Restoring a Barbie Doll

Bronze Post Medal for All Time! 108 Posts
December 10, 2007

Barbie hair after styling.Last summer, a friend of mine went on what she called "The great Barbie Hunt." She scoured thrift stores and garage and yard sales for as many Barbies and clothes as she could find. Every time she picked up a bedraggled Barbie, I thought to myself "What the heck she is going to do with that? She is fifty years old, she's going to play with Barbies now?"


Well, the summer passed and she had collected about 25 Barbies. About two weeks ago, she called me up and asked me to come by so I could see what she had done with her poor neglected and abused Barbies. There they were all sitting on her table and you would not believe how beautiful they were. She was going to throw a Barbie birthday party for her granddaughter and wanted each girl to have a special Barbie to remember the party with and to also use as decorations. Barbies can be very expensive, as anyone with a little girl well knows. So this is why she had so diligently collected Barbies all summer. I just had to figure out how she had done it. She was very gracious and gave me all the directions on how to do a Barbie Extreme Makeover and I thought I would share her instructions with you.

In this article, I will try and give you instructions with pictures for giving an old Barbie that you have bought at a thrift store a new makeover. Believe it or not it is not as hard as you would think. There are many people out there that take old Barbie's and remake them into beautiful dolls that Mattel has yet to think of. Think of yourself as a designer. You can cut uneven hair and style it anyway you want. The tools you will need are things you probably have around your house.


I am going to tell you how to fix up the most abused Barbie that you can find, but when I went to the thrift store yesterday to buy Barbies for this article I, believe it or not, could not find one that was totally messed up. So I bought some that the hair needed re- curling and some that needed their hair trimmed to make them beautiful once again. Since I have no little girls, I plan on donating the dolls to a local charity that will find them new Christmas homes. I hope this might inspire some of you to do this too. This would be a great community service project for Girl Scouts or church youth group. The Barbies look brand new when you are finished and any Christmas charity would be glad to have them.



*You will need the thick straws like you get with a fountain drink from the 7-11, small drinking straws you can buy at the grocery or perm rods (the smallest that they make).

Time to Complete: 30 minutes to 2 hours, depending on condition of Barbie


You will need to find a Barbie with arms and legs in good condition. Most thrift stores just trash the really damaged Barbies so this should not be to hard to find. First, clean her body with warm water and all purpose cleaner. If she has been colored on, use the Goo Gone and the scrubber, it should remove crayon and ink and marker. Use the soft toothbrush to get into small crevices and grooves. Dry well. If you find small pin holes in parts of the bodies, these can be gently sanded with an emery board.

If your thrift store sells really damaged Barbies, you can buy two and use the parts from one to fix the other. Just heat the vinyl gently with a hair dryer to soften it and you should be able to pull off arms and legs and reattach to the other Barbie, but you need to make sure you have the same body type on both.


Now on to the hair. Cut your straws into curlers that are about three quarters of an inch long. Lay out your bobby pins. Put a pot on the stove with water in it and bring it to a boil. Turn down to simmer while you get Barbie ready. Make a glass of ice water too. Most of the new Barbies' hair is made of out of nylon and other synthetic materials. Vintage Barbies have other types of hair, but these methods should work on most Barbies.

With your shampoo, clean your doll's hair. Put the shampoo on your hand and, working from the top of the head to the bottom, push the shampoo gently through the hair. You CANNOT shampoo like you would your little girl as this will add more mats to the hair. Repeat as necessary. Some hair may need two washings to come clean. Be sure to rinse very well. You should now have a shining head of hair. Apply conditioner to the doll's head. For extremely matted hair, you may have to soak the hair in fabric softener for a little while. With your small comb starting at the bottom, work your way up the dolls head, detangling as you go. Be patient. The slower you go, the better. A rat tail comb (comb with a long handle) or a teasing comb can really help break up those stubborn mats.


Once you have all the mats out, rinse hair out thoroughly and pat hair dry. Check the length on your hair, you may find that you want to trim her hair before you style it. Trim only those stray hairs that are longer that the others. When trimming, lay Barbie on a table, fan out her hair this way to get a nice even cut. You don't want to cut her hair by holding it between your fingers because this will cause stretching and it will come out shorter than you want. Layers in her hair make for much fuller curled hair styles so unless you want just a curled pony tail, don't cut it all one length.Washing and cutting hair.

Now you are ready to style Miss Barbie. The easiest style is a curled ponytail. I found clear hair pony tail bands at Walgreen's very inexpensively. Smooth Barbie's hair into a ponytail. Now roll small sections of the hair onto the straws keeping hair smooth around the straw. Secure with a bobby pin. Continue until all hair is on straws. Now comes the fun part. Holding Barbie firmly by her body, pour the boiling water over the curlers, making sure you get them very wet. Follow immediately with the cold water. Because Barbie's hair is made of nylon, you are heating up the nylon and then cooling it to set the curl.


Personally, I found out that my tap water from my sink was hot enough to do the job. Taking a towel, pat the hair gently. You don't want to move the curlers, just pat enough to remove excess water. I used a vase that was long enough to stick Barbie in to let her hair dry. Depending on the hair, it can take up to twelve hours to dry. Just keep checking it. When it is almost completely dry, you can blow dry it for a couple of seconds with a blow dryer. This seems to help set the curls also. Not too close and not too long as you don't want to melt the hair.Wetting rolled hair and drying with doll in vase..

When the hair is completely dry, take out the curlers and fluff the curls. If you like how tight the curls are, leave them as is. A few of the Barbies that I bought had fancy bangs that were in good shape so I protected these by covering them with Saran wrap and a bobby pin and then just curled the back. One had fancy waves on the front pulled back into a pony tail. I just pulled it forward out of the way and curled the back and then pulled the pony tail forward to curl it and was very careful not to get any of the hot water on the fancy waves near her face. You can fix weird bangs using a pipe cleaner wrapped around the head to hold them down in place after you have washed the hair and before you roll the hair on straw curlers. Just make sure they get hit with the hot and cold water too. Other hair styles can be done by pin curling all of her hair with bobby pins. This method makes for some s-shaped waves or, if you have the patience, you can braid tiny sections and hold the ends with bobby pins and you will get a kinky effect. For a spiral hair do, set the hair on rollers held vertically. Just remember that you will still need to do the hot- cold treatment to make this set. Now you are all set to decorate your Barbie. You can add ribbons to her hair and, if the doll is going to an older child, you can even do up-do's held in place with T-pins. Small wired flowers can be added by winding the wire tightly around her hair or can be tucked into the elastic bands. The idea here is to have fun. If you mess up the first time, oh well, just try again. Hot water will release the curl so you can do it again.


Some dollar stores sell fashion doll clothes for $1.00 a piece or, if you are really crafty and can sew, you can make your own. You can crochet or knit outfits for them too. My favorite thrifty store, ARC, sells bags of Barbie's clothes for around $5.00, but I wait until they have a 50% off sale. There are about 10 good outfits in each bag with a lot of accessories too. Also old Barbie clothes can be washed and repaired and redecorated with silk flowers, gems, and beads. The yarn called "Fun Fur" can be crocheted into fancy collars for worn ball dresses or you could sew on some of the wired ribbon for a collar that you can ruffle.

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January 30, 2019

My vintage Barbie is in pretty good shape. However, her legs turned from the cream color to brown. For quite a while she has worn an outfit with pants. Could this have something to do with it? The brown color didn't come off when I washed her. Why did Barbie's legs turn brown?


Bronze Feedback Medal for All Time! 196 Feedbacks
January 30, 20190 found this helpful

This discoloration you describe just happens even to dolls that have no clothing. I have never found any way to get rid of it, but then I am not adventurous when it comes to restoring old dolls. For example, there are people that swear by Benzyol Peroxide to bleach the color back to normal, but I am too sensitive to chemicals to ever try it.

I can clean hair (a drop of baby shampoo, a wig brush and warm water) and most of the time get pen off (a drop of non-aerosol hairspray on a qtip) but that is my limit.

Maybe one of the other doll gurus on this site has a tried and true method!

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Gold Post Medal for All Time! 677 Posts
January 30, 20190 found this helpful

The plastic oxidizes with age. Extremes in storage temperatures can cause it also.

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Bronze Post Medal for All Time! 107 Posts
January 31, 20190 found this helpful

this is because the Barbie leg material probalby oxidizes as said but also it is very porous so it absorbs impurities and dirt and discolours from the environment.

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Gold Feedback Medal for All Time! 949 Feedbacks
February 2, 20190 found this helpful

Your question is why do Barbie doll legs turn brown..
But are you interested in how to fix them or just why they turned brown?

Of course, some sort of chemical reaction causes this to happen just as the green ears, and yellowing skin happens. Air, humidity, age, storing conditions, exposure can all cause different degrees of change to plastic.

If you are interested in trying to reverse the damage then it may be possible with this process:

Take a weak (10%) solution of hydrogen peroxide, add a dash of Oxy (not Oxy 10) (just a small amount), apply (you can paint it on) and leave in the sun for an afternoon.
This may take more than one time but clean it up between sessions to see if it is working.

This discovery was made by a chemist and later tested and it worked (for the doll collectors who tested it).

You can read about it on this link but please read or go all the way to the bottom for the final results. You will see that several say it works and others not so much.

Be very careful and make your own decision as any type of solution could cause unrepairable damage.
I have never tested this method so I have no idea as to what effect it will have.

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January 1, 20201 found this helpful

If you soak the oxidized doll in an Effordent (yes, the denture tablets) bath the brown color will dissolve. It won't remove the original paint on the doll either. I did this to an early 70's Malibu Barbie I had ad a child and it worked beautifully.

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December 4, 20210 found this helpful

I have a 1992 holiday Barbie whose head is brown while the rest of the body is white (beige). Was this an error in manufacturing?

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