Tuesday, 16 April 2013

"Debrowning" plastic

As some of you may know, I maintain a collection of video game consoles and have done so for almost a decade. One of the largest annoyances of such a hobby is the fact that the ABS plastic that most video game consoles and peripherals are made from have a habit of turning into a brown colour after long-term exposure to ultraviolet light--this is a byproduct of bromine used as a fire retardant. I am not alone in this annoyance and there is actually a whole community of people that have come up with a rather simple solution that doesn't involve painting, using a simple solution called Retr0bright.

Since I have plans to do this with a number of items in my collection, I have decided to do a test with a Super Nintendo controller I had picked up sometime ago and share the results here.

Here's the test subject prior to any work being done:

This is not as bad as other situations I have seen. However, the controller was a good test subject because someone had previously opened up the thing prior to me acquiring it and had stripped its screws. It's going to be used for parts in the end, but since it was a donor controller, I figured that it would be a good candidate for what I wanted to do.

To make Retr0bright, the ingredients are quite simple:

  • Hydrogen peroxide

  • Active oxygen cleaner

  • Arrowroot

All of these ingredients can be acquired for a few dollars each. I believe that the peroxide solution set me back $8, the cleaner was $4, and the arrowroot was most expensive at $10 for 300 grams. It is suggested that you get at least 6% or higher solution of the peroxide, but I picked up 3% because it was cheaper--I will explain the trade-offs a bit later. It also seems that you can get away with the dollar store variety of the cleaner too as it didn't seem to be much different than mainstream brands like Oxy Clean.

Combining the stuff is fairly straightforward but be prepared to add more arrowroot than what some steps state and you will likely have to heat the combined substances while mixing--short 30-60 second periods in a microwave are sufficient. In the end I used about a litre and a half of peroxide, 90 mL of the cleaner, and then about the same with the arrowroot. You're going to find that you'll adjust the measurements as you go along until you get something that is quite soupy.

Once this stuff is made, let it sit overnight and it should have a gel-like substance that you can apply to the plastic.

You're going to want to reapply the stuff every once in a while while letting it bask in the sunlight. It's safe to let the solution sit out in the open for the day as it shouldn't evaporate very quickly, but it will dry off on the plastic. You'll want to ensure that you get the maximum amount of sunlight possible too.

As you can see, there is a noticeable difference between the before and after shots of the controller. One of the things I immediately noticed was that there was no negative effect on the silk screening on the plastic. It has been said that stickers should survive just fine during the process as well.

Regarding the use of a 3% hydrogen peroxide solution: it just takes longer. It only took me about 6-8 hours to pull off the change in colour, but it is likely that this would be far faster if the solution was more concentrated.

Overall I am glad to see that this works and likely will try it on something bigger later on.

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