Kirsten Doll Restoration

How to restore your American Girl doll.

Kirsten doll before and after

I decided to give this whole doll restoration thing a go. It was actually really fun and not difficult at all. I am on the lookout now for more dolls to fix up. You can restore your old doll too! I found this lovely Kirsten doll on Ebay. Both of her legs were loose, her skin was dirty and her hair was a frazzled, knotted mess! She was very well loved. I did some research before I got started to get an idea of what I needed to do. I started with the simplest step; cleaning the skin. To clean the doll’s vinyl body, I put 1 tbsp of baking soda in a small bowl and added water until it was paste-like. Then I took a white rag and scrubbed her legs, arms and face to remove the dirt. As per the guidelines on American Girl’s website for doll care, you should not get the eyes wet because they could rust. I used a cotton swab to clean around her eyes and in the grooves of her nose, lips and ears. After the scrubbing, I took a damp rag and removed any residue. This method worked out really well and I was surprised at just how dirty she was because there was an even layer of grime all over the face!

The right side of the doll’s face has been cleaned

Next up was tightening the limbs. I was a little nervous about removing the head from the body but it really was not difficult at all. Start by untying the strings at the doll’s neck if it is an older style doll. I used a yarn needle to pull out the knot because it was tied really tightly. Next, remove the head and all the stuffing. I watched several different videos on tightening limbs and most people I viewed used a hair tie to tighten the limbs. My doll just needed her legs tightened but you can tighten the arms the same way. Locate the joint for the limb that needs tightening from the inside. Pull the string up tightly and using the hair tie, wrap it around the space in between the doll joint and the clamp. Wrap it over and over again, holding the string away until you cannot wrap it around the string any more. Once the limbs are tightened, using the handle of a wooden spoon, I worked all the stuffing back into the doll, placed the head and retied the string in a double knot tightly. This hair tie method of tightening the limbs did improve the limb tightness a great deal. Her legs now stay in place when holding the doll horizontally.


Lastly, I needed to restore the doll’s hair. The hair was a bit of a mess. Once I got into brushing her, the hair was even more knotted than I had originally thought. I watched many different videos on restoring doll hair from just shampooing and conditioning to using a straight iron. I decided to start with the simplest and work my way up if it did not work. I covered her cloth body with a hand towel so it would not get wet and covered her eyes with 2 cotton balls that I taped down. I used the shampoo and conditioner that I use for my hair. I washed her hair in the sink and then let the conditioner sit for about 10 minutes before washing it out.

Washing the doll’s hair

After washing out the conditioner, I squeezed the excess moisture out of her hair with a hand towel. For brushing the hair, the American Girl website on doll hair care states to only use a wire brush for synthetic doll hair. Plastic bristles pull the hair. Also, the hair should be slightly wet when brushing. My Kirsten doll’s hair ended up being extremely tangled and it was quite the ordeal to get it brushed out. Once brushed her hair was still frizzy, so I went to the next method to try on my list; putting the hair in boiling water. I boiled a pot of water and then turned off the heat and let it sit for a few minutes, just long enough for the water to stop bubbling. I was a little worried her hair would burn, so I started slowly and just dipped the tips in and out of the water quickly. When that turned out okay I continued to dip the ends of her hair where it was frizzy in and out of the boiled water about 6 or 7 times. The method really did the job and I was happy with the result!


To complete Kirsten’s look, I needed to style her hair into her loop braids. While the hair was still wet, I divided the hair in half and then divided one half into 3 sections. I started the braid right at her ear and placed a small clear plastic band at the bottom of the braid. Braid her hair as close to the end as you can. Then braid the other side. To make the loop, fold the tip of her hair down and tuck the braid up under the outside section right above the backside of the braid. You could place another clear band here around both sides to hold the braided loop in place if desired. Allow her hair to dry overnight. Tie her little hair ribbons in to complete her look.


Restoring this doll was a lot of fun and I am looking forward to restoring more in the future. It is a great way to get a beautiful doll and save money when purchasing retired and used dolls. Once I got her all dressed up I think she looks just as good as new!

Restored Kirsten Doll