How to Clean Japanese Dolls

By Louise Harding

There are many types of Japanese dolls. The dolls are a combination of paper mache, wire, fabric, and two materials unique to Japanese dolls: gofun and washi paper. Gofun is made from ground eggshells mixed with adhesive. Washi paper is very thin paper resembling tissue paper and can be made from bamboo, mulberry or a host of other fibers. Most of the dolls do not have removable clothing, and many have human hair. Dolls must be kept out of the sunlight. Never get Japanese dolls wet. They are hand-painted and the paint will run and the gofun will deteriorate.

Gofun Composition Dolls

Use a damp sponge (barely moistened) to wipe any soil from the minimal amount of doll body that is accessible beneath the clothing. If the feet are wrapped in fabric, use the damp sponge to free some of the deeper dust in the fabric crevices. Clothing may be lightly sponged with the barely damp sponge as well, but take care with the dyed silks as colors sometimes will run.

Use the art gum eraser to very delicately rub any very soiled spots on her face, hands and feet. According to Maria’s Antique Dolls, “These dolls should never be cleaned with water or wet towels. If they do, their faces will disappear. And if the doll is exposed to very dry or high temperatures, ‘Gofun’ may crack.”

Use a soft powder or blush brush to brush the dust from any facial crevices. Gofun tends to attract dust and sometimes makes the doll look more soiled than she actually is. One gofun type of doll is known as Ichimatsu.

Use a hand vacuum cleaner to gently suck the fabric of the doll. If the fabric is not in good condition, don’t do this. A low-powered vacuum can also be used to “dust” her hair, but only if the doll is in good condition. Hold the hair against the doll’s head with your hand, and gently vacuum close to your fingers with the other hand. Don’t let the hair get sucked up by the pull of the vacuum. Do not use a regular vacuum cleaner!

Cleaning a Geisha Doll

Hold your geisha doll in your hand and examine the durability of her sewn-on clothing and the condition of the silk fabric of her face and body over a wire frame. She may be on a base of wood or lacquered wood.

Remove the dust from her face and hands with a soft, clean cosmetic brush, such as a powder brush.

Use the art gum eraser and gently rub, in a back-and-forth motion, her hands. Use caution if you decide to “clean” her face. The paint is applied onto fabric and can easily flake or rub off.

Use a hand-held vacuum cleaner to gently remove the dust from the clothing and from around the base. Only do this if her clothing is sewn very securely, the fabric is in good condition and she does not have accessories glued or sewn to her or her clothing. Never use a regular vacuum cleaner--the pull is too strong.

Things You Will Need

  • Damp sponge
  • Art gum or art rubber eraser
  • Clean, soft cosmetic brush (powder or blush brush)
  • Mini hand vacuum (optional)

About the Author

Louise Harding holds a B.A. in English language arts and is a licensed teacher. Harding is a professional fiction writer. She is mother to four children, two adopted internationally, and has had small businesses involving sewing and crafting for children and the home. Harding's frugal domestic skills help readers save money around the home.