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.

Disclaimer!

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.

Yeah, Mr. White! Yeah science!

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 achtletelyterapterodactyl 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.

This is haaaarrrddd :(

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

Safety!

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!

5. UV-radiation

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.

6. Patience

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.

Have fun!

Be sure to check out my website http://www.retro-grade.net or my facebook page http://www.retro-grade.net.

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.

Step 7:

Step 8:

Comments

author
eoinlx made it!(author)2015-05-28

Would this work on white & grey Lego do you think? I got mine out of the attic a while back and made a big Star Wars diorama in a window. Not long after all my lovely white bricks began to yellow and some of the grey ones too - boo. I've read about this recipe but couldn't find the ingredients easily. It'd be deadly if this works!

author
RetroGradeBE made it!(author)2015-05-28

Hmm, you know, I used to have a big Lego collection as well, but sold it not too long ago. Kudos on the Lego's.
As for reversing the yellowing effect, I think it will work. If those lego bricks date back to the 80'ies/90'ies, there's a good chance those bricks have bromine and in that case, it's the same UV damage as with Gameboys.

I did a little research and apparently, lego bricks are composed with a secret recipé. So there's no telling what effect retr0bright might have.

I'm gonna try and score a few white, yellow'ed bricks and test this for you. I'll let you know the result, but I'll need to get my hands on some specimens, first.

author
eoinlx made it!(author)2015-05-29

Excellent news. Yeah, most of my bricks are from the 80s and 90s alright. I could never bring myself to sell mine and now my son has started playing with it, I'm glad I didn't. I'd love to hear how you get on - if I can get myself together, I'll give it a go on a few testers and report back.

author
IanB145 made it!(author)2016-09-29

"Retr0bright effectively reverses this process."

No it doesn't. It just removes the surface staining caused by the leeching bromide. The item will nearly always return to its pre-treated state of yellowing over the course of the next few years.

Forget the fancy recipes as hydrogen peroxide cream (12% BV) works exactly the same and can be easily purchased from nearly any supermarket or hair salon for as little as $6 per litre.

author
IanJ10 made it!(author)2016-10-01

Bro do you even read? This instructable uses the hairdresser's cream. I also stated it isn't a miracle product.

author
IanB145 made it!(author)2016-10-01

It's a confusing read as you say that you both use off-the-shelf hydrogen peroxide cream AND that you Retr0bright. Retr0bright infers that you make it yourself, yet elsewhere you say that you don't. It would be clearer to native English speakers if you put "Retr0bright" in quotes when you don't actually mean it. "Retr0bright" is the compound. Bleaching is the process.

author
brokensocialscne made it!(author)2016-01-30

Hey there, I bought this to remove yellowing from Game Boys:

http://www.sallybeauty.com/40-Volume-Developer/SBS...

Will it work? It isn't a gel...

Thanks!

Peter

author
Autunite made it!(author)2015-12-04

A few comments on that tetra pterodactyle dynamite thingy. From what I just found out, the hydrogen peroxide doesn't work well in temperatures below 40 degrees Celsius, and TAED helps with that, making it work at normal room temperatures. That explains why people have pretty good experience with sunlight, while it took me three days using regular black light at room temperature. I assume that I could either heat the thing up a little, or add the TAED (in form of Oxi-something).

Anyway, if you're going to try it, and will use both sunlight and TAED, be very careful and monitor the process. It will most likely take a few hours only, and you don't want to overdo it. If you go without TAED and using artificial UV light, the process will probably take much longer.

For people unable to find that creamy hydrogen peroxide stuff - eBay is your friend. Look for something like "hydrogen peroxide cream 12%" (in Germany, "wasserstoff peroxide cream 12%". I got mine for less than 10 EUR including shipping. 1L is a plenty, I needed about 100ml for the whole Atari 1040 ST.

For keys and other smaller items, liquid hydrogen peroxide might be better choice. I am going to test it as soon as my bottle of liquid one arrives.

For legal reasons, you might not be able to buy anything stronger than 12% (you know, the Paris bombs). Anyway, 12% should be enough.

author
Todz made it!(author)2015-12-18

The EU passed a law a couple of years ago and that meant that that all governments in the EU had to pass laws that restricted the sale of explosive precursor chemicals.

The consequence is that from 2014 it is not possible to buy anything stronger than 12% hydrogen peroxide in the UK or elsewhere in the EU without a licence.

What would be handy is a link to the "perfect" lamp/bulb for use in whitening plastic in the UK in winter. I'm not sure which is the most effective to buy!

author
LucasGilbert made it!(author)2015-05-25

Couldn't believe in a million years that such stuff actually exist.. although it's Internet

author
RetroGradeBE made it!(author)2015-05-25

Well, it can't always be porn, right?

...right?

author
LucasGilbert made it!(author)2015-05-26

Yeah man xD I'm truly impressed by people these days. We truly are masters of finding problems and resolve them.

author
1710hammer made it!(author)2015-05-24

Have you tried spraying the finished piece with a clear coat to prevent re-yellowing?

author
echristensson made it!(author)2015-05-24

im sure it'll still yellow again

author
echristensson made it!(author)2015-05-25

Right on ! I imagined that after years go by the plastic will naturally turn yellow again. My parents gave me a house and working on it, i found 2 original gameboys, batteries, games, etc... stuffed in a bag. Are they worth anything?

author
RetroGradeBE made it!(author)2015-05-25

It depends in what state they are in, how complete they are and if they still have all the boxes and inlays.

The best you can get, is "mint", which means in teh box, sealed, never opened before.
"Complete-in-box" is the next best thing. Used, but with the box and everything that came with it.
"Loose" is the last category and usually lowest in value.

I've seen loose units go for € 2 in terrible shape, up to € 80 in great condition. I'm actually considering posting an instructable on how to check a unit's overall health. That should give you a good idea.

Despite Gameboys being rugged, sturdy little machines, they usually suffer from the same ailments:
- Yellow shell
- Scratched/missing lens cover
- missing battery cover
- Missing link port cover
- Blown speaker/broken audio pcb
- Vertical lines in the display
- Battery acid spillage in battery compartment or even on PCB
- Battery contacts bent
- Internal button pads worn/torn and no longer pressing/depressing properly

If your units check out without any of above problems, you're looking at a higher value. If your Gameboys are some limited edition, they are higher in value. Feel free to post a picture, I'd be happy to help?

author
RetroGradeBE made it!(author)2015-05-25

it depends. if the plastic was very yellow to begin with and you leave it out in the sun, then yes, it will return. the bromine is treated with the plastic and retrobright doesn't remove bromine entirely. that's why I included the retrospective. the first case I ever treated, over a year ago, is still in perfect condition.

author
RetroGradeBE made it!(author)2015-05-25

yes I have and it's a good idea. I'll include it in the instructable. personally, I'm not much of a fan on how it feels on the touch. It's almost as if I sprayed hairspray on it. unless there's a different kind of coat out there?

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