Thursday, October 6, 2011

Console cleanup!


Deep within the game room, stashed away behind a jungle of tangled power cords and broken controllers, I'm hiding a dirty secret. Something so foul and repulsive that my wife, friends, and family could never know about it. And it's not even porn.

Long before the giant TV's, hundreds of games, and fancypants blog, I had a Super Nintendo that I foolishly turned my back on. Forces beyond my control had left it horribly disfigured, and what did I do? I cast it away like like a bell-ringing hunchback. Superficial.

Today, I bring you a story of redemption.

Here is Quasimodo, my “other” Super Nintendo:


Yellowing of plastic over time is common. This is an extreme example.


Tragically yellowed over time, and maliciously robbed of his cartridge doors and his dignity, I've taken it upon myself to restore him to his former 16-bit glory.

Like most Nintendo hardware, Quasi functions just as well as the day he was manufactured. His delicious purple and gray candy shell, however, has never looked less appetizing. As you can see, the upper half is suffering from some nasty discoloration.

This phenomenon is a pretty common among older electronics. It's not dirt or smoke damage as you might expect, but actually the result of a chemical reaction between sunlight and a flame-retardant additive in the plastic.

Unfortunately, this means that no amount of elbow grease will return Quasimodo to his original 1991-era glory.

Do not abandon hope, for there is a cure! ...and it's awesomely weird.

Remember when you were back in high school and you thought it'd be wicked cool to dye your hair blonde like Justin Timberlake's? (No? Just me?) Well, the reason that it works (chemically, not socially) is that the bleach oxidizes the melanin in your hair, rendering it colorless, while the yellowish keratin shines through.

Turns out that you can achieve the same thing with a gnarly old Super Nintendo, by molecularly stripping the barf color out of that flame-retardant chemical, without losing the original gray hue. It's science, and it actually works pretty well!
The first step is to go to Sally Beauty or a similar beauty supply store, and ask the girl behind the counter for a bottle of cream peroxide in the highest volume they have. At this point, make sure that you go into a long-winded explanation what you're using it for. She'll be amused and informed, finding you both intelligent and incredibly sexy. Really.

She gave me this:
Salon Care 40 volume cream peroxide.
Before you get all Toxic Avenger on your SNES, take a second to clean the filthy thing with some dish soap and water. This is the part where I'm supposed to tell you to remove the shell from the electronics inside, but Nintendo uses some wacky security bits to to keep you from doing just that, and I didn't have the right screwdriver. Instead, I left it in one piece and tried to keep the splishy splashy to an absolute minimum.
That's uh...yeah.

Once it's free of grit and grime, put on your rubber gloves and pour a good bit of the peroxid onto the SNES. This stuff is serious business. It will burn your skin and ruin your clothes if you're not careful—go ahead and ask me how I know. Spread it on evenly with an old paintbrush, player.

Once the cream is good and slathered, wrap the whole enchilada up in plastic wrap...like an enchilada. Make sure it's air tight—you don't want your cream drying out and getting all crusty on you, Mr. Crusty Cream.

Now take it outside, set it down someplace sunny, and walk away. Remember, the console has to be in direct sunlight for the peroxide to work. Make sure that the sprinklers aren't set to come on and find something to occupy your time—I recommend Baldur's Gate or Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection.

Every hour or so, check the progress: make sure the sun hasn't moved on you (more accurately, the shadows) and give the console a quarter turn. Come back the next hour and repeat. Science is slow, but awesome.
Dexter approved!

After a while, you'll notice the original color returning to your beloved SNES. When you're satisfied with the results (or run out of sunlight, in my case), remove plastic wrap and give everything another good scrub. I'm not sure what the long term effect of bleach on plastic is, but it can't be good. Or can it?

Check out the results for yourself:

Not perfect, but better. One more application will do the trick.

It's not 100%, but it looks a heck of a lot better than it did. The next sunny weekend I have (could be a while here in Cleveland), I'll give it one more application. Consider this a very strong proof of concept.

I'll definitely be trying this with a few more consoles in the future. Both my front-loading and top-loading NES have developed a slightly yellowish tinge over the years (not nearly as bad as Quasimodo, here), along with my “display” SNES and my Dreamcast.

It's a friggin' epidemic and the cure is just a $2 bottle of peroxide and a sunny afternoon away.

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