What to watch out for when cleaning old LEGO sets

Cleaning old LEGO sets can be risky business (which is also the name of Lord Business’s brother) – so here are a few things to watch out for before you start scrubbing…

So, you have a pile of LEGO parts from BrickLink, eBay or another online marketplace. Maybe they’re covered in rotting stickers, or your BIONICLE joints are stuffed with old packing tape. This article will cover what you’ll need to look out for before you turn on the tap and pour the dish detergent. Here are three tips you should follow when cleaning old LEGO sets…

Identify signs of stress before you clean

The only thing worse than getting a minifigure with a cracked helmet, wrist, or torso from your online order is the process of trying to clean it. Instead of ending up with a clean pile of LEGO parts ready for building, you could end up with a few cuts. It can be helpful to request pictures and talk to the seller beforehand, but you’re at their mercy at that point. Buying online is a gift and a curse.

Stress on LEGO parts can appear as white lines or actual cracks. Cracks are often razor sharp and reduce connection power, also known as clutch power (not be be confused with The Adventures of Clutch Powers, the 2010 LEGO animated movie whose title parodies this essential connection). All these issues can make parts more difficult to clean, as dirt and dust can get into the cracks.

Other factors to watch out for before you even raise a sponge:

  • Bite marks on the pieces. Unsightly and often sharp on your fingers when touched.
  • Loose joints on minifigures or ball joints and hinges. Take care cleaning these.
  • Yellowing or staining on white parts. Sun damage on your set can be difficult to fix.

Upgrade your LEGO hobby! If you take out a subscription to Blocks, the monthly LEGO magazine, you’ll get each issue first and at a discount, plus other perks including a free digital subscription and the chance to win LEGO prizes every month.

Research problematic colours and time periods

To that point, it’s important to stay informed on problematic colours and time periods in the  LEGO Group’s long history when you’re cleaning older sets. Scrubbing these parts can be just enough to put them out of commission. A dishonest seller may not disclose the condition of these parts or substitute other parts in different colours to circumvent this issue.

For example, the LEGO Group seemed to have a notable stability issue with lime green parts in the late 2000s – particularly with BIONICLE joints. Sets like 8914 Toa Hahli and 8939 Lesovikk from 2007 were prone to breaks, cracks, and splinters. That can make these parts hazardous to clean, and difficult to replace, given the age of these moulds. Brittle brown was an offender in the 2010s. All of these parts need to be handled with the utmost care.

Another offending part is the 1×1 cheese slope. Older and even some newer cheese slopes can feature cracks running down the middle. Considering how small these parts are, one light push can break the entire piece. Thankfully, cheese slopes are relatively easy and cheap to replace, but it’s recommended you wash these with care.

Go easy on stickers when washing

Does your set have stickers? Of all the parts that demand caution, stickered parts deserve care most of all. Older stickers may come loose or even disintegrate at higher temperatures. Instead of scrubbing stickered pieces with the rest of your build, remove these parts where possible and wash them gently. Needless to say, you shouldn’t soak these parts if you want to keep the sticker intact.

Older models, including the legendary hot rod 5541 Blue Fury, feature stickers across multiple parts. Identify these before you begin and clean them as entire assemblies. Of course, if you’ve got a spare sticker sheet and you’re looking to thoroughly wash the set, remove those old stickers and go for it. Just don’t put the new stickers on wet parts.

To recap the above guidelines – note every sign of stress on the parts before you clean, be aware of the LEGO Group’s history of problematic parts, and be conservative when washing stickered LEGO parts. Following these guidelines can be the difference between a set with shine and a set with grime – and it just might spare your fingertips, too.

Fortunately, dusting old sets is a relatively safe process…

Leave a Reply