This guy makes badly aged Apple computers sparkle again


Javier Rivera takes the yellow out of vintage computers at KansasFest.
Photo: David Pierini/Cult of Mac

Cult of Mac 2.0 bugCult of Mac’s David Pierini is at KansasFest this week to write about the community of people who celebrate the foundational Apple II computer.

KANSAS CITY, Mo – Love is a chemical reaction and Javier Rivera has the formula to make love feel brand-new. He just mixes salon-strength peroxide, some arrowroot and OxiClean laundry booster.

At KansasFest, an annual gathering of loyal Apple II lovers, festgoers bring their yellowed computers to Rivera, whose special mix can remove the yellow staining on the computer’s plastic pieces and make them look like they just came off the assembly line.

The flame retardant in the plastic reacts to light, especially sunlight, and over time gives those early Apple computers a yellow patina. Rivera reverses the chemical reaction, taking the plastic pieces outside in the sun and brushing them with his special mix. Within a couple of hours, the original white is restored.

Rivera practices the art of Retrobrighting, a technique created by a British chemist in 2008. It was originally believed the yellow staining was permanent, according to the Retrobright website. The chemist read how a museum in Germany had some success cleaning yellowed plastics with hydrogen peroxide. He then found he could speed up the process with an oxygenated cleaner.

During a week where the mercury has been near 100, Rivera has spent a lot of time outdoors at KansasFest, kneeling over pieces of plastic, gently cleaning the carefully pulled apart plastic components, even the keys from keyboards.

Sunlight turns the plastic yellow, but with the right solution it can help yellowed plastic turn white again.
Photo: David Pierini/Cult of Mac

Retrobrighting is also known to work on other computers, vintage action figures and Air Jordan basketball shoes. It also apparently works on cement. Rivera has left “clean” spots on the cement slab where he’s been working all week.

“My 18-year-old daughter calls me a nerd,” says Rivera, a graphic designer from Miami. “She looks at all my stuff and wants me to sell it all so I can buy her a purse or shoes.”

You can read about the history and get a recipe for the solution here.

Before …

An Apple II before going to the KansasFest Retrobright spa.
Photo: Stavros Karatsoridis

And after

And, the sparkly clean after shot.
Photo: Stavros Karatsoridis
  • foggyswe

    Doesn’t it make the plastic more brittle?

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    • No, the reaction only takes place on the surface of the plastic, just a few molecules thick, so it should not noticeably alter the plastic’s physical properties other than the surface color.

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  • curt

    How do you apply the solution, how long do you leave it on and how do you take it off?

  • GrangerFX

    Does he sell the solution? I may have some things in my attic…