How to Remove Scratches From Plastic

Black plastic trash bin cleaned to remove scratches from surface

The Spruce / Georgia Lloyd

Overview
  • Working Time: 30 mins
  • Total Time: 30 mins
  • Skill Level: Intermediate

Plastic dishes, furniture, and accessories have changed the way we live our lives. Plastic is durable, lightweight, and usually less expensive than other materials. Unfortunately, plastic is also susceptible to scratching due to normal wear and tear that leaves the finish looking dull. Some plastic items develop a whitish "bloom" when exposed to sunlight and extreme temperature changes. Luckily, just a few household items can help restore the finish of plastic.

How Often to Remove Scratches From Plastic

It is always easiest to remove scratches when they are small. Once the scratches accumulate or become deeper, the task becomes more difficult or impossible.

Regular cleaning will also help prevent the cloudy white film on plastic from becoming permanent. Outdoor furniture, toys, and accessories should be cleaned at least monthly and stored or covered when not in use.

Before You Begin

Before you tackle the scratches, you should assess the severity of the scratches. It's important to start with the least abrasive cleaning agents so that you don't create additional scratches that will dull the finish. It's a good idea to test any cleaning process on a hidden area of the plastic item. Work carefully and if you see additional damage, stop immediately.

Use your fingernail or the edge of a credit card to help determine the depth of the scratches. If your fingernail or the card edge glides easily over the scratch without catching, then the scratch is shallow and can usually be removed with a gentle abrasive like toothpaste or baking soda. However, if your fingernail catches, the scratch is deep enough that you will need to use a more aggressive process with wet micro-grit sandpaper.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Cellulose sponge
  • Microfiber cloths
  • Cotton cloth
  • Medium bowl

Materials

  • Non-gel toothpaste
  • Dishwashing liquid
  • Isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol
  • Baking soda
  • Distilled white vinegar
  • Metal or plastic polishing compound
  • Cotton balls
  • 360 micro-grit sandpaper
  • 500 micro-grit sandpaper
  • 600 micro-grit sandpaper
  • 800 micro-grit sandpaper

Instructions

Materials and tools to remove scratches from plastic surfaces

The Spruce / Georgia Lloyd

  1. Remove Surface Soil

    It's important to remove any surface soil first that might cause additional scratches. Wash the item in a solution of warm water and a few drops of dishwashing liquid using a soft sponge or microfiber cloth. If the plastic cannot be submerged, wipe down the scratched area you plan to repair with a cotton ball dipped in isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol to remove surface grime.

    If the plastic has developed a cloudy look, add one-half cup distilled white vinegar per gallon of the warm, soapy water solution to help restore the original finish.

    Removing surface grime with cotton ball dipped in rubbing alcohol on black plastic surface

    The Spruce / Georgia Lloyd

  2. Buff Away Light Scratches With Toothpaste

    For light scratches, you need a gentle abrasive like toothpaste or baking soda. Toothpaste contains silica to help remove stains on our teeth. Use a non-gel formula and squeeze out enough to cover the scratched area. Using a dry cotton cloth, work in small circles to buff away the scratches. Rinse the area frequently with warm water and check the scratches. You may need to repeat the steps several times before the scratch is gone.

    Toothpaste buffing black plastic surface with white cotton cloth

    The Spruce / Georgia Lloyd

  3. Buff Away Light Scratches With a Baking Soda Paste

    Baking soda is a gentle mineral abrasive that will buff away scratches on plastic. Combine two parts baking soda to one part water to create a thick paste. Dip a cotton cloth in the paste and apply it to the scratched area. Work in a circular motion to buff away the scratch. Rinse the area often to check your progress. Repeat the steps until the scratch has disappeared and the plastic appears even.

    Baking soda and water paste buffing away light scratches on black surface with white cotton cloth

    The Spruce / Georgia Lloyd

  4. Use Wet Micro-Grit Sandpaper For Deeper Scratches

    Regular grit sandpaper is too harsh for plastic so you must use micro-grit paper. Even micro-grit sandpaper must be used wet so it does not create more problems. Wetting the paper helps the sanded particles from building up in the paper and creating new scratches.

    Begin with the lowest grit micro-grit sandpaper (360 grit). Soak the paper in a bowl of water for several minutes until the paper is saturated. Using steady, gentle pressure, rub the scratched area in a circular motion. After a few circles, rinse the plastic and assess your progress. If the scratch is still visible, move to a higher grit paper. Be sure sandpaper is very wet and repeat the circular motion. Rinse the plastic after every pass of the sandpaper and continue to move to a high number, finer grit sandpaper until the scratch has disappeared.

    Rinse the plastic one last time and dry with a microfiber cloth.

    Micro-grit sandpaper soaking in water for deeper scratches on plastic surface

    The Spruce / Georgia Lloyd

  5. Shine With Polishing Compound

    After removing scratches, especially deeper ones, the area will often look duller than the rest of the piece. To restore the shine, use a commercial plastic or metal polishing compound. Follow the directions on the label for use or put a small dab of the compound on a clean, dry cloth and polish the dull area of the plastic in small circles. Buff the area with a lint-free microfiber cloth. Repeat until the shine is restored.

    Metal polishing compound added with cloth to restore shine on plastic surface

    The Spruce / Georgia Lloyd