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Don’t let your LEGO get sunburnt!

by admin on December 6, 2010

in Taking Care of LEGO

LEGO comes in many beautiful and vibrant colors. I have LEGO from the 70s that is just as bright as if it would have come from a set purchased today.  

LEGO won’t get discolored, nor would the colors fade, if you keep one thing in mind; avoid strong light!

If LEGO gets exposed to direct or strong indirect sun (like midday sun through a window) on a regular basis, it will eventually get discolored. Discoloration can also happen from artificial light that is too bright and too close to your display.

This will especially be visible on white and blue bricks. (White will turn yellowish, and blue a brownish dirty-blue.) Look at the bricks below; all 3 of them are white, but the middle one was exposed to too much sun!

So, if you are planning to showcase some of your Lego collection on a shelf, or other open area, make sure the location won’t get exposed to strong sunlight any time during the day. And any lamps and other artificial lighting should be soft and a few feet away.

Although my room has lots of windows, I have my LEGO displays facing North, so even with the curtains open, they are never exposed to direct sunlight.

If you are displaying your LEGO for long periods of time, it is also a good idea to check on them every six months or so. Remove a couple of bricks and see if you see any difference between the sides that have been exposed to light, to the sides that are touching other bricks.

If you see any discoloration, change the lighting or relocate your display to another location. Or, just take it all apart and build something new! 😉

{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

brickmaster April 26, 2011 at 12:14 PM

Great info, thanks!

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admin April 26, 2011 at 1:18 PM

You are welcome, brickmaster! 😛

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DavidH April 26, 2011 at 12:16 PM

Have you tried cleaning discolored white bricks with hydrogen peroxide?

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admin April 26, 2011 at 1:21 PM

David, yes I did. The method did whiten the bricks to some extent, but they didn’t turn out like new. I have been reading that the bricks in the solution should be placed in direct sunlight for best result for several days. This is something I didn’t do. I will research this some more before writing a post about it.

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MorningCoffee May 16, 2011 at 4:56 PM

I have seen some lego creations where the discolored bricks were an integral part. It actually looked really great! Now I don’t necessarily look at my discolored whites as damaged or bad! Something to think about! 😉

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admin May 17, 2011 at 10:15 AM

This is a really good point! I have seen some of these as well! Discolored bricks or broken bricks being part of a MOC. I will try to find a picture and post it here. Or if you have a link please post it. 😉

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Drew July 16, 2011 at 4:15 PM

Thanks for the info. I have sealed boxed lego sets and ziplock bagged legos in storage bins in the garage. The garage doesn’t have any windows so they’ll never get hit with direct sunlight, but the garage gets very hot in the summer. The temp. sometimes reaches mid to high 80s, maybe even low 90’s on a very hot summer day. I can only imagine everything in the garage suffers from the heat. Should I be concerned about storing my legos in this excessive heat box (garage) environment? I would store my legos in the house, but unfortunately the storage place in the house is very limited.

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admin July 16, 2011 at 8:30 PM

Drew, you mention that your LEGO collection is in sealed boxes or ziplock bags. With temperatures in the 90s, I would not worry so much about standard LEGO parts, as they would not melt. However temperatures like that could damage stickered parts and unused sticker-sheets. Also the seal on boxes. If you wan’t to keep your boxes in collector-condition this might be an issue.

I don’t know wher you live, but if you also have high humidity with the heat (like we have here in Florida), I would also be concerned with electric motors, rails and other electric parts as they could rust.

If I were you, from time to time I would check the condition of the seal on a few of the boxes and see if there is any sign of warping or other damage. If you have trains, I would check the electric parts for rust.

And even though it may not be possible to move your whole collection inside the house, you may consider moving in some of your more valuable sets, sticker-sheets, and sets with electric parts.

Hope this helps some! Any other questions just let me know. 😉

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Tobymacboy January 2, 2012 at 4:31 PM

hey um i have blinds on my window but a small bit shines threw the end of them. it shortly shines a light about as bright as if you turn on a light. it moves across my entire lego table. will this hurt them?

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admin January 2, 2012 at 7:01 PM

Tobymacboy, I would suggest that you check your bricks from time to time for any signs of yellowing. This would be most visible on white bricks, also blue and light-gray. Just put them next to a brand new piece and you will see if there is any difference. LEGO doesn’t need to be in the dark – it is not that sensitive – but being exposed to direct sunlight can certainly cause damage.

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Tobymacboy January 5, 2012 at 3:50 PM

I moved them to the other side of the room and they are no longer in that ray of sun that passes thru.

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admin January 5, 2012 at 4:01 PM

Toby, sounds like you went with the best plan of action! 🙂

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Seth February 9, 2012 at 6:03 PM

Like Drew posted above, all of my Lego bricks have been in totes sealed in a dark corner of a garage for about 15 years. Many whites (never seeing direct or indirect sunlight) were still discolored and yellowed. So as much as I want to believe sunlight is the culprit, I don’t think that is necessarily it. I would say it is plastic getting old. I’m sure UV does play a role, but maybe not as much as people think. I have white megablocks thrown in with my white lego and all of them were stored together, in the same way (and say what you will about megablocks) but those whites are still a brilliant white and my lego whites are discolored.

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admin February 9, 2012 at 8:13 PM

Seth, yes, there is some kind of chemical reaction/deterioration going on with white LEGO. One thing we do know for sure is that they don’t like sun, so we can definitely prepare for that. There may be other factors as well, but those are more mysterious. 🙄
You mentioned that your LEGO was kept in the garage. Have you considered that perhaps extreme heat/ extreme cold may have been the factor? Or perhaps close proximity to some chemicals like paints, solvents, etc? I have seen LEGO from the ’70s that looked just like new, so maybe it would be worth investigating what could have caused the yellowing. 😉

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Eduardo April 18, 2012 at 4:15 PM

Oh, I know the discoloring process very well. My old LEGO bricks sure are yellowish and brownish. When I was a child, I never knew that LEGO bricks would be affected by direct sunlight. I and my siblings always played with LEGO everywhere, including outside the house, sometimes on pool (even though our boats never really floated hehehe). I can say that we really had lots of fun with our LEGO. Nowadays, I take more care of my new LEGO bricks. But I still have my old ones. Sure I can’t mix them with the new ones, because the results on MOCs wouldn’t be the expected one. But they are still around.

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Konstantin May 22, 2012 at 3:55 PM

I put my creations on the display table. They are in the corner near a window but not in front of it. If you look through the window you can’t see them directly but only if you look through the window at an angle. They are not in direct sun light.Should I move the table?

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admin May 22, 2012 at 4:48 PM

Konstantin, from your description it seems that your displays is fine. I would just suggest to check on the bricks every six months or so. If you have any white bricks or minifigs, check those. See if there is any difference in color between the exposed side of the part and the side hidden by other elements. Other colors that are prone to discoloration is standard blue and light-gray. So, if you don’t have any white parts in your display you can check on those instead. Hope this helps some. 😉

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Tydroid Ninja of NINJAGONESS June 6, 2012 at 12:11 PM

My friend’s Jay the ninja hood piece was left out in the sun all day….now it looks light dirty blue :O Now i must move some of my legos! Jk mine were already in a good place 🙂 😛

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admin June 6, 2012 at 5:14 PM

Tydroid, yeah, blue is one of the most notorious LEGO colors to get effected by light. 🙁

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Naughty Nathan August 9, 2012 at 7:24 AM

One thing I have noticed (from first hand experience) is that the damage caused by the sun light doesn’t always seem to happen “in real-time”… I bought a rebel blockade runner (the original one) from eBay and got it home and all the white pieces were in immaculate condition. I built it straight away and displayed it in my conservatory for may be 2-3 weeks (yes, it was getting bombarded by the sun but I wasn’t aware of this issue at the time 🙁 ). When I dismantled it the whites STILL SEEMED ok and I put them all in a solid cardboard box inside a dark cupboard. About 6 months later I opened the box and the whites were all brown! gutted…

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admin August 9, 2012 at 8:51 AM

Nathan, yep, that happens. it is kind of like with sunburn. I see this happen here in Florida all the time. People come down from the North and go to the beach. They swim, they play, they have fun. They think they are getting a little tan and look fine. But later that evening, or the next morning, long after they left the beach is when they realize they turned into a lobster. So yeah, the sun keeps working on ya and your LEGO long after exposure and the real effect is often noticed later. 🙁

There is a way you can turn damaged white pieces back to beautiful white though. Oddly, using the sun again. It is with using a Hydrogen Peroxide and Oxyclean solution, and soaking your LEGO in it while in direct sunlight. I should write a post about this. 😉

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mimix June 8, 2013 at 1:04 PM

you can use “retrobright” method for this problem. we use that with old video game consoles.

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admin June 8, 2013 at 2:36 PM

Yes, I should actually write a tutorial about that. 🙂

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K July 30, 2013 at 6:35 PM

A good FYI. =)

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domel May 4, 2014 at 9:49 AM

Those guys at Retrobright really do deserve the LEGO nobel-prize. (Mind you, when you google them up, the o in the middle is really a zero.) Turns out, the culprit for discoloration is the element bromine, which a couple of decades ago was widely used in the abs plastic used to make LEGO as a fire retardant. The UV radiation from sunlight knocked bromine atoms free inside the plastic and they teamed up with air’s oxygen to produce the brownish discoloration. The good news is that the process is reversible: the same UV radiation can split the Br-O bonds, and the bromine can then safely team up with hydrogen provided by a hydrogen-peroxide bath.
This is how you do it: buy some liquid 3-12% hydrogen-peroxide (pharmacies, drug-stores or best, shops that sell hairdresser’s supplies). Put a LITTLE oxi action laundry detergent booster (like Vanish) into it. Put your parts in and place it into direct sunlight. It works in just a couple of hours. You can also use an UV lamp instead of sunlight, but then it takes longer.
I tried it on white and it just simply does wonders. I have some 30+ yrs parts that looked like junk and guess what, now I can’t tell them apart from new parts. (OK, I can. The treated pieces are a harsher shade of white, not so milky, but the difference is really not that much and certainly a world apart from what those parts were like.)
I also tried it on classic light grey, and got very good results. You must watch closely though, not to overdo the process.
On blue I got mixed results. The brownish hue is gone but the blue is a noticeably lighter shade then that of the new pieces. However, the result is still convincing and the color difference is tolerable.
The real bonus is that it also works on transparent clear pieces, like windscreens and stuff. I had a clear windscreen from 1981, that looked more like transblack than clear, and this stuff made a real miracle on it.

For more details google “retrobright” (with a zero) or try something like “how to make old LEGO white” in your browser, the process is now widely discussed. I speak from experience, there really IS hope!

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admin May 4, 2014 at 12:12 PM

Domel, thanks for sharing that. I had pretty much the same results when I tried it; amazing on white, ok with blue and classic light-gray. Very interesting what you said about the clear pieces though. I have never heard anyone mentioning that it works on those too. 🙂

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Jay December 18, 2015 at 3:37 PM

I appreciate your prompt response. I have some minifigures whose face and body have been faded away. Is there any way to fix this or are there any precautions I can take for next time?

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admin December 19, 2015 at 11:09 AM

Jay, faded printing usually has to do with handling the parts too much. In general metallic colors fad away the easiest, but all other printing can fade away, especially when handled with oily hands, as certain oils can dissolve the ink. Make sure your hands are clean and dry when handling printed parts. Also, it is best not to touch the printed surface directly. For example it is best to handle minifigs from the sides where there is no printing. If handled with care, printed parts can last for decades with no or very little fading. It is really just the handling that is the issue.

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Mayra January 23, 2016 at 1:31 PM

I used Clorox disinfecting wipes to help mine. Not only my Legos changed color, but I had Shopkin stickers, and they changed too!😱

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admin January 23, 2016 at 3:54 PM

Yeah, Clorox is way too strong…

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Dylan May 31, 2016 at 5:59 PM

I have my Legos on a standard shelf. The shelf is located directly left from the blinds of my window. Will this cause my bricks to be damaged?

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admin May 31, 2016 at 9:03 PM

Dylan, if your displays are directly hit by sunlight at any time through the blinds, that could be a problem. I would suggest you also check the orientation of the sun in relation to your windows and check at different times of the day (sunrise, noon, and sunset would be a good idea) to see if there is any sunlight seeping through the blinds. If the light is indirect at all times it should be no problem. But you might want to check your displays from time to time. White LEGO elements are particularly susceptible for darkening, and you can usually detect any discoloration on them fairly easily.

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