Here's my test subject:
I made Chingado last year and he's gotten a lot of wear since then; I've been lending the costume out and the head has gotten really sweaty on the inside. I've never had a problem with my own stuff smelling but the combination of other folks' sweat and the fact that I let someone wear it all AC weekend make for a pretty manky cat. The head had been disinfected, Lysol/Febrezed, dried over a fan, etc etc -- but after a while, that sweaty stuff starts soaking into the foam of the head, even with it being lined with lycra and having the wearer wear a balaclava himself. Sprays only mist the inner surface of the head and mask the smell ... it wasn't going away, it just smelled like flowery gym socks. All that chemically stuff just builds up and it kind of winds up being like sleeping on the same sweaty pillowcase night after night. Eww :I
SO ... since I made this critter myself and am able to take the risk, I thought I'd try just straight-up washing the thing. Submerging it, soaping it up, soaking it. This would get the soap and water into the foam and flush out all of that gross dead stuff inside. If I had to make a few repairs for it, so be it -- and if the mask got destroyed, well, lesson learned. I filled up my bathtub, told Chingado he had been very bad, and got ready to give him a good drowning.
Since I made this head for myself, most of the seams are just glued. I'd heard that glue can pull apart with water, so I thought this was a good test of that. I filled up the tub with COLD water and added my favourite detergent and some shampoo -- this would help with the smell and the oils built up inside the head. When you get sweaty, you wash your hair ... figured the same would go for a fursuit head!
I dunked it in the water and then realized I should do something about the eyes, so I cut them back and took the pupil buckram out so it wouldn't bleed all over the fur. I'd recommend completely removing the eyes from your costume if you ever decide to wash it this way because they'd very likely bleed or get ruined unless they are completely plastic, like the eyes that Arend makes.
I let the mask soak for a bit on both sides, squishing it down so that the soapy water would get into the foam. Yes, I mashed his face down, cheeks, ears, all of it.
You see all that orange stuff, including the stained fur on the neck? Ha ha, turns out the dye used in the lycra balaclava bled all over the inside of the mask from sweat. If you're making a new mask and using light coloured fur, was that balaclava out before you start gluing!
I drained the tub, squeezed the mask to get most of the soapy water out, then refilled the tub with clean water. I poured some Febreze Sport into the water and dunked the mask in again -- I think that Febreze works by bonding to odor molecules or someodd, don't quote me on it, lol ... so I wanted to get the Febreze INTO the foam. I squished it around again, sopping up all of the water, let it soak for a little bit, then re-rinsed the head in yet another tub of clean water. I didn't want the Febreze sitting in the head because the smell is irritating to me. This eliminated ALL odors, even the fragrance from the soaps I used. Neat!
I wringed the head out again -- at this point it's like a giant, heavy sponge. If you've washed a fursuit body in the tub, you know what it's like -- just add a ton of wet foam to the mix. This is where you have to be a bit careful ... my masks are very light, I don't use a lot of heavy foam, so I had to be sure that the weight of the water in the mask wasn't going to tear it apart. I used a cheap wig stand to help the mask keep its shape and prevent it from collapsing in on itself while it dried.
I set it up on a rack in the bathtub to drip out for a while.
Once it had drip-dried a bit, I moved the rack out of the bathroom and set up my fans -- a large boxfan blowing on the mask and a small fan on the inside to keep the air moving and prevent mildew. It dried out mostly within a few hours; I kept rotating it. Even now the foam in its thickest areas is still a touch damp [I washed the head about 24 hrs ago] but nothing that won't dry out :) I brushed the head as it dried, much like any other furry critter costume piece, and he came out looking great.
The mask was unscathed by the whole process -- the glue did not come apart, the foam has not mildewed, the soap didn't destroy any of the detailing, nothing ... admittedly, this is a pretty basic head, no airbrushing or fancy bits, but even then, I think with a bit of careful and gentle scrubbing, you'd be able to manage washing even a fragile mask. I am really happy with the results -- the odors are ALL GONE, completely, and I don't feel so gross putting the head on anymore. Plus, the white fur brightened up a bit too! All I have left to do is replace the pupils in the eyes and replace the neck-fur because it's stained that weird orange :p Totally worth the time and effort! :)
So, would I recommend this process to others? Yes and no. It really depends on the build of your mask and how confident you are in its construction. I'd say that any Arend mask would be able to handle this with flying colours -- you wouldn't even have to remove the eyes, they are plastic -- but a heavily airbrushed mask or one with special detailing may benefit from a selective wash only on the INSIDE of the mask. Soak the inside -- obviously, the water will soak thru the foam, but you aren't soaping up the fur so it shouldn't damage anything painted on top -- scrub it out with the soap of your choice, then soak it again with clean water and pop it on some fans to dry. It's at the owner's discretion, surely. I will be experimenting with this method and some airbrushed fur once I get a chance, but I don't see the soapy water ruining it unless, for some reason, it was water-based non-permanent paint [???] or if I was scrubbing the fur directly and vigorously, or adding some kind of chemical to the bath [chlorine or bleach??].
I'm of the mind that these things aren't as fragile as most folks think they are, and I like to have more than a little confidence in the build of the mask, if I am going to be performing and wearing it on my face! It's all just fur, foam, thread and adhesives, and if you know how to care for it, there's no reason for it to fall apart from a bit of water or wear unless it was put together poorly to start with. I understand that fursuits are a great investment for a lot of folks and there are worries regarding care and durability due to the cost, but really -- if it cost that much, I'd reckon it could hold up to a lot more than you think it could! :)
With all that said, certainly take all of this with a grain of salt -- TRY IT AT YOUR OWN RISK, only if you are confident with the build and condition of your mask. I hold no responsibility for what happens, I just thought I would share my own experience and hope that it inspires other folks to be a little bolder with their costume care ;) Sprays work only temporarily, and then you're wearing all of those chemicals on your face, eventually ... they need to go somewhere! I know that Tilt hoses Griefer off pretty often, and he's looking nowhere near his age. Costumes can be kept looking clean and new without having to sacrifice durability, or the noses of those around you ;)
Hope this was at least interesting! Again, this is one isolated experience, your mileage my vary, but I just wanted to share the fact that it could be done. :)