What's up with the chalky dust on Mattel's Movie Masters?

Today Monkey Boy reviewed the Movie Masters Survival Suit Bruce Wayne, which gives us an opportunity to talk about something you may have noticed: the powdery white residue that's starting to appear on some of the figures.

No, don't worry - it doesn't mean the factory is trying to sneak anthrax into our toyboxes. Nor does it mean the fats and solids are separating, like on chocolate.

Despite our mental image of plastic as a material that lasts forever, it really doesn't. Being derived from petroleum - an organic compound - means plastic is susceptible to decay caused by things like temperature and light. It's called depolymerization, and how long it takes depends on the quality of the plastic you started with. So as the price of plastic has gone up, companies have switched to cheaper alternatives so they didn't have to jack the prices up on us. Unfortunately, cutting that corner means the plastic decomposes faster, and that's what the "dust" is.

Basically, it's like rust. Metal oxidizes, and the surface corrodes to form rust. Similarly, as cheap PVC deteriorates, the surface breaks down and becomes "dusty." That dust is titanium dioxide (TiO2). It's a perfectly safe material - they put it in toothpaste and sunscreen, after all - and is used in almost all PVC. It's an opacifier and provides UV protection, as well as making the plastic mixture pure white prior to dyeing. But when the quality is low, the plastic breaks down quickly, and the TiO2 is released to the surface, leaving us with "dust."

This only happens on unpainted areas, by the way: the paint forms a shell around the plastic, helping to keep it from breaking down as fast. So when you find dust on one part of a figure but not another, that's why. If you really wanted, you could give your toys a coat of clear acrylic varnish to help stave off this problem, but that sounds like a pain - and even then, it's only a temporary solution.

No material lasts forever, but some will last longer than others. If toy companies keep cheaping out like this, though, we're going to see a lot more problems crop up.

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One Response to What's up with the chalky dust on Mattel's Movie Masters?

  1. yo go re says:

    I was playing with Deathstroke last night, and his chalking was pretty substantial. I tried just rubbing the stuff off, like usual, but that wasn't working on the cracked leather texture, so I decided to try washing it, instead. Dunking him in water wasn't super effective, but what DID work great was just letting hot water run over him - the TiO2 disappeared in an instant!

    That's not a permanent solution, obviously, but it's an easy way to make the figure look normal again...

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