A First-Timer’s Guide to Kenner Cleaning

i might smell gross but i sure am cuteAh, the rush of your first Kenner. You’ve spent a week watching her on eBay, emailing the seller for credentials (they provided the ransom-style photo with a current newspaper, a piece of her hair, and passed the holes-behind-the-ears quiz…). Finally those last 30 heart-pounding seconds are ticking down. You snipe! You get the green light from ebay! You refresh frantically in the final 5 seconds! 4…3…2…Congratulations! After a patient wait for the mailman to deliver your new baby, you are rewarded with a musty, matted, long-forgotten little bundle of joy. Now What?*

Some Advice Before You Begin

It can be tempting for a first-time kenner owner to want to immediately try to polish this diamond in the rough into the picture-perfect little model that all your flickr friends have. But wait! A complicated road of brittle plastic, delicate frizz and potential dolly damage lies ahead of you. Don’t jump off the deep end without a little bit of guidance (and as much common sense as you can muster).

First, don’t cloud those initial moments of dolly bonding with visions of sandpaper and shampoo. Take some time and get to know her. Smell her scalp – the combination of hard plastic against rubber plus all the time she’s been incubating in a box will give each Kenner a very distinct aroma. Aged rubber is a thing to appreciate.

Of course, you’ll want to pull that string right away! Notice her unique sound. If you own New Takara Blythes, you’ll be shocked the first time you pull a Kenner string. the delicate plastic rings like a bell. Of course, if your kenner has a broken mechanism, you won’t want to pull the string at all. Never pull with force.

Carefully inspect her hair and scalp. What’s the texture like? is it frizzy all over? just at the tips? dig through her frizz (gently) and look at her roots. a lot of kenners are missing a hairplug here and there. If she has large bald areas or hair that falls out when gently combed, You’ll want to be extra gentle when washing or detangling, or get her roots repaired.
Take some photos, give her a name, gush to all your Blythe buddies that she was “totally worth it” and that you are absolutely smitten. Now you are ready to clean her up and start treating her like the pampered girl she was made to be!

The First Bath

kenner bath 1kenner bath 2kenner bath 3kenner bath 5It is perfectly safe to submerge a Kenner Blythe in warm water with a drop of mild baby shampoo or oil-free dish soap. Her eyelash glue is not water soluble. Allow her to soak for about an hour to soften the dirt and grime that has built up on her rubber parts, and then gently scrub the rubber parts of her body (not her face) with a sponge.

For facial dirt, Use a wet q-tip to gently wipe away dirt, avoiding her makeup. Soapy water is perfectly safe for her makeup, but agitation can ruin the soft edges of her eyeshadow and blush. Lips can handle a gentle wipe with a q-tip. Pull her string and wash each of her eye colors, as well as her eyelids, being delicate around her eye shadow of course.
Pour a drop of oil-free soap onto her hair and gently lather it up, being cautious of any delicate roots you found when inspecting her dry. Rinse and repeat. You can gently detangle while you shampoo with your fingers.

Personally, I do not like to leave any product in my Blythe’s hair, for practical reasons (I like to style it a lot and I don’t like the greasy feel some products leave behind). You can use regular liquid fabric softener instead of conditioner. Make sure to pick a scent you can live with and then soak her hair in a bowl of the fabric softener for about a half hour (or more, just not too long or it will start drying out on the surface and be harder to wash out). Try not to let much fabric softener get into her head – don’t submerge her face. After she’s soaked, rinse her hair thoroughly until the water runs clear, and blot it dry with a clean terry towel. She has a metal spring in her head that can potentially rust (most are rusty already), so allow all the water to run out the square hole in the back of her head, and try to let her dry out in a dry place (i.e. not your humid bathroom).

Hair Issues

Hair is a tricky balancing act. On one hand, even the slightest frizzy tips can annoy the heck out of someone who’s used to smooth shiny Neo Blythes, but on he other hand, the frizz adds to the uniqueness of blythe and can actually help her achieve gravity-defying up-dos and curls. Frizz is a result of play and styling and is inevitable even after you’ve gone to great lengths to fix it.

When I am sprucing up a girl and the owner just wants light detangling so that it is more manageable to style, first, I detangle the slightly damp hair with my fingers, working from tip to root. Work in tiny sections. I like to use a smooth-bristled, “wet hair” brush because they are gentle and have wide bristles. I use a bit of a rocking motion so that I don’t pull the knots and cause more frizz (frizz is essentially stretched-out hair). This is easiest when she is laying on a solid surface over a low-nap towel or piece of cloth.
You might notice that your Kenner has longer sections in the front area of her hair originating at the partline, and shorter hair underneath and in back. This is normal and not the result of a scissor-happy kid. Do not cut off the long parts in an effort to even her out! At the kenner factory, they pulled all of her part-hair up into a loose braid, and then chopped all her hair off evenly, resulting in some long pieces. Side parted girls will have longer hair on the side that the part sits on for the same reason – it was cut like that at the factory and is not a flaw.

curlskenner bath 6A really safe and easy technique for improving frizz over time is to use cold foam rollers. You can find them relatively cheaply at the drug or beaury supply store. I like to use the tiniest, 1/2″ foam rollers I can find, they produce a nice sausage curl. Curling compresses frizz and can be repeated over and over again safely, plus they look great in curls!

If she has bangs, comb them into place and put a piece of cut-off nylon stocking over them until they dry.

Another common misconception is about the “goop” that sometimes oozes from a kenner’s scalpline. Often it is mistaken for glue and the work of a sloppy doll doctor, but it is actually just the same plastic that her face is made of. Years of sitting in storage (probably under fluctuating heat/cold) has caused a chemical reaction between the soft rubber of her scalp and the hard plastic of her head, and the rubber is actually melting into her head. This occurs in all kenners to some degree, even if it is not visible on the outside. Luckily, the area of the scalp where this reaction is happening is over a thick area of the head, and in kenners with even severe goop, the damage is relatively shallow and will not compromise the integrity of her head. You can choose to gently remove this goop (sometimes it is soft and can be removed with a fingernail or an orange stick for fingernails, but sometimes you will have to carefully trim it with a hobby knife. If you choose this route, go SLOWLY and avoid her hairline.) You do not need to remove the goop if it doesn’t bother you cosmetically.

You’d be amazed what a quick bath can do for a 30-year old doll. If she has more severe damage, do your research or consult someone experienced before proceeding yourself. Here’s a list of things that I personally would not recommend a beginner try to repair:

  • Broken Neck
  • melt-marks and scratches
  • yellowed skin
  • yellowed/clouded eyes
  • body cracks
  • eye mechanism damage or any internal head/scalp damage
  • eyelash damage

If at any time during her first bath you are worried that you are doing something wrong or think you are causing damage, stop and ask for help (why, you can do that right here!). If you like her dirty and frizzy, leave her dirty and frizzy. Don’t feel pressured by other people’s dolls to make your doll something she is not.
Part of the allure of a Kenner is the mystique of a doll that has been hidden away for 30+ years. Enjoy those little “flaws” that she has acquired in her travels, and appreciate her unique personality before trying to make her into a “perfect” specimen.

Most of all, Enjoy your Kenner Blythes!

* this Guide is intended for Kenner owners who have purchased a dirty, frizzy, smelly, but otherwise mechanically sound kenner that has been in storage since the 70’s. If your kenner has suffered structural damage, has had a previous owner or dolly doctor try to restore her with poor results, you’ll want to consult an experienced restorer.

60 responses to “A First-Timer’s Guide to Kenner Cleaning”

  1. Melanie

    Hi there!
    Please can anyone help me! I have just won a beautiful blonde Kenner and she has cleaned up a treat! BUT she has no pullstring and her she keeps falling asleep! I was wondering how difficult it is to repair this? I heard that there might be a way with a crochet hook retrieving the spring without opening her head, which I’m not brave enough to attempt! I would be so grateful if any one could give me some advise on this 😀 She also has like a hairline crack on the side of her waist, is there any way of preventing this from getting worse other than being very careful with her, which I am already of course. Many thanks! Mel 😀

  2. *jaszmade » Washing Blythe Hair

    […] De-frizzing Kenner hair is a science of its own. But you can try and help her hair with careful treatments. I recommend putting her hair in curlers/ rollers AGAIN AND AGAIN. You don’t need to make the whole procedure again, just wet her hair with warm water and put it into the curlers. Don’t overestimate the softener thing, it is helpful to detangle but it won’t straighten the frizz unfortunately. Putting her hair into the soft roller IS helpful. I did it a couple of times now on Silk and her hair got better with every time. Patience is the highest value when de-frizzing at home! »Have also a look at Puchi Collective’s Kenner Cleaning Guide […]

  3. Alex

    “It is perfectly safe to submerge a Kenner Blythe in warm water with a drop of mild baby shampoo or oil-free dish soap. Her eyelash glue is not water soluble.”

    Does that mean her eyelashes will be OK if I put her in water?

    Thank you,
    ~Alex

    P.S. Love the site, it’s so useful!

  4. Chris

    Really helpful guide! I have a gorgeous blonde kenner that’s missing all her eyelashes – can anyone recomend a restorer who could correct this tricky problem? Thanks!

  5. Lucia

    I think have found some useful information for owners of Kenner Blythes that might be missing arms or legs. Blythe has a similar/or the same body to the vintage Hasbro World of Love dolls. These dolls only cost about 20$! So instead, of using a Takara body you could you use a vintage World of Love doll body. I have not tested this out, but I thought I just pass this along. 🙂

    reference: http://www.vintagedollcollector.com/kenner/kenner.htm

    Read the description of the Blythe on that website, to find out a bit on the World of Love dolls. ^^

    Ps. This is my first time posting on Puchi Collective. Super helpful site, btw. 😀

  6. Dolly Studio ♡ » Blog Archive » Site of the Week: Puchi Collective.

    […] instructions ranging from lip painting, eye-removal, painting freckles to cutting bangs and cleaning Kenners. Oh, and they even have a tut for Lati owners *cheers.* Find it […]

  7. disposable silicone

    Top Notch ideas. i’ve been cruising all week for medical related info that hits the mark like this
    “A First-Timer’s Guide to Kenner Cleaning :: Puchi Collective” blog. Thanks a Mill!, this helped medical school go much faster.
    Regards, disposable silicone…

  8. Lu

    Hello! My first Kenner is bald and I’m looking for someone who can do a good reroot (as similar as possible to an original blonde Kenner).
    I asked Leo and also Squirrel Junkie (Rebecca) about it but they can’t do it by the moment.
    Could you please help me or give me the name of some good restaurator?

    Thanks in advance!
    Kind regards,
    Lu

  9. Gina Molyneux

    Hi all,
    Can anyone give me some advice on how to remove yellowing from a kenners face and eyes? her face isn’t too bad but her eyes are quite bad? many thanks

  10. Amelia

    Hi, I don’t have a Kenner but I was wondering about the part where it says you can remove stains on legs and arms with a bath. Would it be safe to bathe my Takara orange and Spice doll or wouldshe be damaged by this? Because her legs are stained an awful blue in many places! 🙁

    Amelia.

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