Removing white oxidation from plastic eyeglasses

Removing white oxidation from plastic eyeglasses

Removing white oxidation from eyeglass frames

Oxidation has discolored my favorite pair of eyeglass frames, leaving them clouded by a filmy white layer. I’ve managed to restore the frames using household items. Here’s how I did it.

I have a beloved pair of eyeglasses I’ve worn for about 6 years now. I have a very narrow head and this pair measures 50-14-135. Finding adult frames with a narrow bridge and small lens size (but normal, adult ear positioning) is nigh impossible. Most “petite” frames still have as wide a bridge as larger sizes, which makes no sense to me. And children’s frames don’t have long enough arms.

But in the last year or so my rare unicorn frames have developed a hazy white film. It almost looks like they’re perpetually smudged with make-up. Various sources online claim that this discoloration is due to interactions with hair products, but I suspect this is a half-truth. The only area affected is the outside, on the front and on the part of the arms that see sunlight. Not where you’d expect hair products or make up to do damage.

glasses with white oxidation
I didn’t take a proper before picture. Here’s a recent pic I took after some very daring hair color experimentation. (And YES, that is lamb’s ear behind me.)

Most plastic frames are cellulose acetate. While in itself this plastic is transparent to UV, in the presence of surface contaminants it can oxidize–growing pitted and, eventually, brittle. This oxidation is almost certainly the source of the cloudiness.

I’ve struggled to replace my frames. Three times now, I’ve bought a new pair only to decide they just don’t fit right. Meanwhile I assumed the white discoloration was permanent. I even vaguely wondered if I should try painting them.

I finally decided to do some digging online and I found several different remedies crop up. Some are chemical: renew your frames the same way you renew the plastic in a car, like with Armor All. Some are home remedies: toothpaste, peanut butter, lip balm, and baking soda have all featured. And some advise that the only way to really fix the problem is to gently scrape away the damaged surface layer.

I managed to restore my frames. The story is below, but here’s the punchline. The oxidized layer needs to be removed–it’s the only permanent fix. I recommend using a 4-way nail buffing block. Then, for additional shine, following up by massaging in a thin coating of Vaseline or lanolin.

Brush your glasses…with toothpaste

Well, it works on teeth after all.

My first attempt was the home remedy route. It was evening and toothpaste was something I had on-hand. The advice I found was to gently rub on and off the toothpaste, avoiding the lens. In principle, it works for the same reason it works on your teeth: the paste is mildly abrasive. The grit scratches off the oxide layer.

I followed up with baking soda, which I mixed into a paste with a little water. Again, abrasion is at work here. Then I washed with soapy water. The final result is below. Definitely an improvement, but still cloudy.

after toothpaste buffing
White oxidation is reduced by wiping with toothpaste and then baking soda. But still some remains.

Buff to a shine

Next I broke out my nail buffer. I have a well-used 6-stage buffer. Stage 1 and 2 are grittier, for shaping nails, and 3-6 are for polishing the top. I used stage 3, the roughest polishing stage, to attack the oxidation. Even this level of grit feels soft to the touch. Whenever one of the actual gritty sides of the buffer would contact the frame, it would scratch, so if you try this, be careful! A gentle hand is key.

Because of the shape of my buffer, I could only really get the center well. The top and bottom ridges were tough to reach while avoiding the rougher parts of the buffer. And by time I got to the sides, the grit was basically worn away! I was pretty shocked, since I’d been using this buffer on my nails for months and months without it wearing so much as it did with the frame.

after nail buffer
My frames after removing the white oxidation with a nail buffing block.

Shine on

As a final step, I took another home remedy piece of advice and rubbed in a thin coat of lanolin. It evened out the result and added some shine, as you can see below.

renewed glasses
Rubbing in a little lanolin helped even out the color of the frames, and add a little shine.

However, only two days later, I’m finding the parts I didn’t buff as well are looking hazy again. The center still looks nice. I’m going to pick up a new buffer and, in the meanwhile, I’ve shined them again with Vaseline. It gives a little more glossy finish than the lanolin. Hopefully it lasts a little longer.

If you give the buffing method a try, I recommend a 4-stage buffer, with sides that extend right to the edge in order to reach little corners and parts near the eye glass. I’ve read that melamine foam (such as Magic Erasers) also work well for buffing eyeglass frames.

If you give it a go, or have your own tricks for refreshing eyeglass frames, let me know in the comments!

Incidentally, I’ve just made my fourth frames purchase and I’m hoping this one is the charm. They are made of buffalo horn–no more cellulose acetate!–from the Cuthbert & Chen line by RetroSpecs. Although they are listed as 45-18, the bridge fit looks and feels more narrow. (How high they sit on your bridge plays a role in this.) They’ve also got my husband’s stamp of approval and he’s got something of a discerning eye.

Fingers crossed.

12 Replies to “Removing white oxidation from plastic eyeglasses”

  1. Just tried the melamine foam thing on my own glasses, where they had discoloured white in patches after getting something spilled on them… Worked perfectly! Back to glossy black frames again!

      1. Thanks for the info! You will amwant to regularly coat your horn frames in lanolin to keep them nice Mine lasted longer than my taste in that particular pair. 😊

    1. Hi Jessica! If I had known that professionally polishing acetate frames was even a “thing” I would have done it in a heartbeat!

  2. Excellent post, I was going mad trying (and failing) to wash this stuff off my frames!

    Btw, it’s a lot easier to do if you pop out the lenses and unscrew the arms.

  3. Hello, is the usage of melamine foam( looks more like a hardcore scrubber to me) safe in between the eyeglasses – the part facing the nose. Because that part has oxidized a lot in my case and would like to see if it will work. Also is there any precautions if I must follow before using the melamine foam like wet the surface beforehand or something…?

    1. Hi Ajay! I think the melamine foam should work just fine for you. You don’t need to wet the surface beforehand, but be careful not to scrape your lenses! If you want to take extra precautions, you could either pop the lenses out or cover them with an easy-peel tape, like painter’s tape. And please post your results for others’ benefit!

  4. The foam works really well, but patience is definitely a requirement.

    I managed to get oxidation off my black plastic frame, about 95% or more, by doing it often, say 5~7 times a day, for 2-3 minutes each session, over the course of a couple of days.

    Progress with the foam is slow. I found that you can speed it up a bit by adding a bit of water to the frame say every 2nd or 3rd time you scrub. Be sure to dry off the excess water by shaking it off the frame.

  5. I had this happen to me when I was dying my hair. I got brown dye on the glasses and removed it with nail polish remover. My tortoiseshell and purple frames had a white residue over them where I wiped off the dye that only disappeared when wet. I have managed to solve the problem for now with clear nail polish.

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