How to Whiten BMX Mag Wheels without Bleach

I got my hands on a sweet 1987 Kuwahara Magician in pretty awesome survivor condition. It had it’s original Tuff Wheel II’s on it but they were pretty yellowed from time. Before spending a bunch of money on a new set of mags, I decided to try bleaching them.

I read a bunch of articles about using bleach and the dangers of it. Apparently, bleach can eat away the metal parts if you don’t completely remove them or cover them with something like Vaseline. Since my Tuffs are the cool kind with the metal hubs, I was not really stoked about possibly messing up the metal.

While I was doing my research, I stumbled on a comment that mentioned using a mixture called Retro Brite instead of bleach. I read up on Retro Brite a bit and found that people were using this stuff to restore old computers and game consoles. The photos looked amazing and after realizing the stuff was pretty much the same as the stuff I used to bleach my hair back in the 80’s.. I decided to give it a shot.

I found the recipe to make Retro Brite on this site…

It seemed pretty easy. Now I just had to find where to buy the ingredients.

Hydrogen Peroxide, 10 to 15% strength – You can’t use the stuff from the pharmacy because it is too weak. You gotta get the strong stuff. As mentioned before, I used to use a lot of this stuff to maintain my Haro hair… so I knew right where to get this. Any beauty supply store should have it. I got it mine at Sally’s Beauty Supply. It is referred to in the beauty world as “Clear Developer”.

They also make a “Cream Developer” as well that might actually work all by itself since the rest of the ingredients are really to make the peroxide into a gel… However, the cream developer has some other ingredients in it and I didn’t want to risk damaging my mags.

Xanthan Gum – I had no idea where to get this. I ended up getting lucky and finding it at a healthy grocery store. Since this stuff is really just used to thicken the liquid. I would imagine you could use other things instead of this… possibly even flour.

Glycerine – This one was also a mystery. I found it at Vitamin World while i was searching for the xanthum gum. Same with the xanthum gum, this is for making the liquid into a gel.

Oxy Laundry Booster – I have never really believe this product actually does anything. I still don’t really know if it made any difference but since the recipe called for it, I went ahead and added it. I would imagine the high strength peroxide does most of the whitening.

Once you have all the ingredients, mix them together according to the following recipe…

1 pint (500ml) Hydrogen Peroxide, 10 to 15% strength 
2 heaped tablespoonfuls of Xanthan Gum
1 level teaspoonful of Glycerine
1/4 teaspoonful of “Oxy” laundry booster

Make sure to wear rubber gloves when mixing and using this stuff.

Add the Hydrogen Peroxide and Xanthan Gum to the blender or liquidiser. Mix on high speed for 5 seconds. Add the Glycerine and mix for a further 5 seconds. Let the mixture rest for a minute then mix again for 5 seconds. A smooth, non-drip gel should have formed. This gel can be put into a dark coloured jar or tub (e.g. a coffee jar covered in tape) and stored, as long as you DON’T add the “Oxy” until you are ready to use it.

Before you use the stuff, you have to make sure your mags are as clean as possible. I had to scrub the hell out of mine to get all the brake pad crud and 30 years of dirt off of them. I found the best thing to use was a scotch brite pad and regular dish soap and a ton of elbow grease.

Once your mags are clean and your Retro Brite is mixed, you simply paint it onto the mags with a soft paint brush or whatever works. I just used a paper towel that was folded a coupe times. Make sure you really glob the stuff on there really thick.You don’t really have to worry about getting it on the metal parts. The idea is to keep the stuff wet as long as possible. Once you have a thick coating applied, set the mags in direct sunlight and grab a drink. Now it is all about patience.

After a while the gel will start drying up. You can either rinse them off or just glob some more gel right onto the mags. I tried both techniques and really didn’t notice a difference. Either way, just keep applying the gel throughout the day. Try to get as much sun on them as possible as it makes the peroxide work better.

I did my mags one side per day so I could get the most sun exposure on each side. Here is a side by side of the mags after the first day of treatment. As you can see the one on the right is much brighter than the untreated side shown on the left.

Here is another photo, comparing the treated side to and untreated side as well as a brand new Tuff Wheel II. It isn’t quite as bright as the brand new one, but I couldn’t be happier with the results.

On the second day, I also treated the seat, pedals and pegs and they really turned out great.

And finally… my prized possession was all cleaned up and reassembled. I absolutely love this bike.

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