on a doll. Since it works, what is the problem with using bleach?
Answer: Barbie’s legs are vinyl. The chlorine content of vinyl is on the order of fifty-seven percent. Bleach contains chlorine. Exposing a vinyl doll to an external chlorine source encourages an incremental loss of chlorine from the vinyl. Any loss of chlorine from the vinyl encourages the departure of more chlorine with accelerating ease over time. Once chlorine loss is initiated by an external source, the vinyl destroys itself. The process is called autocatalytic dehydrochlorination. This phenomenon is manifested by brown streaks that look like scorch marks. In the plastics industry this is known as the “zipper effect.” It doesn’t happen immediately; it is cumulative over the life of the doll.
A similar phenomenon would be to sit in the sunshine without a UV screen and be happy the next day because no skin cancer is evident. For most people and for vinyl dolls, the respective problems will come in time.
If you wish to prolong the life of the doll, all external sources of chlorine and strong solvents like acetone must be avoided.
Question: For the last two months I have been treating a Little Miss Revlon to remove a green metal earring stain. It is fading, but I really would like to find a way to speed up the process. What can I do?
Answer: It took many years for the stain to develop. But it will take a only a few months to remove the stain. Trying to achieve a significant reduction in the time required to remove the stain is like enrolling in a weight reduction program on Monday to lose twenty pounds because the pool opens next Friday.
With patient treatment, Little Miss Revlon will be beautiful in a relatively short time.
Question: I have an older action figure from the Thundercats line of the late 1980s. It has developed little brown pinhole-size freckles on the fleshtone parts of the arms, legs, and face. The body is completely unaffected. What is causing the spotting and how can I get rid of it?
Answer: The arms, legs, and face of the figure are made of a plastic that provides nourishment for fungi (most likely vinyl). The torso of many figures and dolls is made of plastics like polyethylene and polystyrene. These plastics will not support the growth of organisms so the body is unaffected.
There is an off chance that the specs are molded in debris from the manufacturing process, but it is more likely that the brown freckles are small fungal colonies. To remove the spots, wash the figure with a good liquid dish detergent like Dawn or with Formula 9-1-1. Any remaining brown stains from the roots of the fungi can be removed with Clearasil(R) or Oxy10(R). If these materials do not do the job, REMOVE-ZIT will.
To prevent a new outbreak, the humidity in the area of the figure should be kept below fifty percent.
Question: I just bought a doll collection that has been neglected for many years. I would like to clean these girls up and I need help in determining what kind of wig is on several of them. Can you comment in general about the different fibers used to make wigs?
Answer: First look in the various doll values and price guide books by authors like Polly and Pam Judd, Patricia Smith, and Jan Foulke. Oftentimes the type of wig is identified in the description of a particular doll. If the doll is known, it may be possible to find the information in other doll reference books. If the doll is unknown and there is no adequate reference available, you can burn a few strands of the fibers to identify them.
Natural fibers like human and animal hair (mohair and wool) will burn and, when burned, will give off a sulfur smell. (There was an excellent article on taming mohair by Peggy Millhouse on page 82 in the February 1998 issue of Doll Reader.) Human hair sometimes gives off a black smoke when burned.
Plant fibers like flax, cotton, and jute will burn but they will not give off the same foul odor as human or animal hair.
Synthetic fibers do not burn; they melt. Saran is a vinyl chloride material and is the most heat-stable synthetic fiber. This polymer will melt and char, but the melting plastic will not drip and the charred residue will not support a flame. Better said, holding a match to saran will cause it to char and melt, but as soon as the flame is removed, the burning stops. Because the chlorine content of vinyl chloride polymers is more than fifty percent, a characteristic chlorine smell is evident when burning saran.
Acrylic, modacrylic, and dynel (a modacrylic) also char and melt. The molten plastic will not drip and will not support a flame. There is almost no odor from burning this type of fiber.
Nylon will melt and the melting plastic will drip and then continue to burn after the flame source is removed. Water weakens nylon so combing a wet nylon wig results in fiber breakage.
The summary then is that human hair and mohair will burn and both will give off a sulfur smell. Saran melts and gives off a chlorine odor and it does not drip. Acrylics and modacrylics melt; they do not drip, and there is almost no odor. Nylon melts, drips, and continues to burn without a flame source. Polypropylene will melt and drip and the residue will continue to burn after the flame source is removed. However, this fiber is different from nylon in that it will not pick up water from the air and it has excellent wet strength. So combing wet polypropylene will not result in breakage.
Question: I wanted to sell a Barbie to a dealer and she said the doll looks mint. I told her she looks good because I cleaned her with acetone and then she said she wouldn’t buy a doll that was cleaned with acetone. What exactly is the problem with acetone if the doll is clean and looks great?
Answer: The dealer was protecting her reputation for integrity by not knowingly dealing with a doll that was abused. Using a strong solvent like acetone to clean a vinyl doll will indeed expose a new surface and it will also extract plasticizer from the plastic. Extracting plasticizer causes embrittlement of the plastic. Using a strong solvent to renew the surface of a vinyl doll will decrease the integrity of the plastic and shorten the life of the doll.
The information presented is true to the best knowledge of the author Reading and understanding product directions and the testing of any cleaning, repair, or other material is the responsibility of the user Questions are welcome. liu can write to the author in care ofDollReader, 6405 Flank Drive, Harrisburg, PA 17112.
Copyright Cowles Magazines, Inc. Aug 1998
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