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I recently purchased some used bricks. They currently smell like cigarette smoke. What is the best way to clean these parts to remove the odor?

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For people answering, feel free to also assess the issue of animal odors (sadly enough, a box full of small LEGO parts looks very much like a litter box to some cats) –  Joubarc Aug 6 '13 at 7:04

3 Answers 3

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Background info:

I recently started collecting Duplo blocks to build toys for our sugar gliders (small, exotic marsupials); I've also got some regular Lego blocks in the mix that my boyfriend's had for who knows how long. To get the most for my money (especially when it comes to avoiding figurines and random pieces that don't suit my purpose), I've been buying large lots of Duplos off of e-bay (all of them are specifically Lego brand - you couldn't pay me to use Mega Bloks or other crummy knock-offs, lol).

Our gliders are our babies and on top of that, I've got high-end breeding pair (ie rare colorings/genetics) and a "pet only" pair that cost a combined total of $1800 - in other words, their safety is a HUGE concern for me and I'm adamant about cleaning and sanitizing any Duplo blocks I buy as soon as they arrive. Also, gliders can't be potty-trained and inevitably use my Duplo creations as toilets... meaning pee sometimes gets in the crevices between blocks. To top it off, they scent-mark everything. As a result, I've got to disassemble the toys I've built and re-wash them 1-2x a week to keep things sanitary.

Like toddlers, gliders tend to "taste test" their toys at times (and even if they don't, they walk all over the Duplo blocks and then eat with their hands and groom themselves with their tongues). That means I have to use cleaning products that are very safe, yet still effective (particularly when it comes to odor control, as gliders really do stink things up!).

My cleaning method:

The way I've been washing the Lego Duplo and regular Lego blocks is to fill a clean kitchen sink with a 50/50ish mixture of hot water (hottest the tap can provide, that is) and white vinegar, then add the blocks. I soak them for a few hours or possibly overnight, then scoop them into a large colander*, rinse them thoroughly with warm-to-hot water (iirc 104F+ is "unsafe" for Legos; hence why I mix the really hot water and the vinegar together before adding the Legos) and lay them out on towels to dry (inside, with a box fan blowing across them, flipping them over every few hours until they're totally dry). If anything is particularly soiled, I use the soft (ie non-scrub-pad) side of a clean sponge to give the blocks a gentle scrubbing as they soak in the warm vinegar water; for anything stuck in difficult-to-clean crevices, I use a baby bottle brush and/or q-tips.

*Based on a recommendation I saw on this site, I ordered a salad spinner to spin-dry my Duplos and regular Legos (and bunny veggies and dinner salads)... best thing ever - I LOVE it. GET ONE!

Vinegar is very popular as an odor eliminator for a WIDE variety of odors. It was the first and only cleaning method I tried because - despite all the pet odor eliminators and pet cage/habitat cleansers on the market - the vast majority of glider owners stick to a simple 50/50 blend of water and vinegar. It's very effective for removing urine, feces, scent marking oils, stuck-on (sugary) foods, etc. and all the related odors from glider toys and cages (not to mention bunny and cat litter boxes)... plus it's dirt cheap, gentle, pet (and child) safe and doesn't leave residue behind.

Because I haven't actually had to get cigarette smoke odor off of Legos and wanted to see if I could find some info to back up my hunch that it would work on that as well, I just did a cursory Google search for "remove cigarette smell with vinegar" and got a ton of hits confirming that it's very effective. I then searched specifically for info about using vinegar on Legos and found an article that provides some great tips and additional information on using vinegar to clean/deodorize Legos (and the article really focuses on difficult-to-remove cigarette odors) - http://www.brickwarrior.com/?p=1

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I suggest following the "Lego Whitening" advice given here: http://www.mocpages.com/moc.php/155077 There are a number of tutorials that involve various solutions, but this one works great for me and uses OxyClean and Hydrogen Peroxide, both readily available where I live. The cleaning process will remove the odor with the added advantage of making the bricks shine like new!

Quick summary: Put 2%-3% Hydrogen Peroxide plus a tiny scoop of OxyClean powder in a glass or transparent plastic container. Add Lego elements. Leave it in the sun for most of the day (10-20hrs). Stir occasionally to reorient the bricks. (This may not be necessary; I am not a chemist.) Remove and rinse when the bricks look good. If you are only worried about the smell, take some out at 8 hours and check, then check every two hours after that.

You don't want to leave them in any longer than necessary, as this process does seem to weaken the plastic slightly.

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this will permanently affect the bricks via the "whitening" reaction, which is not what most people want when they're cleaning their bricks. What will they be like after 10 or 20 "cleanings"? –  Mσᶎ Oct 9 '13 at 4:50
    
How many cleanings do you need? You clean them once, then take care of them properly. –  oddTodd Oct 11 '13 at 3:37
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If you have kids (or, like Imbrium, pets) they will get dirty again. Over 20 years even if you only clean them every year or two they will end up getting cleaned 10 times. Assuming they survive that long. –  Mσᶎ Oct 11 '13 at 21:50

I have found that laundry detergent with warm water works best. It's usually a stronger detergent than dishwashing liquid (which is commonly suggested). Either way, look for something that's as close to a pure detergent as possible - no scents, fabric softeners, dish-shiny-makers etc. I try to avoid anything that is known to change the bricks - peroxides are great for whitening old yellowed bricks, but I don't want to do that if I don't have to (I've done it for 8880 wheels, for example).

With cigarette smoke in particular there's often multiple layers of sticky residue, so I find that a bath or sink full of warm water, soak for a day or so with periodic additions of more warm water and a bit of stirring. To avoid small parts going down the drain use a strainer to scoop all the Lego out before pulling the plug. Rinse well, then spread on towels to dry (out of the sun, but with a breeze). Expect to do this more than once.

I spent a while experimenting and that was the least awful way I found. It's not worth it for low-value stuff, but I had a rare set that I didn't want to resell.

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(note that the downvote here comes from a user who disliked my comment on one of his answers so has deleted his answer and downvoted several of my answers) –  Mσᶎ Nov 4 '13 at 3:38
    
(Heh... gotta love that sort of "maturity." Too bad for them, it's rather difficult to take a down-vote seriously when it's not accompanied by any sort of comment/explanation.) –  Imbrium Dec 16 '13 at 18:38

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