1/6 Scale Action Figures, Care

Cy Girl Care

Most figures are made from the same types of plastics so the following also applies to other dolls such as other types of action figures and Barbie dolls.

Dealing with stains


legs with stains Bodyparts made from ABS are not likely to pick up stains as long as the surface of the ABS plastic is undamaged. If ABS is scratched or sanded it will pick up dye from clothing as can be seen on the next picture. The seams on the legs shown on the picture had been sanded smooth, within a years time the sanded areas had picked up dye from black pantyhose.

The stains are only on the surface of the ABS, so these can be removed with some more careful sanding. To prevent sanded ABS from picking up stains it needs to be sealed with a coat of solvent or paint. 'Car Bumper Primer' is a clear colorless paint often sold in spray cans that is suitable for this. ABS parts can also be sealed with a thin coat of liquid plastic cement or a suitable clear varnish (preferably one that is UV resistant).
An ABS surface can also be sealed by applying moderate heat, but do not use a flame on action figure parts as ABS will emit toxic fumes when heated and small ABS parts will easily deform when heated.
Buffing an ABS surface by using a small motor tool fitted with a felt buffing wheel already heats up the surface enough to seal the ABS plastic.

Softened PVC

Soft PVC parts such as headsculpts and hands do pick up stains when put into contact with sources of dyes such as fabrics or PVC clothing. As a rule of thumb: the more flexible the PVC part is, the easier it will pick up stains.

Two main sources of stains are dyes from clothing and pigments from incompatible paints.

To deal with the stain, first remove the source of the dye.
In case of contact between a piece of clothing and a part of the figure, putting a piece of clear polythene or saran wrap ('cling film') between the clothing and the figure is usually sufficient.

If the stained part is very flexible (a headsculpt for instance) time might be the best cure to get rid of the stain as the following sets of pictures illustrate:

head with stain head with stain
CG Jun v2 head with stain on cheek Same Jun v2 head one year later, stain hardly visible
using clear polythene to shield head from stains
Using a piece of clear polythene to protect this head from getting stained by the black pleather collar.

ZC body with stains
ZC Eve bodice out of softened PVC with multiple stains from factory clothing
ZC body with stains
Same bodice four years later, only some faint purple stains remain visible

The plasticisers that cause the material to be flexible also make it easy for dye molecules to migrate through the material.
The dye molecules strive to spread evenly throughout the material, resulting over time in an even color.
In case of a ZC Eve bodice, the PVC is softened but not by as much as a headsculpt so it will take longer for the dye molecules to spread.

Although I'm not keen on using chemicals on plastics, persistent stains can be removed with substances containing small amounts of peroxide such as zit-creams or Remove-zit.
Main drawback is that peroxides will alter the composition of the plastic (it breaks down plasticizers and long molecule chains), making it change color (often more pale) and leaving the plastic more prone to cracking or breaking.

hand with stain
PVC hand with stain caused by sleeve cuff, the PVC of the hand is not as soft so dye molecules will not migrate as fast as with softer PVC.
Left on its own a stain on material like this will remain visible for years, to remove it a chemical substance such as a zit-cream is needed.
Note that this particular hand is coated with flat varnish, the varnish will be damaged by the zit-cream as well !

Pleather Clothing

Pleather consists of a very thin layer of PVC applied to a woven fabric material (often polyester).
The PVC layer can consist of a single thin film or a thin top layer over a flexible or foamed core.
Pleather will always deteriorate be it sooner or later, simply because of the way the material is made: the thin layer gets easily damaged by UV or acidic residue of skin grease and there is too little material behind the damaged surface to provide backup strength or from which additional plasticizer molecules can migrate to the damaged spot.

When PVC/pleather starts to deteriorate:

  • it begins by giving off a sweet smell (caused by chloride acid and palm oil vapours),
  • then it becomes sticky to the touch,
  • after that the surface starts to crack and flake
  • and finally its color turns darker and it becomes hard and brittle.

If there are any metal objects close to deteriorating PVC these will become corroded by the acidic vapours, often even before the PVC starts looking deteriorated.

Once PVC/pleather starts to deteriorate, keep it away from other PVC items as the acidic vapours will cause other PVC items to deteriorate as well !

deteriorating pleather boot
Close-up of deteriorating pleather CG boot, pleather top coat has begun to crack and flake.

first signs of deteriorating PVC: brass details started corroding
Example of corroded brass details caused by acidic vapours of pleather deteriorating. In this case the figure was kept in the box for too long.
The metal can be carefully polished, further deterioration of the pleather can be slowed down with proper ventilation.

Pleather vs other plastics

Patty sitting on motorbike (33.2kB) Since pleather contains plasticizers, it needs to be kept away from painted surfaces and types of plastics that are sensitive to plasticizers.
I made this mistake myself by leaving Patty, dressed in black pleather pants, sitting on the seat of a motorbike model for some time. The seat was made out of polystyrene, which is sensitive to plasticizers. The plasticizers from the pleather melted the surface of the seat, now the pleather is firmly stuck to the seat.

Boots stained by dye from pantyhose (29.1kB) Apart from transferring plasticizers, pleather can also transfer dye to other plastics, for example black pleather clothes will stain a pleather covered couch.
So better keep contact between pleather and plastics like polystyrene or softened PVC limited to a few hours.
Putting a piece of saran wrap ('cling film') between the pleather and the other plastics will stop the transfer of dye and plasticizers.

Pleather can also pick up dye from other sources such as clothing, the boots on the picture got stained by dye from the black pantyhose inside. This also can be prevented by wrapping the pantyhose inside the boots in saran wrap ('cling film').

Aging of soft PVC heads

A while ago I noticed that the soft PVC material of the heads of my action figures was starting to lose its flexibility. A few years later I noticed that all of the CG-style heads had turned rock-hard, even those stored separate in zip-loc bags. At that time most of the heads were over 10 years old.
I suspect that the hair (all of the affected heads were rooted) acts as an 'escape route' for plasticizers: the holes for the hairs in the scalp are poked or drilled through the PVC material, then plugs of hair are fed through, these plugs fit very snugly in the holes. The plasticizers are then able to leak out of the material through the edges of the holes, hairs are usually made out of material that does not absorb plasticizers (although some types of hair will turn brittle instead) leaving the plasticizers to spread over the surface of the hairs, then harden or evaporate.
The final stage of this hardening process will probably be that the PVC material will form cracks, most likely on the back of the heads where there are no more plasticizers and where the plugs of hair cause mechanical tension.

Note that this only applies to action figure heads, Barbie heads will age differently: these will turn somewhat stiffer with age but not rock-hard. Instead, old (30 years or more) Barbie heads have been observed to start weeping plasticizers, then turn darker and hard.

Once rock-hard, a PVC head can be made more flexible by applying heat (using a hair dryer at low setting, or a heating pad).
When heated to about 45°C (113°F) the material becomes sufficiently flexible to stretch over a neck pin. Once cooled down it will turn hard again.

loose body with wrist pegs and feet removed for storage (25.6kB)


If you plan to store a figure it is best to:

Some general rules for keeping your figures in good shape


A lot of the knowledge of preserving plastics and insight in how plastics behave when deteriorating comes from this book:
"Plastics, collecting and conserving", Anita Quye and Colin Williamson, NMS Publishing Ltd., ISBN 1-901663-12-4.

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