The Yellowed Payload: A Cautionary Tale

There’s a horrible affliction that strikes over 4 in every 10 white or light grey plastic toys produced in the 70s and 80s. It’s a condition with which many collectors of GI Joe and Star Wars are particularly familiar. I’m talking about yellowed plastic syndrome or in medical terminology, color jaundicia mutationem. While not as debilitating a condition as Gold Plastic Syndrome, it nonetheless makes once gloriously clean looking toys appear as if they’ve spent twenty years witihn a constant three foot vicinity of a Camel cigarette.

My only copy of 1987 Payload has succumbed to this condition over the course of the last fifteen years. Why? Was it due to sitting unprotected in a cardboard box for years, or being placed next to a different kind of plastic? The jury is still out on what causes these things to happen. Payload is especially unique in that his elbows and forearms are pristine white. I present it here as a document of the less than pristine items that I’m sure will populate many collections in years to come. Sure, I can buy a whiter one, but what’s to say the same jaundiced fate won’t eventually befall it? There are methods that can be employed to restore a semblance of former color, using a mixture of caustic chemicals and probably a bit of ancient alchemical knowledge, but I’m not generally one to delve into such mystical practices.

No matter what we do, time ultimately ravages all. Even a sealed, AFA 90 Firefly may eventually fall victim to a busted o-ring. Our prized toys will age, and like us, some will fare better than others.

Payload (1987) Payload (1987) Payload (1987)


  • Wow, that is some impressive yellowing. No one hate me, but I think it looks pretty cool like that. I know you said you don’t go in for a lot of the restoration but as I recall, I remember someone on the JoeCustoms’ board said something about a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser restoring a yellowed Storm Shadow. Just bringing it up because from what I understand that has been a common question so I figured I might as well pass the information on.

  • When i was 10, the POTF2 star wars figures were all the rage [all of it is worthless due to overproduction]
    Anyway, i thought my Stormtroopers looker good on display on the windowsil. It sort of backfired.
    I also have a Buck Rogers [i think] figure from the early 80’s that is so badly yellowed he is now dark tan.

  • Yikes! By the way, powder blue-colored figures–such as the 1989 Deep-Six–have this problem as well.

  • I have never noticed the paint job on the original, it’s nicely done. I have heard tales that soaking yellow figures in hydrogen peroxide will restore whiteness sometimes, I feel your pain. My pristine white 84 Storm Shadow has now showed yellowing on his legs. Other figures that I’ve noticed consistently noticed color changes are Snow Job (I’ve never seen a vintage one that wasn’t colored an extremely ugly shade of yellow) and Spirit. His torso seems vulnerable to color change. Some say sunlight is a big culprit, others believe figures should “breathe” and not be stored away wrapped in plastic in darkness, Hasbro never designed these things to last indefinitely.
    What is nice is that there are a lot of alternatives of the classic molds that were made more recently, and in some cases, have better plastic .The 89 Payload that I have is very white, though ironically the figure itself has multiple yellow applications! I don’t have an 83 Snow Job. The “Then and Now” box set ROC version is pristine white and looks so much like the vintage, it’s a great alternative for display.

  • The MMU control arms, too! My understanding is the chemicals in the plastic reacting to surrounding chemicals (and sunlight, too). Airtight, acid-free storage bags are most recommended. And I’ve done lots of peroxide restoration, but it’s generally temporary. At least on ’83 Snow Job bodies, which all turned back yellowed. My Terror Drome looks pretty good, though.

  • When you write your memoirs, make sure to include this line:

    “Our prized toys will age, and like us, some will fare better than others.”

  • All those cosmic rays. Better hope they aren’t mutating the Payload inside the space suit into a Lunartix alien or something.

    Some plastic is like that. Not all white or gray plastic is created the same. You should see my old SNES. Most of it is now a grayish-yellow while some of the plastic is still pristine gray. It used (at least) 2 different types of plastic. The strange part is while only part of it was exposed to sunlight part of the year, all of the same kind of plastic turned yellow, even the side where the sun never shined (suggesting it was air exposure or age).

  • Its a breakdown on the moleculer level. Happens to cheap Lowes white cabinets all the time. To fix payload, just put him in a clear container of peroxide and leave him in the sun for a day. It will work and it is as permenant a solution as there is. Make sure to watch the paint on his face, some Joes [IE Stormshadow] will white out their face as well, while others such as Frostbite do not.

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