Back to Basics: How to Fix and Straighten Doll Hair

So you just got another doll to rescue, and like many dolls in need of rescuing, her hair is styled in the ever-fashionable ‘single dreadlock’ style.

Shiiiiiiiiit.

Darn.

WHAT YOU NEED

  • A sturdy, wide-tooth comb (or a fork)
  • A fine-tooth comb
  • Scissors (unless you have the patience of a Saint)
  • Shampoo
  • Conditioner
  • Boiling water

WHAT YOU NEED TO DO

1. Put a movie on. Seriously, that is an important step.

2. Stare in misery at the doll. Start by staring in misery at the dreaded mass of doll hair. Just take it all in.

My name is Rapunzel and my hair is a mess.
My name is Rapunzel and my hair is a mess.

3. Brush the hair out. Begin brushing the hair out with the wide-tooth comb or the fork. I take small sections of hair and brush from bottom to top. Brushing from bottom to top helps keep little snarls from developing (or worsening) as you brush. This is the step that takes me the longest.

I'll let you figure out the before and after.
I’ll let you figure out the before and after.
Finished with the first brush-through. Minor hair loss was involved.
Finished with the first brush-through. Minor hair loss was involved. No idea why this picture is green.

4. Shampoo and condition. Once the doll’s hair is pretty much brushed out—at least, you can kind of get a comb through it, sorta—shampoo and condition it. Depending on how badly tangled the hair is, I’ll comb the hair after I’ve put shampoo in it, but before rinsing. The soap helps keep the snarls from reforming. After conditioning, but before rinsing, I brush the hair out once again. And then AGAIN, I brush after rinsing for the final time.

Brushed after sudsing with shampoo. Pretty sure 'sudsing' is not a word.
Brushed after sudsing with shampoo. Pretty sure ‘sudsing’ is not a word.

Some people condition the hair with coconut oil. But let’s be real, I can’t even afford to cook with that stuff let alone use it on plastic doll hair. So I use Pantene conditioner that I got from the clearance rack of my local grocery store.

Hair cut. Also a great shot of the messiest workspace ever.
Hair cut. Also a great shot of the messiest workspace ever.

5. Trim the hair (optional). Sometimes the bottom inch or two of a doll’s hair is really, REALLY frizzy, even after all this. I have a pretty good feel for when frizzy hair can be fixed with boiling water and when it can’t be, so if I think the hair is just too dense and frizzy at this point the best thing to do is just cut an inch or so off.

When I trim a doll’s hair I layer it, so that the bottom layer of hair is the longest and the top layer of hair is the shortest. All in all, the bottom and top layers probably differ in length by a centimeter. It’s not much but it helps the hair lay flatter.

If I’m going to curl the doll’s hair I will make the difference between the bottom and top layer about three centimeters. This will help show the curls off.

This doll won’t get curls, but she will need a trim. I just don’t want to deal with the frizz at the bottom of her hair.

After her haircut. I put a rubber band around the bottom of her hair to try and help it dry a little flatter.
After her haircut. I put a rubber band around the bottom of her hair to try and help it dry a little flatter. Still not sure why the green is happening.

6. Boil and brush (only needed for dolls with very curly hair). Boil water in a pan. There should be enough water that you can submerge the doll’s head and hair in the water, and a little extra left over won’t hurt anyone. When the water is boiling, submerge the doll’s head and hair in the water for ten seconds or so. You can do longer, just keep an eye on the hair to make sure it’s not melting (’cause that would be tragic). Then, take your fine tooth comb and brush through the hair while it’s still hot. If it doesn’t seem to be helping, you can take smaller sections of hair and boil and brush those individually.

Okay do you HAVE to do this? It seems like a stupid amount of work. Honestly, I skip this step with a lot of my dolls. If the doll doesn’t have curly hair to begin with, then I’d just go straight to step 7, below.

Nope, I didn’t boil and brush Rapunzel’s hair.

7. Pour hot water over her head. After I’ve heated the hair once (or two times or seven times or not at all) in boiling water, I boil a kettle of water and pour that water over the doll’s head while she’s sitting in an upright position. The force of the water will help flatten and straighten the hair more than simply boiling and brushing.

I normally section out the hair in layers, starting with the hair closest to her neck and adding more hair as I’m happy with how the lower layers look. This helps the hair straighten evenly.

8. Cold-set the hair. When the hair is as straight as I want it to be (or as straight as I have the patience for, whichever comes first) I cold-set the style by brushing her hair under cold water (use the fine-tooth comb).

Honestly, I’m not 100% this step is needed. But the cold water feels kinda nice and makes the hair easier to brush so why not.

After boiling, brushing, pouring hot water on her, brushing, brushing, cold-setting, and brushing. And at some point she lost her body. Weird how that happens.
After brushing, pouring hot water on her, brushing, cold-setting, and brushing. And at some point she lost her body. Weird how that happens.

A word of warning! I don’t have proof for this, but I’m always a little concerned when brushing boiled doll hair that the brushing stretches the hair, making it snap back a little frizzy, or just stretching it out in general. I know many doll rescuers have complained that after straightening doll hair it will slowly lose some of its sleekness over the following few weeks, and my theory is that boiling and then roughly brushing the hair may damage it in some way. Not like that has changed my boiling and brushing behavior, though.

Can you use heat tools on doll hair? The safe answer is ‘no.’ Curling and straightening irons are generally too hot; they will melt the plastic hair and trust me, you do NOT want that to happen.

However, if you are very, very, very careful about using heat tools, you can do it. I’ve had success straightening doll hair by wetting it, wrapping it in a thin rag, and pulling it through a straightener on the lowest heat setting. That said, I’ve also had success melting the doll hair this way, too. Try at your own risk. Or, at the doll’s risk, I guess.

Okay hold the phone. Her body is gone. Why is it gone?

Look so easy. And yes, that is dental floss.
Look so easy. And yes, that is dental floss.

Rapunzel had a slightly wobbly head, so while her vinyl doll head was soft and pliant from the hot water treatment, I went ahead and popped it off so I could fix the wobble.

Taking Bratz/Moxie dolls heads off is super easy. Heat them up with hot water, push down on the head, and pop them off. Don’t twist or angle the head: just pop it straight off.

And yes, that is dental floss. Waxed, to be specific. Because no one has string just lying around anymore.

9. Dry. After cold-setting the hair, squeeze the water out but don’t brush it out. Let the hair dry completely.

Here she is, straightened (enough for my purposes at least) and brushed. So much better.
Here she is, straightened (enough for my purposes at least) and brushed. So much better.

10. Style. At this point, you have a nice blank canvas to work with. Styling straight hair is much, much easier than styling frizzy hair. You can, of course, leave the hair straight at this point, or you can curl it into ringlets if you want to spend some more time playing with hair.

Curl? Check out my tutorial on how to curl a doll’s hair HERE!

11. Finish your movie.

Before and after. I'll let you figure out which is which.
Before and after. I’ll let you figure out which is which.

Questions or suggestions, leave it in a comment below! I love to help and learn from other rescuers.

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17 thoughts on “Back to Basics: How to Fix and Straighten Doll Hair

  1. This tutorial is great! I had a Monster High doll (Sirena von Boo) who just had terrible box hair! I’ve had her for a year and today I finally did got around to do something about it. I followed your steps here and I hope it will tirn out great (at least it seems to work!) 😀

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  2. This tutorial was real helpful I finally watched all of twilight saga. L0L. It helps I had moxie doll and her hair had been tangled for 4 years and thanks to you she’s cured of ugliness.

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    1. Hi there, this method is one that works for dolls like Bratz, Moxie, Barbie, Monster High, Ever After High, etc, who have plastic hair. Whether this method will work for your doll depends on the type of doll and the type of hair. If your doll is expensive and you’re concerned about ruining it, you can always test by pouring hot water on a very small portion of hair. If your doll can’t get wet then this method could damage it.

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  3. Fantastic tutorial! very helpful indeed. I’ve been a little apprehensive in my efforts to “fix” my dolls hair, however after reading your tutorials I’m now feeling rather confident in restoring my girls hair. Thank you for your help!

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  4. I have an Our Generation doll (Target knockoff of American girl) with terribly frizzy hair. If boiling water doesn’t help at all, is it just beyond help?

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    1. If you have a hair straightener that has a low heat setting, you can get the doll hair very wet and straighten small sections at a time. Of course, all hair types react differently to this, so if you’re going to try it do a test strand of hair first with some hair from the back of the head or something.

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