The Super Nintendo console has known to turn an ugly shade of yellow with age, leading to more than a few jokes about how the Super NES Classic Edition will look in a few years.
The joke answers are not pretty.
But the reality is that this new hardware is unlikely to discolor, although the cause of the original issue is still not known with 100 percent certainty. Most conversation on the topic centers around this answer which was reportedly sent from Nintendo customer service way back in the day:
The Super NES, as well as our other systems, are made with a plastic containing flame-retardant chemicals to meet safety guidelines. Over time, the plastic will age and discolor both because of these chemicals as well as from the normal heat generated from the product or exposure to light. Because of the light color of the plastic of the SNES and NES, this discoloration is more easily seen than with other darker plastics such as on the N64 and the Nintendo GameCube.
The article in which that answer is quoted is from 2007, although Nintendo at the time stated that the Super Nintendo isn’t being serviced so there wouldn’t be any more official comment. So we’re going off an old answer that Nintendo wouldn’t confirm a decade ago.
But we do know that the issue is more about chemistry than cleanliness because the discoloration itself is so clearly defined. On some systems the top half is yellowed, while on others it’s the bottom half. The yellowing is happening uniformly throughout each single piece of plastic, which is why the difference in color is so clear; there’s a high level of contrast at play between the discolored plastic and the plastic sheets that retained their original color.
If you encounter a system with a completely yellow body, or the discoloration is splotchy and less clearly defined ... maybe put it down. And wash your hands. Those are the characteristics of a system that has lived in the home of a smoker for a very long time.
The good news is that any surface dirt, grime or accumulated nicotine isn’t that hard to scrub off, especially if you’re comfortable taking the system apart to remove the plastic shell from the electronics. If you’re dealing with a system that seems to suffer from age-related, chemical discoloration you may be able to bring the original color back using a product that was designed for human hair. You’ll also need a UV Light and a good amount of patience.
The good news is that you can find Super Nintendo systems that aren’t discolored, you can fix discolored systems if you have one and since there are clearly batches of the original plastic that never discolored so Nintendo is unlikely to make the same mistake when selecting plastics for its newer products.