Renew Old Children's Toys




About: By day, Jeff is the Jack of All Robots at Clearpath Robotics. By night, a mad scientist / hacker / artist / industrial designer wannabe!

I'm amazed at what some people will throw away. This past week my wife were driving by a house that must have been doing some fall cleaning. On the top of a huge pile stuff destined for the landfill were three gems that we couldn't pass up - a Little Tikes dumptruck and ride-on car, and a children's rocking horse. Aside from a little dirt and some peeling labels, they were still in fine shape.

This Instructable will show you how to save a little cash on kid's toys by refreshing and renewing what others consider garbage. After all, kids don't care if a toy came brand new from a store - all they care about is the fact that a new toy has appeared!

Step 1: Finding Old Toys

Old toys are everywhere. Sure, you can go to a garage sale and score a few things for a few bucks each. But, you can do one better and keep your eyes peeled on garbage day - and find stuff for free!

Often you'll find that people throw out toys that are still perfectly serviceable, they're just dirty or faded. Those are problems that are easily fixed. However, when you're out looking for gems don't bring anything home that is dangerous or that you cannot repair so that it is safe. Some toys are being thrown out for a reason!

Here are some tips:

- Look in rich neighbourhoods. For some reason rich people go through stuff faster than normal people, and throw things out before it's necessary. Be discrete, though! They also don't like people rooting through their trash.

- Sometimes toys come in multiple parts. Try to find all the parts - if you're lucky, they are being thrown out at the same time.

- Look for obvious signs of damage. If the damage can't be repaired for less than what it would cost to buy the toy new, then leave it be.

- Don't get too overzealous. You can't save the planet all on your own, so don't try to bring home everything that you find. Be picky, and take only the choice cuts.

Step 2: Washing

The toys you find will probably be dirty. Some will be worse than others, but all will need a thorough washing. Dirt is bad enough, but who knows what else has touched those toys!

If the toys are really dirty, spray them off with a hose. This works well for larger items like ride-ons, outdoor toys, plastic furniture and the like. Once the worst of the dirt has been washed off, leave the toys in the sun to dry.

For smaller plastic toys, and for really tough stuck-on dirt, you'll need to scrub by hand. You can wash smaller toys in a laundry basin filled with hot soapy water, and for larger toys just grab a bucket with the same hot soapy water. Use a sponge to clean out every nook and cranny.

With a razor blade, scrape off any decals and labels that are faded or peeling.

In the case of the dump truck I found, a good scrubbing was all it needed. It's currently in use, being used to transport Little People across the rec room floor.

Step 3: Prepping for Fresh Paint

The other two toys I found, the rocking horse and the car, were both green. In fact, they were the exact same colour of green. While I could have left them like that, I wanted to spruce them up a bit for my daughter. The answer? Krylon spray paint!

I decided that the car should be red, with a brown seat and "chrome" grilles. The horse would be brown, with a black mane and red saddle and reins. I already had a can of black spray paint, so all I needed was red and brown. They cost $10 at the hardware store. Perhaps you will be better stocked and won't have to buy a thing!

After carefully washing and drying the toys, and removing all the old decals, I set about deciding the order in which the colours would be applied. For the horse, the brown would go on first, followed by the red, then black. The car would have the brown seat and black accents applied first, then the rest would be painted red.

I started by masking off the handles and the base of the rocking horse, because I wanted it to remain green. It's a good idea not to paint any surfaces that will rub on the ground, in case the paint is rubbed off. I masked off the steering wheel on the car.

Step 4: Painting

In a well ventilated room or outside, apply the first layer of colour to the toy. As with most spray paints, apply the Krylon Fusion paint in thin layers and build up the colour gradually. If you apply too thick of a coat, you'll end up with drips and runs. Thankfully, Krylon paint dries very quickly, so by the time you've made it all the way around the toy, the starting point may already be dry.

Be careful when painting all the corners and crevasses on these toys. Inspect your work from all angles with the help of a flashlight to see if you've missed anything. You may also want to paint the toy in two or three stages so that you have a better angle - for viewing, and for the spray can! Spray paint won't work upside down, so the work may have to be moved instead.

Once you are satisfied with the first layer of paint, set it aside to dry. Drying time will depend on the paint - be sure to read the label to find out for sure. Within an hour, Krylon Fusion paint dries enough that you can handle the toy, and in 24 hours it is completely set.

Step 5: Mask and Paint the Next Colour

If you're using more than one colour, you will need to do some additional masking. Once the first colour is totally dry, mask it off with more tape, leaving bare only what you want painted in the second colour. Make sure that you press down the tape firmly, otherwise the second colour may bleed under the tape. It's not a big deal, but you will have to fix it later.

With the second layer of masking tape applied, go ahead and apply the second colour. Be aware that lighter colours applied to dark surfaces will (of course) need many more layers. Alternatively, you can use a light coloured primer first.

With the second colour applied, set the toy aside again to dry. Repeat the masking and painting steps as necessary, until all the colours you want to use have been applied to the toy. But remember: we're trying to save money here, so don't go out and pay more for the paint than you would for the toy! Keep it to three colours at most, if you can.

Step 6: Remove the Masking Tape & Touchup

When all the paint is dry, it's time to remove the masking tape! If everything went smoothly, you'll have a great, new-looking toy ready for your child to play with. Chances are though, that you will have some colour bleeding to fix.

In a small container, spray enough spray paint that it won't dry right away. With a small paint brush, touch up any places where one colour has bled onto another, or anyplace where you missed a spot. You may also have to use this method to paint smaller sections that you couldn't mask off properly.

Step 7: Finishing Up

The hard part is over! Feel free to add embellishments as you see fit. In the case of the Little Tikes car, I added "chrome" to the front grille using aluminum duct tape. I used the same tape to simulate the windshield. Your child may want to plaster the toy with stickers at this point, and I totally encourage it. ;)

You could even go wild and add LED lights or other electronics, but remember - we're trying to save money here! Only use what you've got lying around.

First Prize in the
Party Like It's 1929!



    • Pets Challenge

      Pets Challenge
    • Fandom Contest

      Fandom Contest
    • 1 Hour Challenge

      1 Hour Challenge

    53 Discussions


    2 years ago

    Have you ever had to glue hard plastic toys from 1950-60's? I need to glue vinyl onto vintage Doll Furnituire. Any Ideas? Thanks.

    1 reply

    Reply 2 years ago

    there are plastic glues available usually a two pack epoxy (a little expensive) but can glue most plastics and materials to plastic, the most difficult plastics to glue are the polyurethane and polypropylene which come under ABS plastics used in the automotive and motorcycle industries . .There are plenty of companies making glues that they say can glue these plastics 3M is one of them , here are some other brands that will do the job ..... plastex.....permatex....plastech...plast-aid ....superfix ....Selleys have a range of glues to suit your needs im sure .


    I didn't realize this was such an old post, but if you don't mind me asking I'm repainting my daughter's car and want to know if there is any way you can paint the wheels? I mean they look really old and dirty and washing them didn't help. Any suggestions? Thank you in advance :)


    5 years ago

    Isnt Krylon paint pretty toxic?


    7 years ago on Step 7

    I just found your tutorials and WOW you have some wonderful ideas. I love what you did with your free finds especially the car, it looks better after than before. Your little assistant is awfully cute as well. Thanks for sharing your great ideas.

    1 reply

    Reply 7 years ago on Step 7

    Thanks! Yeah, the car turned out really well. The kids are still using it!

    Thanx, this is very good advice! I spend a lot of time renewing old things and have found that even some of the larger thrift stores are so overwelmed with toys, that many just get tossed into the compactor and hauled to the landfill. I am working with a few of the local stores (though they are still giving me the run-around) to begin a toy recycling/reuse program.

    6 replies

    Why would they give you a hard time, what's the point ? I don't understand these places. Last time I went to a Salvation Army they were selling cameras you can no longer buy film for at $10 each. They said if it doesn't sell they throw it out. Where is the logic here?

    Yeah and you know what, Salvation Army is one of the best ones according to the research my boyfriend did with Disposal Alternatives! I am not sure why these thrift stores go so far out of their way to make sure everything goes into their compactors. My boyfriend has shown me pics and vid of pallets full of brand new items, especially toys being tossed in these stores compactors and destroyed when I know there are alternatives to sending all this stuff to our landfills. Thing is, when we ask them about why they do all this, many of them simply deny it is happening or tell us that everything is recycled even though we have pics of it all going to landfill. It is beginning to look like they think giving these things away creates competition for them or something. My boyfriend volunteers for a group called Disposal Alternatives and they have gone out of their way to work with several local chain locations. They got video now of giant compactor bins being emptied at the waste facility and they are full of toys and stuffed animals. Good news is, DA now has a program for stuffed toys so they were able to take that overwhelming room full of them I have been trying to get rid of and I can rest assured, they won't go to landfill! I am hoping DA along with some other orgs can work with these stores and that the stores realize it is in their best interest to do so... I tried to included some pics with this reply (but the uploader is not working for some reason), one of a store who threw away an entire dumpster full of stuffed animals because they did not sell during Valentines day, and a few others of a local thrift store compactor bin being emptied that was full of toys. My boyfriend just happened to notice all those stuffed animals as the truck was dumping the bin behind the store so he followed it to the landfill and got pics of it dumping. Sad thing is, in both cases, the waste facility nor the landfill would let him save a single thing! So, the stores make sure it gets tossed in the compactor and, even if you want what is left after that, you cannot even save the materials, they rather burry it all in the landfill! So, go figure that one out, it makes me sick…

    They have to be getting some kind of rebate or tax write off for it. They are disposing of new merchandise or overpricing it so it doesn't sell and then dumping it Thrift stores used to be great places when we were kids but now they suck. The one near my mom in orlando is an american vet thrift store. She read that the owner can get away with donating five bucks to the vets and keep the rest for profit. The stuff is all overpriced. I saw a pair of old Levis for $100 once.

    Yeah, I think that is some of why my boyfriend is having such a hard time dealing with them. The org he works with (Disposal Alternatives) does not even make a profit on what they do, they are one of the last few still in it for the good of the environment instead of for profit. Many big waste companies have tried to push them aside because DA makes most of them look bad. So, same with the thrift stores. Since many of them are not on the up and up, they keep the operation as closed and secret as they can. If everyone found out that their donations were mostly going to landfill except for the top notch stuff that is going to profit the private store owners instead of going to the charity they thought it was, they would be very upset! The only org we have found so far that really stands out is the Salvation Army. They still dispose of a lot of stuff but, at least they try to auction it all off really cheap first. Thing is, there is so much stuff, even some of the people who buy these big pallets of stuff only take a few things and toss the rest. Nice thing is, they are one of the few orgs so far willing to work with DA instead of just giving them a bunch of stories and red-tape. Anything we can do to keep toys from the landfill is a very good thing indeed! With all this "green" talk lately, you would be surprised at what really happens behind the closed doors of the “recycling” industry!


    10 years ago on Introduction

    For those plastic item, don't be afraid to power wash that sucker to get it really clean. I have never seen plastic items repainted with spray paint, but from those photos it appears that they look wonderful. Is there a way to fix any gouges in the plastic prior to painting? Maybe sanding them out would work, but is there any plastic grout material for deep scratches?

    2 replies

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    I depends a lot on the plastic. For softer plastics like what the car in this instructable is made of, you can sand the plastic to get gouges out, and you ~might~ have some luck with a heat gun, a gloved hand, and a lot of patience. There really isn't any filler that sticks to the plastic. You could buy a plastic welder, has them for pretty cheap, but I would only bother with that for big gouges and actual cracks. For harder plastics, if super glue adheres to it. you could use that as a filler.

    As mentioned, kids only care that a new to them toy is here. I wouldn't worry about it unless I was giving it as a gift. My girls love the trikes I got for them for free, and could care less that daddy did a rattle can restoration on them.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Unfortunately, the best I had was a hose. But yeah, a power washer would definitely clean off all the dirt, and would probably help remove the labels, too. With regards to fixing gouges, that depends heavily on the type of plastic. Some can be bonded with regular epoxy, while other plastics (especially polyolefins like polypropylene) require specialized (and expensive) adhesives. I'd recommend using something that is sandable so that you can smooth out the surface when the glue is dry. Give it a try - if it doesn't stick, chip it off and try something else.


    9 years ago on Step 7

    very nice...and inspiring me to find a few irems for my grandchildren! Thank you.

    1 reply

    Reply 9 years ago on Step 7

    Glad you like it!

    Just today I found a used Power Wheels Harley motorcycle at the curb that I'm going to get running for my daughter this summer.  She'll have the hottest ride on the block!