Neosporin…the Retrobright For Bench Equipment?


[linux-works] picked up an old power supply from eBay, and as it was built back in the 60’s or 70’s, it was in need of a little TLC. One thing that immediately caught his eye was the condition of the knobs, dials, and banana plug receptacles – they were dull and faded, showing off 40+ years of heavy usage.

He started off by simply removing the knobs from the power supply, giving them a thorough cleaning with soapy water before leaving them to air dry. They didn’t look any better afterward, so he decided to take a different approach and apply some triple antibiotic ointment to the knobs. As it turns out, letting the ointment sit for a few minutes then wiping the knobs with a soft cloth really made them shine, as you can see in the image above. [linux-works] attributes the effect to the white petrolatum base of the product rather than the antibiotics, likely making a wide array of products equally suitable for the job.

We know how well Retr0bright has worked for the vintage computer folks, so we’ll be interested to see how long the effects of the triple antibiotic treatment last. It certainly can’t hurt those readers who spend their time perusing flea markets in search of classic electronic equipment.

31 thoughts on “Neosporin…the Retrobright For Bench Equipment?

  1. I had a friend that used Vasoline on the plastic parts of his motorcycle; turn signal switch, etc. It worked for a while but would fade over time. Kind of like adding tire shine to car tires. Looks good, but is never permanent, and keep away from dust.

  2. A number of companies make products that do similar things for automotive trim, [a HREF=”—Black-Trim/dp/B0002U1TXK/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1334670453&sr=8-4″]like this one[/a]. As mentioned above, it looks great at first but is far from permanent. Can’t see any reason to believe this would be different, but will probably last somewhat longer just by virtue of not sitting in the sun.

    1. Traditional Armor All sucks if you get it anything that you’re supposed to touch. It leaves an oily film on the surface.

      Of course petroleum leaves an oily film so….

    2. OK, I try not to be negative about what appears on HaD, but I had to pipe up on this one.

      Plastics are doped with additives that give them certain desirable properties. Fire retardants turn your collectable consoles yellow. “flex” additives eventually break down turning your dashboard into dust. The additives in crappy pleather products break down with a combination of your body oils and heat. Never mix PVC jacketed wiring with Polystyrene plastic because the additives react and melt PVC. Something electricians knew for years but still remains a mystery with classic console collectors. Go figure.

      You don’t know what kind of additives are in a particular plastic. You’re not likely to find out anyways, especially on forty year old equipment. Therfor, you’re taking a chance with this “solution”. If you’re lucky, nothing will happen. If you’re unlucky, you might as well break out the 3D printer an fabricate some new knobs.

      The link to flickr has several good posts with excellent points written by people who can articulate better than I can. I suggest people go read at least a few of them.

  3. High grit sand paper ( 2000 or better ), elbow grease and then a nice thin coat of clear coat nail polish. Its hard, durable and designed to shine. If you knobs / plastic bits are very faded you can use coloured nail polish to brighten them up then clear coat them. Lasts a long time and looks shiny!


    P.S. Coloured is not spelled wrong, it is the Canadian spelling!!

    1. The original (additive free) Mr. Clean Erasers are equivalent to 2500-3000 sandpaper. They work great for polishing and removing surface dirt from virtually anything, without significant abrasion. I first heard about using them from folks who were resurfacing pinball playfields, and have found them to be very useful for many things.

  4. … after a good cleaning up i used a thin coat of clear nail polish on mine .. it worked fine and aqll of the controls in my old VW bus still look like new well over a year later

  5. Please explain clearly that it is not the antibiotics doing the trick and that it must not be used. We already live in a post-antibiotics world, with most bacterias resistant to two or even three antibiotics combined.
    Please be responsable.

    1. I use a cleaner at work that contains Quaternary ammonium, as a disinfectant. it is also known as Benzalkonium chloride (also known as alkyldimethylbenzylammonium chloride and ADBAC), which just happens to be in Neosporin (and bactine). From Wikipedia: “The mechanism of bactericidal/microbicidal action is thought to be due to disruption of intermolecular interactions. This can cause dissociation of cellular membrane lipid bilayers, which compromises cellular permeability controls and induces leakage of cellular contents. Other biomolecular complexes within the bacterial cell can also undergo dissociation. Enzymes, which finely control a wide range of respiratory and metabolic cellular activities, are particularly susceptible to deactivation. Critical intermolecular interactions and tertiary structures in such highly specific biochemical systems can be readily disrupted by cationic surfactants.” So yeah, when they develop a resistance to being doused with gasoline & set on fire, I guess they’ll probably develop a resistance to Quats…

      1. Check: “”
        and, please, do not speak about things you may not well known. You’ll induce others in error and wrong bahaviour will be much more difficult to eradicate.

        What is sad is that there is no longer need for a painful search on the nearest scientific library yet scientific mistakes still abound.

  6. Yeah, this is a great idea!
    Hmm, should I use this $4.00 half ounce tube of neosporin, or this $1 tub of vaseline to clean all my old equipment?
    Neosporin is just vaseline when applied to anything non-living, so why not just use vaseline.

    Another expensive option to do this job is Aquaphor.

    1. Sometimes you just want to get it done with what you have on hand, even if it costs a few extra cents.

      My friends tell me I have everything, but like the author of this hack, I don’t have any Vaseline either. Never really have a need for it, and the one time I did find it necessary to lube an odd gasket, I used Vick’s Vapor Rub instead. It worked fine.

      More economical substitutions can be found too, if you’re willing to experiment. A few years back I had to replace my CPU heatsink, but couldn’t find my heatsink grease to reattach it, and wanted to get my computer back up fast. So I used PTFE-loaded axle grease instead, and installed a temperature monitor to make sure it worked. And it worked great. After a year I inspected it, finding it hadn’t flowed out, degraded, or done anything else weird; then replaced it with Arctic Silver, which only reduced the temperature 1-2°F. Considering the axle grease was only $12 for a 14.5oz. tube, no more Arctic Silver for me.

  7. Last time I had to fix some crazed/oxidized plastic, I found mineral oil worked the best. Lasts a pretty long time too but be sure to use mineral oil without any solvents in it (ie no wd-40).

  8. Too bad I’m allergic to neomycin, the active ingredient in Neosporin ointment. (;_;)

    I’m not confident that gloves would help, either. Many chemicals can easily leech through latex. I wonder about nitrile or vinyl, though.

  9. If you want to save plastic that’s gone chalky and starting to crumble on its surface, apply Super Glue.

    Put on a pair of nitrile gloves and get some cotton cloth like an old t-shirt.

    Fold up a bit of the cloth then apply some Super Glue to the plastic. QUICKLY rub the glue into the plastic. Don’t stop moving the cloth and don’t try to spread the glue too far or you’ll end up with the cloth glued to the plastic.

    Don’t let the glue soak all the way through the cloth, it’ll glue the gloves.

    Repeat the glue application until the entire piece is coated. Let it dry then apply another coat. Keep applying coats of the glue until you’ve fully soaked up the deteriorated plastic.

    Now you can apply primer or paint and sand the surface to smooth it.

    One warning note, Super Glue(TM) and other brands of cyanoacrylate adhesives can react quite energetically with some plastics so test a small spot that won’t matter if it has a bad reaction.

    P.S. According to the Star Trek: TNG episode “The Child” cyanoacrylates produce “Eichner radiation” so keep your Super Glue away from any stasis cages full of alien spores.

  10. When i’m in need of something to brighten plastics(without getting greasy), actually soften the plastics, etc. I grab the bottle of 303 aerospace from my auto detail kit.

  11. It’s the petroleum. I’ve used petrolatum preparations (petroleum jellies) and plain laxative mineral oil for many years to restore various kinds of surfaces, from pot handles to, yes, antique electric equipment knobs.

    There’s also a new product called “Lemi-Shine”, intended for dish washing machines, that will not only shine up glass, porcelain, and metal, but it will also spiff up many kinds of plastic, particularly polyethylene. It’s detergent and an alpha-hydroxy acid, if I recall.

    Happy cleaning!

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