White plastic items such as computer keyboards, plastic pipes, plug sockets etc will eventually turn a yellowy color over time. This doesn’t necessarily mean they are filthy or covered in nicotine stains etc.
The good news is there is no need to replace these items, as they can be safely and effectively cleaned at home. This article goes into what causes white plastic to fade to a yellow color and how to rectify it.
There may be affiliate links in this article. You can read more about this in my disclosure.
Why Does Yellow Plastic Turn Yellow?
Typically, the main reason white plastic items (such as computers) turn yellow is prolonged UV exposure. The ultraviolet light doesn’t chemically work well with most plastics (such as polymer).
Exposure to UV radiation can cause plastics to change color (the murky, unpleasant yellow). So, UV rays are the main culprit but other possibilities include extreme temperatures, humidity, and of course – nicotine.
We’ve all seen those retro computers from the 1970s and we wonder if they were always that unpleasant yellow colour – the answer is no. So, if you’re looking to restore such an item to its original white glow, here’s how.
Cleaning & Whitening Yellowing Plastic at Home
Naturally, bleach is a popular solution for restoring white shades back into discolored items. Because bleach is very corrosive to all surfaces it touches (particularly human skin) caution will need to be exercised.
Here’s how to restore yellowing plastic back to white using bleach:
Items needed: bleach, plastic gloves or protective PPE, a container.
- For electronic parts, remove the yellowed plastic.
- Fill a sink with an 8:1 water to bleach mix.
- Put on your PPE or gloves.
- Submerge the plastic in the bleach.
- Soak until white again.
- Remove from the solution.
- Wash with mild soap and rinse.
- Make sure the items are thoroughly dry before being returned to an electrical component.
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Another well-known whitening substance is of course hydrogen peroxide. Many of us have hydrogen peroxide already at home, but it is not difficult to find or expensive to buy.
For this method, you’ll need a decent amount of hydrogen peroxide and a container. PPE is recommended.
- Pour straight peroxide in a container.
- Put the plastic in the container.
- Allow the plastic to soak in the sunlight until the stain lifts.
- Rinse and dry.
- Again, if the item is a component of something electric, it is imperative it is fully dry before it is returned to its place.
If you wish to clean something such as a child’s or pet’s toy and want to steer clear of chemicals such as bleach and hydrogen peroxide for their safety, here is a useful (and fully safe) option:
What you’ll need:
- In a container, form a paste with the dish soap and baking soda.
- Moisten the plastic with a bit of water.
- Scoop up a bit of paste onto the sponge.
- Rub the toy in circular motions. (This will take a bit of elbow grease.)
- Once clean, wash in soapy water.
- Rinse with water.
- Dry with a towel.
Another cleaning method that is as old as time itself (not to mention reliable and fragrant) is lemon! Lemon is a great way to remove certain stains or re-lighten an item without harsh chemicals.
It’s also a very cheap option and probably the most kindest on the nostrils! Here’s how:
- Pour lemon juice into a container. (This can work exceptionally well if it is a yellowing plastic container you need to clean too.)
- Soak the toy in the lemon juice.
- Allow it to soak for at least an hour in the sun.
- After an hour, put a bit of dish soap on the brush and brush off the toy.
- Rinse and dry.
No lemons at hand? No problem. Vinegar works just as well.
- In the sink, add a tablespoon of dish soap, two cups of vinegar, and water.
- Allow the plastic containers to soak for 15-30 minutes.
- Use the bristle brush to scrub the containers.
- Rinse with water and dry.
How to Clean A Keyboard With a Magic Eraser
Yup – you read that correctly. A magic eraser is a great option for whitening electrical items that may be unsafe to use too much liquid on, such as computer keyboards.
You will still need a small amount of water for this method, so it is advised that you only do this on a day when you don’t need to use the item and can give it 24 hours to dry out thoroughly (this will be done quicker if the item is upside down.
- Wet the magic eraser with water and wring it out.
- Scrub the plastic with the magic eraser.
- Dip and wring out the eraser as needed.
- Scrub the yellowed plastic with the magic eraser.
- Wipe down with a dry towel.
- Enjoy that sparkling plastic.
Other Ways to Whiten Yellowing Plastic Objects
Rubbing alcohol is great for staining that requires whiteness being restored. Here’s what to do:
- Pour the rubbing alcohol into a container and let it sit for a few minutes.
- Soak the item for up to an hour.
- Rinse thoroughly and dry
- Safely dispose of the alcohol. Do not leave it around where it can be confused as water by a pet, child, or other family member.
This method is particularly effective for plastic food containers that may have been discolored by sauces, as well as dentures/tooth plates.
- Place the tablets into a bowl of hot water to let them dissolve.
- Once dissolved, pour the mixture into or onto the stained containers and allow them to sit for about half an hour.
- Rinse the containers with soap and water.
So, we have learned that various white plastics aren’t susceptible to prolonged UV exposure, of which will eventually cause the item to fade to an unappealing yellow color.
However, all is not lost and there are various ways to restore them to their original colour – most of which can be found lurking in your pantry or under the sink.
For heavy staining, chemicals such as bleach or hydrogen peroxide may be what’s required. Make sure to don the correct PPE and clean the items in an area safe to handle such items, such as a sink.
Keep all chemicals out of the way of pets and children. If the item is electrical, make sure you do not clean it while it is still connected to a power source.
For milder staining, products like lemon, vinegar, rubbing alcohol, and Alka Seltzers or bicarb or baking soda may help gently remove all yellowing and restore an item back to its original white shade.
If you’re cleaning an item that can go in a person/pet’s mouth, such as a chew toy or dentures, do not use bleach or other harsh chemicals. Gentler products, such as bicarb or lemon, are recommended for safety.
Last update on 2023-12-01 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API