Type and press cleaner

I haven’t used my 5 X 8 Kelsey press since the late ’70s. I’ll be retiring soon and thought I’d start up again. My question is, what cleaner is in common use now? When I last used my press, benzene was what I used to clean-up. Since then they found out benzene is a carcinogen, so what’s currently in use?

Thank you,

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There are all kinds of press washes out there, but plain old Kerosene works great and is cheaper than anything else you’ll find.
Have fun rediscovering letterpress!


I use deodorized mineral spirits as a press wash and Coleman Lantern Fuel (white gas) as a type/plate wash. These are easily obtained at hardware stores. Coleman is even sold in grocery stores. Cheaper than most commercial printing solvents and, better yet, they actually work well and won’t screw up the works.

These have been cleaned up somewhat (re: health concerns) and aren’t going to go away but, one caution, they are flammable.


Thank you both, that gives me a good idea of what’ll work. I’m still a little rusty after not having used my press for around 30 years.


a couple of shots of brandy should clean out the rust from 30 years, good luck dick g.

When I was a boy, (50 years ago) we used benzene. Later, I met printers who used kerosene or even gasoline. I used cans labeled “Type Wash” - while it was available. For years, I settled on offset “blanket wash”. Recently, I’ve tried Varn’s California Wash (very popular among the new generation) and even Crisco (works well on the Vandercook and Heidelberg to soften ink) - followed by any solvent.

I also use Mineral Spirits when I run out of ‘traditional’ solvents. I’d say that mineral spirits - backed up by some lacquer thinner for the tough stuff will get you by.

The real issue is with your rollers. Ask your roller supplier for their recommendation. If you’re using composition - choose your solvent carefully. The more common rubber rollers available these days are far less sensitive than older rollers used to be.

And, Dick - save the brandy. I’ll be right over! ;)

- Al