Yellowing old consoles - The Solution (literally)


#1

This is a re-post of an old GAF thread, added for value on the new Retro community home!

Disclaimer - I am not an industrial chemist and do not purport to be. Perhaps one could chime in and assist should they see this thread. I also don’t claim to have invented any of this, though I haven’t found anyone else using my exact method (and single commercial ingredient). All my info is based on internet reading and experience.

THE PROBLEM

Old plastics yellow over time. It’s especially evident in white and grey plastics, including our beloved 80s and 90s consoles and computers. But it’s true of many coloured plastics as well, they just don’t show it as much. Red and blue items can look ‘tired’ due to the yellowing. Most people assumed the yellowing was ‘ageing’ or tobacco-based damage.

It turns out in most cases it’s caused by bromine, used as flame retardant in the ABS plastic. Over time it forms a stable complex with atmospheric oxygen on the surface of the plastic.
Different batches of plastic for the same device can have different bromine levels, hence the yellowing is often uneven across parts of even the same unit.

The process is accelerated by UV light or heat - hence even the non-UV-exposed inside of consoles can yellow (or even items in unopened packages).

Examples (from the web):



THE HISTORY

It was originally discovered that liquid peroxide combined with UV light (from the sun or a UV bulb) could reverse the process. Originally thought to be bleaching, it’s later been shown that it’s actually just mobilising the bromine on the surface. However, liquid peroxide (and some sort of tank apparatus) is expensive in the large quantities necessary to submerge large plastic parts, and is also fairly messy and potentially dangerous.

Some guys came up with a formula they dubbed ‘retr0bright’ to make a ‘paint on’ paste. It involves liquid hydrogen peroxide, thickeners of some sort, and ‘oxy’ laundry booster as some kind of activator. Retr0bright works, but is tricky, and wasteful (you have t throw out what’s left of an unused batch).

But there’s a much simpler solution, that works even better in my experience, and I haven’t seen it documented on the internet anywhere.

THE SOLUTION (Literally)

Hairdresser hydrogen peroxide developer creme (40vol)

NOTE: NOT liquid, creme developer.

It’s the most concentrated creme developer available, and will burn skin very quickly. USE GLOVES - AND DO NOT GET IT IN YOUR EYES!

But it’s very cheap, easy to get, already a paste, and works perfectly on its own - with no additional ingredients required, and no waste.

THE PROCESS

  1. You’ll need sunlight or another UV source, and a safe place to leave the pieces to ‘un-develop’. If not using a UV bulb (I have never tried that), this will obviously need to be done in the daytime.
    It works in overcast conditions, but is slower. In hot sunny conditions it works more quickly, but the creme can dry out more easily, and this can cause a ‘blooming’ or ‘cloudy’ effect on the surface of the plastic, which isn’t too bad honestly but you might as well avoid it anyway.

  2. Open up your consoles, controllers, cartridges etc. You might need special screwdrivers, google your console for this, you can get them pretty easily online.

  3. Remove all electrical and metallic components, and separate all plastic pieces.

  4. Put your pieces out, and paint on the creme. I recommend plastic gloves - this stuff will burn your skin pretty quickly. I use a cheap paint brush to apply.


Then just leave them out.

  1. Monitor and re-apply more creme every 1-3 hours (depends on weather - basically so it doesn’t dry out) until the yellow is gone.

In colder, more overcast conditions and very yellowed items, this may take multiple days.
In Sydney Australia I found even very yellowed items have only taken six hours max.

  1. Carefully wash and dry each piece, making sure to get the creme out of nooks and crannies - screw holes are a common spot.

  2. Re-assemble your new-looking console!

RESULTS

Before


After

Before


After

More ‘after’ shots:

Cover on back not processed, for comparison (please disregard my messy ‘workshop’ (bedroom):

Colours work great too - I didn’t take a clear before of this, but it looked kind of ‘old’ and ‘tired’ and had what looked like light brown ‘burn marks’

Anecdotally I’ve been doing this in some capacity for 4 years, and the piece I did first (with the old method - liquid peroxide), an NES dogbone controller, has been in constant use and is still as strong as it ever was, and hasn’t re-yellowed either.

I’ve been doing this Hairdresser creme method for a few months [years now], and it’s easily the easiest method. But some pieces do seem to re-yellow more easily. I give those ones a bigger blast of the process (longer, hotter sun, more re-applications) to try and get ‘deeper’ into the plastic, and it seems to work better.

Bonus: Famicom Yellowing scale:

Anyway, hope this can help retro-lovers out!

More of this I’ve done:


Sources:
Original GAF Thread
http://www.neogaf.com/forum/showthread.php?t=899984
Best write up I could find with convincing chemistry:
http://www.exisle.net/mb/index.php?/topic/59657-de-yellowing-plastic-the-stain-isnt-permanent-after-all/


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#2

That’s awesome. As far as I know retr0bright wasn’t fool proof - the items would yellow again after some time. Have you had any issues like that? temped to do my candy arcade cab, it’s plastic and has yellowed quite bad.


#3

Yes, some items do seem to re-yellow. It takes months to years though so documentation of it is still underway.

My current way to try and avert it is to waaaay overdo it. Basically keep going for another few hours even after all yellow is gone, and do all plastic surface inside and out. I haven’t had re-yellowing from anything that got that sort of treatment yet.


#4

Great. If I do my cab next year i’ll definitely post pictures. Cheers!


#5

Definitely something I’ll have to try. My Saturn isn’t too bad, but it’s definitely yellowing. Several of my (alright all of them) have been yellowed to hell.


#6

Thanks for this, should prove handy when I decide to tackle both of my Super Famicom units. Maybe do the controller panel for my GameCube too!


#7

cheers for this thread. My HRAPs definitely could use a whitening.


#8

I’ve only done this to one item myself so far, but I ended up doing the liquid peroxide method. I did this to an AV famicom I got last year that was really yellowed. I was amazed at how much of a difference it made. Outside of the ease of use for using the creme vs liquid peroxide, do you know of any other differences?


#9

Need to do this on my Famicom soon. But the weather here this time of year is really not good for this haha. I also don’t have a balcony or anything so I guess I’d have to do it at a friend’s house.


#10

Here at least, the creme was a hell of a lot cheaper. I needed litres and litres of the liquid to fully submerge a console shell but the creme was significantly cheaper and you use hardly any of it.


#11

Great advice, though I never had my consoles yellowed, my SNES isn’t even yellowed.


#12

I did this a couple years ago to my SNES. Had great success with it. So much that my son did some NES controllers for the Science Fair last year.


#13

I have a friend who did this last week, but the job was imperfect as the sun failed on him.

He’s now buying a UV lamp, I asked him if he’s sure it’ll work and he said yes, so why not! :lol


#14

I heard that retr0brite makes the plastic a lot more brittle. Does this creme have the same effect?


#15

It’s getting winter time where I live. I wonder if really cold conditions affect this procedure.


#16

I don’t think the cold will affect the process, but you’ll get better results in the summer when the UV rays are stronger.


#17

Wondering this as well. It’s something I’ve also heard before and would be concerned about.


#18

retr0brite is just peroxide with some other useless stuff added, it’s literally the same active ingredient.

And no it doesn’t seem make the plastic more brittle, I can say that with some confidence having done this for years now. IMO what people are experiencing when they say that is that certain plastics age and lose their elasticity naturally. It seems it’s a separate effect to the yellowing, and it may just be experienced for the first time when people are doing this process.

Put simply, the brittleness is from aging, not the restoration.


#19

Good to hear. Then I’ll just have to find some similar-strength cream since I guess I won’t be able to find that exact one locally.


#20

8-bit guy found not too long ago that heat can also cause the same reaction that UV light does. So for smaller items you could submerge them in peroxide in a pot on the stove. The trickiest part is getting it to stick at around 150F. I found that my stove can keep water there on its lowest setting. The one time I tried it I don’t think I added enough peroxide though. I want to try it again.