We all love our vintage electronics but the one inevitable part of collecting and using this stuff is that it starts to age. Sometimes we get lucky and things seem to hold up pretty well over the years, while others just look plain nasty. One of the most common issues is the yellowing of plastics on computers and other hardware like the Super Nintendo (SNES).
Ok, so the big question here is why is this happening at all? What’s causing my stuff to turn yellow?
Well, someone actually asked Nintendo this very question and this is the response that they got:
Thank you for contacting us. That’s an interesting question! For the Super NES, this is a normal condition and no cause for alarm. Cleaning or handling the system will have minimal impact to change or revive the original color.
The Super NES, as well as our other systems, are made with a plastic containing flame-retardant chemicals to meet safety guidelines. Over time, the plastic will age and discolor both because of these chemicals as well as from the normal heat generated from the product or exposure to light. Because of the light color of the plastic of the SNES and NES, this discoloration is more easily seen than with other darker plastics such as on the N64 and the Nintendo GameCube.
Thanks for your email!
Nintendo of America Inc.
That’s actually a fairly accurate answer as to what’s happening to our old electronics but it’s not just light and or heat that’s causing it, but also exposure to air itself. It’s pretty much unavoidable. The only time you may not have a yellowing piece of hardware is if you were lucky enough to get a balanced batch of plastic. To get a more detailed answer as to what’s going on you can get a Doctor’s official answer at VintageComputing.
Now that we know that’s causing it, let’s fix it!
There are many methods you can use to remove yellowing but the method that seems to be the most effective is the use of Hydrogen Peroxide. The big issue with using Hydrogen Peroxide is that it’s a liquid and it doesn’t stay in the area you apply it, it just runs off and makes a mess. Another problem is that the stuff you buy at the store is too diluted and therefore not strong enough to get the job done. The solution to this problem is to make a Hydrogen Peroxide gel that has a higher percentage of Hydrogen Peroxide (H2O2) in it. This will allow you to easily put the gel on the section of plastic that you’re trying to fix.
So how do you make the gel? Here’s the best part, you don’t need to. You can actually use hair developer cream, which you can get from SallyBeauty.
Here’s what you will need:
- A clean workspace with adequate ventilation.
- Plastic Gloves / Eye Protection
- Plastic Wrap
- Salon Care 40 Volume Cream Developer (Read the safety precautions on the developer to protect yourself)
- A UV Light Source
- Lot’s of Time
Depending on what your trying to clean up you may need a lot of developer, so make sure you get a larger bottle.
If you can, carefully take off the plastic parts that you are trying to clean to avoid damaging the electronics inside. If you can’t take things apart or don’t want to, then just be careful and be smart about where you place the developer.
Once the parts have a good coating of developer on them, place a piece of plastic wrap over them to avoid any evaporation and to keep things in place.
Turn on your UV light source and make sure that the affected area is getting plenty of light. For best results, wait for 24 to 36 hours before cleaning off the developer.
Once you have finished the process you should find that much of the yellowing has gone away. This doesn’t mean it’s gone for good though, the plastics are still composed of the same chemicals as before and will eventually begin to yellow again. Your best bet, if you want to avoid cleaning them again, is to slow down the process by applying a spray-on UV protectant coating.
**This project is something you can do at home, but you do so at your own risk!