A Comparison of Doll Head Removal Methods
The following is for informational purposes only!
Performing any of these actions can cause damage to your doll. I don't recommend that you do this, and I am not responsible if you try it, and something goes horribly, horribly wrong.

(Result may vary. Void where prohibited. This may be illegal in some states. I am not affiliated with any doll company.)

Notes: The dolls in the photos below are Tonner® 16-inch fashion dolls on the Tyler Wentworth™ body. These methods may or may not work on other sizes and brands of dolls.

If you are wondering why you would take the head off of a doll in the first place, you are on the wrong page. Please use the back button of your browser now as things are only going to get stranger from here. You've been warned.

All heat-related head removal methods have some risks in common. If the heat becomes too great, the fibers of the hair can be melted or reset. The neck of the doll can crack or split, and the neck knob may come out of the body and remain stuck in the head. The neck knob may break off. Heating the doll's head can cause minor changes to the shape of the doll's head, making it narrower, fatter, or lopsided, especially if pressure is applied to the doll's head as it cools.

Preparation: I remove all clothing and accessories (including earrings), and place a hairnet over the doll's hair. Many collectors also wrap a rubber band securely around the doll's neck. This serves to reinforce the seams of the neck and help to prevent neck splits.

The Heating Pad Method

Advantages: With this method there is a relatively low risk of damaging the doll's hair and hairstyle, and factory screening or repainted features. It is easy, and it doesn't make a mess.

Why this is a bad idea: This method can dissarange applied or rooted lashes. Some collectors have reported having a difficult time getting the head hot enough to safely remove it, but sometimes removing the cloth cover of the heating pad (the one that says "never use without the removable cover in place") will overcome this problem. This method takes longer than some other methods.

Requirements: A heating pad.

Place the doll so that the head is in the center of the pad ...

... and roll the doll up like a burrito ...

... until the head is squishy. How squishy? This squishy.

Note: Heating pad temperatures vary greatly. The maximum temperature achieved by the heating pad in this example was 130° F.

Grasp the head in one hand, and the doll's shoulders in the other, and begin to work the head off of the neck knob. Some collectors recommend pushing the head down first to enlarge the neck hole, and then gently pulling the head directly away from the body, or gently pulling the head while turning the head slightly to one side. Be careful not to pull to the side too much, as this increases the risk of cracking the neck.

The Alternate Heating Pad Method

Advantages: Similar to the method above, but faster. According to Dr. Noreen, the expert Doll Doctor at the Tonner Doll Hospital, "We have found that those microwavable neck wraps and heat buddy's are the safest and quickest for warming up those heads!"

Why this is a bad idea: Similar to the heating pad method described above.

Requirements: A microwaveable pain relief wrap such as the Carex Bed Buddy (seen below).

The Hot Water Method

Advantages: In my experience, this is the fastest of the three methods discussed on this page.

Why this is a bad idea: It's somewhat messy. Hot water can and will reset a doll's hairstyle, so if the water leaks through the baggy, the hair may be damaged, lose its curl, or reset into an undesired style. I have burnt myself a little with this method.

Requirements: Water, a water-tight plastic baggie, a heat-and-microwave-safe mug or bowl, and a microwave. There are other ways of heating the water to an effective temperature, but they are not discussed here.

Place the baggie over the doll's head so that it will keep the doll dry but will also allow air out.

Heat the water. For this example, a temperature of 130° F was used.

Place the doll head first into the hot water.

... until the head is squishy. How squishy? This squishy.

Work the head off the neck as described above.

The Hair Dryer Method

Advantages: Only the neck area of the head is heated. Although the Tonner Doll Company® never recommends altering one of their dolls, Dr. Noreen of the Tonner Doll Hospital has in the past provided tips for using this method (see below for a transcription of the insert).

Why this is a bad idea: It is relatively easy to singe or reset the hair fibers with this method. I have had the hot air change the composition of the varnish/sealer on a repainted doll, making the doll's face shiny.

Requirements: A towel or wash cloth, and a hair dryer.

Place the towel around the doll's head so that all of the head and hair are covered with just the neck of the doll showing.

Apply the hot air to the neck area of the doll, making sure to heat the neck as evenly as possible on all sides. Keep the hair dryer at least 5 inches away from the doll head, and move the dryer around so that heat is not applied to one area for too long.

Note: Hair dryer temperatures vary greatly. The maximum temperature achieved by the hair dryer in this example was 110° F.

Once the neck area is pliable enough to ease the doll head off without forcing it, work the head off the neck as described above.

Below is a transcript of a shipping insert from Dr. Noreen at the Tonner Doll Hospital.

Tips From The Doll Doctor
By Doctor Noreen @ The Tonner Doll Hospital

I have compiled several tips related to the care and handling of your favorite Tonner or Effanbee doll. Some of these tips come from experience, but the vast majority are from collectors like yourselves who were kind enough to share their knowledge. I would like to begin with our Tyler line and some ideas that will make the “Power Of Play” more enjoyable.

Now for all you head swappers out there…(and you know who you are), we do not recommend swapping heads if you are inexperienced in this practice. Since you are going to eventually try it anyway, I will give you some insight on this increasing common practice among collectors of our fashion dolls. The first thing to remember when doing a head transplant without a license is that there is some risk involved. The most common side effect is a broken neck button. This can be deadly—but avoidable. You will be using your blow dryer to warm up the neck opening completely. Please protect the beautiful saran hair first, as direct intense heat will cause Tyler to have a permanent case of the “brittle frizzies”. Most head swappers wrap the hair with a small washcloth. Direct the warm air towards the base of the head where the neck opening is. It usually takes a few minutes of warming to make the vinyl pliable enough to slip off the neck button without causing damage. Once you feel the neck is warm enough…gently pull up while turning head slightly to one side. If you feel resistance-Stop! To try and forcefully remove the head will cause the neck button to snap off, and can also cause cracks in the neck itself. If resistance is felt, just continue to warm up the base of the head with your hair dryer for another few minutes. Now that you have successfully removed the head, you must remember to completely warm up the neck opening of the replacement head. Follow the same procedure, except this time, when the head is fully warm, push down at an angle while twisting the head onto the button. Again, if resistance is felt-Stop! Go back to re-warming the neck opening for a few more minutes. Always keep the dryer at least 4 to 5 inches from the area you are heating. Even a hairdryer held too close to the vinyl for long periods of time, can cause a distortion to the vinyl. As you now are probably aware, head swapping can be a life threatening procedure. This is the reason it is not recommended and should always be left to a professional Doll Doc like myself.

Used with the kind permission of Dr. Noreen
To contact the Tonner Doll Hospital, call (845) 339-2960.
Tonner Inquiry Form

The Hot Car Method

Advantages: This method is easy, and requires the least handling of the doll.

Why this is a bad idea: This method takes longer than some other methods. Car temperatures vary greatly and are hard to judge, and access to a hot car is not always available. The entire body is heated, rather than just the head/shoulder area.

Requirements: A hot car, and a towel.

Place the doll on a clean towel in a car that gets very hot for approximately 20-30 minutes. Do not use a towel that may stain the doll. The temperature inside a parked car can rise above 140° F, especially in direct sunlight, so use caution and do not leave the doll in the car for extended periods of time. You may cover the doll with a clean cloth or towel to prevent direct sun exposure. Again, do not use any cloth or towel that is likely to stain (white or light-colored non-print towels are preferrable).

Getting the Head Back On

If you are transplanting the head from one body to another, you can use one of the methods above to remove the head and transplant it directly onto its new body before the head cools. If the head has become too cool, or if you are starting with the head and body already separated, you can use any of the methods above to heat/reheat the head until it is soft enough to replace on a body. Additionally, you can use the method below.

The Curling Iron Method

Advantages: Only the neck area of the head is heated, leaving the rest of the head firm and making it easier to apply enough force to get the neck opening back over the neck knob (if the whole head is too soft, it can squish too much, making it difficult to maneuver the head back over the knob). This method is the most effective on extra stubborn heads, such as the male 17 inch Tonner® dolls.

Why this is a bad idea: If the doll's hair touches the curling iron, it will melt and possibly break off. The curling iron can damage the vinyl of the neck hole, especially the inner and outer edges where the vinyl is thinnest.

Requirements: A 3/8 inch curling iron. Note: Some collectors remove the clamp section of the curling iron, to reduce the risk of scoring the neck hole and to keep the clamp from accidentally touching the doll's face or hair. I tape mine open because I have occasionally encountered a neck hole that is a little larger than others, and I find the extra circumference added by the clamp to be handy with those.

Place the barrel of the curling iron into the neck hole.

Leave the barrel in until the neck hole is soft enough that you can easily insert your finger into the neck hole.

Note: Curling iron temperatures and settings vary. If you are using this method for the first time, use the lowest setting of your iron and check the neck hole every few minutes to be sure it is warming up but not burning the vinyl of the neck hole.

The curling iron should not damage the vinyl of the neck hole. If the vinyl begins to darken, the curling iron is too hot or has been in contact with the vinyl too long. The photo below is of the neck hole after it has been sufficiently warmed.

Position the head over the neck knob and push down until the neck slides on to the neck knob. You may need to push down at an angle while twisting the head onto the knob.

Finally, working the head as if chalking a pool cue will help adjust the head and make sure it is in the correct position.

Photo credits: The Longsuffering Husband