Restoring a modern Barbie doll with matted hair

Picture of Restoring a modern Barbie doll with matted hair
This instructable is hoping to put an end to early binning of perfectly good Barbie dolls with a lot of life left in them. If the only thing wrong with a Barbie is a matted hair, you can FIX IT.

In the following you will be instructed on how to restore a used Barbie into her former glory without complicated methods. This is simple and safe way to do it – provided that you have a Mattel made genuine Barbie-doll made after the year 1973, as this tutorial does not refer to other fashion dolls or ponies etc. If you suspect that your Barbe doll could be older than that, do not go ahead with this. The number 1966 in the dolls back does NOT refer to a manufacturing year, but can be found on dolls made in the late 70′s up to early 2000′s. It is safe to use this tutorial on both collector and playline Barbie dolls.
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Step 1: What you will need

Picture of What you will need
- A Barbie-doll with some hair left! (The more the better of course.)
- Shampoo, liquid soap or dish washing liquid.
- Detangling spray (for dogs for example) or hair conditioner.
- Preferably a metal comb (for cats or dogs).
- Long stemmed eye lash comb, preferably one-piece one, that has the stem formed of the same plastic as the comb part. Multi part combs can break into pieces in hot water. OR a full size flea comb if you can find one – better than an eye lash comb but harder to find in some areas that don’t really have fleas!
- A plate or another shallow dish. For a very long haired Barbie, the bathroom floor (drained) might be best.
- Boiling hot water (if your house doesn’t have thermostats, you can probably do with the hot tap water.)
- Optional: light, preferably spray-on hand cream / body lotion.

Step 2: Detangle the hair

Picture of Detangle the hair
Take a before-picture or your friends will never believe you when you try to describe what the doll used to look like! (Many preferably.)

There are two methods to go about the first (actual) step, below, I opted to do a dry detangle which I've found works best for a very matted or incredibly long hair. What you will need the most here is patience! First, only using your fingers, make as much "sense" out of the hair as you can, finding "where everything belongs" by sorting out strands and possible dread locks and full knots. Take out every foreign object you can find - like in the dark haired dolls case a pin and cable ties. (Yes, seriously.) When you're gone as far as you can, take the metal comb and start combing from the ends toward the top - as you would your own hair. No matter how careful you are, you will probably loose some hair - the more dolls you restore this way, the better you become at saving hair.

You can also try using a detangling spray for dogs during this step, or hair conditioner and water. If you have detangling spray, you should use it, but you might not want to spend 6 hours in the bathroom like this sort of mess sometimes requires!

Don't try to solve the whole mass of hair at a time, but take portions until you've got the whole head done.

After this, you may have a detangled hair, but it still doesn't look very good, does it? Now, let's tame that thing.

Step 3: Boil the kettle

Picture of Boil the kettle
Now, get the hot water out. The water should be close to boiling, to start with. (If, however, you notice that the hair fibre starts to go into a zik zak sort of form, cool the water down a little. In some rare cases this may occur, but it's reversible with cooler water.) First, pour some hot water on the dolls hair and make sure it's wetted throughout. Don't burn yourself! (Rubber gloves might come handy, or you just be careful.) Comb the hair with the steel comb first, without laying the doll on the plate yet, unless you so prefer, adding hair conditioner here might help you out. When the metal comb goes through, try the flea comb or the eye lash comb, like in the picture here, on a plate. 

Now, if the doll has had a ponytail for the last 5 years, she probably has that somewhat hilarious tube hair -look, and you want to sort that out. You will want the neck hair back to where it should be, hanging down instead of pointing horizontally behind her. This is where the plate comes in handy. First, comb the hair on the plate like it's shown with the dark haired doll. Then, little by little start laying the doll onto her hair while combing, like shown with the blond girl. There are other ways of achieving the same result, this is just one of them, so feel free to experiment.

And last, hold the doll up and put her in sitting position while pouring the last of the boiled water on her head. (Holding on her legs will save you from burning your fingers.) Then, comb the hair in the position you want it to stay, towel dry and let her dry up over night. (Don't use the blow dryer even if you're impatient, that will easily ruin the hair!)

Put some clothes on the poor girl.

Once the hair is dry, it may be static. If this is the case, you can tame it down with some light moisturiser. (Spray thing is great to put straight on, but normal will do; apply to hands first and then stroke the hair before the moisturiser is fully absorbed into your hands.)

Take an "after" photo and post your before and afters on Instructables and on Facebook - be proud!

cplaster1 month ago

this is great Im gonna get all of my daughters barbies and fix their hair. because its getting to be time to pass them to her daughter

GodisAwesome, God IS Awesome but he also has a sense of humor so get off your high horse.

omg doll porn xD Good Instructable!
It is not good at all. Before you put things on tthe internet, you should think about whether it is right in Gods eyes. Please make good choices
Yarnabees4 years ago
LOL Doll porn you could have put a swimsuit on them lol I love this I wish I didn't throw my old barbies away. I will try this on my daughter dolls!
Barbies are toys meant to be collected and played with so I don't think you should be joking about that kind of stuff because god would not aprove of that kind of talk. Please make good choices.
would it work on a mattel 1975 doll that is not barbie?
TimsProjects4 months ago
I do have to say it works WONDERFULLY!!! I did it on one of my sisters Barbie dolls that she wouldn't even play with because it had such ugly hair. The before picture doesn't even show how bad it was.
The first 2 are the before, and the last 2 are the result.
14, 9:09 PM.jpg14, 9:09 PM.jpg14, 9:09 PM.jpg14, 9:09 PM.jpg14, 9:09 PM.jpg
There's a flaw in your before and after picture.
Blue: their faces are the same.
Red: the barbie on the left before picture has bendable joints, where the barbie on the left after picture doesn't.
Green: also the barbie on the right before picture does not have bendable joints, but on the right after picture, it does have bendable joints.
This proves how the barbies in the before pictures aren't the same barbies as the ones in the after picture.
13, 11:53 AM.jpg

No you are worng they are right it is just when she took the picture she has them switched but the long haired one does have the regular joints and the short haired one has the bendable joints in the original pictures.

For what it's worth, it's not uncommon for doll customizers and salvagers to swap heads/bodies on dolls. They appear to be the same heads and same bodies, just swapped. This doesn't actually prove anything.

candilee472 years ago
Wow Sebastyne, awesome work!!!! I wish I hadn't given my Barbie doll away :-( But here's a trick question--> will this work on my porcelain doll's hair?? It wasn't an expensive one, more sentimental than anything!! I've had it for just over 20 years and found it in a box I was unpacking since moving. A lot of the hair has fallen out especially in the front, but I think if I get her hair looking good she'll be beautiful once again!! I've already hand-washed her clothes and they came out good as new!!
Sebastyne (author)  candilee472 years ago
Thank you - and I really don't know about the porcelain doll. My guess would be no. However, what you could do is take one hair out and see how it reacts in water. Different fibres react differently, some shrink, some lose their lustre, and some go into this sort of zik zak shape. You might want to try cooler water, but it's a risk. Try googling for porcelain doll restoration instructions, there should be heaps!
bev16033 years ago
To the lady who braided the barbie hair into a 'do', yikes!!!!!!!! show me how you did that, it's awesome!
Sebastyne (author)  bev16033 years ago
Oh it's so simple it's ridiculous: Braid it normally and tie it into a knot. :) Requires a very long haired Barbie though.
PeoplesCar3 years ago
"Put some clothes on the poor girl."

I literally loled at this. Will send this to a friend of mine who is a Barbie collector!
i cut all the hair off one of my barbies and called it cancer barbie..i was 8.......i think i still have a few of my barbies...i will try this!
Sebastyne (author)  erraticwonder4 years ago
Worry not Erratic Wonder, if you want to restore the Barbie, you can do a procedure called "rerooting" which basically means that you'll sew in a new hair for your doll. I've written instructions for that as well on my blog - I will add it later to Instructables as well when I have the final steps to add.. (Been slacking off for ages!)
arjay674 years ago
A friend and I had to deal with this issue several years ago. His neice had a Barbie who's hair had become a rat's nest. Instead of detangling we decided to give Barbie a mohawk, then cross-dress her in an outfit of Ken's. Viola! We had created Commando Barbie a.k.a. BullDyke Barbie.
Why not leave the Barbie as-is and call her "homeless Barbie"?
Sebastyne (author)  uranus_b_hurtin4 years ago
Where's the challenge in that? :)
jatoha4 years ago
Off to see if this will work with My Little Ponies, too.... Thanks!
Sebastyne (author)  jatoha4 years ago
Be careful, the fibre is different! Don't use too hot water to start with.
SinAmos4 years ago
I love this kind of effort. Thanks for showing other people the way.
sunshiine4 years ago
I will be sharing this ible. thanks for sharing.
That's cool~~
Wow, that's amazing! I wish we knew about this when I was a kid. Great work!