How To Easily Whiten Plastic Gadgets That Have Turned Yellow

15 March 2017

As good as new

We all have plastics that had yellowed with age – especially so in Singapore’s high humidity and strong sun. Keyboards, mice, printers, gaming consoles – you name it.

And no matter how you scrub it, you just can’t get back its original color.

As it turns out, there’s really a way to undo the damage — it’s called Retr0Bright

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To shorten the chemistry lesson, essentially, the industrious folks behind the Retr0Bright project had discovered that it’s the bromine – often used as flame retardant in plastics – that’s causing the yellowing. And the keys to reverse the process are hydrogen peroxide and ultraviolet (UV) light.

While looking for a ready-made peroxide gel, I chanced upon a post in the English Amiga Board, where a member recounted his success with an off-the-shelf cream peroxide product. Many others had also reported success, so I decided to give it a try.

In short, yes, it really works. Here’s how!


1. Get a cream peroxide

A common version of this magic potion is the Jerome Russell Bblonde cream peroxide (40 Vol 12%) that’s originally intended for bleaching hair. A 75ml bottle costs US$1.50 on Amazon, excluding shipping. I reckon a lower strength (6% or 9%) will work just as well, except that it will take you a longer time.


2. Coat your yellowed plastic gadget and wrap it

In a nutshell, all you need to do is to coat the plastic (cleaned and dried, of course) evenly with the cream peroxide.

And while you’re at the handy man store, pick up a brush and some cling wrap too. The idea is to wrap the coated plastic parts, so that the cream peroxide doesn’t dry up too fast.

Wrap with care – or this may result in the streaking effect.

A safety tip: Avoid having the cream coming in contact with your skin or eyes, as it can cause burns. As such, I strongly recommend that you use gloves.


3. Sun it, or use shine it with a UV lamp

UV light plays an important role in the whitening process. So, don’t go and lock the treated parts in your cupboard.

There’s no lack of UV light in sunny Singapore – all I did was to leave them on a table by the window. Alternatively, put the parts under a UV lamp. Remember to check the progress regularly.

This sunning process can take as short as a few hours to as long as a few days, depending on how severe the yellowing is.

Once the plastic has regained the color that you wanted, wash the parts thoroughly, and ensure that no residual cream remains.


4. But not for too long!

Remember to never let the cream peroxide dry up, especially under the hot sun. It will cause an ugly bleaching effect that unfortunately isn’t reversible (and I’ve learned this the hard way).

This is why I now leave the parts on a table beside the window.

I would also check on them and turn them regularly, so that all the sides are exposed to the sunlight.

Also, there’s no guarantee that this cream peroxide method will work on all yellowed plastics. So, think it through long and hard before attempting this on your vintage, only-one-left-in-the-world gadget.

Last but not least, the Retr0Bright wiki has a page that talks about other problems and pitfalls – it’s a must read for anyone who is thinking of having a go at restoring their yellowed gadgets.


By Hardware Zone, last updated March 2017

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