If you’ve been collecting figures for a good amount of time, you’ve probably encountered figures that become sticky. I myself have had several figures that became sticky. I bought the Elwyn and Xecty figure by Kotobukiya from someone online and they arrived sticky. This was my first experience with sticky anime figures. The seller did inform me about it so it’s all good. It’s not like he mistreated the figures. Stickiness in figures occurs naturally.
Why Figure Stickiness is Such a Big Deal?
One would probably assume that it’s not a big deal. I mean, you can just wash it off. The problem with this stickiness in anime figures is that it’s not easy to remove. I learned the hard way that the stickiness that occurs on figures can’t be fixed with a simple wipe or wash. The stickiness that happens on PVC figures is persistent and stubborn. There is this sticky film that develops on the surface of the figure that is hard to remove. Like really hard to remove and really sticky. Thankfully, I’ve found just the solution. but first, let’s try to understand the source of the problem.
What Causes the Stickiness?
The stickiness in the figures is caused by the plasticizer which, in the manufacturing process, is combined with PVC to make it soft and flexible. This allows the sculptors to do their magic. This plasticizer is naturally released over time but can be hastened when storing the figure in hot conditions. When the plasticizer leaks out and the figure is still in the box and blister packaging, the plasticizer will not dissipate in the air. Instead, it sticks to the figure as a very sticky film. This is why it is important to unbox your figures. You should let them “breathe”. In my experience, however, even newer figures that have been unboxed can get sticky.
Modern Figures Wouldn’t Get Sticky as Much
From what I hear, the figure manufacturing process has made great strides in the recent few years so modern figures don’t get sticky as much as the older releases. One recent experience with figure stickiness that I had was the Hestia figure by Amakuni which was released in 2016.
How to Fix the Stickiness?
To fix the stickiness in your figures, you will need to use dishwashing soap. Do not use liquid detergent. That stuff is nasty so there’s no telling what damage it can do to your figures. Dishwashing liquid is not as harsh as liquid detergent but I can’t be certain it won’t cause damage to your figure. So use it at your own discretion. I will not be held liable if you end up damaging your figures.
You will need a bucket or a basin of water — something deep enough to submerge the sticky parts of the problematic figure. If you’re thinking you can just give your sticky figure a quick soapy bath, that’s where you’re mistaken. You’re going to need to add the dishwashing soap to the water and then soak the figure for several hours. I recommend doing it overnight. After soaking, you can give it a nice rub with your fingers to feel if the stickiness is being washed off. If there is still some stickiness, try rubbing it lightly with a microfiber cloth while it is still wet and soapy. If the stickiness wears off, then rinse and dry. If not, don’t try to scrub it harder as you may end up damaging the paint. Let it soak a few hours more and try again.
A New Way to Remove the Stickiness
Update: Since I first wrote this article, a few more figures have gone sticky on me. These figures have all been unboxed and displayed. One other figure that has become sticky was Tokisaki Kurumi by Kadokawa. In this case, it is the base and the part where she is resting her knees that became sticky.
This time around, instead of soaking the sticky parts in water with dishwashing liquid, I wet it and just poured the dishwashing liquid directly over the sticky parts. I lathered it and rubbed it off using my thumb. Using this method, I was able to separate that sticky film coating the item. You can see me scraping off some of that sticky residue below. I tried to scrape off as much as I can using my fingers. If you are doing yourself and the sticky film does not rub off, you’re not using enough washing liquid.
And I figured I’d grab the trusty microfiber cloth and let it do the rest of the job. Don’t use any other type of cloth as it can scratch your figure. Microfiber cloth is delicate enough to wipe the sensitive lenses of cameras so it shouldn’t do damage to your figures. You can already see some of that sticky gunk being wiped off.
I rinsed it off and tried to feel if it still had some stickiness. It’s hard to tell if there is still some sticky residue left if you don’t rinse it first since it is slippery from the dishwashing liquid. I had to redo the process several times to get rid of all the stickiness. Eventually, I managed to remove all that sticky film and the figure (in this case, the base) looks good as new.
A few weeks later, I had another bout with figure stickiness. This time around, it’s Rem’s Wedding version by Phat Company. Both her hands became sticky. I guess the manufacturer had to use extra plasticizer to mold the hands and that seeped out. It’s not very visible in the picture but her left hand had some dust sticking to it because it had become sticky. Do note that this figure was displayed in the open.
I proceeded to clean her hands with dishwashing liquid using the same method I used for the Kurumi figure above. Once all the sticky film is gone, she looks good as new.
Don’t Leave the Stickiness Alone
If you bought a pre-owned figure still sealed in its box and open it to find it all sticky, you might be tempted to just leave it like that. Personally, I think it’s a bad idea as leaving the stickiness alone might result in lasting damage.
Reddit user W1N9Zr0 shared what happened to one of his figures when he did not fix the stickiness. At this point, trying to wash it off will not work anymore. It’s almost as if the plasticizer had crystallized.
How to Prevent Stickiness?
Figures becoming sticky, especially for old releases is common but you can prevent it. Here are some ways to prevent stickiness in figures.
Unbox Your Figures (Maybe)
Some claim that the reason figures become sticky is because the plasticizer has nowhere to go when it is released when the figure is still sealed shut in its box. Just unbox your figure to let it “breathe” is what I would have told you before. I think it makes sense. I used to believe this too until I had figures that have gone sticky even when they have been unboxed and left in the open. Right now, I think it doesn’t matter whether the figure is unboxed or not. When the plasticizer leaks out for whatever reason, the figure will become sticky.
The Hestia figure I mentioned above became sticky even when it was unboxed and displayed in a glass cabinet. It wasn’t sticky when I first unboxed it. For some reason which I can’t fathom, the legs became sticky even when it is unboxed and displayed. The Kurumi figure I fixed above was also unboxed yet the base also became sticky. Kurumi was displayed in a custom detolf. Rem, on the other hand, was displayed on my desk out in the open.
Keep Your Figures Away from Heat
Heat can hasten the release of the plasticizer which causes the stickiness in the figures. If you keep your figures in a hot room (and still boxed), there’s a good chance they will develop stickiness. Too much heat can also soften PVC plastic so leaning might become a problem. This is especially true for figures standing on one foot or leaning in a specific direction without proper support. It’s best to keep your figures in a cool room.
Keep Your Figures Away From Sunlight
Sunlight can do a lot of damage to a PVC figure. Sunlight, even reflected sunlight, has heat. As I just mentioned, heat helps to speed up the release of the plasticizer which can cause stickiness. On top of that, sunlight can cause even more harm to the figure. Ultra-violet radiation in the sunlight can cause paint to fade. Prolonged exposure to sunlight can make plastic brittle so it snaps easily. So one of the golden rules of figure collecting is to keep it away from sunlight.
If you have any experience with stickiness developing in your anime figures, let me know about it in the comments.
I started the NekoFigs blog in January 2021, 5 years after I’ve started collecting anime figures. It all started with one humble prize figure of Saber Lily which was bought on a whim. Now, I face the big problem of how to deal with over 200 empty boxes.