For over two years we have been bringing you a game every Sunday which we have found at a local thrift shop. We’re usually pretty picky about the games we purchase, even when they’re only a buck or two. Some have been well-played while others completely destroyed or missing pieces. The ones we decide to buy typically have been played very little, if at all.
Yesterday’s Thrift Treasure featured a childhood favorite of mine, Crossfire. We broke our normal rules and bought this copy without the rules or original box, and it was quite dirty. It had obviously been played, but well-taken care of as there didn’t seem to be any missing pieces and no unusual wear on the play surface. But it was obviously that LOTS of dirty hands had taken their turns before sitting for a long time collecting dust. As is typical before we feature a used game, we took the time to clean it up a bit before playing. It dawned on me that over the years we’ve come up with a couple useful techniques to pass along to those of you who wish to safely clean and restore your old games to like-new condition!
In general you’ll find two types of plastic surfaces used in games. One is a high-gloss smooth surface that needs nothing more than a good wipe-down with any household countertop cleaner. Spray it on your cloth or paper towel and wipe away the grime.
You might also find a textured plastic surface, and this will be cleaned in the same manner. Just use caution if using a paper towel or something that easily shreds when it gets wet. Getting scraps of towel out of the plastic finish is a job in itself, so best to avoid it altogether and use a cotton rag.
Once you have removed all of the years of dirt and grime from the plastic surfaces, we have a little trick you can easily apply to faded colors. Grab some liquid car wax or interior detailer from the garage and apply it to the plastic just as if you were detailing the inside of your car. It may sound silly to use an automotive product on a board game, but as you can see from the photos, the results are well worth the efforts.
Most metals you’ll want to clean simply with dish soap and water. Stainless steel is the easiest, but don’t hesitate trying other alloys in this simple solution. Of course, always dry it off immediately and thoroughly to prevent the possibility of rust.
If your pieces show signs of rusting or there is too much dirt and grime built up, tackle it with some #0000 steel wool pads. I always have some in the garage for polishing chrome on older cars and it works wonders on bare or painted metals.
Cleaning Paper Decals
Here’s one area where any liquid is a no-no. You don’t want to ruin the paper nor its adhesive backing. Best just to wipe down with a dry cloth. If necessary (and on coated paper), you might try a slightly-damp paper towel to get difficult stains off, but start with as little as possible. Last thing you want to do is have to try to recreate those labels at your local copy center.
Restoring Paper Decals
Short of recreating and replacing, your best best is to leave them as-is. If corners have started peeling away, try a drop of adhesive glue on the end of a toothpick to get behind the label. Be sure to wipe away any overspill before it dries on the surface. Most of the time we also choose to leave them as-is.
The most common damage we see are folds and creases. Think of the cards in the game of Monopoly. You can fix these almost perfectly by ironing out the lines with a standard iron on its lowest setting. If you’re missing pieces, be sure to take a look on eBay where you’ll find hundreds of sellers offering replacement parts from the exact version of the game you have!
There no doubt will be areas that you can’t get to with a rag or paper towel. Be sure to have cotton swaps, toothpicks and tweezers on hand to get into those cracks and crevices. I chose to recruit our tiny 11yr old and her small hands to do this detail work. Her thin fingers made quick work of these plastic guns from Crossfire!
Beyond the scope of this article is cleaning battery compartments, fixing electronic connections and creating replacement parts with polymer clay or a 3-D printer! All which we’ve done before in an effort to bring these classic games back to the format we remember.
Which game is in your closet waiting to be restored?