How to soak dirty, used LEGO bricks

The team at Blocks, the monthly LEGO magazine, has a lot of collective experience cleaning LEGO bricks. Here are some tips on getting them soaking to bring them back to their original fresh look – or as close as you can get.

You’ve just ordered LEGO bricks from multiple sellers online. What a mixed bag … literally! There’s missing parts, sure, but the parts that are there reek of something unidentifiable. You’ve found gauze in each loose, squeaky joint. And sure, LEGO cars need to go, go, go … but they don’t need a coating of real gasoline to get a move on. What were the sellers thinking? And who was trying to make a bonfire from LEGO bricks? You don’t have to be a Master Builder to know how to take care of LEGO bricks, yet some sellers still neglect the basics.

Needless to say, soaking mucky, yucky and grimy LEGO bricks can be a long and arduous process. Smudges and dust, disintegrated stickers taking multiple passes, and a few cuts and sore fingers from swords and antennae are common… but sometimes, you’ll encounter something even more troubling. Getting the job done efficiently calls for a few tried-and-true methods – and a few tools you shouldn’t use. Read on, Master Cleaner!

Wash with warm water and a mild dish detergent … then leave it

We’ve all heard of the five-second rule when it comes to food that hits the floor, but when it comes to washing LEGO bricks, you’ll want to allow longer than that. Maybe even five hours for those dirt-coated bricks. Warm water under 104 degrees Fahrenheit won’t damage the bricks, as per the LEGO Group’s own website. Dish detergent is made for removing food and oils from plates, so it’ll work wonders on your smooth, plastic bricks.

Of course, time is your friend here. Washing the model under water for 30 seconds won’t help matters much, so leaving your dirty bricks to soak in the sink is ideal – it gives the grime a tougher beating and makes it easier to wipe off. Try doing this for a couple of hours, or even longer. It’s also useful to use a sieve or strainer for removing the bricks.

Take care on hinges, BIONICLE joints, stickers, and printed pieces

If you’re planning to soak an entire model, it’s recommended you clean jointed parts briefly by hand, and spare stickered parts from soaking unless you have a spare sticker sheet. Excess water, time and dish detergent have a chance of disintegrating the stickers, so we’d recommend dabbing these with a wet paper towel or cloth, then drying them immediately after instead. The same advice goes for printed parts, though to a far lesser degree.

As for hinges and BIONICLE joints, care should be taken to ensure detergent doesn’t stay in the crevices after cleaning. Thoroughly washing each piece is useful, but mind the temperature, especially on BIONICLE joints. Running these under hot water will only weaken the joints, while freezing cold water could stiffen them to the point of breaking. It’s something you’ll want to avoid as classic BIONICLE pieces are no longer in production.

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Don’t use these methods – you’re bound to break your bricks

For the reasons highlighted above, avoid hot or freezing cold water at all costs. Water left to airdry can add bubbles to stickers if there’s an opening and ruin the adhesive layer, too, so gently wipe these off as soon as possible. One no-brainer is to never dry with a hairdryer, oven or microwave, which will speed up the drying process but melt or damage your LEGO bricks.

Rubbing alcohol or nail polish ruins prints, an issue highlighted in The LEGO Movie as a joke. However, ruining the finish on a Darth Malgus minifigure is anything but funny. It can be tempting to use hydrogen peroxide on yellowed bricks – and this is an unofficial, personal choice for your collection – but it’s a difficult, slightly hazardous, multi-step process that could damage your bricks instead. Err on the side of caution here and only try it after throroughly reading up.

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