Adventure in Retr0bright

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21 Jun 2020, 21:05

I see several different stories on this forum regarding their experiences trying to retr0bright. Let me tell you mine. Sorry that I currently can't provide pics. I've had to pack a bunch of stuff for a remodeling project.

Anyhow, I have an NTC 6251EA v.6 Zeos-branded 'board from about 1990-92 with Tai-Hao TH-5539-5 caps, which are double-shot, but incredibly thin. All the keys were slightly yellowed. I'd call it about one shade of yellow beyond the original keycap color. I broke some keycap stems, so I bought replacements from someone who had the identical caps. Those were noticeably yellow. Like, if someone asked you what color the keycaps are, you'd say "yellow."

WANING: I mention using stuff below that can hurt you. Take care to use appropriate hand and eye protection. Make sure you read all the labels on all the products. Make sure the products don't contain solvents. Hydrogen peroxide in the below concentrations might be unobtainable/illegal in your country. You probably don't want to do any of the below if you have pad-printed keycaps. Make sure you remove key stabilizer bars. Also note that I'm just some random poster on teh intarnet. I could just be an incredibly well-coded bot.

What I did:
1. Soaked keycaps in warm-ish water and soap for 24 hours.
2. Drained water.
3. Put keycaps in a freezer bag filled with 12% peroxide Marianna - Super Star Creme Developer 40 Volume from Amazon ($9.20 US). Took about half the bottle (16oz) to cover them all.
3. Put the mixture under a UV blacklight and waited for 24 hours.

Results: better, but still noticeably yellow.

I re-did the same process, but added two cups of OxiClean Laundry Stain Remover ($4.20) and, instead of using a freezer bag, I used a glass baking dish that was about 457mm x 228mm x 50mm. I stirred the keys whenever I thought about them and made sure the keys were always covered by the mixture. I again waited 24 hours. This time, the keycaps came out mostly the exact color of my original ones and a couple came out even better, so great success!

What I will try in the future:
1. Soak keycaps in warm-ish water and soap for 24 hours.
2. Drain.
3. Put keycaps in an ultrasonic cleaner, now that I have one, with a little bit of Simple Green cleaner and degreaser ($5.43).
4. Put keycaps in a glass baking dish with 2 cups of OxiClean and either 15% peroxide 50 Volume Developer ($8.26) or even 18% 60 Volume Developer ($17.99)
5. Put the mixture under a UV blacklight and stir occasionally.
6. Check keycaps occasionally to make sure they're not melting or bleaching white. I'd probably let the concoction sit for 2-3 days.

I watched a few videos that said that you should put the mixture in bright sunlight to get those UV rays. However, I live in a desert. The ambient temperature is currently 110 F/43 C. If I put keycaps in the sunlight, they'd melt. I saw some other videos saying that you should have some heat, but no real specifics beyond saying that an incandescent light bulb would be heat enough.

If anyone has any other ideas or wants to tell me that the above will kill me the next time I try, please post.
Last edited by hellothere on 11 Sep 2020, 00:36, edited 1 time in total.

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22 Jun 2020, 20:04

Thanks for sharing, ntv242. I've been thinking about doing some research on WYSE boards. I see there were some with Green Alps. That would be interesting to play with!

I can't think of a good reason not to try Retr0bright-ing, other than if you have pad-printed keycaps. I'm adding the ultrasonic instruction just because I have one, but if I didn't, you're only out around $25 for the Developer, OxiClean, latex gloves, and protective glasses. That's less than most keycap sets, especially for Alps-mount, and you'll generally have enough to do multiple batches of keycaps.

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11 Sep 2020, 01:01

I've done a bunch of keyboards and key caps, so I can give you some updates.

* It's extremely important that the case and/or key caps are clean before retr0brighting. I now have a cheap Wal*Mart ultrasonic cleaner that works OK-ish. I just give the caps 8 minutes in water that has some Simple Green de-greaser/cleaner added to it. Simple Green also works amazingly well on the case.

* I no longer bother with UV lamp. Direct sunlight. As mentioned above, I live in a desert. I mentioned that I was concerned about ambient heat, but I haven't had problems with any case or key caps being left out for 8+ hours. Usually the retr0brighting takes 3 hours or less, anyhow.

* Neither the generic brands nor the liquid versions of OxiClean work well. You want the granulated kind.

* For 101 keycaps, I need a teaspoon of OxiClean. I just fill up that glass baking dish with developer until the caps are covered. I then stir the caps every half hour or so.

* I've had real issues on two keyboard cases: an Adesso Mac keyboard, which wasn't high-end, back in the day, and an NEC blue oval switch. Both took multiple applications to look acceptable and I'm thinking of doing one more.

* Nobody mentioned it to me, but when the retr0bright is working, you get the "Elephant's Toothpaste" effect.

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