The plastic bricks made by the LEGO company are renowned for their quality and the precision of the molding process, but even LEGO bricks will wear or discolor over time. LEGO fans have come up with a whole variety of ways to make sure that their bricks are stored and maintained in a way that will extend their lifespan.
This is important because LEGO pieces are collected over many years and remain compatible. This means your LEGO build of today can include bricks that are both brand new and years old. So making sure you take care of your LEGO pieces is totally worth it, given how pricey they are.
It also shouldn’t need to be said, but if your bricks are in great condition, you’ll have an easier time selling them at a good price, should you ever want to do that. So let’s look at some of the tips the LEGO community has come up with to make sure your bricks remain like new for longer.
Have an Organizing Principle
While new free builds may have a mix of brick vintages, one way to make sure your bricks are preserved is to keep them together in their original sets, or to group sets together by brick and brick type. It goes without saying that you should also file away your instructions so that you can reconstruct sets again or put them together for resale, should one become really valuable and worth selling.
Or you could simply organize all your bricks by type, year, etc. – as long as you have some sort of organizing principle. There are a few websites that offer free LEGO inventory functions so you can catalog your bricks as you get them and keep track of what you have.
Bags of Holding
One of the most important considerations you have to make is what sort of containers you want to use for your LEGO. This is strongly influenced by the organizing principle we just talked about. If you want to keep your sets together, then it makes sense to simply keep the boxes and plastic bag they came in and put them back the way they were at retail.
If you mainly care about free play, it’s common practice to sort your bricks the way that you would categorize tools or screws. Sort them into plastic containers by color, shape, and size so that you can find what you are looking for right away.
Depending on the size if your collection, Ziploc bags could also work really well, but if you handle them too much the brick corners can tear them up.
Finally, you can just chuck them all into one big bin or bag. This may sound a little lazy, but for creative play it can be a lot of fun to search for the right brick. This is a good idea when playing with kids for educational purposes, or for bricks that aren’t in great shape anymore but can still be used. Think of it as a scratch patch.
Cleanliness is Next to…
This is a pretty simple tip. Every time you want to get down with some LEGO, go wash your hands. Accumulated dirt from being handled is one of the biggest reasons that LEGO bricks get stained or end up needing a wash. Simply giving your hands a scrub beforehand (pun intended) will save you a lot of frustration in the future. This is especially important when you handle light-colored bricks such as white LEGO.
Mind the Ink
Many LEGO bricks have decals stuck to them or direct printing on the plastic. Think of minifigs’ upper bodies, for example. If you can avoid it, don’t touch the prints directly with your bare hands. The oiliness inherent in our skin can take its toll on printed surfaces, and just the repeated handling will wear prints and stickers off over time. So if you have the patience for it, handling the bricks without touching decals or printing is a way to preserve that aspect of your LEGO pieces.
Keep it Dry
In that same vein, make sure you dry your hands properly before handling LEGO. The ABS plastic itself won’t really be affected by a little moisture, but dampness can cause prints and stickers to be damaged or pull off the surface. Apart from that, leaving a bit of moisture on the surface of your bricks can also encourage mold or other nasties to grow in them, which is a real nightmare to deal with and can even make you sick.
Ain’t No Sunshine
Superman is well known for using the power of the sun to make himself incredibly strong and durable. LEGO are the opposite of this – the sun is your sworn enemy. If your LEGO are exposed to the sun too much they’ll start to fade and discolor. They may even become brittle as the polymers in the ABS plastic break down.
So try to keep your LEGO out of direct sunlight, especially if you store them in clear containers. You may be wondering how, if sunlight is so bad, LEGO itself gets away with all those outdoor LEGO displays? I’ve wondered that myself. Apparently they use light sandblasting to remove the discolored layer of plastic. The thing is, I can’t find a solid source for that claim. Either way, LEGO seems to have a way but, sandblasting or otherwise, it’s not practical for home use.
Where There’s Smoke
I’m not a smoker myself, but I grew up in a house with parents that were heavy smokers, which is how I learned the insidiousness of tobacco smoke and stains. It gets everywhere – staining curtains, ceiling, and furniture. LEGO are no different. If people smoke around your LEGO a lot, this may cause unsightly stains, especially on lighter bricks. Not only is this ugly, but it destroys the resale value of your bricks! The only real way to manage this is not to smoke in the same room where you build your LEGO. Of course, if you don’t mind the stains and like to smoke while building, no one is going to stop you – just know that there are consequences.
Dust to Dust
Dust gets in everywhere, and LEGO are an especially attractive place for it. Think about it – the studs and the little nooks and crannies are perfect places for dust to hide over time, and because ABS plastic will build up a charge like any other similar material, it can actively pull dust particles from the air. While there is no way to stop the dust issue completely, it is worth regularly and GENTLY dusting your bricks and models with canned air. If you let the dust buildup go too far you’ll end up having to wipe the bricks down, which runs the risk of scuffing them.
Minifigs should, of course, be cared for under all the same rules the rest of this article outlines, but there are some special considerations. For one thing, these pieces probably have the highest percentage of printed surfaces, so be extra careful about not touching the print if you can help it.
One great thing about minifigs is that they are cheap and usually also sold separately from their sets. So you can buy a replacement to keep safe in case you ever want to sell a set but don’t want to be that careful with the figs.
Inside Voice Only
As a kid, I really enjoyed playing with my LEGO outside in the dirt or on the grass. If you like that sort of thing, then by all means go ahead. Just remember that sand is just ground-up rock, and the incredibly hard rock particles will scratch and scuff the much softer ABS plastic instantly. So if you care about keeping those bricks in good shape, the LEGO sandcastle will have to wait.
You’re Tearing Me Apart, Lisa!
LEGO bricks are, of course, famous for the tube-and-stud design that the company patented all those years ago. It’s so good because they snap together tightly but, with not too much pressure and the right angle, you can make them come apart again easily.
While LEGO are not hard to build and break apart, it’s not exactly a zero insertion force system. Every time you pull bricks apart they wear out a little more and will become a little less tight each time. You can slow down this process by developing the habit of being gentle with the bricks when separating them. Don’t rip them apart – rather, wiggle or finesse them into letting go. That should help extend their lifespan.
Bent Out of Shape
While LEGO bricks are quite flexible and are made of relatively soft plastic, they aren’t exactly rubber. The LEGO material is hard enough to dent; this can happen quite by accident and not just through impromptu crash tests. To lessen the chance that bricks will dent each other, try not to shake or be too rough with the container that you choose for housing them. Some people will also snap sorted bricks together where possible so that they can’t stab each other with their corners and edges.
Cleaning Up (The Approved Way)
Sometimes time, use, or neglect means that you have to bite the bullet and actually wash your LEGO bricks. Luckily, this is something that LEGO had in mind when they made them, and the company has an approved way that the bricks should be cleaned.
Basically, you should wash them in water that’s no hotter than 40C / 100F and with a mild detergent – the kind that you could tolerate on your skin, with no caustic elements. 40C (100F) might sound quite hot, but consider that the hot water from the tap is usually 60C / 140F and you’ll realize that you have to be careful before dunking your bricks in.
Wash them by hand until clean and then rinse them thoroughly with clean water. You don’t want soapy water drying on them and leaving a residue. You also need to be patient with the drying process. As I said above, clammy bricks are a recipe for mold and other nastiness, so make sure they are completely dry before storing them again. DON’T try to speed things along with a fan, hairdryer or (for the truly insane) by putting them in the oven. As mentioned above, you can’t dry them in the sun, either. Leave them on a towel overnight in the open air at room temperature and they should be fine.
Cleaning Up (Not So Approved)
Who do LEGO think they are anyway? With their “approved” cleaning methods and safe, healthy fun? Seriously though, LEGO fans have come up with some “alternative” ways to clean LEGO bricks, but – YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED – these methods are not approved by LEGO.
I don’t recommend you use anything other than the approved method for cleaning if you have bricks from new that you’ve taken care of well. The methods I’ll talk about here are more about restoring bricks that have really stubborn problems or would otherwise be thrown away. If you mess up bricks that would have been fine being cared for with just some soapy water, you have only yourself to blame.
The first, relatively safe trick is to add vinegar in a 25% to 50% mix with the water. This is something done to kill off bugs and help get rid of iffy smells that some bricks pick up. Soak the bricks for up to 10 minutes and then replace the mixture if the water gets really gunky.
Pick & Choose (or Brush)
You can use a wooden or plastic toothpick to get gunk out of some crannies, but be very careful not to dent or scratch the piece, especially the clear parts that show scratches most easily. Use a soft toothbrush if you like to gently scrub dirty bricks. Be very careful that the brush bristles don’t scuff the brick. Test this method on one brick and then carefully inspect the results to make sure you aren’t going to mess up the whole batch with that particular brush.
Praise the Sun
If you have badly sun-damaged or discolored bricks, you can try using 3% hydrogen peroxide solution to restore their color. Hydrogen peroxide is a harsh chemical, so closely follow the safety instructions on the bottle. This is NOT an approved method, guys. It may mess some bricks up badly, so only use it as a rescue method for bricks destined for the trash.
Put the bricks in a glass container (like an old casserole dish) and fill it with hydrogen peroxide until they’re covered. I recommend you use safety glasses and gloves when handling the solution. Counterintuitively, you need to put the container under a UV lamp or in sunlight for this to work. Bubbles will form as the solution reacts to the plastic and light. Once an hour, swirl the pieces around and try to weigh floating pieces down with other, bigger pieces. Swirling will get rid of bubbles that are caught under bricks, making them float more.
When new bubbles stop forming, you can put the solution down the drain. If the color is not restored to your satisfaction, repeat the process. Once the color is back, just follow the rinse and dry instructions from the approved method.
Live Long and Prosper
LEGO is the sort of toy that you can pass down to your children, and they to theirs. My uncle gave me my first LEGO collection and I’ve read about people who have LEGO bricks that are 40 years old, from earlier generations. They may cost a pretty penny, but if you take care of them they’ll take care of you, your children, and your children’s children.