Friday, 4 October 2013

G(l)oo hair mystery solved

Hi there! Notice that I added a new little tab up there ^ to explain how I feel about writing tutorials. I'm always eager to share knowledge but I'm rarely the right person for this, no matter the subject. Now that more projects of mine are coming to an end, the number of tutorial posts in my drafts is is getting dangerously high. I'm going on vacation tomorrow and I won't be back until November. Don't worry, your comments will publish themselves and I'll reply to everything when I come back. I played a lot with my dolls' hair and I felt that I can't cover everything in only one article. I'll try to tackle each topic separately in a logical order. Today we'll brush (heh!) on hair cleaning - I'm talking sticky, nasty, gooey gel hair.

I encountered my first case of gloo hair (as I'll call it) on my Muse Dori. The doll was used, but with the original (although pretty battered) hairdo in place. There was a little bun with some sticky gelled strands under it. I cut the elastic band off, soaked and washed with soap as usual, and... nothing. There was absolutely no change. I panicked and ran to Legendary Tutorials' forum to asked for help (you can see the actual thread here). After trying everything in my house, eventually the hair got clean somehow and I was just glad it was over.

I had pretty much forgotten about it until a few weeks ago I decided to take down Teresa's ponytail after over a year of not messing with it. Besides a huuuge bald spot in the centre of the head, another surprise was waiting for me. You guess it - Teresa had the gloo hair too! Just about the same time a new post from The Toy Box Philosopher came out, in which she complained about glue leaking from her new doll's head. I remembered some recent adventures with hair boiling, how I marveled why the more I was boiling it, the nastier it was... and everything snapped into place. I realized I'd be seeing this issue again and again and I had to get to the bottom of it.

Soo... here's a breakdown of what I found out:

Gloo hair can be caused by three things (I'm only speculating here):
- glue that holds the hair inside some dolls' heads, melting and leaking on the outside
- old styling products left in the doll's hair (gels and such). If you ever plan to move the hair around or if the hairstyle can be recreated, I'd recommend to give it a good soapy wash from the beginning, especially if kids will be playing with it. Gel hair is yucky and attracts lint, which makes it yuckier.
- some types of hair elastic, I'm almost positive, have something to do with this. My two dolls with hair ties had much worse gloo hair than the ones without them. Coincidence? I think I'll replace future elastics with thread to be on the safe side.

With Dori, the first victim, I tried the following solutions by themselves and in various combinations, with hot or cold water. Neither worked.
- dish soap, hand soap, laundry detergent
- chlorine free bleach
- alcohol
- nail polish remover
- peroxide
- sticking it wet in the freezer
- oil
- baking soda
The hair became oily in addition to being sticky, I couldn't get rid of the oil and it smelled like alcohol.
My salvation was mom's stain remover for laundry. I gave the hair a couple of washes with it and it was so clean, I couldn't believe it!

Now, with Teresa and a couple of Draculauras, I began with just the stain remover to see if it could work on its own. It didn't. The hair was still weird and unpleasant to the touch. Someone on Emily's post said they soak the hair with tea tree oil then wash with tea tree oil shampoo. I hate how much tea tree oil stings my skin and I don't trust shampoo; I adapted this idea to my previous process and here is what I did and will do if I have the same problem in the future:

How to clean it 
(Now would be a great time for a "before" shot, but since I can't find mine, try to picture your favourite doll's hair smothered in earwax and stuck in an unthinkable shape. Done?) Let's go.

[Update 05/04/2014] I came across an engineer's insanely detailed experiments with MH gloo hair on a Russian forum. Her daughter is a chemist. Not only did they work out a few methods of cleaning the hair, they also explained from a scientific point of view why stuff like acetone and my list above doesn't work.
Summary: she poured a solution containing toluol (U-Pol) inside the head several times, poured it out, rinsed; then she cleaned the hair with a butylglycol solution (Profoam) 2-3 times. Alternatively, she cleaned the hair with a ultrasound machine and hot concentrated laundry detergent. 

What I did:
1. Wash the hair normally with soap to get rid of washable dirt. Dry.

2. Add a few drops of tea tree oil to about a spoon of vegetable oil (mine was sunflower, if that matters). Apply to hair and let soak for a few hours.

3. Wash with soap to remove the excess oil. Squeeze excess water.

4. Gently apply the stain remover into the hair according to the directions. Ah, who am I kidding. OF COURSE I lathered all over and spent half an hour later to redo the part.

My stain remover was called "Smacchio Tutto" and came from an obscure Italian brand. I'll put here the list of ingredients and I'm sure you'll find a substitute:
Stain remover ingredients
5-15% non-ionic surfactants, anionic surfactants, soap
<5% phosphonates, aliphatic hydrocarbons (they don't say which though), ethyl alcohol
Other ingredients: enzymes, perfume, methylisothiazolinone, benzisothiazolinone, hexyl cinnamal, benzyl salicylate

5. Let dry, repeat if there are stubborn spots.

6. Wash with soap, rinse well.

7. Condition to your liking (either with fabric softener or with hair conditioner), rinse well and done!

Let's see Dori now:

This hair is perfection:

I discovered during an experiment that fabric softener applied to wet hair and not rinsed gives a kind of "wet look" without being sticky or crunchy in the least. I don't know how it holds over time, but seeing how fabric softeners are usually antistatic, I assume it would attract less lint and dirt than gel. If you like the look or want some very defined curls, I think it's worth a try.
[Update 26/08/2015 - It holds. I do all the fringes and bobs like that now.]

This hair is completely dry 
For normal looking hair though, rinse as if your life depended on it!

To get extra pop into previously sticky hair, try rubbing some baby powder into greasier looking spots. You will forever forget the hair was greasy at all :)

Don't do it like this though:

You only need a tiny bit. Dip the very tip of a toothbrush in the powder, tap as if shaking eyeshadow from a makeup brush and comb until you can't see it. Kind of like a dry shampoo for dolls.

This is it for today. I hope it's been a useful post. I certainly would have wanted to find something similar when I was wrestling Dori's hair snakes into obedience. This was the first part of a trilogy of doll hair posts I'll continue when I return in November. I'll be happy to listen to any advice or questions. Will you share a doll care horror story with me? :)

The Black Kitty ~(^^)(^^)~~~~


  1. My worst doll hair horror story was with a Dolly Parton doll by eegee. Her hair was really nice (such a lovely color in person), but the waves weren't very natural, so I decided to straighten them with boiling water, but.. the moment I poured the water over her head, her whole hair melted in a super fuzzy mess, beyond salvation of any kind. O_o The good is that I was planning to ooak her into something else, but rerooting wasn't in the plans.. Ah, and great post! I don't know why mattel adds the weird glue/goo now, I wish they'd drop that idea, it would make our doll life much easier.

    1. I had hair melt on an old Ken. It was too thin and short to allow a combover, but luckily I found some hair from another doll. It's weird, because Barbie hair never did that. This is why we should always test a strand from the very doll we are working with. The glue problem is getting very annoying though. My last two MH needed countless washes and I'm not even sure it's enough. And if I decide to do a boil, hello, more glue! I'm tempted to leave all future dolls' hair intact, but I can't stand sticky/stiff hair either. I have an old MH (elastic hips era) and the hair is so amazing, no glue whatsoever! I don't understand why they started using glue.

    2. Just saw this post and I'm sure you have probably already done something with Dolly by now. But if you haven't, here is a suggestion. I had the same thing happy to one of my Dolly dolls. her hair was lovely, just needed that little extra curl, time for a boil perm....same as yours, a melted blob....I removed her hair and added a vintage bubble cut Barbie wig and tah dah...She is now her character Doralee Rhodes from the movie 9 to 5....Better than tossing her.....

    3. Of course, a wig fixes all hair problems :) I started to reroot him, but then I wanted to close some of the huge smile and kinda ruined his face too... so now he's on hold while I finish other, more interesting projects. Thanks for your comment!

  2. Ah, that well-known feeling of washing and washing and seeing the hair get stickier and stickier... :D Thanks for posting your experiments, I'll check the contents of my local stain remover. Never thought this hobby would involve so much chemistry!

    1. I hate chemistry! Now that my dolls are clean, my solution is not to buy Mattel dolls until they've solved this problem. By the way, I have a Draculaura from China who seems to have no trace of glue. It gets worse in hot water and she's been there many times (stubborn curls). If possible, find out where the dolls are manufactured before you buy them. There are no complaints about the Chinese ones.

    2. Seems like Blogger ate my reply? Yeah, I've heard the Chinese dolls are better and I'm definitely keeping an eye out for them, although it seems all the Mattel dolls sold here are made in Indonesia. :/

      I'm not keen on boycoting since mattel have so many fun dolls coming out, but I really don't like having to use harsh chemicals to clean every doll I buy.

    3. From what I know, each MH model is limited to one of these countries. For example, Scaris Abbey - Indonesia, Scaris Cleo - China. You can't find a Scaris Abbey made in China simply because the order for this product was placed to Indonesia and the Chinese can't pull the design out of thin air. It doesn't matter where you buy it, all are made in the same country. If you really want an Indonesian issue, the best way to get rid of the glue chemical-less is to wash the hair many many times with a toothbrush with soapy water and coarse sugar.
      I'm not boycotting 100% but the glue problem decreases the desirability of some dolls to the point where I don't feel any regrets for passing on them. But then again, the Zombie Shake is so gorgeous that I want it even with glue pouring down the clothes.

    4. That's what I thought, but I've also seen photos where people compare the Chinese vs Indonseian versions of EAH dolls. Of course it's possible they just switched manufacturing country permanently halfway through a release or something. To complicate things further, I recently rerooted a Fashionista barbie with terrible glue problems that was made in China. :/

      I'll try scrubbing with sugar and see if that helps, otherwise it's rerooting.

    5. You know, I just checked the very Teresa I wrote about here, and she's also made in China! It's so confusing. I hope the sugar helps, please share your results when you try!

  3. Thanks for sharing your remedies! I've pinned this post to a Pinterest board titled, #NoMoreGlueHeads. Spreading the word ...

    1. Yup, spreading and supporting! My hands are tied otherwise, I can't complain to Mattel directly unless I'm from the USA or Canada... and I'm not even on the same continent.

  4. This is just fascinating, and makes me wish I'd taken chemistry. Hm, time to start reading the stain remover bottles!

    1. Hi! Sorry, I missed this comment! I made a habit out of reading bottles because I'm allergic to a ton of things. Did you find anything suitable for cleaning the hair?

  5. Hi!
    I can't resist to add a comment! The glue drives me MAD! It is totally unacceptable. Before, I had made a rule to not buy any glue headed dolls anymore but recently, I have been weak because of the crazy prices during the sale. From now on, back to the rule! I have bought a second hand Skelita recently. she is in perfect condition but she has the beginning of the dreaded glue seepage. It will really annoy me if it gets worse and if I have to destroy her hair style to cure it, Grrrrrr! And I really like her. I have never seen a version of Skelita without glue so... At least, she was second hand, Mattel will not have my money!
    A few years ago, all the dolls made in China were glue free but recently they started to put glue in the China dolls too. And I have noticed that they leak even faster(but without the disgusting smell...yes. it also stinks as if it was not bad enough as it is!) Hardly any dolls are glue free now, so I think I will save money!! Maybe i'll make an exception with Isi Dawndancer but just ONE!! I mainly collect MH dolls but I know the EAH and Barbie dolls have glue in the head too. I have two EAH only and they are both glue free.
    I am furious as an adult collector but if I was a little girl, I would be devastated to have dolls like that! Bastards Mattel!
    I now squeeze dolls heads in the shops! It's my new hobby! I hope they will never call security for suspicious behaviour!! It is very easy to check with the new boxes by the way!
    This was a little comment from London!
    All the best!

    1. Hello, London doll collector! Sorry, I missed this comment! I've made the same resolutions as you = no more new dolls unless absolutely spectacular or very cheap/second-hand. Apparently, they are working on a different type of glue, because the more recent dolls seem to have less to no seepage, although their heads are still hard with glue. That's what I've heard from other collectors, I haven't verified it myself. I love playing with doll hair, so I'm concentrating on other brands and older glue-free dolls. I will not contribute to the demand for sub-par products!

    2. Hello, I was trying to find more answers to fix the glue problem and went back to your blog in case I would have missed something! What a waste of time this glue! I'm glad I've done so, it was good timing as I was surprised to find your comment!
      To be honest, I really don't think they are using new glue at all. I have bought a creepateria Cleo in a car boot sale with mild glue seepage. She was new, necklace still attached, never played with. Could not resist even with the beginning of seepage. This doll is quite recent and no improvement. I think they will carry on using leaking glue until the end of times! I really like MH, it is such a pain to have to think about the bloody glue. I will try to concentrate on the second-hand glue free older dolls but it is hard! I have also bought Clawdeen Freak du Chic (very spectacular according to me and extremely reduced!) Unfortunately, head as hard as Hell...If she leaks...Grrrrr!
      I'll visit your blog again, I find it interesting!
      All the best!
      (Londoom again!)

    3. Thank you for your comments, Londoom!
      I see what you mean about that Cleo and Clawdeen, they are quite unique, I would have bought them too. You can check my comment below about cornstarch. I guess I should buy a new glue head and write an update for this post...

    4. NOOOOOOOOO! Don't buy any glue head unless you find one in a car boot sale or one extremely reduced!!

  6. I didn't have the stain remover handy, so I had to get more creative...

    I tried shampoo, Dawn's dish soap, Dr. Bronners soap (undiluted) with no luck. The boiling water seemed to help a tiny tiny bit. Then I tried Pine Sol slightly diluted which helped a tiny bit more.

    What really worked the best was TEA TREE OIL. I have used this as a less potent "goo gone" to remove sticker residue so I thought I'd give it a try in this situation. I doused the hair inundiluted tea tree oil and scrubbed it into each strand of hair. Then I poured in more and scrubbed more. Then I lathered in liquid hand soap and rinsed it all out.

    Holy crap, the hair is manageable now!!! Not perfect but almost! No more clumps of hair sticking together. The hair was stuck in a pony tail position and now it sits straight down!

    It has a bit of an oily sheen perhaps from glue residue or perhaps from tea tree oil residue, but that might be able to be fixed with more soap and water or a little powder.

    Maybe this will work for someone else.

    1. Hi! Sorry, I missed this comment! Yes, tea tree oil seems to be the key here. I also tried other essential oils that worked as well (citrus - don't remember which - and lavender). It does leave an oily sheen, that is why I used the stain remover, other detergents simply didn't cope with it all. I ran out of the stain remover and I hated it anyway, so I tried cornstarch instead. I scrubbed it generously into dry hair that was previously treated with oil and detergent, left it overnight, then washed. I have yet to try cornstarch alone on glue hair, but the dolls I treated like this have better hair now.
      Thank you for sharing your story!

  7. I just tried tea tree oil - it worked beautifully! We're going to do another treatment tomorrow - especially at the roots, but my daughter's gluey-headed Barbie is a million times better. Mattel - WTH?!!

    1. I'm glad you found a solution that works for you! I agree, Mattel made a really bad move with the glue. It is no fun playing with the hair any more.

  8. Almost three years later and the issue isn't solved? Wow, Mattel... :D Alright, to be fair they supposedly changed the formula of the glue to make it less prone to leaking (but just as rock-hard).

    I haven't tried tea tree oil yet, but I'd be worried about it damaging the vinyl in the long run. Then again, don't many cleaning products contain oil of some kind?

    I don't know if I mentioned, but someone on tumblr figured out a product called Boreal Citrus Wonder seems to work: Unfortunately it seems to be only sold in Canada. Someone suggested any cleaner containing lemon oil might work, so I don't know? Maybe that's the risk we have to take to get rid of the glue.

    1. I tried a citrus oil, I can't remember if it was grapefruit, lemon or orange. I don't think it was any different from the tea tree oil, except the smell was more tolerable to me. That is such a ridiculous issue for what is supposed to be a children's toy!

  9. I'm not keen on using chemicals on my dolls' hair, so I think I'll give the tea tree a shot. I've got a Meowlody with SERIOUS glue seepage (my fault, she was fine until I boil straightened her box hair) and I've tried washing up liquid and talc - former didn't work, latter REFUSED to be brushed out - and I'm at my wits end because I love her, but her hair is becoming a disaster!

    1. Good luck! Try corn starch or flour instead of talc, it's easier to brush out and not carcinogenic. Let me know how that goes.

  10. I just stumbled across your blog! We were both members of the Legendary tutorials (dolls&daggers) board. I have a fashionista who's hair is sooooo gunky with glue i am so royally pissed off with mattel! Imagine parents giving this to their kid and she wants to play with the hair and gets covered with this sticky slime. its unpardonable! What is the point of a series diverse dolls and body types if the doll is unworthy of playing with?!

    1. Hi Mooshy, of course I remember you! Don't you have Facebook? We kept in touch, the rest of us, through a closed group. Why don't you send me your email so that I can add you? You can PM me:
      Concerning the dolls, I heard they started using a new method of securing the hair this year, melting the hair ends inside the head. I think it might be true because I got two new-ish Barbies this spring and both had glue-free heads. So there is hope :)

  11. Hi! My daughter just got a really expensive Barbie as a gift. She was delighted, although said pretty much immediately that the hair felt sticky. She was with her grandparents then and they said no when she wanted to wash the hair (she's 6 and messy��). Anyway, she got home and immediately washed the hair with soap, and it got even more sticky. She was really upset, cried and wanted to throw it away. I'm a chemistry teacher, so I figured it was glue that leaked out. So... The best thing to remove glue is actually chemically clean petrol. Where we live (Sweden) we can purchase small bottles from where we would buy paint. So I soaked a cotton wipe and tried a small part of the hair (had to try that it didn't cause any other reaction). That strand of hair is now ok, so I will try the rest of the hair later. Her grandparents saved the receipt from the store, so last option would be returning the doll. Anyway, I thougt it was weird that a doll would leak glue, so I googled it and found this thread.

    1. Thanks for sharing your story! It makes sense, because petrol products are powerful solvents. I'm pretty sure there was some in the cleaner I used as well.

      I moved away from this subject though, for two reasons:
      - I don't play with the hair so often, so I can't be bothered
      - Mattel stopped using this glue apparently and I only have a few dolls with sticky hair, all of which are more or less cured.

      In recent releases you'll notice the heads got softer and the hair cleaner. That's because they melt the hair roots inside instead of pouring glue. I hope they never return to that horrible glue again.

    2. @etheswede, I always wondered what parents and kids think about the glue. Swedish Barbie collector blog Kattis Dockor has written about the glue problem too:

      I'm not sure whether Mattel actually changed their rooting method: the ends of the hair plugs look like they might be melted, but it could also be that they just learned how to use smaller globs of glue instead of slathering the entire inside of the head. I haven't had the chance to take a closer look, but that would explain why we still get the occasonal glue-headed doll, just like before we'd get the occasonal glue-free one. Oh well, as long as there's less glue I'm happy.


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