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Removing Paint from Toys By David Holcombe
Collectors of old toys often find that previous owners tried to "improve" the toy by adding colors, usually painted with a heavy brush. Here are three methods I have found that just might turn "trash into treasure." Caution! These methods carry an element of risk. Results are not guaranteed, and care should be observed. Neither the author or ToyNfo.com assume any liability for damages as a result of using these cleaning methods.
Brake fluid - (My older brother taught me this one.) A while back I found a great Tootsietoy Caterpillar bulldozer at a toy show, and I could afford it because orange paint had been used to "touch up" that Caterpillar yellow. Using a cotton swab and a very little brake fluid, just like we have to add to our older cars, I gently swabbed the orange. With care and a few minutes work, the brake fluid softened the orange without destroying the yellow. Don't be too energetic or you can soften the yellow too. After the unwanted paint is removed, allow cold running water to go over and over the toy to remove the brake fluid residue.
Easy-Off Oven Cleaner - Marx six-inch figures and other single-color plastic moldings are often painted by their owners, and plastic is quickly destroyed by commercial paint removers. However, oven cleaner will usually take the paint off without destroying the plastic. It removes all the paint, so if you're just trying to get a little off, don't try it. Put the plastic figure into a glass or stainless steel container (I use the stainless steel kitchen sink), spray it with the cleaner, and give it time to work. It usually takes only a few minutes. I suggest you try this on a broken figure before using it on your unbroken valuable one. Wear rubber gloves to protect your hands and ventilate your work area well. Oven cleaner has fumes that can be dangerous. Use lots of running water to stop the chemical action. This works very well on latex (water based) paints, slowly but effectively on enamels (model paints), but I have found that metallic paints, such as those from spray cans, cannot be removed by this or any other method.
Castrol Super Clean (cleaner-degreaser) - Just last week I purchased a Wyandotte Speedster #603, manufactured in 1937 and up to now far over my budget. But this one had one replacement wheel, a good working spring mechanism, and a clumsy two-tone white and red paint job with many brush marks showing. The underside was still the original light green and looked good, so I took a chance. First I disassembled the car as far as possible, removing the spring mechanism and grill. Be careful with those metal tabs! Wearing rubber gloves and working with open windows and a fan for ventilation, I brushed a small area of the toy with the CASTROL cleaner (usually used for de-greasing automobile engines). Slowly the cleaner softened the white paint and finally the red. Much to my pleasure, the original green paint was in very good shape, and Wyandotte had also made a two-tone paint job, with the fenders being a darker green than the body. The results? A C-4 or C-5 toy became at least a C-7 or C-8 on a ten-point scale. Value goes up at least 50%!
Yes, I wear rubber gloves when using any type of paint removing chemical. I prefer the throw-away gloves that can be purchased in packs for little cost. Chemical burns hurt! Good ventilation is a must, and an open window isn't enough. If you must work inside, set a fan up to keep the air moving. A source of water also is necessary, for these paint removing techniques are not very forgiving. I destroyed a potentially valuable toy not long ago by using the Castrol cleaner too slowly and letting it bleach out the original paint's shine.
These methods aren't perfect, and a lot of caution is called for, but I've found them useful. Have fun!