Cleaning my C&P pilot

Hi all! I am trying very hard to be patient waiting for my California Wash to come in from a local supplier, and it could be months still. So I am looking for an alternative to use until I get it. I am looking for one that is not loaded with harmful fumes or is too dangerous because I operate my press out of my house, where I have a beautiful 2 year old (future printer) and I don’t want him to be harmed. I found some “Eco-House” odourless thinner and I was wondering if anyone has tried it or has suggestions for a different cleaner. I am using Van Son rubber based ink and I am being very uncompromising about switching to water soluble ink. Thanks so much for your help. I am including pictures of the bottle of thinner that I have. Happy Printing!

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I think I would go for standard mineral spirits (available in any paint or home DIY store). It is a very mild solvent, and has some odor, but not very objectionable to most people.

I have never used California wash, but have taken a look at the material safety data sheet, and it is far from innocuous.

It takes very little solvent to clean a C&P Pilot press, and you will want to use something which cleans quickly and without a good deal of odor.

Odorless Mineral Spirits has my vote.

John Henry

i second the odorless mineral spirits, you can also use coleman fuel, the ink disc and rollers could be easily removed and cleaned in the cellar or even outside if it makes you feel more comfortable.

Do not be fooled by the ‘odorless’ solvents on the market, they still emit fumes that are dangerous to breathe. California Wash is mostly Naptha (which you can buy at the hardware store for a third of the price) with several cancerous chemicals added to slow evaporation. With a child involved I would make sure to clean and air forms out of the house, and keep used rags outside as well. Do not put rags into an airtight container, it is very dangerous.

(1) Kerosene is the best general solvent, it is slow to evaporate and will clean most grease and oil that might be on your press. It is used in commercial garages for their parts washers. It is used for jet fuel, but actually burns rather slowly.

(2) Mineral Spirits evaporate a bit faster, and the low-odor aspect is a selling point – just remember you are still inhaling fumes, even if you can’t smell them. It is good for removing adhesive residue, and I have even used it at times to help remove labels from packages and book jackets.

(3) Naptha is the basic ingredient in almost all type and roller washes including the much touted California Wash, and is sold as Coleman stove fuel. Why anyone would pay $30-$40 for California Wash when Naptha at the hardware sore is so much cheaper I’ll never understand. Naptha is substantially more flammable and evaporates very quickly. It is good for removing ink and if used excessively will also remove paint, so care is needed while using it.

(4) Lacquer Thinner is a much stronger solvent, fast evaporating, highly flammable, and will remove dried ink, oil, grease paint and will activate some kinds of plastic. I use Lacquer Thinner to remove the paint from the fronts of typecases before repainting. I have successfully cleaned very dirty type with it, but I use it very, very sparingly, and never in a close environment. It will take the finish completely off of wood type, and will re-activate the glue used to hold zinc and magnesium plates on their bases.

(5) Denatured Alcohol also evaporates quickly and is very flammable, but for some reason it is the best cleaner I have found for old, dirty printer’s furniture. I also will use it to clean a form or tympan in the middle of a run, because it evaporates so quickly and leaves very little solvent on the cleaned surface.

(6) Acetone is probably the nastiest of all of the solvents readily available at you local hardware store. I have used it at times to dissolve dried ink in half-tone plates. That is the only use in a printshop I can think of, and I haven’t had the need for any for thirty years. If you touch it with your finger you can taste it in your mouth. It will melt most plastics and I can see no reason to keep any in a working shop.

Caution: Any solvent will build-up fumes in a closed environment, and can cause flash fires. Solvents should always be used safely, sparingly and in a well ventilated environment, and capped securely when not in use. Appropriate safety cans should always be used, and larger amounts should be kept in fire-rated safety cabinets. The only solvent I buy by the gallon is Kerosene, the others that I use regularly are stored in the 32 ounce can that come from the local hardware store, and for regular shop use are stored in brass safety cans, because brass will not create a spark.

Take the time to read the MSDS safety sheets for any solvent you are using or thinking about using. You will be surprised at the actual ingredients (many items sold as ‘Green’ are anything but, and many citrus-based cleaners might smell nice, but can do as much or more damage to the environment than oil-based solvents), and hopefully will realize that the additives used to “enhance” the basic solvents listed above add to cost and make them more dangerous to handle. Do not mix solvents together, I repeat, Do not mix solvents, it is very dangerous.

Also, there is no place in the printshop for Gasoline unless you have a press that is powered by an internal combustion engine, in which case you had better have a really good exhaust system. In the early days before electricity made it to the most rural environs, shop machinery was run off of one large engine through a belt-and-pulley arrangement. If the exhaust system leaked or was obstructed for any reason it could kill the occupants by carbon monoxide poisoning.

That might be why I like hand-presses.

Very informative, good post. The only things I will add is wear safety glasses and protective gloves when using solvents.

I’m now using torch fuel, which is kerosene that is scented in many flavors. It is reasonably inexpensive, does a good job on the rollers and ink disc, Also good for cleaning type!

When I was pregnant and printing I used Crisco and a cleaner whose name I can’t remember that is used in kids art rooms, to clean my Vandy. If I needed to use solvents I donned gloves and respirator… Not practical for a 2 yr old (I have one of these too) if you must use solvents I’d open the windows wide and let the room thoroughly air out. Hang rags outside to air out. Exposure to Solvents causes all kinds of developmental problems in children and has been linked to childhood leukemia.

The health advisors and safety people ban a chemical , the manufacturer adds one new ingredient that does nothing and can legally rename it , its a mad circle but being honest any solvent regardless of how its marketed and what it contains is unpleasant to biology . there is no such thing as a harmless solvent if that solvent re wets an oil or spirit based coating , !
M.E.K., Trichlorylls , any ethanol, or ethylene are all banned under those names yet i can still go buy 25 litre drums of any by different names ! The safest i know of is turpentine substitute , even that rots your lungs over years ! Toluene is now a controlled solvent thanks to the illicit drugs trade probably the worst of all of the solvents .
There are citrus based cleaners out there that are better for the environment ,unfortunately still not much better for us !
Why you would let kids near print equipment for any great period of time is beyond excuse anyway, a school visit session is fine but beyond that there is no really acceptable reason why you would have kids in these areas
There are reasons why children were removed from the workplace until they made 16 years of age . if you want children to get a look into the game buy them a john bull printing set !

Thank you.
Probably the best, most complete and succinct listing and discussion of the solvents used or tried for letterpress wash-up. Please consider re-posting it under the title of solvents. That way it will be a bit easier to retrieve by future seekers. It was a good response to the original question, but is now hidden under that topic, not solvents.
You were kind to take the time to share the information with the new and old practitoners of the black art.
Sixty years ago we used benzine in school. Good solvent. We did not know how nasty and toxic it was. It too goes right through the skin and into the blood.

@inky. Done.

Inky - If you were using Benzine you were not in much danger. Benzine is almost the same as Naptha.

The chemical you probably were using is Benzene. This is the bad one, causes cancer and has been banned from most uses.

Benzine - Benzene - Two very different solvents.

Now I feel ridiculous for buying a huge 5 gallon California Wash. Thank you everyone for the information. Maybe it makes me a bad mother then to think that I could possibly have my press at home where I have a child, but do not have any space elsewhere. I just figured, that there is no way, I am the only person in the world who owns a press at home, has a child and is concerned about their safety when cleaning my press. Maybe, I will try baby oil…. :(

We raised two happy healthy kids around presses at home, and in several shops. We used to heat our home with a Kerosene heater as well. Kids learn to stay away from the bad stuff, if you re-enforce the dangers to them. Small kids around big presses would worry me, but for a hand operated press I would be less concerned. I gave my little ones rubber stamps and washable ink when they hung out at the shop with me, made them feel like printers too.

Thanks Paul! you have been great help. My son is young, but he knows that he isn’t allowed to be around my press or cabinets or anything like that. But I am hoping for a second generation printer! I think I might go the baby oil route, and just use a little solvent outside for the rollers. Rubber stamps too are a good idea. Thanks for all your advice :)

IMHO considering all options, skill levels, safety, availabilty and product creeping into shaft journals … you simply can not go wrong with WD-40 for the cleaning of an old press, rubber & composition rollers being the possible exception. A gallon of WD-40, toothbrushes, a bale of rags and lots of elbow grease.