How to lighten yellowed plastic

White plastic yellowed - this is how you can clean plastic

White plastic yellows for a variety of reasons and then looks dirty and old. But with a few simple steps and helpful tips, yellowed plastic will turn white again, regardless of whether it is visible deposits of nicotine or other stains and age-related traces.

White light switches are not uncommon in bathrooms and kitchens, in the living room and in the hallway. This is shiny or matte plastic that will yellow over time and have a dirty surface. In contrast to the widespread opinion that sockets, light switches or other things made of plastic that turn yellow are more profoundly yellowed, soiling is primarily deposited on the surface with regular cleaning and care.

If white plastic is cleaned and stripped of these deposits at regular intervals, it will never yellow properly and will retain its shine and white surface for many years. Even in smokers' households you don't have to live with yellowish-brownish light switches and the like, if you stick to the cleaning intervals and consider that regular care is necessary and that white plastic is relatively easy to clean. In the case of serious traces that appear over several years if the cleaning is not carried out, the replacement can be counteracted by deep cleaning with possible sanding of the surface and a special plastic eraser can be used for this.


Material and preparation

Depending on the degree of soiling, it is helpful to buy a dirt eraser in advance and optionally provide baking soda, vinegar or lemon, toothpaste, a clean rag and a bucket of lukewarm water. In the case of sockets and light switches, care must be taken to ensure that these are disconnected from the electrical circuit and that they are removed before the comprehensive cleaning. Cleaning the wall would not only leave unsightly stains on the surrounding wallpaper, but also damage the electrical system. White plastic as the surface of furniture or of garden chairs, garden tables or decorative accessories in the household is cleaned according to the same principle and with the same aids and cleaning agents. The following is a list of all the materials and possibilities with which white plastic regains its natural and clean appearance and is freed from coarse soiling.

What you need:

  • Plastic cleaner / alternatively baking soda, lemon or vinegar
  • a dirt eraser for stubborn stains
  • a bucket of warm water and a soft cloth, microfiber at best
  • nourishing oil for post-treatment

You can use special plastic cleaners or lemon and vinegar without a prior examination and be sure that you only remove the dirt and not the shine. The situation is different with toothpaste or baking soda, or when using a dirt eraser. Here it is advisable to try cleaning on a small and hidden area and to find out whether the surface will be damaged by the use of these aids and possibly lose its shine. Before you actually begin to remove nicotine residues or other soiling, clean the surface with simple washing-up liquid and then dry it carefully.

Cleaning instructions

Step by step, white plastic will get clean again

1. Generously clean the surfaces with a little washing-up liquid, warm water and a clean, lint-free cloth.

2. If you would like to remove dirt from socket outlets or light switches, you should remove the removable and visible components in advance and, ideally, clean them on the floor or a table.

3. Test the cleaner you have chosen on a spot that you would not see if the surface were damaged.

4. Be sure to wear gloves when using chemical cleaners or when using vinegar and lemon.

5. Make sure that the product is applied evenly over the entire surface and wipe over the surface in quick circular movements.

6. Repeat the process until the surface is gleaming white again. Repeated cleaning may be necessary in the case of stubborn dirt.

7. Then clean the surface with lukewarm water and completely remove the cleaning agent residues. Otherwise, harsh or acidic cleaners would create a dull and visibly rough surface.

For very stubborn stains, it is advisable to use a dirt eraser. If the surface is shiny and very smooth, this treatment can, however, lead to roughening. In this case, you should first consider whether you will either work the surface evenly with the eraser or then apply a varnish to restore the shine. Direct sanding is not recommended, as the workload is very high and the replacement of the item is often cheaper. Especially with light switches and sockets, you should never grind down, as the method not only affects the look but also the feel.

Prevention - protect plastic

If you live as a smoker and consider the enjoyment of an occasional cigarette as a quality of life, you will certainly not forego cigarettes in favor of white surfaces. But not only in smoker households, but also due to the influences of time, white plastic can turn yellow and look rather dirty. It is important that you not only pay a lot of attention to cleaning, but also pay a certain amount of time. It is best to clean surfaces made of white plastic at least once a month, as this interval prevents complete yellowing with deep-seated marks.


1. White garden furniture should be placed away from sunlight when not in use and ensure that UV radiation does not turn yellow.

2. Clean light switches, sockets and the like once a month with a damp cloth with washing-up liquid and a dash of vinegar.

3. Exclude the effects of the weather in relation to the plastic surfaces and store your outdoor furniture in winter inside your house, in the basement or in a shed and cover the surfaces with foil.

4. Avoid absolutely the use of scouring milk or other roughening substances!

Prevention is the best protection in terms of yellow spots or visible marks on plastic surfaces. With outdoor furniture, you can prevent the problem by cleaning the furniture regularly and then treating it with a caring, oil-based polish. So that you do not have any oily stains on your clothes afterwards, you should clean the surface with a dry cloth and remove any oil residue before using it again.

Despite all caution and regular care, it cannot be avoided that white plastic will yellow and no longer look attractive and clean in the long run. In this case, you can use home remedies and make do with lemon, vinegar or baking soda and baking powder. In very few cases, chemical plastic cleaners have to be used, as these, in comparison with household remedies and a little patience, no longer produce cleanliness and do not minimize the time required for cleaning.

Gentle cleansing

Do not clean plastic with rough tools!

Kitchen sponges with a rough back or hard rags and towels are unsuitable for cleaning plastic. The use of hard tools results in visible scratches on the surface, in which even more dirt sticks and penetrates under the protective layer.

A soft sponge or cloth made of microfiber is ideal if white plastic is to remain white in the long term and its feel is not damaged. Most plastic surfaces are glossy and have no visible pores. Cleaning is particularly easy here, provided you do without rough rags and the like and use soft materials for cleaning.

When using lemon or vinegar, you should try a small area beforehand to see whether the home remedy dulls the surface and is therefore not suitable for cleaning.

For polishing and dusting, use a lint-free cloth and use it dry. With this method you prevent the attraction of the surfaces and ensure that dust and dirt do not adhere to the surface. The cleaning of the surfaces is inexpensive and easy if it does not turn yellow in the first place and thus become heavily soiled. For example, if you move into a new apartment and have to clean the sockets from the deposits of the previous tenant, you will often face a challenge and get to know the proverbial "Gilb". Home remedies, a dirt eraser or a special plastic cleaner can be effective here and avoid replacing the items.


White plastic is not only attractive to buy. In order to avoid yellowing, great importance is attached to regular cleaning of the surfaces. Not only nicotine, but also the effects of the weather and the signs of the times leave traces on plastic surfaces. To prevent the major cleaning and to avoid deep-seated soiling in advance, white plastic should be cleaned at least once a month. Washing up liquid and fresh warm water are completely sufficient here, as the dirt only settles on the surface and not in the depths of the material. White plastic doesn't get dirty faster than gray, brown or beige plastic. But the soiling becomes visually clear more quickly, especially if there is also a white context to the surface. In front of a white wall, a yellowed socket is particularly noticeable and in the snow you can see that the garden chair has been influenced and darkened by the UV light. Since prevention is the best measure against yellowed white surfaces, you should pay close attention to cleaning at intervals and thus avoid the in-depth effect of soiling. White plastic can inspire with radiant beauty for many years without any visible signs of wear and tear.