Yellowed Plastic and the Magic of Retrobrite
The familiar thick, beige plastic of retro electronics is essential to their charm. For restoring these artifacts – or just maintaining them – keeping that office-toned plastic in top shape is critical.
Unfortunately, all beige plastics are prone to yellowing with age. That means old record players, electronics, and toys can all take on an ugly tone the color of bad teeth. Nobody wants that! Thankfully there’s a mixture called Retrobrite that can give these beloved objects their original color back.
Why Does Plastic Yellow?
Plastic is a type of material called a polymer. In layman’s terms, a polymer is a molecule comprised of many, many repeated subunits. Because of this repetitive structure, polymers have unique properties, namely the durability plastic is known for.
Unfortunately, sunlight (and therefore UV radiation) is kryptonite to many plastics. The effect is not unlike sunburn in that UV rays destabilize the molecules in plastic, causing it to warp, become brittle, or turn that ugly yellow color. Modern plastics use light stabilizers and are less susceptible to the issue.
Retrobrite is a cleaning solution developed by retro and antique hobbyists that helps remove the yellow color! It’s simple to make. You need:
- Hydrogen peroxide
- Oxy laundry booster
- Optional: Xanthan gum (helps create a gel-like consistency)
Begin by mixing the hydrogen peroxide and xanthan gum together thoroughly until it creates a gel. Then disassemble your device and wash all parts thoroughly with soap and water; make sure to get rid of weird residue, dirt, and dust.
Now you can apply the Retrobrite! Put on a pair of gloves, and when you’re ready to go, add a quarter tablespoon of the oxy to the hydrogen peroxide mixture. You can then brush the mixture on with a soft brush. Coat it thoroughly, then leave the parts under a UV lamp until the yellowing disappears! Follow with a thorough washing to remove the Retrobrite residue, and you’re done!
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