I have spoken recently about my addiction to collecting vintage Star Wars figures. What I have not mentioned is the time and effort that goes in to looking after, cleaning and restoring them. It’s a labour of love. One I am making up as I go along. I am by no means an expert, far from it. But I am learning a lot as I muddle through, hopefully not murdering too many of my figures along the way.
Almost all of the figures I now have I have bought from eBay. I have looked at other sites but eBay seems better for bargain hunting. If you are both patient and very lucky you can nab yourself a deal. I know I have. However, after the initial excitement of the bid and winning, after you have waited patiently for your next piece to arrive and after you have slowly and carefully unwrapped it, often it looks a little sad.
Many of the figures I have are obviously ones found in a loft, long forgotten and unloved. 30 years of neglect literally hang of their bodies, cobwebs swinging from craft that have long since lost the will to fly. I think I am an odd one out as a collector. I like the figures and craft that have had adventures. The slightly beaten up ones, the boxes long ago disposed of. These are the real figures to me. The ones that enchanted a child, just as mine enchanted me. I like to think of the adventures they have had. The mind of a child is a wondrous thing; we should get them to help write some stories for movies as they think of things we wouldn’t dare dream of. I remember as a child I built my own spice mines of Kessel, long before you could look up what they actually were.
With the initial excitement over you can finally examine your figures. The problem then is they tend to be a little dirty and quite often discoloured. We all know that Stormtroopers couldn’t manage to shoot a red shirt from Star Trek but my word they kept their armour spick and span. So when a tired and dirty yellow Stormtrooper arrives in the post looking like some chain-smoking mud wrestler I knew it was time to learn how to clean them.
There are many tutorials online. So many ideas and how-to videos, the problem was where to start. So, as my collection grows I will try various different ways of cleaning and restoring figures. With this in mind please do not take anything I write as an instruction because it may well not work. I am really not that practical or particularly good at doing manual, fiddly stuff, so a lot of this could end up a disaster. Like a prequel.
First and foremost, obviously it’s a deep clean. I use warm water, anti-bacterial wash (because you never know who had it before, and where it’s been!). I tried using baby wipes but you couldn’t get into the finer details of the more intricate figures, and they then smell like a babies changing bag. So I use a tooth brush a bowl of water and bit of elbow grease. I was going to use a Star Wars tooth brush just for the fun of it, but thought better of it. For now.
I scrub and scrub all the visible muck from the figures. This can actually take longer than you might expect. 30 years of goo is hard to get rid of. I have thought about putting them in a dishwasher to get them clean. I have read mixed reviews on this, some even saying it will melt your figures. I doubt this very much, but I will probably use a more, shall we say, expendable figure when I trial this.
Once the ook is all cleaned of most figures are OK. It’s only the light and white ones that need some additional attention really. One of the things you can sometimes notice in these older figures is that they can feel a little sticky. Upon reading up on this it seems it is due to the low slow degrading of the figures. Slowly but surely they are aging. They are aging much, much better than any of us, so I am pretty sure we do not need to worry that one day we will just have some lumps of molten plastic. However, it is happening. A way I have discovered to bring them back a little to their former glory is dashboard restorer and protector. This is the stuff you put on vinyl dashboards to stop the sun cracking them, it also brings back some of the shine. You need to make sure these are water based products as the petroleum ones can cause more harm than good in the long run. I experimented with this with a pair of Snaggletooth’s, Snaggleteeth, Snaggleti? Anyway, I had 2 Snaggletooth figures, both of equally used and abused condition. Both of them I cleaned in my usual way, tooth brush and anti-bacterial wash. Then I chose one of them to clean with the dashboard cleaner. It may be hard to see in the pictures, but there is a marked difference between the two. The treated one has a better colour and a healthy glow. So this seems to do the trick well, and hopefully elongate the life expectancy of the figures.
The other problem is the yellowing of figures. This takes a little more work, and a lot more time. As you can see, some of my Stormtroopers are looking like they have a liver complaint they are so yellow. No amount of washing, scrubbing or elbow grease is going to bring the shine back to them. We need a radical approach. It seems the most highly rated way of restoring them to a glorious white is to put them in Hydrogen Peroxide. You need to put them in some and then leave them for a week in the sunshine.
Obviously, this being the height of English summer, Wimbledon weeks and all that, there is no sun. initially I put the figures in a food container and weighed them down as they floated straight back up. This was not the best way of approaching this as for a start, Hydrogen Peroxide is not the kind of stuff you want to pour all over the place. Read the instructions and use gloves! It can be a little, well, tingly to say the least. Important lesson learned. I have found that the best thing to put them in is a glass jar. I had an old pickle jar, which seems the perfect height for dunking your troops in. the lid keeps them submerged and there is no danger of a chemical spillage.
After a week on a gloomy and overcast south facing window I was pretty pleased with the results. They may not be perfect but they look a damn sight better than they did when I got them. I dare say if the weather had been better and the sun was out they could have been better. Or if I had been more patient and waited another week they would be even more white. But I have deadlines and a column to write. Also I have almost no patience at all and that is the real reason I only left them on the windowsill for a week. Hopefully, now I have discovered the glass jar method the next batch of figures will be submerged better, without being weighed down with whatever I have laying around.
So the final thing to do was to give them another wash, make sure all the Hydrogen peroxide was off and then clean them with the dashboard cleaner.
But there you have it, my first attempt at restoring figures. I’m fairly happy with it I must say. We will see if I am brave enough to attempt a dishwasher clean at some point, fingers crossed!
Until next time, MTFBWY
Thank you for reading,