Saturday, August 22, 2009

Arranbee (R&B) Nanette, and hard plastic disease


Some time in the late 1940's, Arranbee began making hard plastic dolls, and one of the first off the line was Nanette. Nanette is another teen doll who sometimes gets mistaken for Nancy Lee; however, Nanette has a slightly more oval face and fuller lips than Nancy Lee (who was also manufactured in hard plastic a few years later. )

Nanette was often made as a walking doll, and came dressed in beautiful outfits and with elaborate hair styles. She wears a Saran wig (not rooted hair) and has sleep eyes. The 1950's hard plastic Nanette is very different to the 1930s-1940s composition Nanette, which has a cloth body and a child's face.

My Nanette is all original, from her head to her toes. She's a 21" walking doll in beautiful condition. Her problem? She had an odor from hard plastic "disease", which is sadly common in old hard plastic dolls. She can be cleaned up and made less stinky, however, using a few tips that I've picked up from other doll collectors:

1) Clean the doll inside and out with Lysol or a similar antibacterial cleaner. I use a hospital grade disinfectant. Do not use bleach or you will ruin your doll's color. The smell from the deterioration of the plastic (something not unlike the smell of Parmesan cheese) usually originates from the inside of the doll, so you will need to take care to swab the inside thoroughly. Since my doll is held together with her metal walking mechanism, the best I can manage it to dislodge her arms from her sockets and saturate the inside of the doll. (I don't feel confident taking her walking mechanism apart at this stage.) Allow to dry and repeat as necessary. If you feel confident about taking your doll completely apart, that is the best way to get to all parts of the doll.

2) Order D-Stink from Twin Pines of Maine: http://www.twinpines.com/ and give your doll the same treatment.

3) When you have swabbed and dried the doll a few times and the odor has pretty much disappeared, spray the inside and outside of the doll with a matte finish lacquer. This will help to retard any advancement of the disease. The bacteria that feed off the plastic are aerobic - so, no access to oxygen = no stinky plastic.

4) Keep any "diseased" dolls away from hard plastic dolls that do not have this problem. The breakdown of the plastic feeds a bacterium and, like human diseases, can be transmitted from doll to doll. Wash your hands thoroughly after treating and handling a doll with hard plastic disease.

5) This process, from what I have read, does not usually work for plastic Pedigree dolls, as their plastic is of a different composition, but if you have tried something that works, please let us know.

Beautiful dolls, like my Nanette, deserve to be saved from being stinky!

26 comments:

  1. I have an Arranbee doll that I received for Christmas in 1954. I think she may be Nancy Lee. She stinks! I have kept her in a plastic bag because of the smell. I thought it was the wig or the glue. I have never heard of hard plastic disease. Where can I read more about it?

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  2. Hi Melinda - There's a good article here about how to restore hard plastic doll disease: http://www.ehow.com/how_6315935_repair-hard-plastic-doll.html Most of the articles I've found about hard plastic disease are in relation to Pedigree dolls, which because of their composition, can't be restored if they have hard plastic disease. The mold and bacteria that can break down the plastic is often "contagious" to other dolls and they have to be thrown away. Pedigrees with hard plastic disease tend to "melt." It's detectable with the doll smelling like vinegar. The other hard plastic, as in your Nancy Lee and my Nanette, can be treated. It smells more like parmesan cheese or sour milk - really! You have to soak the doll parts really well in some kind of disinfectant that kills mold, and then thoroughly seal the plastic inside the doll. I used acrylic spray sealant and that's worked really well. To learn about what causes it, here's a good article: http://www.dollclubnsw.com.au/hard-plastic-disease.htm There's a lot of alarmism regarding hard plastic disease, but I have found that my R&B doll could be successfully treated.

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  3. I purchased a Nancy Lee and Sweet Sue together two weeks ago. I bathed them, set their hair, dressed them, and placed the dolls on my dresser while I'm searching for the right shoes for them.

    A week later, I began to notice the odor of strong plastic in my bedroom and sniffed around to find it was these two gorgeous dolls. The Sweet Sue has the stronger smell. The smell is as strong as polyurethane in an unventilated area, but the smell is of plastic - This is not to say that the dolls are treated with polyurethane. Both dolls are from about 1953.

    I don't smell vinegar or anything pungent or parm cheese or sour milk or vomit. What is causing this smell of strong plastic to leech out of the dolls? More importantly, what can I do to correct it? Is it still hard plastic disease? I don't want to risk plastic toxins leeching into by breathing air.

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    1. Hi LatinLady - I am so sorry I missed your post of so long ago now! When I upgraded my blog, it seems I lost several things like my email notifications. I hope you get notified of this response.

      Well... as to the strong polyurethane smell, I would say that the dolls probably don't have hard plastic disease - but - the plastic may be degrading just due to time and oxygenation. The best way to combat that would be to - after you're sure the parts are clean inside and out - spray them (on the inside, in particular) with clear acrylic sealant. That will keep the oxygen off the plastic and help to delay any degradation. The polyurethane gas would be what the plastic is giving off as it breaks down. This breakdown can be a long, slow process, so I wouldn't panic. The plastic just needs to be sealed. Good luck!

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    2. Oh - and be sure, before you spray, to test an inconspicuous part of her body to test and make sure any body paint doesn't run or come off. For the inside of the parts, it wouldn't matter so much, but the outside might need a very delicate spray from a decent distance.

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    3. I don't know what happened...I posted a response and it disappeared instead...What a frustrating bummer!!

      Anyway, thanks for responding. In my response I was just sharing what I did on my own.

      I quarantined the dolls to their own upper shelf space to determine which was the offending one. A month later, I checked back and it was Sweet Sue!! Not actually the doll, but her original Saran wig.

      I removed the wig and treated her scalp with vinegar to remove the browned wig glue. This did the trick...She no longer has any odors. She is sporting a new wig and is happy as pie!!

      All the best!

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    4. Thanks so much for the update! I love a happy ending. :)

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  4. I've come clean!

    My Sweet Sue walker doll and a Mary Hoyer doll are dying in the trash (just pitched them). Interesting how death bring an odor in humans, and the dying plastic in these dolls, death as well.

    Up to this point, I've nurtured these dolls by disassembling them and coating the insides with impermeable sealers safe on plastics. Since I've spent years in doll repair, and re-rooting, and couture knitting and crochet for the Mary Hoyer doll (I have all the patterns), as well as wardrobe patterns for Sweet Sue, needless to say, up to this point, I was extremely reluctant to part with them!

    These are my observations that I am disclosing here, that led me to my decision to let the subject dolls finish dying in the trash:

    1) Although my Sweet Sue and Mary Hoyer didn't smell profusely while out of the drawer, when stored in a drawer, they smelled up the drawer so badly, that I had to bleach the drawer several times to sanitize the bacterial odor out of the drawer.

    2) Mary Hoyer's beautifully knitted and crocheted outfits would end up smelling on the doll, and when the outfits were removed, they had to be painstakingly washed (sometimes, that's laborious with angora and certain wools).

    3) My boyfriend worked in manufacturing plastic components on the cars at Ford Motor Company; he said get rid of the dolls, as they could pose health problems.

    Why did I hold on so long to these dolls? They made me happy to the point of my treating them like idols, despite that they posed health risks and bacterial growth concerns. I'm just speaking for myself here: I respect myself too much, to expose myself to awful odors and bacterial concerns anymore.


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    1. Hi CanineAdvocate

      I think sometimes it does come down to - despite best efforts - time and bacteria get everything in the end. It sounds like you did everything in your best powers to save your dolls, but I can't blame you if they continued to stink up your home (no one needs that!)

      I hear you about the dolls making you happy. Mine do, as well, and I'll be holding onto my Nanette for as long as I can keep her relatively odor free. When I can't keep the odors away anymore (and even the acrylic sealants will deteriorate with time - especially in a humid environment) - then I will try to salvage her clothes and give her a fitting farewell. Hopefully, that is still years away.

      I hope you can find some dolls to replace the old ones. Even though the hard plastic dolls are more "modern," don't overlook the compo dolls. They are fairly easy to repair, and they don't break down and stink. Good luck and thanks for sharing your story!

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    2. Did you try removing their wigs first. Please find and read my followup post on this very topic.

      All the best!

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    3. Oh - that is wonderful that you isolated the odor to her wig. I have not heard of the saran wigs going bad, but it sounds like you solved your problem. Congratulations! :) I love a happy ending.

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  5. I have a Pedigree (softish not hard) Rubber/Plastic??? doll with plastic ponytail. I received this doll when I was about 7 so she would be 53 years old, and the two times I have got her out of the wardrobe she has been greasy(brown),there is no smell as far as I can tell, certainly not vinegar.It stained her white dress. The first time I cleaned her with vinegar and it got all the greasiness off her. Just recently it happened again and I cleaned her with Eucalyptus wool mix with water. She seems alright but one arm is still a bit greasy. Her eyes aren't closing(staying open) so it appears that they may have gunk behind them, but how do I get them out? Does this sound like hard plastic doll disease to you?

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    1. Hi Anonymous - unfortunately, it does sound like the plastic is deteriorating. That would account for the brown, greasy residue that you've had to clean off the doll. I would say that is also why the eyes are "stuck." Your doll may last a bit longer before she completely melts, but if you want to periodically clean her and keep her displayed, be sure sure to keep her away from any other plastic dolls that you may have and store her in a dry, cool place, not wrapped in plastic, etc. Here's some good advice from the Doll Collector's Club of NSW: http://www.dollclubnsw.com.au/hard-plastic-disease.htm. I would not try to remove the eyes, just because if the plastic is deteriorated enough, you won't be able to get them to sit right again once you take them out. Trying using an alkaline solution to clean her (not acid like vinegar, as this can make the situation worse.) An alkaline solution can be a mild bleach solution or baking soda and water. You might be able to reach the eye mechanism with cotton swabs dipped in your solution to clean while they are still set, Best of luck! I hope she lasts for a while for you.

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  6. Can you tell me where I can get dress for 26" sweet sue doll?

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    1. Hi - there are a lot of nice reproduction outfits available on eBay and Etsy. Just be sure to check the measurements before you buy. Occasionally, you might find an original tagged dress, but they will be fairly costly. Several of my dolls are dressed in reproductions and they present very well. A lot will just depend on your budget. Good luck and I hope you can find something that you like.

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  7. What is your technic for spraying the matte finish on the inside of dolls if you don't take them apart?

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    1. Hi Bridget - the joints of my doll are such that I could pull the legs and arms away from the body enough to aim the spray nozzle of both the antiseptic spray and the acrylic spray directly inside. I sprayed a bit excessively so that I could "roll" the doll around a bit after I sprayed her so that the liquids would coat everything inside. I just did one limb at a time, checking to make sure the insides were pretty well coated - let that sit for a moment, and then went on to do the others. Hope that helps?

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  8. Hi Mel, need your advise and help please. We bought a second hand Teen Trends Kianna Doll in her box with stand, clothes and accessories. Whilst she is a beautiful doll, she had a terrible smell. It appears this doll originally came with some sort of hair colour cream which I thought may have gone 'off'. Have shampooed the hair several times and washed her over left her in the sun but after a day or so the smell is back and can't leave her near the other dolls as clothing etc around her smells then. She has pliable bendable joints at elbows and knees and the smell is slightly worse inside there and also inside her head. I can't remove the head to clean inside where I think the smell is the worst. Please help as my 8yo loves her. Does she have the bacterial disease do you think? any help feedback would be great, thanks, Marion

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    1. Hi Marion - I had to look up the Kianna doll, as I wasn't that familiar with her, and I see she is a newer doll, and it's probably unlikely she has plastic doll disease unless she was stored with older dolls who might have it. What is the smell like? If it smells like strong parmesan cheese or sour milk, it could be plastic disease, but if it's more chemical-like, it might be the result of the manufacturing process (for example, the dye they used for her hair.) I was reading some reviews and it was recommended to wash and blow dry the doll's hair when you first get her, so I suspect there is some chemical residue there. I would also hand wash her clothes. It sounds like the smell might dissipate with time - but definitely don't display her near other dolls until you can be sure. In the meantime, you can insert a car vent deodorizer stick inside her body and that might help to bring the smell down a couple notches. Just wrap the stick in tissue so that it doesn't stain the plastic. Keeping my fingers crossed!

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    2. Added: after a little research, I found out that this doll (the head, at least) is vinyl, so she can't get hard plastic disease there. If she is second hand, the vinyl may have absorbed the odors of other dolls she was stored with that did have hard plastic disease. Try airing her away from other dolls for a while. The odor should dissipate with time.

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  9. Hi, Melanie, I wanted to know with the HPD if the clothes the doll was wearing (which also had the odor as the cloth body did) has been washed...and sanitized in a light bleach water soak. Can the outfits be used on another doll? Thanks so much for any informaiton.

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    1. Hi Ruth - if the clothes were sanitized in bleach water, they should be OK. Bleach would pretty much destroy the bacteria. I hope it didn't damage the clothing! I would wait a few weeks though before putting it on another doll, just to make sure the odor doesn't come back (which would mean that the bacteria is back.)

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  10. I've obtained a couple of newer 18" AG style Madame Alexander dolls, that have a horrible plastic smell. They are soft body plastic. Is there anything I can do to
    get rid of the smell of these.? I have other MA dolls of this type and they don't smell.
    Thanks for your help.

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    1. Hi - it depends on the type of plastic smell. Is it a chemical smell? That would probably mean the plastic is unstable and is deteriorating - sadly, there's not much you can do about that. I have a MA Coco re-issue doll whose accessories are now "sticky" because they are deteriorating. Sadly, they will get to a point where I will need to throw them out. If the smell is more like sour milk, you can try my method of sealing the plastic, as described above. Best of luck! The chemical smell deterioration probably will not affect other dolls, but I would isolate these dolls, just in case. If for no other reason, vinyl can absorb the odors and that would also not be pleasant.

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  11. Thank you for responding to my question. The dress is in it's own container and I will wait a few months to make sure. The out fit was white so it didn't damage it, in fact it made it brighter white. Which is nice if it's has no issues in a few months. Other wise it will go in the trash. The doll has gone to dolly heaven unfortunately she wasn't able to be saved. Thank you again!

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    1. You're welcome, Ruth. I hope the dress will be fine.

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