Basic Figurine Care: Battling Destructive Environmental Factors

November 10, 2017

storm trooper attack

Deforming limbs, crackling paint, discoloration and sweating PVC - any figurine collectors’ worst nightmare. If you want to enjoy your collection for a longer period of time and maintain the collectible value, some basic care in relation to destructive environmental factors like sunlight, heat and humidity is essential. For most collectors, this is a serious and ongoing battle; some of us go far and construct bunker-like rooms to block out the slightest trace of damaging UV-light. Others devotedly follow a ritual of boxing, unboxing and airing their figurines, to hermetically seal them back up again in Ziplocs or Tupperware.  

Are these extreme measures really necessary to keep your figurines in good condition? Or will some quick, simple adaptations suffice? Sure thing is that a one-fits-all solution won’t do and a tailored approach is the one and only way to go. Our battle strategy: review your environment’s potential threats, get to know your collection’s enemies… and attack!


Enemy #1: Heat

When exposed to high temperatures, figurines can melt, warp and crack. Most figurines are made of PVC, which is a thermoplastic that starts to warp at around 140F/60°C. Mere softening of the material can already occur at lower temperatures, especially when it’s relatively new and hasn't outgassed the plasticizers used during production yet. Temperatures from 80F/27°C can cause figurines to feel sticky or make them start ‘sweating’, meaning the material visibly excretes an oily wetness. When the source of the heat is direct sunlight, an additional issue is that this dries out the materials to make them brittle and easily breakable. If you display your figurines in a lighted cabinet, beware that certain types of lightbulbs can really warm up and inflicting a similar drying effect.

Plan of attack: Although different collectors recommend different optimal room temperatures, the safest range is a ‘comfortable room temperature’ between 65 °F/18,5°C and 80°F /27°C. To achieve this, block heat from direct sunlight with curtains. If a room still heats up too much or if you prefer to see some daylight, use air-conditioning, but make sure that your room doesn't become too humid (see enemy #3) and keep away your collection from condensation drip. In display cabinets, use LED lights only.


Enemy #2: Sun & UV light

Apart from its heat, the biggest problem with sun is the type of light it produces. Sunlight, and even some artificial light sources such as fluorescent lights, contain Ultraviolet (UV) - an electromagnetic radiation with a shorter wavelength than visible light. And we can be short on this type of light: it’s bad. It causes discoloration of pretty much all materials used in figurines, like PVC, ABS and vinyl. Plastic and paint can become faded and blotchy, and parts that are made of clear plastic develop that dreaded yellow tint. Although exposure to direct sunlight causes most damage, indirect light can affect the materials as well - at a slower rate, but still.

Plan of attack: Keep your figurines out of as much light as possible. The best solution is to simply avoid displaying any collectible near a window or in a place with direct sunlight. This doesn’t mean that from now on, you should hide your treasures in the dark, or turn your room into a dungeon overnight; during the day, a curtain to cover up your windows will do, as long as it’s made of UV-blocking material. If you don’t want to give up your daylight, you can apply a clear or slightly tinted UV-blocking film to the glass of your window, or cover your figurines with protective UV-blocking display cases.


Enemy #3: Humidity

Humidity refers to the amount of moisture in the air. Whereas sunlight and heat are best avoided as much as possible, with moisture, it’s all about the balance. Excessive dampness can lead to mold, rusting of metal parts, paint and decals coming off, and can affect your figures’ joints. On the other hand, air that is too dry (i.e. low humidity) can cause dry rot and materials to crack. To protect figurines from dampness and drought, some collectors store their figurines in sealed bags and boxes. The problem with this method however is that it doesn’t allow the materials to breathe. Without proper ventilation, the aforementioned plasticizer ‘sweat’ that might leak from figurines can’t vaporize and escape, which will cause stickiness, especially if figurines are kept sealed boxes or bags for a longer period of time. 

Plan of attack: Unfortunately, there aren’t clear guidelines on the optimal humidity levels for (the materials of) figurines so for now it remains guessing. As a general rule, keep your figurines in dry, decently ventilated, mold-free and smoke-free areas. Avoid places with insufficient air circulation and those that tend to collect a little more humidity than other areas, like basements and attics. If you insist keeping your figurines in sealed bags, boxes or containers, be sure to open them every once in a while to let fresh air in. If you live in a climate with naturally very high or low humidity and/or if you’re in doubt about the humidity levels of a certain space, just measure the humidity level and place a (de)humidifier if necessary. Some collectors swear by the use of little packs of silica gel as a micro dehumidifier in display cabinets, whereas, on the other side of the spectrum, others use shot glasses with water in case of suspected drought.