“BLIGHTED” type and cleaning methods?

I was given over 50 cases of beautiful fonts, including Bodoni and Garamond cuts that I greatly desire. I was told the type is “blighted”—meaning the lead has become oxidized or something and separated. I can’t find any information as to what this white powder is, however, I have done some testing.

Lemon Juice and White Vinegar; soak for a day; rinse and they come clean.

However, I have no idea how toxic this type really is. I wear a lead mask and I will dispose of the liquid properly.

Anyone have any issues with this and what has been your experience?

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Log in to reply   19 replies so far

it will be worth while printing some samples of what you have cleaned so far , from lightly oxidised to heavily oxidised……………..to check what is worth cleaning…..

lead oxide is the white stuff and you can google that.
It’s bad stuff.
Research oxidized type here at briarpress.
You are soaking your type in acid, more than likely you are
creating some sort of gas with the overnight soaking.
What is a lead mask? From a safety stand point what you are doing is dangerous. best james

sorry double post

Okay. I get a lot of conflicted statements from the posts. Some printers just print with them. Others use the white vinegar bath. I feel as though, I really like being healthy, so maybe it is best to scrap them.

Would I just call my local scraper? I am so very sad, however, my health must come first. Thank you!

The danger is from inhaled dust from the oxidized type, any wet application to remove it is bound to be very much more safe than just leaving it alone, and letting the dust collect in your type cases.

It seems like your vinegar and lemon treatment, if it removes the white residue on the surface, should be a good resolution of your problem, and would eliminate the issues you are seeing. After treatment, rinse and dry well, and maybe even give them a wipe with an oily rag to keep the oxidation from occurring again.

Of course, if its not worth your time to resurrect the type, then, by all means dump it to scrap and buy new. My budget has never allowed me to do that, however, and I have always tried to remedy type corrosion quickly and inexpensively with a treatment like yours. I’ve been deeply into letterpress printing for over 50 years, and have never had elevated levels of lead in my blood.

John Henry

I would get a stiff-bristle type-brush, and an electric fan. Take it all outside on a windy day, set up with the fan to your left if you’re right-handed and your back to the wind. Put on some rubber gloves, and take the type one at a time and brush all sides vigorously while holding them in the blast from the fan. The oxide should all blow away from you (toward that neighbor you don’t like anyway :-). Afterwards a quick bath in the vinegar to clean off the residue and then a quick bath in kerosene, which will leave a very slight oily film that should prevent any further corrosion. Hope they aren’t really large fonts! The photo looks like at least 48 pt Cooper Black or maybe Goudy Heavy.


Some of us refer to the white stuff as type mold. It is not mold. Rather it is lead oxide. It is similar to rust which is iron oxide. The metal combines with oxygen. It happens faster with moisture present. White lead oxide was cultivated and harvested to use as pigment in inks and paints. Great pigment, but toxic if ingested.
Folks would like some cheap non-toxic stuff in a bottle which would remove the white stuff without removing metal. It doesn’t exist. You either remove the oxide with a liquid solution, or you remove it mechanically with a brush. You do not want to inhale the dust if you remove it with a dry brush.
Removal of a small amount of the metal involved with removal of the oxide may not cause much damage and the type may print fine. The only way to find out is to try it. The picture you showed of your type does not show bad oxidation.
Don’t lick your fingers and wash your hands if not using rubber gloves.
Get some ink on your shirt.

I’ll be cleaning some oxidized fonts myself soon. Now that you’ve mentioned lemon, I will first try citric acid solution, which is a dandy and widely-used method of removing rust from old tools and such. Citric acid, in powder form, is available and inexpensive in health-food stores—it’s used for canning. For rust, I use 4 tablespoons in a quart of warm water. Others often use much stronger solutions. (Woodworking maven Christopher Schwarz uses a 1:10 mixture to remove zinc plating.) With citric acid used on rusted iron/steel, it is common to check and brush every half hour—the metal will start to etch in couple of hours. The same bath can be re-used for many batches—indefinitely, for all I know.

Vinegar is also used for this, but smells, and works much more slowly, with soak times of about 24 hours. Naval jelly and Evapo-rust, both commonly used for oxidated iron, might also be worth a try on lead. I’ve also thought of trying lye, which was once commonly used to clean type, though I don’t know if it’s good for oxidation. I’ve also considered sonic cleaners, such as those used by jewelry-makers. I’d be interested in informed comment on any of these methods used for lead oxidation.

I will be wearing rubber gloves, and a simple particulate respirator mask, such as are available inexpensively by the box in hardware stores. I will probably add goggles or a cheap face mask, also inexpensive in hardware stores.

The type will be wet when I brush it. I will wash my hands thoroughly afterwards. I will not lick the type—the whole process will be carried out in the same spirit of inhuman self-control that prevents me from drinking from the gas pump when I fill my tank.

Lead oxide is nasty stuff, but keep in mind that, in the real world, there is a huge variety of very noxious substances, used everywhere in businesses large and small, that are handled as a matter of daily routine by ordinary people, often unskilled or semi-skilled, who are kept safe by simple common-sense precautions. Not to mention all sorts of dangerous machinery—like powered printing presses. Or cars.

Keep in mind also that most of the scare talk you read on the subject of lead in letterpress is from people who are so ignorant of letterpress that they don’t realize that many hazards they’ve heard about pertain only to molten lead, or to pre-20th-century periods when printers really didn’t know enough not to put type in their mouths—and people in other trades were similarly ignorant. The hazard literature also refers largely to cumulative hazards to people who spent 40-to-60-hour weeks working with lead, for their entire working lives. The scare-trolls are also so immature generally that they think a few randomly-acquired tidbits of contextless information make them authorities deserving of public attention, and qualify them to contradict people with decades of real-world experience—and then complain about rudeness when they are put in their place.

Do not under any circumstances scrap the type, unless you know that the *exact* cut of the *exact* face in the same size is available from a foundry that is still in operation (and will be ten years from now). Otherwise, the type may be scarce, and may be irreplaceable or nearly so. If you don’t want to clean it, then sell it or give it—with warnings about the oxidation—to someone who will make good use of it.

This has been beyond helpful. I was actually in tears at the thought of ridding these cases of type because they are good cuts of Garamond and Bodoni, all much smaller which is going to be exhausting.

The method has worked very well actually. I soaked in the lemon juice and white vinegar. Some for as little as 5 hours. Toothbrush them clean. Rinse in water. Spray with oil. So far it has not returned.

I wear Venom gloves which are not supposed to be able to be penetrated and I wear a mold/highest rated breathing mask.

I have a few cases where it is much worse than what I showed, in which case, I will do the citric acid. Luckily it is only on the right sides of the cases.

Should I get a lead blood test done during this time? I don’t feel too worried but at the same time, I just want to be safe but I am poor and I wouldn’t be able to get this amount of type for another 10 years! You can imagine, I’d rather clean it over time.

As for now, regarding the cases that are just sitting. I cover in cardboard and taped shut. Then covered with a sheet. Do you think this is sufficient?

If you have a shop vac or a fairly powerful vacuum cleaner with a hose, you could put a piece of window screenwire over the type boxes and vacuum them through the wire, which will pas the dust but not the type, and get rid of most all the loose oxide. Then you have less lead dust to worry about handling the type.


I’m sure there’s no need for a blood test. See John Henry’s comment above—he’s made that experiment for us, and never found elevated lead levels.

I second Bob’s recommendation on vacuuming the cases. This is a good thing for any case that has accumulated dust—which should be kept under control. It was (and is) a regular chore in many shops.

Yeah Butt… “rust never sleeps” I’ve done all types of stop gap measures, he__, I’ve even used coca cola, again in the end your type is pitted and doesn’t print well, so pound wise
or scary foolish, an exercise in futility.best james

Well, I have officially cleaned one case of Goudy Heavy. It has been 5 days now and they are still clean and free of any type mold!

What I learned:
The aluminum foil tins were eaten through after soaking in the white vinegar and lemon juice. I will switch to glass jars.

They don’t always have to soak overnight. I end up using a toothbrush and final white vinegar rinse. Then I coat in this WD-40 special lubricant that is like an oil but prevents rust.

I intend on saving the fonts. I do have several that are extremely terrible, as posted below, but for these, I may just throw out the cases because they are so very damaged.

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You done good.
I do a lot of this. I call it idiot work.
If you are going to preserve the type, you might also look to repairing and preserving the type cases. One or more may end as parts donors for others. You can clean them up with deck and fence cleaner/brightener. I use it straight and scrub with a toothbrush. Then hose it out. I coat the case edges and the two dividers with boiled linseed oil. Bottoms can be replaced with Masonite, or with a thin plywood. Door skins are available from a large and well stocked lumber yard. They work well.
Get some ink on your shirt.

Thank you inky! I am on way to saving Clarendon right now and soon, I will be inked up. My rollers are on their way and a friend is building me a new feedboard. This summer will be productive if I only get to print once!!


You have a lot of great advice here, particularly from John Henry and Bob. Wish you had not posted the picture with the mask. It will probably at least scare the type lice away.

Fancy seeing my friend gachap posting today—I spent a couple of hours today on equipment he once owned cleaning it up for the public to look at starting this weekend. George sold the newspaper in 1990 and the layer of crud on cylinders, feed board, type, has accumulated in the last 27 years to a depth that can be measured with a yard stick. I’m sure there is some nasty stuff in all that, but a thorough hand washing is all I do, and change clothes afterwards.

wearing the correct mask-check the filter-against the vapours of the WD40 is a good thing for the amount you are doing in an enclosed smallish room it looks liker, do not breathe, only use in a well ventilated area, irritant, may cause drowsiness, headaches etc etc-check the MSDS.