The sad reality of collecting vintage toys is that even if you take the BEST care of them they can turn yellow. For some items it can be a chemical reaction in the plastic due to heat or simply age, for others it can be sun fading from being left outside or in a window space for too long. Even exposure to cigarette smoke can yellow plastics.
Today I want to talk about a process called Retrobriting (RB) (aka Retr0brite, Retrobright). It’s a process that appears to have been created by the tech world for removing the yellowing from old electronics. If you google or youtube it you’ll find pages upon pages of content featuring old computers, keyboards, Gameboys, and consoles, most contributing the problem to heat from the electronics inside. Oddly, I see very little happening in the world of collectable toys hopping on this bandwagon. In fact, I can remember dozens of posts asking about the sun fading over the years with zero response outside of painting to fix it.
I’ll be honest, I’m not sure why I see so few Sailor Moon collectors jumping on RB. It might simply be an age thing that now we’re older and less afraid to try these sorts of things on our expensive toys, or it might be that simply no one thought to try it? I’m sure I am not the first Moonie to do it though, and absolutely not the first (non-tech) collector. During my research, I found a Star Wars collector who restored vintage figures with this method, as well as a Polly Pocket collector who used a related, but slightly different method.
What is Retrobriting exactly?
The general consensus with RB is that it uses a hydrogen peroxide formula in combination with exposure to UV light to create a chemical reaction with Bromine on or in the plastic to remove the yellowing it causes. It appears to have not actually have been studied though, and this may not be the case. That article also believes it may just bleach your item, though I’ve seen the process work on coloured plastic, and I am personally unsure if that is what is happening.
Is Retrobriting Permanent?
Retrobriting is NOT permanent, but as the original process of yellowing is slow it should not return for a while. Remember, it took about 14 years for my wand to reach the condition it was in in the pictures at the beginning. This video shows a test where the repaired item was reexposed to sunlight for a full year, and certain areas were protected with different topcoats. While you could see some changes, even after a full year of exposure the shift was not that big.
Can Retrobriting Damage My Toys?
RBing is usually safe as long as you do not overdo it. This wand sat for 24 hours in 3% H2O2 without issue, so I don’t believe it’s easy to damage your plastics. It MAY be more dangerous if your plastic is already weak. Over doing it can make your plastics brittle.
What is the Process for Retrobriting?
RBing can be done with a cream or liquid. Neither is better than the other overall, but might be a better process depending on your access to sunlight, supplies, or even just targeting a specific part of the item.
I will not be covering the cream formula in this article as I have not tried it yet, but there are plenty of resources online for it.
For this tutorial I practised on my clearly yellowed Sailor Mini Moon Pink Moon Stick from Irwin Toys in 2001. That wand is exactly 20 years old this year and the common complaint about it is that the soft pink handle often turns yellow. This happened to my wand, even though it has only been removed from the box a couple of times (I got it sealed even), and has lived most of its life in a basement. It was even pink when I bought it.
Clearly, the pictures are taken under different lighting and there’s some harshness to the second image that isn’t in the first, but the second picture above has been edited to pretty accurately shows the colour of the wand I started with this week, in comparison to the same wand on the left. These pictures were taken 4 years apart. The left picture was taken in 2011, while the picture on the right was taken in 2015. The pictures below will have been taken this week.
What you’ll need:
*UV LED Lights [I used these] ($23 CAD)
*Hydrogen Peroxide 32 fl. oz. – 3% – 12% ONLY ($4 CAD)
*Aluminum Foil ($10 CAD)
Duct Tape ($4 CAD)
A clear container big enough for your item (Mine was $4 from Value village)
Total Cost: $45 CAD
*Cost will depend on the amount you need and the size of your container.
Safety Notes – IMPORTANT
When working with H2O2 please wear gloves and eye protection.
Do not use higher than 12% H2O2 for this project. Doing so risks damaging your item, and may be corrosive and too dangerious.
The UV light will heat up the H2O2. This is a part of the reaction, but should be monitored so that it doesn’t heat up enough to damage your plastic.
Always request and read the Safety Data Sheet of any chemicals you work with for the first time, especially if you are using it in a different way for the first time.
MSDS ONLINE – H2O2 Health and Safety
Building your system:
Unfortunately I didn’t take pictures of building my system because I didn’t think I’d keep it, but it seems appropriately sized for most projects I’ll ever do for now.
For my container, I chose a tall, round glass vase I already owned and placed the completed set up in a plastic bin in case of leaks or spills.
Travelling the outside of the container I used Duct Tape to tape the LED lights in a spiral up to the top. I am still unsure whether this container will remain or not, so I didn’t trim off the light strip (they can be cut at specific points).
Once the lights are secure, wrap the aluminium foil shiny side facing in around the full container. Be sure to include enough to fold under the bottom, or cover it with a different piece later. Secure it all in place. For the top, I cut off a small section and just hand-folded it over to get the shape. The foil acts as a reflector for the UV light.
Pour your H2O2 into the container and plug in the lights to test it!
The rest of the images below have not been edited
Remove all of the screws and components from your item so that just the parts you want to RB are free from other parts. For this wand I just want to RB the handle pieces. The rest is actually in really good condition with the exception of the plastic backing for the holographic heart sticker. Unfortunately I don’t feel I can safely remove the sticker, but luckily that part is not visible, so it’s okay if I don’t treat it.
TIP: When I know I’ll be working on something like this for a while I bag all of the parts in a ziplock bag for safekeeping. I am absolutely the type of person to lose the screws.
Once the items are dropped into the H2O2 you can cover it with the lid and check back to see how it’s doing. This project took approximately 24 hours by the time I was happy with it and decided to say it was satisfactory. See some process updates below.
The 24 hours WAS broken up over 2 days. I didn’t want to let it sit overnight unattended until I had confidence in the lights as the plug kept getting very hot.
The final result looks BEAUTIFUL. I’ll be honest, I had to take it outside into natural light before I realized it WAS turning back to pink. If you compare the process pictures they don’t appear to have a lot of change until you see this one in the natural light.
Overall this was a relatively painless project and it did GREAT things for my original wand in a short couple of days. I’ve already started working on a couple of other pieces I own to improve my collection.
Moon Healing Escalation!
If you’re looking to remove damage from your collectible and afraid to do it yourself feel free to contact me.