Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Bad hair day in Ponyville

I'm sure it's occurred to many of you that manufacturing toys with long, flowing hair which looks magnificent in retail packaging, but approaches haystack status after a few days of enthusiastic play, is kind neither to young children nor their families ("Mummy, her hair looks yucky, please fix it").  And it's not a simple matter of brushing.  Toys with long hair require particular and focused attention . . . which isn't as bad as it sounds. I found that after you set up and get into the groove of detangling, it's quite therapeutic.

Gather together a ruffianly assortment of ponies.  I did my daughters' three worst contenders the other day, which is what inspired me to share this - I only wish I'd photographed those three before I started, because they looked SO much worse than the ones next in line for treatment.  But these will give you some idea.  Matted and rough, with hair going in every direction except straight down.  Well loved.  But looking as if they've stumbled out of a nightclub at dawn.

 You don't need much to fix them up though - 
  • just some water

  • and a nice soft towel
  • a bowl or dish 
  • a spoon
  • a measuring cup (I used a 1/2 cup measure, which is good for quite a few ponies - a tablespoon would do if you only have one or two to treat)
  • a comb - preferably a nylon comb with slightly flexible teeth, rather than a harsh rigid plastic one
  • fabric conditioner/softener
Years ago I used to buy a Green Apple fragranced version which blissed me out every time I inhaled.  I can't get that where I live now, so a generic lavender scented version sufficed quite pleasantly.  Why fabric conditioner and not hair conditioner?  Well, hair conditioner is formulated to suit organic human hair, but most toys have synthetic hair strands, to which fabric conditioner is better suited. 

  • oh, and fingers.  Patient fingers.

Things you may possibly need at the end of the process:
  • a kettle or electric jug

  • a reasonable amount of spatial awareness

Okay, now to get started!

Measure equal amounts of water (plain tap water is fine) and fabric conditioner.  Pour each into a bowl or small dish.  Stir for a few moments to blend.

Now take your first candidate.  Examine the pony's hair and remove any plaits, elastic bands, sticks, burrs . . . whatever you might find in there.  Decide whether you prefer to begin at the mane or the tail, and immerse that part gently in your conditioner mixture.  Be careful not to dunk the whole head (or rump) - it's best not to give liquid a chance to enter the body of the toy.  You can use your fingers to work the conditioner up to the roots of the hair.  Hold the pony over the bowl and squeeze the hair gently to remove excess.

Now take the comb and settle in to a comfortable seat, with the towel folded in your lap.  You can lay the pony on the towel or hold it above it in case of drips - either way, your clothes/furnishings are protected.

If the hair is only a little scruffy, you may be able to work the comb through it.  Begin at the ends, very gently.  If you hit a snag, stop.  Don't try to pull the comb through - you could end up removing an entire plug of hair or at least a strand or two.  Your children will notice.  Trust me on this.

If the hair is actually in a revolting clump though (like Glitter Glide's was), the only method to use is to separate the hair a few strands at a time, by hand.  Start as close to the source of an edge strand as your fingers can go, and gently work the strand free from the mass.  Although this sounds tedious it's actually pretty satisfying, and not too time-consuming - the worst mane took me only ten minutes to detangle using this technique. 

 After this the hair will look untangled, but still kind of wild.

And what a pleasure it is to gently comb it smooth.  Again, be sure not to tug.  If you've missed a little knot, work it out with your fingers and then run the comb through again.

Now repeat the process for the tail.

The hair is now ready to be rinsed under running water.  Take the towel with you and leave it near the tap, you can gently wrap the mane and tail in a layer of towel and squeeze out excess water, then dry any water on the body of the pony.  I find it best not to rinse the conditioner mix out too thoroughly - a little residue helps to keep some weight and smoothness.  Don't rub the hair dry, unless you're motivated by a burning desire to untangle it again any time soon.
 Rinse the comb as well to remove conditioner, then comb through the mane and tail so that they flow in the direction you want.  I combed the ends up around one finger, to add a little curl.  You could set them on a curler if you want a ringlet effect.  Now the pony can be set aside to dry - it won't take too long - and you can start on the next one.

Brush or comb the hair out when dry - or give your child that satisfying job - not since Marcia Brady took poor awkward Molly under her wing has a makeover been greeted with greater acclaim in our house!

Regarding the kettle - this is for hair which needs that touch of extra help.  Even after conditioning, detangling and rinsing, little Rainbow Dash here still looked slightly untidy.  I'd read that plastic hair can be tamed with boiling water, and decided to risk putting it to the test.  You'll only need a very small amount of water, and the aforementioned spatial awareness.  Seriously, you don't want to lose concentration here - one hand is going to be close to boiling water.  Lay the pony in your kitchen sink - heatproof, moisture proof - and carefully trickle water from the kettle over her hair for a few seconds.  If you're holding on to the toy, be careful to keep your hands above the area where the water is aimed.  Blot again, comb again - you should find the hair a little more malleable now, while it's still hot.  I was able to make her mane curl up around my finger so she looked "finished".  (And of course please make sure that no child comes near the boiling kettle or heated water.)  

Also, Thistle Whistle's tail had been braided for some months and held the kinks even after conditioning and combing.  The boiling water treatment relaxed the fibres - I repeated it several times for her, combing the tail straight each time, and eventually barely a ripple remained. Looking good, ponies.


  1. Extremely helpful guide, thanks so much! The Barbies will be getting excited about a girl's night in now.

  2. OOoh yes - we tried this method on one Barbie and she now looks serenely perfect :)


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