bomba's House Of Flancakes

Posted on Jun 19th 2016 at 08:00:00 AM by (bombatomba)
Posted under Not Retr0brite, yellowing, bromide, browning, chemical burns, happy collector

Yellowed plastic.  Pretty much all game collectors know what I'm talking about, and often blame gets thrown in different directions; from smoking, to sunlight, to just plain dirt and grim.  But how do we deal with it?  Cleaning doesn't seem to work, and many of us have learned the hard way that some cleaners can even score and damage plastics.  So what do we do?  We try to remove the yellow, of course.  But how?  That, my friend, is the interesting part. As odd as this may sound, I'm taking my Commodore 64 to the salon supply store.

This is an old problem; the yellowing/browning of older micro-computers and game consoles. So the question again:  What do we do about it?  For most of us, we would likely do nothing, simply living with the fact that our consoles look weird, and in some cases, multi-colored.  The more common action to take these days is an application of Retr0brite, but considering how involved (and potentially dangerous) creating Retr0brite is, we thus either place the blemished systems back into their display boxes, or maybe even become blind to the defect.  In this respect I am one of you.  I've put countless hours into my nasty, brown-tinted Commodore 64 without a thought of how it looked.  Well, once I got used to it, that is.  Before that I scrubbed at it with various chemicals in a vain effort to make it look as fresh as it did back in the day, so that when a friend visits he might actually want to know what it is, instead of dodging around it to get to the console systems.  But alas, the cleaning was to no avail.  Until, that is, a month ago, when I stood outside in the sun, feeling my skin crisp in the heavy UV radiation which was so unusual for Michigan during that time of the year.

Bromide.  That is the chemical, which when added to plastics as a flame retardant, can cause the yellowing over time when exposed to UV radiation (sunlight, fluorescent lights, etc.).  Like I said before, I'm pretty sure this is common knowledge.  To counteract the yellowing, the idea was to create a mixture, with the key component being hydrogen peroxide.  Not the generic stuff you find at Walmart, but the stuff that is actually dangerous (of the 6% variety).  You either create a "bath" of the solution to dip the affected parts in it, or create a mixture of peroxide, laundry detergent, and xanthan gum (which would make it more of a gel) and place said yellowed parts in the sun, which would reverse the yellowing.  Sounds easy, right?  Yeah, I didn't do it either.  Be it because of laziness or whatever, I didn't do it.  Probably me being cheap, as I knew that it couldn't be cheap, and since I still am pretty utilitarian about my gaming, I would rather spend the money on actual games and systems.

So last month I'm outside in the sun, thinking about putting sun screen on my head, when it hit me:  I should have my Commodore 64 out here with me!  A little research and I found the solution:  Developer, that being hydrogen peroxide cream.  It is still dangerous (when coming in contact with bare skin), but unlike its liquid cousin it isn't unstable.  It also happens to be cheap, easy to buy, and relatively easy to work with, right out of the bottle.  So off I went, kids in tow, to Sally's Beauty store.  My wife came with me, informing me that if I showed up (older, balding) with two children in tow asking for strong developer, I might be taken for a weirdo, and who knows what would happen after such an incident.  And to close this narrative out, I would like to say the developer was cheap, the results were good, and thus, I am happy.

Difficult to believe from my pic, but this thing is almost the color of dirt

For those that want to play along, the process is very simple.  All you need is:

1 bottle of type 40 hair developer cream (I got SalonCare 40 Volume from Sally's Beauty, cost about $5 USD)
1 paintbrush (old but clean)
2 sets of protective gloves (nitrile, latex, etc.)
1 flat surface, such as cardboard, that can be used to move the parts easily without touching them
1 relatively steady source of UV radiation (UV lamp, sunlight)

After you've gotten all that stuff together, the fun begins.  First, take a picture of the part(s).  Trust me, you'll want this for comparison.  Next, you'll need to take the console/computer apart, taking care to remember how you did it for reassembly later.  For me it is my Commodore 64, which I don't ming saying makes me more than a little nervous, given this is my only working unit.  You can remove stickers as well if you want, but I did not.  Though I should say in my case the stickers in question are out of sight on the bottom of the C64, so I really didn't care too much.  Still didn't affect it, though.

Now it is time to snap those nitrile/latex gloves on and paint the affected parts with the developer, taking care not to splatter it on any exposed skin  It might also be a good idea to try and space out the parts on the flat surface so that they get maximum exposure to the UV source.  I imagine for most of you starting out with this, it will be the sun.  Leave the part(s) under the source between three and eight hours, depending on the intensity of the UV and also the general heat of the day (if you are using the sun).  You have to be patient, but you should start to see results pretty quickly.  Once you are satisfied (or too curious to wait any longer), remove the developer using water, be it directly (under a hose or laundry tub), or indirectly (wet paper towels).  I opted for the later choice, as I wanted to make sure all of the developer was off, and spraying my C64 case just felt weird.  It took a bit of effort, but only because the developer had dried due to the intense heat of that day.  I also managed to get some of the dried developer on my thumb, and boy did it hurt.  Not all at once, but gradual and over a period of time.  Chemical burns really suck, boys and girls.

Top is after five hours of UV

The final step, where you get to see the final outcome, is to take another picture and compare.  For purposes of this article I only did half of the C64, as you can see in the shot above, more to show off to my friends and workmates.  Did I mention I did this while at work?  I did, prepping the parts during my morning break and removing them from the sun during my final break (about five hours exposure total).

After completing this fun little experiment, I do have a couple of thoughts for future attempts.  First, I would recommend gloves at all times, even when removing the developer after the "baking" process.  Chemical burns with 40 developer are painful.  Second, the sun works very well (even on cloudy days), but the heat associated with said sun is bad.  For example, I poured developer into a gallon ziplock bag with the individual keys of my C64 keyboard, and after a the first five hour exposure they looked great, but the heat, no doubt made worse by the closed ziplock bag, had deformed some of the keys.  Not cool.  I'm thinking of building an cardboard enclosure with a UV light attached to the top, which should make the entire process easier and more streamlined.  This is important, as there are people saying that this process is not permanent, but with continued exposure to UV radiation the yellowing will creep back in.  Unfortunate, but I'm in this for the long run, so I don't mind all that much.  In my opinion, this is totally worth any perceived hassle, especially if you plan on showcasing your game/computer systems.

Thanks for reading!

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I really like this article, as I've thought of Retr0bright before, but it always sounded like an expensive nightmare. I'd like to hear more if you give the lamp method a try, as it seems that would be a safer route. I'm looking at one of my 1541 drives right now that has become a putrid shade of yellow, and all I can think is yuck.
definitely need to try this with a couple of NES carts and my dreamcast.
bomba, can you confirm what type of UV lamp would be needed? Does it require heat to "cure"?
I have reptile lamps here at the house, and one's a heat lamp and another is a UVB lamp.
@Shadow Kisuragi:  I can verify that it does not require heat, but rather straight-up UV.  From what I've read, reptile lamps work rather well, especially the "full spectrum" lamps that put out both UV-A and UV-B, though from what I understand you can get away with UV-A lamps (i.e., black lights).
Great read! I'm going to try this on some of my carts. Thanks for sharing!
The full spectrum bulbs are expensive - better to get two separate lamps with bulbs instead of the one bulb, but UV-A bulbs are cheaper than the UV-B. I've gone through enough bulbs with a defective lamp recently to know...

I'll give it a shot as well. I've got a lot of "yellowed" cases that I wouldn't mind trying it with.
Type 40 hair developer cream, huh? I just might consider that. Only problem is, all the beauty-supply stores in my area sell only to licensed stylists...
Thank you for the advice!  I am going to use this on my SNES as soon as I can.
@Zagnorch: I try the Sally's Beauty website.  From what I can see, there are no shipping restrictions to your area, Zag.
I noticed that this is up for sale on Amazon. Pretty cheap at that.
great article, this technique is amazing! as for it not being permanent, if the affected pieces are kept out of future UV exposure, i can't imagine the problem returning, at least not as bad or not for a very long time. my game room is lit with LED bulbs, while although they apparently do emit some UV radiation, it's significantly lower than CFL bulbs.
Does this work without taking the console apart?  I was planning on selling an old Dreamcast I never use to Gamestop for some store credit but they refuse to take a system with yellowing on the exterior (plus I could polish up my Super Nintendo a little as well) and I have no clue how to disassemble and reassemble a system.
@Atari6600:  The short answer is yes, provided you take some precautions, as the developer can get down into the system and possible damage the electronics (as it doesn't evaporate like water; it turns into a crust).  If you can do this with a UV lamp that doesn't generate much in the way of heat, I would say yes.  I definitely would not put it out in the sun to bake.
bomba what's your opinion on how this affects paint on plastic? if i were to use it on something like my green N64, would it do more damage than good?

also what's the general thought on how damaging this could be to plastic? it sounds corrosive, but it looks fine in your before/after photo. is it only bad for organics like skin, but little to no effect on artificial materials?

i could always do a small test area somewhere not visible, but it'd be nice to hear others who've already tried.
@techwizard: It does appear that developer can act as a paint thinner, but the affects are directly proportionate to the concentration as well as how long it is left on.  Because of that I would not put this on painted items.  As for if this is damaging to plastics, I think if left on for long enough (more than eight hours) it can damage plastic.  I don't have any pictures of the C64 keys, but they had faded a bit and looked washed out.  Now, I believe this is due more to the heat than the developer, but I think the developer also played a part in that.

My thoughts?  I would caution the use of direct, hot sunlight (such as that experienced in sub-tropical and tropical environments) as a method for "baking" for periods longer than a few hours at a time.  Anecdotally, I've read of a dude in who melted his SNES after leaving it out in the sun for too long.  For the rest of us, five hours is a good round number, after which if the affected areas had good exposure to the sun for the allotted time, will look different.
Careful with it, it can "burn" softer plastics.  For example, I put a Super Nintendo controller shell in the mix and it did a *fantastic* job on the shell itself but the plastic overlay over the X, Y, A, B buttons ended up bleached out and blotchy-looking. I had it out in the sun in this case and even though I was watching it diligently ever 20 minutes or so, this happened quickly.  This same day, I did a NES controller indoors and it took 30% longer but didn't bleach out the controller overlay.  It seems that the chemical reaction is linear indoors and accelerates outside.

Also, I will echo the safety precautions because this stuff is nasty (though genuinely effective!): safety glasses when handling, gloves, avoid inhaling or even splashing into your nose.
As an actual chemist, here are my thoughts:

1) SAFETY! Wear splash proof goggles, long sleeves, and nitrile gloves at MINIMUM! Chemical burns are no joke. Have clean water around in case of an eye emergency. Make sure to work in a well ventilated area too! Peroxide may break down to form mainly water, but the other chemicals in the system (including the bromine) are pretty nasty to breathe in case any get volatilized.

2) Most of this process is the UV system. A little heat helps a bit, but the UV light is what really drives the reaction. With that said...

3) If using developer, use a thin coat. You want the UV light to easily penetrate the solution and be able to reach the bromine. I've done this a few times for my local retro store, and by far the most effective method has been clear a clear peroxide bath, because of the UV penetration.

4) Go read item one again. I really can't say it enough.

5) Test your surface area. Different parts of your console are made with different plastics. They all behave differently. Even different grades of the same type of plastic can exhibit different results, especially when mixed with dyes and fire retardants.

6) No really...go read #1 again.

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So I'm an odd ball. So I am usually the last to post on a blog/forum. So I only post about weird games on weird platforms. So I have a strange relationship with commas and parenthesis. So what? Hey, at least you don't have to car pool with me to work, right? So have a heart, eat a blueberry, and don't forget to drop the empties in the box on the way out. I get deposit on those.
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