Cleaning Very Dirty Wood Type and Furniture

I have some gorgeous, ancient, dirty wood type that needs to be cleaned. A tack cloth and a cotton rag with a fine mist of water is not enough. I really think that it is salvagable and the face of the blocks are in good shape. But very dirty with some grime, built up dust and in a mousy tray. What should I do given these conditions? I’ve thought of using a soft toothbrush but I think I need a solvent to cut through some of the build up and sanitize it given the mice evidence.
In addition, I have a furniture cabinet full of furniture that is in similar shape but also has mildew. How can I halt the mildew without damaging the materials?
This is all good, usable material that I really want to keep and use. Please offer suggestions. I am a hobby printer with limited experience.

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Simple solvent and the toothbrush should be good for the wood type. Paint thinner/mineral spirits. If you are going to print from this type, you do not need to get it museum clean. The type when new was sealed with shellac. Alcohol is the solvent which cuts shellac. Do not use alcohol. A dip in a bucket with some water and bleach solution should end your concern about contamination. towel dry the pieces and set out to finish drying.
The furniture can benefit from a bath in soap/detergent. I use TSP. Not the substitute stuff, but real TSP in granular form from the hardware store. Let the pieces soak a bit and then scrub well with a stiff brush. Rinse and put out in the sun to dry. There is a small risk that a piece will warp. The warped piece is ruined, but the risk of this is small.

Just quoting the label on the back of a Hamilton wood furniture cabinet: CAUTION! Let no WATER come in contact with this Furniture!

Water on wood type might be done if one is careful, but this would also depend on such factors as what exactly is on the type that needs to be cleaned off, and the line size of the type. For instance, an eight-line Gothic 123 is going to be fairly stable if it gets wet briefly and then is dried quickly. But if you have a large, extended face that is very dry any water on it will warp the wood, most likely.

The paint thinner/mineral spirits or related cleaners and a toothbrush is a good practice to follow for surface accumulations. Finish with a wiping with a soft cloth.

If the accumulations are heavy amounts of dried ink that interfere with your intended printing quality then there is more work to be done!


Clean Furniture with Isopropyl Alcohol, it does an amazing job. The only time you should put water on wood type is if the type was stored in a shop that used a drying powder from offset presses. Water is the only thing that will break it down. Other than that, use Kerosine first, if that doesn’t work, use Naptha (which is sold as type-wash). And if that doesn’t work use Lacquer Thinner as sparingly as possible, because it will remove the shellac from the type, allowing the ink to penetrate the surface. If the ink is really built-up on the shoulders of the letters, you may have to take an Exacto knife and carefully scrape it off. Water will absorb into even old ink-stained type, and will cause all kinds of problems.


Thank you. Great advice and tips from Paul, Jim and Inky. I’ve got a game plan now. I really appreciate your time and the details you shared.