Your Stuff Has Issues—Condition Issues Part Two

Last week, I wrote about how to care for and protect paper, porcelain and pottery items. This week the focus is on plastic and cloth collectibles.

Despite the fact that a plastic last for hundreds of years, it, too, has condition issues. There have been reports of old computers and gaming systems discoloring over time. This is due to exposure to UV light, heat and sometimes chemicals, such as flame-retardants, in the plastic will discolor the item. Other plastic items, such as those made of cellulose nitrate and cellulose acetate will give off a smell (camphor-like smell for cellulose nitrate and vinegar-like smell cellulose acetate), as well as discolor over time.

So, if you are a collector of plastic items, here are some good tips for taking care for taking care of them.

1.)   Like paper collectibles keep the plastic item out of direct sunlight and away from damp, humid places.

2.)   If the item starts to give off a smell, separate it from other items and either cover it with acid-free tissue paper or silicone paper.

3.)   Surface acid can be removed with a dry tissue. Still be careful, because the tissue can stick to the item.

4.)   Solvents can react to the item, so don’t use them.

5.)   Wiping off dust and surface dirt with a clean cloth or brush is the safest way to clean many plastic items.

If you collect old computers and gaming systems, here are some really great tips from Vintage Computing.Com

1.)   Melamine foam, also known as a Magic Eraser, can be used to get rid of surface dirt. It can also be used to bring back surfaces that have very light discoloration. Yet, it will rub off painted logos and subtle textures like an abrasive, so be careful.

2.)   Another item to use is sandpaper. Just scrape away the discolored part and true color underneath.

3.)   If you can’t get the item back to its original color, you can paint the computer or gaming system another color.

4.)   The site also mentions using harsher chemicals and like bleach, acetone and hydrogen peroxide, but they all have harmful side effects ranging from damaging the structure of the plastic to burning your skin or causing blindness.  Since these things have such bad side effects, I don’t recommend using them.


Yes, cloth needs special care, as well. Whether you are collecting vintage clothes, needlepoint or other items, there are things you need to know when it comes to protecting these things.  Tips for taking care of cloth include:

1.)   At the risk of sounding like a broken record, (those who are Generation X and older will know what that is), keep the item out of direct sunlight and away from damp, humid places.

2.)   If it is a piece of clothing, wash the item according to its specific fabric directives. Of course, if you are doubtful about how to best wash something, take it to a dry cleaner.

3.)   Regarding clothing, sometimes the best thing to do is not to wash it, but to air out the item after wearing it.

4.)   If the item is needlepoint, carefully remove it from the frame, check for loose stitches and other damage, then submerge the item in tepid soapy water (water should be 2 to 3 inches deep).

5.)   Move the needlepoint around the soapy water using your fingertips. Rinse with cold water until all the soap is gone. Roll gently in a towel to remove excess water.

6.)   Return the needlepoint to its original shape by blocking it. That entails laying the damp needlepoint on to some heavy paper (resume paper or other paper that doesn’t have any dye or printing on it), design side down on corkboard or medium density fibreboard.

7.)   Pin the damp needlepoint on the corkboard or fibreboard and allow it to air dry completely before returning it to its frame.

If the item in question need more than just a cleaning, it is best to take it to a conservator. To find a conservator, go to American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, Find a Conservator page on their website.  The url is

So, the steps you take now to preserve your items will go a long way in keeping them around for the 50 or 100 years.

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