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. Others, like black plastic and clear plastic, show even the slightest abrasions. Luckily, a few household items, like toothpaste, baking soda, and sandpaper, can help restore the finish of almost any plastic. And when you have to break out the big guns, a plastic polishing compound should do the trick, even when household items fall short.
The Best Scratch Removers for Plastic
The best plastic scratch removers include items you probably already have in your kitchen, bathroom, or garage. Basic household items, like toothpaste, baking soda, and sandpaper, can help you remove scratches from plastic glass, black plastic, clear plastic, or other well-used plastic items.
- Toothpaste: Toothpaste is a gentle abrasive that can be used to remove scratches from black plastic, or any other item exhibiting superficial surface scratches.
- Baking soda: A baking soda paste can be used to buff out slightly deeper scratches that don't disappear with the use of toothpaste.
- Sandpaper: Micro-grit sandpaper is the easiest option to polish out deep scratches from plastic. It works best when dampened, to prevent further damage to the item.
- Plastic polishing compound: A polishing compound is the best option for fixing scratched clear plastic. Make sure to rinse periodically during the process to observe your progress. Do not over-buff!
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.
Equipment / Tools
- Cellulose sponge
- Microfiber cloths
- Cotton cloth
- Medium bowl
- 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
How to Remove Scratches From Plastic
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Why does toothpaste remove scratches on plastic?
Toothpaste contains the smallest amount of abrasive compounds that gently remove a thin layer of plastic when used as a buffing agent. This is the safest way to tackle scratches on plastic and achieve a smooth surface.
How do you get scuffed plastic to shine?
After removing the scratches with toothpaste, baking soda, or sandpaper, apply WD-40 to your plastic item and buff it to a shine using a cotton rag. If you plan on eating off of your plastic, try olive or coconut oil in place of the WD-40.
Can sun-faded plastic be restored?
Sun-faded plastic—sometimes found on the dashboard of a car—can be restored by applying even heat with a heat gun. Heat will bring the oils stored inside to the surface and revive the plastic's shine. You can also use a plastic restorer compound to bring life back to the surface. If all else fails, use spray paint to cover up the faded areas, but make sure it's suitable for plastic to avoid chipping.