How to Clean Old Plastic

By Sharyn Bloom
Clean old plastic, vintage phones
old phone image by Pali A from

Old plastic, especially vintage or antique plastics such as celluloid or Bakelite, may require extra-gentle care when cleaning them. Some cleaning solvents, for example, can discolor or even dissolve the item. More modern plastics, such as those made in the 1960s and later, may not require as much gentleness as their older predecessors, but gentle cleaning, in most cases, will help prevent or reduce damage no matter what the age or type of plastic.

Cleaning Celluloid

Dip a soft cloth into distilled water.

Gently wipe the celluloid piece with the cloth.

Dry the celluloid piece immediately with a dry, soft cloth.

Cleaning Bakelite

Wipe the piece of Bakelite down with a damp cloth for a light cleaning. Or dip it in hot, sudsy water--made with gentle dish soap--for a more thorough cleaning. Do not dip items that include non-Bakelite parts, such as metal, string or cloth, which may not be good to get wet.

Scrub gently with a soft toothbrush to get any grime inside grooves and ridges.

Rinse off the item and dry it immediately with a soft cloth.

Cleaning Old, but More Modern Plastics

Wipe the plastic with a damp cloth if it only needs a light cleaning. For dirtier items, add a bit of mild dish soap to a damp cloth and gently rub the plastic. If it appears that the item can be put in water, place it in warm, sudsy water made using gentle dish soap.

Scrub any grooves and difficult to clean areas with a soft toothbrush. For particularly difficult to remove dirt and grime, test-clean a small, hidden area with a mixture of mild soap and baking soda, scrubbing with the toothbrush. If the plastic handles this fine, continue to use the baking soda on the tough to clean areas.

Rinse and dry with a cloth.

About the Author

Sharyn Bloom first dreamed of becoming a writer back in junior high when a teacher praised her writing. In 2005 she made her first leap into publication with a local newspaper. She now writes for various websites as well as her own blogs, with a major focus on craft articles.