From yellow to white in a few easy steps!
I fancy myself a bit of a handyman, and have picked up a fair bit of knowledge about maintaining my retro game collection over the years. In what will hopefully be a new series of articles for the readers of Hey Poor Player, I’ll be sharing that knowledge with you to help all of you maintain your treasured game goodies as well. Today, we’ll be discussing how to Retrobrite aging, yellowing plastic and get it looking fresh again.
What is Retrobriting, and why should I do it?
Have you ever gone shopping at your local retro game store or flea market and some of the systems they have in stock are a disgusting shade of yellow? You may have wondered what causes this, and it’s actually the result of a chemical reaction inside the plastic itself. Back in the day, manufacturers put Bromine inside plastic parts to make it more fire retardant. While Bromine is good at what it does, it unfortunately doesn’t like UV light. So, with exposure to sunlight, no matter how little, over time the chemical reacts and causes white/grey plastic to slowly turn yellow. Not only does the plastic become a gross color, it also effects the chemical makeup of the plastic and causes it to become brittle. The longer the plastic remains yellow, the weaker it becomes. Retrobrite is a chemical solution that essentially reverses the yellowing process. Not only does this solution turn yellowed plastic white, it also strengthens it and prevents the plastic from becoming any more brittle. Retrobriting is an incredibly easy (also, messy!) procedure, and with a few simple household ingredients and the help of the sun, you can have your old consoles looking great again!
How to Retrobrite – Step 1: Ingredients
In order to make Retrobrite Gel, you will need a few simple ingredients and tools:
- Oxi Clean
- 3% Hydrogen Peroxide
- Xanthan Gum (Corn Starch is a suitable substitute)
- Nitrile Gloves
- Plastic Wrap
- Foam Brushes
Some people report that using higher strength (12-13%) Hydrogen Peroxide works better, but keep in mind it is more expensive and harder to find. Also, while 3% can somewhat dry your skin out, the high strength stuff is very, very nasty. Do NOT get this stuff on your skin and be sure to wear gloves! Xanthan Gum is the trickier ingredient to find, but it can be found in the baking sections of most stores. I found my bag at the local Target.
How to Retrobrite – Step 2: Prepping the Plastic
The next step is getting your console ready to have the gel applied to it. You will want to completely disassemble the components as far down to bare plastic as you can get them. Since the steps to disassemble your console will vary based on what it is, I will not cover those steps here. However, I will be doing write-ups on various console teardowns in the near future. In this case, I will be Retrobriting my PC Engine CD-ROM2 Unit along with the Interface Unit. When you have the parts disassembled as far as you can get them, wash them thoroughly with soap and water, and ensure that they are completely dry before you proceed.
How to Retrobrite – Step 3: Mixing the Ingredients
Now that the plastic has been properly prepped, we can mix the chemical ingredients together to make our Retrobrite Gel. Put on a pair of your plastic gloves, and using a microwave-safe bowl, take 1 Tablespoon of Xanthan Gum/Corn Starch and slowly mix 1 Cup of Hydrogen Peroxide into it. You will see noticeable clumping going on.
Once you have mixed the ingredients together a bit, take the bowl and put it in the microwave for 20 seconds. After the mixture has been warmed a bit, mix it again. Keep repeating the process until the clumps become finer. In my case, it took about three rounds of microwaving to get things heated up properly. Keep in mind not all microwaves are the same, so the time needed may vary for you. Keep things to no more than 20 seconds at a time so you don’t overcook the mixture. If you want to double your recipe, add another Tablespoon of Xanthan Gum/Cornstarch and another Cup of Hydrogen Peroxide after you have mixed the first batch together, and repeat the microwaving as needed to keep the clumps small.
Next, take 1 Tablespoon of Oxi Clean per Cup of Hydrogen Peroxide and mix it thoroughly into the mixture.
You will notice the mixture start to bubble and become fluffy, this lets you know the mixture is starting to react and is ready to be used.
Now we’re ready to apply the gel to the parts and start whitening!
How to Retrobrite – Step 4: Applying the Gel
Next you will want to take your parts outside. Be sure to either put the parts in containers or on a piece of cardboard to protect the surface you’re working on from potentially getting stained. Lay a piece of plastic wrap down, and using a foam brush, apply the gel into all the nooks and crannies you can touch. The goal here is to get as even a coat as possible, but keep in mind that there will be some clumping leftover. As long as you have a thin coat covering the parts that will be enough for the Retrobrite to start doing its job. Be sure to apply gel to all sides of the parts you’re coating.
Once the part is thoroughly coated in gel, wrap it with your plastic wrap. The plastic wrap will help absorb heat from the sun and enable it to react with the plastic better.
When all parts are coated and wrapped, leave them to sit out in the sun. The process can take anywhere from 6-8 hours depending on the amount of heat and sunlight available. Flip the parts around every 1-2 hours so all sides can get the sunlight they need for the gel to do its job. If the weather is cloudy, the process will still work but it will not be as noticeable since the UV light will be weakened by the cloud coverage.
How to Retrobrite – Step 5: Additional Coats and Finishing the Job
After around 6-8 hours, take the parts inside. Remove the plastic wrap, and rinse the parts thoroughly. Inspect each of the parts to see how the parts have whitened. You should see a significant difference in how white the parts are. If you need to do another treatment, ensure the parts are completely dry and repeat Steps 3 and 4 again until you achieve the results you desire. In my case, I forgot some parts and need to do another coat anyways, so I will be repeating the treatment. While Retrobrite gel does strengthen plastics, the Hydrogen Peroxide in the mixture does tend to dry things out. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to treat the plastics with a plastic cleaner and conditioner to hydrate the plastic a bit. PlastX is the brand I use, but there are other plastic cleaners to choose from out there depending on where you live.
When you are satisfied with your results, reassemble your console and enjoy your freshened up gaming goodness!
Aside from whitening game consoles, this process works on a wide variety of items. Toys, computer components, even sneakers can be whitened up with this procedure. Give it a try and show off your results in the comments below!