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How to clean vintage action figures

Updated on November 16, 2011

Caring for your vintage action figure collection

As any serious collector of vintage action figures or contemporary collectible action dolls knows, the Holy Grail of any collection is an action figure graded NRFB - Never removed from box!

However, for any collector who has picked up a low grade bargain for sentimental nostalgic value or happened upon a hard to find item that needs some attention this is a brief guide to removing dirt from action figures.

The 1998 Bruce Lee action figure (produced under license from Media Asia Consumer Products Ltd) I'm using in this lens had seen some heavy use and had clearly fallen foul of the enemy of all action figures - children! The upper body and face were blackened with years of grime and actually sticky to touch before cleaning. There were also random splashes of paint on the face and some previous attempts at covering ink stains which would need to be tackled with particular care.

A very dirty action figure pre-cleaning

A very dirty action figure pre-cleaning
A very dirty action figure pre-cleaning

Original state - back of figure

Original state - back of figure
Original state - back of figure

Soak in some warm soapy water

So...let's get started! If the action figure is particularly grubby leave it soaking in a tepid bubble bath of gentle washing up liquid for half and hour or so. The water shouldn't be too hot as this may shift painted areas.

Important note!

Before you dunk your action figure in foaming water please check carefully and make sure there are no stickers or transfers on the figure that will obviously be ruined by contact with water! This lens is aimed at the cleaning of 100% plastic molded figures - any figures with batteries or electrical parts, or dolls with clothing or fabric accessories should NOT use this method!

Soak in some warm soapy water

Soak in some warm soapy water
Soak in some warm soapy water

Use a very soft toothbrush to remove stubborn dirt

For action figures that are moderately dirty it should be enough to rinse the figure after soaking and then pat dry with a soft cloth. This was a tough case though and even after a long soak Bruce still wasn't spruce! For particularly hard to remove or caked-on dirt the figure can be gently cleaned with a very soft toothbrush. A toothbrush will also help reach those difficult to reach nooks in more complex or detailed figures.

Use a very soft toothbrush to remove stubborn dirt

Use a very soft toothbrush to remove stubborn dirt
Use a very soft toothbrush to remove stubborn dirt

Bruce Lee as Kato in 'The Green Hornet' 12-inch collectible action figure - Worldwide limited edition of 5000!

Enterbay - The Green Hornet figurine 1/6 Kato (Bruce Lee) Real Masterpiece
Enterbay - The Green Hornet figurine 1/6 Kato (Bruce Lee) Real Masterpiece

30 cm Tall

Authentic likeness of Bruce Lee as KATO

2 x hair styles (One for posing with hat and one for without)

Movie-accurate KATO outfit ( 2 different looks)

Removable as-seen-on screen Mask and old style chauffeurs hat

2 x KATO Throwing Darts

10 interchangeable hands ( 8 black gloved hands)

Technologically advanced new Original Action Body BL 3.5 (improved leg joints)

Features 15 points of Articulation

Bonus Paper Binocular

New high-performance Original Figure Stand FS-200 (100% All metal and extra foldable base)

ENTERBAY's 360° Eye Ball System

Certificate of Authenticity Card

The Green Hornet Exclusive Design Premium Packaging Box Set

Worldwide limited edition of 5000


Gently remove ink stains with rubbing alcohol and cotton swab

If an action figure has been played with extensively more than likely it will have come off worse the wear from a battle with a felt tip or ballpoint pen! Ink stains are hard - but not impossible - to remove and require careful attention and patience. Marks will usually disappear if rubbed gently with a cotton bud or swab soaked in isopropyl alcohol or methylated spirits.

Important notes!

Always do a spot test on an inconspicuous area - some plastics may react with chemicals!

Remember to rinse the figure after treatment to remove any traces of alcohol or other solvents which might melt the surface of the doll over a period of time.

Gently remove ink stains with rubbing alcohol and cotton bud

Gently remove ink stains with rubbing alcohol and cotton bud
Gently remove ink stains with rubbing alcohol and cotton bud

Specialized product for removing stubborn sticky patches!

Dry under cool air with a hairdyer

Dry the figure by dabbing with a soft cloth or use a cool hairdryer. Be careful to blow air into all the points of articulation and move them a little to remove any trapped droplets of water.

Nice and clean!

Nice and clean!
Nice and clean!

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    • RonnieV74 profile image

      RonnieV74 5 years ago

      Great lens! I just started collecting vintage action figures and this was a great help. Thanks !

    • profile image

      ideadesigns 5 years ago

      Very good tips for cleaning a rare item. :)

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 6 years ago from Central Florida

      Wonderful details and photos for explaining this process. Great for parents saving $$ on garage sale toys for kids and for collectors and resellers.

      Blessed by a squid angel.

    • Elsie Hagley profile image

      Elsie Hagley 6 years ago from New Zealand

      Great lens, I never knew how to clean vintage action figures, but I am sure there are others, who would like to know about this well explained information. " Blessed"

    • hunksparrow profile image

      hunksparrow 6 years ago

      Really cool lens and thanks for the tips.

    • Lady Lorelei profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 7 years ago from Canada


    • FanfrelucheHubs profile image

      Nathalie Roy 7 years ago from France (Canadian expat)

      As a collector of many useless things, maybe your information will be of use eventually! Thanks for sharing

    • profile image

      Joan4 7 years ago

      Thank you for super instructions! I sure wish I had not given away so many action figures when our son was young! But I do have a few I can clean up!

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Excellent lens.

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 7 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      I have lots of my son's old action figures that I need to get out and follow your instructions to get them clean. I know there are some GI Joes and HeMan. Lensrolling to my grandson's lens about his WWE Action Figures.

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      whoa, great tutorial! thanks for sharing.

      cheers from

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      You give some great advice for all collectors to spruce up their battle-worn collectibles. If anyone is interested in some NRFBs, I've got some over at my online store ( Various Star Wars, wrestling, comic book, movie, and TV character figures available, mostly from the 1990s. Please come and check them out. Thanks!

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      I used Poli-Dent Denture Cleaner to clean some vintage Star Wars Figures. Simply read the directions for cleaning dentures. Worked Wonders!

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      Love the lense- This is a great tip, especially for individuals who find those rare gems at garage sales that need a bit of cleaning. I have a battle action he-man figure covered with gunk, thanks to you he looks MUCH better! If you get a chance, check out my Vintage Action Figure site, it's a bit new but I plan on having some great stuff there soon.

    • profile image

      socialboy001 8 years ago

      This is fantastic. I've recently bought some pretty grubby looking Star Wars figures - should be able to sort them out now. Check out my new vinatge Star Wars action figures blog if you get a chance.

    • Sarunas profile image

      Sarunas 8 years ago

      Cool. This is really useful information..

      5 stars.

      Keep it up. ;)