Best way to clean old rubber rollers?

I have a c&p 8x12 with old rollers (I believe rubber) they are in fairly good condition. They are very dark and smooth (one has a few small “slashes” or grooves around it — previous life for it may have been hard!) Maybe not pretty but they print well (I have inked it once and got very clean smooth prints, on my first print non the less!)

What is the best thing to use to clean them? And how is the best way to clean them? I want to extend their life and mine — the less smelly and toxic the better. Since the ink plate is metal I dont worry so much for it but the ideas on the overall cleaning solution would be appreciated. I read thru the archives and I didnt see anything about old rubber rollers just mostly compo rollers!


Log in to reply   11 replies so far

Obtain a can of Putz Pomade. Use no other abrasive. A gentle scrubbing will remove the glaze from the rollers. The scoring around the roller circumference was probably caused by the former user scoring, or die-cutting whilst printing. Such injury will restrict your coverage somewhat but unless you are doing large solids the rollers will give adequate inking. However, like a car with a bad tire, best replace it before it presents difficulty. In my opinion.

NA Graphics sells roller wash. I use a product called Varn.

Whats the difference between Varn & Varn Step 2?

Also is the Putz Pomade abrasive?

Varn is the parent company that makes California Wash, which seems to have caught on as a popular choice for alot of letterpress people. It has a relatively modest oder (kind of citrus like, but still a bit chemically) but is not as harsh as alot of press wash or standard type wash that you see around.
It does a great job of cleaning rollers, both with oil and rubber based inks, and it won’t harm your rollers. I have been very happy with it.
Boxcar press also sells a comparable product.

Putz is mildly abrasive, good for occasionally pulling the glaze of the rollers. Not to be used as your regular cleaning routine.
I also like using something like Feebo Clean, which is a buttery roller conditioner, about once a week. It helps draw alot of impurities out of the rollers and keeps them in good shape. Good to use when moving form a dark color to a light color.

Yes, Putz Pomade is a mild abrasive designed to remove the glaze that ,over time, develops on rollers, blankets, etc. It is not to be used as a regular ink remover. To that, kerosene remains the best liquid to remove printing inks. The washes are fine, but they were designed for offset rollers - not letterpress rollers. There is a difference in durometer. And, no, kerosene will not kill you nor cause a third eye to appear mid-forehead. It has a very high flash point and has no more a disagreeable odour than does many a household cleaning agent. Heck, you can even buy scented kerosene nowadays! It is very good for retaining tack in the roller and prevents rust from forming on the ink table and other bare metal. Plus - it’s inexpensive and easily obtainable. In my opinion.

I use Putz, followed by regular vegetable oil, which I use for most of my clean up on rollers, pallet knives, etc. (It’s cheap and odorless, though it can require a bit more elbow grease than solvents). I finish up with a bit of California Wash to take off any residue left by the vegetable oil.

Where do you buy Kerosene — I have found where to buy the rest of the items but not Kerosene.
Thanks everyone for your help… I appreciate it!

You can get kerosene at most hardware stores, and also at some gas stations, where it sells by the gallon. I’ve used it to clean old composition rollers but I’m sticking with Varn for my new rollers. In the old days, kerosene was commonly known as “coal oil,” and was commonlhy used as fuel for lamps, stoves, etc.

I use kerosene for disc & rollers

If the rollers are really glazed with either dried ink or varnish from ink, I have effectively used EasyOff oven cleaner to remove the ink residue from the rubber on the rollers. Make certain you are working in a well-ventilated area with no exposed aluminum surfaces or tools. Outside would be preferable. Follow the safety recommendations on the product bottle or can. Take the roller which is in the worst condition, and spray or brush some of the oven cleaner on the surface in an area at the outer end of the inking surface of the roller. Allow it to set for a while (10-20 minutes) and rinse off with running water. This can serve as a test to the effectiveness of the process. It it looks ok when thoroughly dry, go for the whole roller.

I once reclaimed an entire set of rubber rollers which someone else was ready to throw away using this method. This would be particularly effective if a very fast drying ink were accidently left too long. Although you must be careful of the oven cleaner, I prefer it to extremely strong solvents which can dry out the surface.

I have even used the oven cleaner on composition rollers, but you have to watch things very carefully and make certain you dry them immediately after the cleaner is washed off. It can get you a bit of extra life for a roller in a pinch.

John Henry

1- Use a water miscible wash (solvent mixed with water) to remove both the solvent-soluble and water-soluble particles that are near the top of the deposit layer. This leaves the insoluble particles.
2- Use a non-grit roller paste to remove the insoluble particles. Be sure to use a paste that is designed and tested for the type of rollers you have. Never use a paste with grit, for this will damage the rubber.
3- With the layer of insoluble particles removed, most of the remaining soluble particles will be exposed and can be washed out with a second water-miscible rinse.

For Strong dirt, you should use volatile, residueless cleaners.
In order to preserve the surface structure of the roller, cleaners containing ester or ketone, and especially methyl acetate or acetone, must not, under any circumstances, be used.