Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Successfully cleaning a Lastolite Hi-Lite Background

A few months ago, I came across a deal that was too good to pass up. A large 6ft x 7ft Lastolite Hi-Lite Background on Ebay. I'd seen one when having my headshots done for a movie company, and thought it would make a great addition to my studio setup. I won the auction and drove to the sellers house for a demo and pick it up. Setup, it looked huge, but awesome!

When you buy second hand, you don't expect perfection, especially for the price I paid. So I was expecting a few blemishes or so. Apparently a common problem with the Lastolite Hi-Lite backgrounds occurs when something hot (presumably a hot light that has to be stuck inside of the background) touches the white panels, which results in a yellow dot forming and almost seems to go through to the front. If you buy second hand, note that you cannot actually see these burn marks until you put bright lights on the inside to check.

So I figured I'd try to get the stains out before putting the background to use. And I started with what I thought was something mild. First soap liquid, then oxy stain remover for fabrics ("Vanish"). Neither of which seemed to do anything to the stain. If you're trying to fix a stain such as coffee that somehow got inside, then these steps would be a good place to start, but don't expect miracles. Do remember to clean with clear water afterwards when you're done.

Next stage, I thought (incorrectly) that I'd try diluted bleach. This turned out to be a very bad idea. Now the little yellow stain was surrounded by a large ring of beige! In hindsight, at least the experiment did narrow down what kind of fabric this was.

I tried contacting Lastolite support for ideas, and they were of no help - they refused to tell me what the material was (other than it's custom made for them) how to clean it, repair it (can't), or how to get a piece I can use to replace it (not going to happen). So I gave up asking and looked for other solutions, based on what I presumed is a PVC front with a polyester binder in the back, not unlike a plastic tablecloth. Even though I got it for a steal, I'm not someone who would replace it just because of a small stain.

What the Internet searches came up with is to use Hydrogen Peroxide. I found some 6% solution and used a cotton bud (q-tip) to apply it neat. Setup the Hi-Lite somewhere out of the way (if possible), and have a lamp on the outside shining in so you can see what you're working on. Leave to dry and repeat - and this may take quite a few attempts, so be patient. I've now got the stain from the bleach to almost disappear after a dozen applications, and the treated yellow dots also faded.

When hydrogen peroxide dries, it often leaves a ring around the place you used it. While it looks terrible, note that this is not permanent damage. When you are done cleaning the surface with the hydrogen peroxide, you can use a sponge with hot (tap) water on the inside surface to get rid of the after effects. You can rub the inside surface without any issues - the material doesn't delaminate. Depending on the size of the treatment, it may require you to wash the entire inside surface to prevent the ring from returning (when I finished treatments, I used soapy water first before a second water only clean).

So for anyone out there with a similar problem looking to clean their Hi-Lite, you can find hydrogen peroxide at your local chemist. It usually comes in 3%, 6% and 12% strengths. If you get some on your fingers, it leaves a mild white burn mark. So I'd advise wearing gloves, especially if you're using it at 6% or higher.

The one annoying problem with this process is that the black plastic above/below the side zippers isn't particularly strong, and surprisingly sown with a single thread. So if you repeatedly climb inside, it will likely cause the plastic to rip and/or pull out the stitches. Again, this should be easy enough to repair after the fact (put some black material behind the vinyl layer, and re-sew the white trim/zipper through to the black material). Also be careful leaving dirty feet marks on the screen floor!

As always - a disclaimer - I have no way of knowing if this will work for you as I don't know if Lastolite has changed the material over the years or the source of your stain. My use of hydrogen peroxide is based on the fact that the screen yellows with application of bleach (which is the same behaviour as a white PVC tablecloth), and multiple applications does work without causing additional issues. If you're hesitant to try, I suggest you treat a stain on the side panel first to test, before working on the main panel.

One thing that Lastolite does recommend is making sure the edges don't get wet - the metal rod inside might rust, potentially causing new stains. So make sure you do this in a reasonably warm room so that it drys quickly. I don't recommend using a hair dryer, especially where hydrogen peroxide is used!

Good luck, and let me know how your HiLite cleaning turns out below.

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