Introduction: Retr0bright, How to Turn a Yellow Gameboy White Again: the EASY Way!
If you've set foot in an office, somewhere in the nineties, there's a good chance there were computer there and those computers had turned an unpleasant, yellow shade.
Maybe you have a piece of electronics from long ago, that once had a pristine white color, but today, turned yellow. Many retro game collectors are all too familiar with this phenomenon, from Gameboy, to Nintendo, to Playstation.
However! Fret not! There is a remedy, called "Retr0bright". In this instructable, I will outline different recipe's and solutions to Retr0bright BUT I will be focusing on the easiest, tried-and-tested method.
We're dealing with chemicals here. Don't do anything stupid, wear gloves, protect your eyes, etc. By following this guide, you take full responsibility for your actions. Stay safe, kids.
Step 1: Science!
This is background information. If you're not interested and want to get to work, skip ahead to the next step!
What’s the science behind this?
There’s a chemical (Br – Bromine) in the plastic, which makes plastic fire-deterrent. Fire needs oxygen and Bromine interferes with the process that provides oxygen to fire. Over time, when exposing the plastic to both sunlight and oxygen, the yellowing occurs. This component was very often used in consumer's electronics, back in the '90ies and '80ies to render it safe from catching fire.
So, if you’ve been keeping your Gameboy stored in a dry, safe, dark place, chances are it’ll be nice and pristine. If you’ve been leaving it out in the sun, it probably got an unpleasant, urine-y-looking, yellow tan. This is why you'll see a lot of front shells that have been damaged by UV radiation, where's the back shells remained relatively unharmed.
If your unit has turned yellow, open up the battery cover and look inside the battery compartment. That is/should be the original color your trusted little unit had when it came out of the box.
I can hear you now, thinking "Nuuuurrrd!". Well, you're the one reading about Gameboys and chemicals on a DIY website, you hypocrite.
Retr0bright effectively reverses this process. To be clear: Retr0bright is NOT a product you can buy over the counter, or on-line, it's an "open-source", chemical recipé that can easily be found over the internet.
Some years ago, vintage console enthusiasts (Macintosh, Amiga, IBM, etc.), scientists and fan communities joined forces into researching what causes the yellowing effect and how to reverse it. They eventually found out that Hydrogen Peroxide and an activator called tetra acetyl ethylene diamine (or TAED), did the trick.
They coined the chemical mixture, “retr0bright” Everyone knows hydrogen peroxide as a disinfectant or a way to bleach hair, so you’d think it’s easy to come by, whereas the tetra acet… tetra achtletely… tera… pterodactyl dynamitethingy, isn’t.
However! I’m afraid it’s the other way around. TAED is found in Oxy, you know, that laundry detergent that pushy telemarketers tend to sell to you, when you’re hungover and slumped on the couch like a dead bumblebee, on an idle Saturday afternoon, absently watching TV, after a night of heavy drinking (I'm not projecting, I swear). The hydrogen peroxide we need, is of a much higher concentration than we can get from stores, ie. 10% to 15%. Most household applications for hydrogen peroxide is quite diluted with water, down to 3% to 5%. The simple reason for that is that higher concentrations of peroxide will SEVERLY BURN YOUR SKIN. Use plastic gloves, when handling chemicals, kids. If you combine the hydrogen peroxide with the TAED as an activator and expose the components to ultra-violet radiation (UV-A), the process will reverse over the course of hours.
Today, there's two different recipe's for creating a batch of Retr0bright:
The liquid kind and the gel kind
The liquid mixture is easiest to make, but less cost-effective, as it requires you to submerge the components entirely into the liquid. Seeing as how the hydrogen peroxide is fairly difficult to get from stores in anything over 5%, chances are you’ll need to get it from a pharmacy, in advance. In some places, it’s illegal to buy high concentrations. Trying to buy it online is fairly useless, as most suppliers or courier services don’t ship hazardous chemicals. Oxy, however, you can get right from the store.
The gel variant also uses the same concentration of peroxide and oxy as an activator, but a few other things to make into a sticky gel, such as xanthan gum and glycerine. Xanthan gum is also a but difficult to find, but most natural/eco stores sell them as a food thickening agent for salad dressings and whatnot.
I know, getting these components can be tedious, especially if your local law prohibits you from getting high percentage hydrogen peroxide.
That's why I'm posting this instructable, because there is a much, much easier way, that yields the same effects, has the same components and is much easier to get.
Step 2: Prerequisites
We'll be using hydrogen peroxide in a fairly high concentration. Getting this stuff on your skin will give you a pretty annoying chemical burn. Here's a selfie of me after I accidentally splashed myself entirely with it. Just kidding, but the picture attached is in fact my hand after being careless.
1. Hairdressing peroxide
Seeing as how the retr0bright gel variant is the most cost-effective way of going about this, we need a gel-like substance that contains hydrogen peroxide in a concentration of about 10% and and activating component. Luckily, there is such a thing and it turns out it's even a fairly normal consumer product found in beauty stores.
What we'll be needing, is hairdressing peroxide, but I've found this under several names. Looking for this product and being sure you're looking at the right product can be a bit confusing, but if you stick to these terms, you'll find what you need:
- "Hairdressing hydrogen for bleaching hair"
- "Hydrogen peroxide hair volumer"
- "Hydrogen peroxide developer"
- "Hydrogen peroxide hair crème"
Look for a hydrogen peroxide concentration of at least 10%.
Now, if you're like me, a pale, skinny nerd, you probably won't feel comfortable walking into a beauty store, asking for a product like this. Especially since I'm also blond and bleaching my hair would be pointless. Good thing there's the trusty Internet.
I got two 1L bottles for about € 12 each shipped to my door and went for "Wella Welloxon Perfect 12% 40 VOL".
Is it really the same stuff?
Yes. The two components we're looking for is hydrogen peroxide and an activator (TAED). The hairdressing peroxide has hydrogen peroxide in a strength we need (10'ish percent) and the activator is sodium perphosphate.
To get the gel-like texture, the retr0bright mixture uses glycerine and xanthan gum, but in this case, something like cetostearyl alcohol makes creates the emulsion and acts as a viscosity-increasing agent.
The rest, is filler, but won't harm the plastic.
2. Cling wrap
If the gel dries on the plastic due to heat, we'll get blotches and patches we don't want, potentially ruining the plastic. That's where cling wrap comes in. It's not only handy to carefully wrap the component in the substance, but keeps it from drying and keeps specks of dust or pollen or whatever, away.
Any other clear plastic is fine too, as long as it doesn't block any UV rays.
3. Paint brush
We'll need to apply the gel and doing it by hand is a bad idea. A generic, cheap paint brush will do fine. Even a toothbrush would do.
4. Rubber gloves
I've outlined this before, but I'll say it again: the hydrogen peroxide can leave an annoying chemical burn that manifests as a white patch on your skin that can't be watched. Please take notice of this and wear some gloves. Also take care of your eyes!
Once everything is gel'ed up and wrapped up, the components will need to work on their tan, by being exposed to UV radiation. Luckily, there's a big UV source in the sky that's freely available, every day. The sun! UV radiation can pass through the cloud covers so you don't need a sunny day. Personally though, I get the best and fastest results in a bright spring sun.
Avoid hot surfaces! We don't need a hot, sunny day. A sunny day will suffice, even a cloudy one. If you're stuck in a rainy country/season, you could look into getting a UV-light source. Make sure to go for UV-A light sources.
On average, I sunbathe retr0brighted components for about 4 hours. From my experience, that's the sweet spot when we're talking about duration. Waiting any longer didn't really yield better results and increases the risk of drying out the gel, scarring the plastic.
Cutting it short, affects the result negatively.
Step 3: Getting to Work
This step is pretty straightforward. Take apart the Gameboy and make sure the components are clean. This is pretty important, as any dirt or grime will adversely affect the process. Check out my other disassembly instructable on how to take apart a Gameboy! Be sure to remove stickers or leftover adhesive (from the lens cover!).
Apply the gel in a bit of a pattern (see the first picture), it will allow for an even distribution of the gel. Gameboy shells, especially the back, are ridged and grooved, make sure to get in those.
Use a brush to spread out the gel over the plastic. I find it helps to spread out the cling wrap in advance and lather up a layer of gel on the cling wrap as well.
Lastly, put the shell on the plastic foil and wrap it up nicely and position it in the sun.
Step 4: The Waiting Game...
Lastly, wait it out. Reposition the shells every now and then to make sure every side and angle got a an even amount of sun. You might notice the gel starts getting a bit foamy (second picture). This is to be expected and an indication that the gel is doing what it's supposed.
Check in every half hour or so and make sure the gel isn't drying out.
I'd also advise you to take picture. The results will be quite noticeable, but it sure is fun to get an exact before and after picture.
Step 5: Done!
After about 4 hours, put your rubber gloves back on and remove all of the cling wrap and toss it away. Use hot water and your gloves to wash off all the left-over gel. Dry it all off and admire your no-longer-yellow Gameboy!
Step 6: Retrospective
After some trial and error, I've decided that I only retr0bright cases that have some yellow'ing, but aren't too afflicted. I've experienced that very yellow shells take multiple sessions and are a lot more sensitive to scarring. Moreover, they tend to turn yellow again, due to exposure to UV-light, anyway.
Please keep in mind that Retr0bright isn't a fail-safe solution and doesn't do miracles. It does make a helluva difference.
I'll be posting experiments like these. You can also follow my Gameboy restoration exploits on there. I do this in my spare time, as a hobby and could always use some support, a like or a share :) Also, if you're trying this yourself, I'd be very interested in your results. Feel free to leave a comment about your experience or even better: a before-and-after-picture?
Constructive comments and/or questions are also very welcome.