Pile of Stuffed Animals

Stuffed Animals: A Complete Guide

Find out everything you ever wanted to know about plushies!

What are stuffed animals?

A stuffed animal is a soft toy made out fabrics such as plush or cloth, which is filled with synthetic fiber, cotton, straw or wood wool. In some cases, the stuffed animals are filled with more coarse materials such as plastic pellets or beans. Stuffed animals distinguish themselves from other toys by their cuddly nature; they are often soft and have exaggerated features such as large eyes and short limbs to make them look more appealing.

Stuffed animals are most often shaped like animals, and they find their origin in late 19th-centrury Germany. Nowadays, both children and adults often own multiple plushies.

A Large Pile of Stuffed Animals
Stuffed animals come in all shaped and sizes (Credit: The Bite-Sized Backpacker)

What types of stuffed animals are there?

Stuffed animals come in all shapes and sizes. They are usually classified based on their appearance, as they tend to be shaped like well-known creatures or objects. The most common stuffed animal is the bear: known as “teddy bears”, these plushie bears range in design from brown bears and panda bears to koala bears and gummy bears. Though they come in the form of tiny key chains as well as giant teddy bears the size of large armchairs, they are generally about 20 centimeters high.

Aside from the teddy bear, common stuffed animals are dogs and cats, or easily recognizable animals such as the inhabitants of the African savannah: the giraffe, the lion, or the elephant.

Though the term “stuffed animal” indicates all plushies resemble animals, this is untrue. While most of them do resemble real animals, many of them are shaped in different ways. Common plushie variations are ones that are shaped like spirits or mythological creatures, or fictional characters from books, films, and pop culture franchises. In addition, there are plushies that resemble real individuals, such as Ernesto “Che” Guevara and Rosie O’Donnell, and there are plushies shaped like foods, plants, body parts, landmarks, and inanimate objects, ranging from croissants and sushi rolls to vehicles and mobile phones.

Toast the Avocado Plushie climbing in a Plant
Plushies don’t always have to resemble animals (Credit: Toast the Avocado, @toasttheavocado)

What other terms for “stuffed animal” are there?

Stuffed animals go by many names around the world. The most popular term aside from “stuffed animal” is “plushie”. The soft nature of the word “plushie” is considered to relate well to the gentle, cuddly nature of the toys and was adapted by the plushie community on Instagram as their main handle. The word “plush” comes from the French word “peluché”, meaning “fluff” or “plush”..

Other common terms are “stuffed toy”, “plush toy”, “stuffy” or “teddy bear”. In the United Kingdom and Australia they are often called “soft toys” or “cuddly toys”.

What materials are used to produce stuffed animals?

One of the key aspects of what makes stuffed animals so attractive is that they are flexible and soft. Together with their often cute and exaggerated features, this makes them very suitable as objects of comfort. The softness of a stuffed animal largely depends on the materials used to make it. Most plushies are made from soft fabrics on the outside, to give make them gentle to touch. The fabrics used are similar those used in the production of clothing.

Just how malleable a stuffed animal is depends on its insides. Cotton and wood wool are two of the most common types of stuffing, as the are soft, natural materials. Stuffed animals containing wool can be bend thousands of times before they ever start losing form. The problem with wool, however, is that the material can’t be machine washed or dried without losing its form. Good quality cotton on the other hand will have been preshrunk before used as a stuffing, which is why plushies made with cotton are more easy to wash. Plushies filled with polyester fiberfill are also very common, as polyester is relatively cheap and won’t cause allergic reactions.

Stuffed animals which are firmer and heavier are usually made with foam, or with mohair fiber – the same material used to create the world’s first teddy bears. Other types of stuffing are bamboo fiber, corn fiber, and plastic, foam, steel or glass pellets. Plushies filled with pellets are extremely malleable and are held into shape only by their coating. Pellet-filled stuffed animals are not intended for children under the age of 3, as they contain small parts.

Finally, homemade plushies are often filled with fabric scraps or felt.

Hamster plushies Flinki and Flora collecting bottles for deposit returns
Hamster plushies Flinki and Flora collect plastic bottles for recycling (Credit: Flinki and Flora, @flinki.flora)

Is it possible to machine wash stuffed animals?

Most stuffed animals are produced with materials suitable for machine washing. Always use the gentlest cycle available on your washing machine, and preferably wash the stuffed animals inside a pillow cover or bed sheet. If the stuffed animal has holes in it, or shows any other sort of damage, it is recommended to wash it by hand to prevent further decline.

There are a few types of stuffed animals which are unsuitable for machine washing. Plushies using wool, mohair or foam as stuffing material should be washed by hand. Also make sure the stuffed animal doesn’t contain any additional materials such as leather or fur, as these materials are likely to get damaged when washed. Read the label on the stuffed animal to find out whether it is suitable for machine washing and drying. If the label has been cut off, opt for a safe, cold water hand wash, using a light detergent.

What are the benefits of stuffed animals?

Stuffed animals are exceptional toys: they offer comfort, feed the imagination and aid child development. For very young children, stuffed animals serve as objects of comfort. The toys make them feel safe and secure, and can be used to help them fall asleep. During daytime, the stuffed animals help them develop the children’s motor skills.

As children grow older their stuffed toys will help them develop their life skills. Through their toys, kids are taught simple words like “bear” and “dog”. They learn how to memorize names, and will eventually start to use their imagination to create characters around their stuffed animals. This leads to the further development of social skills, such as displaying love and expressing emotions.

Young adults and grown-ups often use stuffed animals as gifts or incentives, for example for Valentine’s Day. The toys can be used as objects of comfort during stressful periods, they can help teens and adults heal after going through a traumatic experience, or support them when they struggle with their health. Additionally, childhood toys can serve as a source of nostalgia or inspiration, and many adults choose to use a stuffed toy as a travel mascot.

Plushies for adults
Plushies are not just for children (Credit: The Bite-Sized Backpacker)

Do adult sleep with stuffed animals as well?

Traditionally, stuffed animals are widely known as objects of comfort for children, as well as toys to be played with. However, research regarding the use of stuffed animals by Fairuz Gaibie, a clinical psychologist from Cape Town, has shown that when people cuddle soft and comforting objects, such as a stuffed animal, oxytocin is released; and this goes for both children and adults. Whether we keep our stuffed animals due to sentimental attachment, as an object of emotional comfort or to help us sleep, approximately 44% of all adults still own plushies. This number was prompted by a research conducted in the United Kingdom by Hotpoint, and though it is not possible to extrapolate this number worldwide, it does give a clear indication that many adults still value their stuffed friends.

Aside from the traditional use of stuffed animals, they are also sold as souvenirs, they are gifted as a sign of love, sympathy, or congratulations, and –  if they are lucky –  they get to travel around the world.

To help you pick an awesome new friend, we’ve determined what the most popular plushies are at the moment. We composed a wonderful stuffed animal top 8 of plushies that you can order right now! These cuddly toys are of excellent quality and make for very nice gifts. Of course, you can also buy these plushies for yourself!

Every product purchased through this site will directly contribute to the welfare of wildcats and the preservation of their habitats. If you want, you can also take a look at some of our other top picks for buying stuffed animals!

Who is the most famous stuffed animal in the world?

The most famous stuffed animal in the world is Winnie-the-Pooh. Popularized by the books of A. A. Milne as well as the films by Walt Disney, Pooh was the favorite toy of Milne’s son Christopher Robin Milne. Winnie-the-Pooh was named after Winnie, a Canadian black bear living at London Zoo, who in turn was named after the city of Winnipeg, the hometown of the Canadian Lieutenant who purchased  Winnie from a hunter.

The rich imagination of Christopher Robin and his father led to the creation of a collection of short stories about the Pooh and his friends Piglet, Eeyore, Kanga, Roo, Tigger and Christopher Robin – who was based on the real Christopher. The other supporting characters in Milne’s novel Winnie-the-Pooh (1926) were also based on stuffed toys owned by Milne’s son. The original toys owned have been on display in The New York Public Library since 1987.

Winnie-the-Pooh and Friends at the New York Public Library
Winnie-the-Pooh and Friends at the New York Public Library (Credit: NYPL)

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