Care of Celluloid – Celluloid is a fragile and highly flammable plastic. It should never be stored near heat, in direct sunlight or in an attic. It should be stored in a box that breaths, preferably an acid free box and wrapped in acid free tissue paper. Do not store in poly bags or other closed plastic containers.
Why do some pieces of Celluloid deteriorate? Once an item was produced it became subject to the chemical, physical and biological forces of its environment. Celluloid deteriorates as a results of three degradation processes – chemical reaction, thermal and physical.
While Celluloid was initially a durable product. One downside to collecting this plastic is that some pieces don’t seem to hold up well over time and can often chip, crack and crumble. Collectors refer to this as Celluloid disease or Celluloid rot. A definitive cause is not known and it can transfer from one piece to another. Clear or light colored celluloid items appear to be more prone to this phenomenon.
If you have a collection of celluloid items be sure to examine them from time to time to make sure that none are brittle or showing signs of cracking or flaking. If they are, it’s time to isolate them for the sake of the rest of your collection.
Pieces in good condition should be stored where they can breath. Also take care to keep them from touching to avoid transferring celluloid rot from piece to piece should that unfortunately crop up among a collection. Do not let your items come in contact with makeup or perfume. Don’t even buy a Celluloid item that is sick they’re more trouble than they’re worth.
In Shirley Dunn’s book “Celluloid Collectibles” she recommends washing gently in warm or lukewarm water with a little pine solvent to clean Celluloid pieces. She also claims that Celluloid disease or Celluloid rot can be stopped by soaking the item in a solution of baking soda and water. She also suggest that it would be probably be a good proceedure to routinely wash Celluloid items in baking soda. Care of Celluloid using baking soda can also be used to remove spots on Celluloid pieces.