Clean type

I purchased some metal type that has old crusted ink on it. It is around the beard and shoulder of the type. What cleaner can I use to dissolve the crud. I tried mineral spirits but it won’t budge it. Any suggestions? Thanks. Larry

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Dave Churchman’s concoction of baby shampoo and borax and warm water. The exact formula is around here somewhere….

Lacquer Thinner.

I had good success locking the type up solid and cleaning the face with an old toothbrush and paint remover. I brushed it on lightly, let it sit for a few minutes, and brushed it off with a little water, then rubbed the type with an damp old towel pressed into the crevices with a stiff brush several times to get all the paint remover off. The type came out as shiny as new, even though it had been so caked up with ink that the ink was picking up ink on the press.

Paint remover is essentially caustic soda, so be careful with it — but it’s also called lye, the type cleaner used by the ancients.


Sorry Bob, not even close. If I might borrow from Wikipedia:

Lye is a term that can refer to the liquid obtained by leaching ashes (containing largely potassium carbonate or “potash”), or to a strong alkali which is highly soluble in water producing caustic basic solutions. It is commonly the alternative name of sodium hydroxide (NaOH) or historically potassium hydroxide (KOH).

Today, lye is commercially manufactured using a membrane cell chlor-alkali process. It is one of the highest volume industrial chemicals with world wide annual production of approximately 40 million tons. It is supplied in various forms such as flakes, pellets, microbeads, coarse powder or a solution.

You can tell type that was cleaned with lye, because it has basically eaten the surface off of the metal which makes it very susceptible to oxidation. I would think that paint remover is also too caustic, and it’s damned difficult to properly clean off of the surface without real scrubbing.

Lacquer thinner will remove paint and ink, and it simply evaporates when you are done. No residue past the loose ink and grime. I’ve used it for 30+ years.


I was taught to use trisodiumphosphate in 1947 and haven’t changed since. Granular TSP from the hardware store. The real stuff, not the substitute. Mix with water and let the type soak. Scrub with brush. Locked up works best. Probably not as fast as lacquer thinner, but less nasty.

Laquer thinner is the quickest solution to ridding type of encrusted ink. I understand such advocacy will give the vapours to the eco-nutso, but one does not argue with success. Other materials: TSP; Mr. Clean; Naptha; Borax, etc., also do credible job. But laquer thinner cleans the counters on 6pt. without requiring toothpick picking. :o) And it is virtually residue free.
As to lye being choice of ‘the ancients’, well, urine (human) was once used to condition the leather of ink balls. Some things deservedly belong in the past. :o)

Lye (potash) was used to clean type into modern times, I have a photo of large lye troughs used at a newspaper. I would resist putting any water-based cleaner on type. I had to clean some type that was covered with termite residue and used commercial drain-cleaner, afterwards washed, then neutralized in a vinegar solution, then washed again, and finally washed in WD40. It was a very tedious job, and not something I care to repeat very often.


True, but lye does make good lutefisk

The words ” good”, and “lutefisk” are rarely used in the same sentence. Steeping rock-hard, dried cod in a lye solution seems a recipe to induce bulemia.
A time-honored method of serving Lutefisk is to place a portion on a shingle, heat thoroughly - throw away the lutefisk then eat the shingle. The concoction is also known as S.O.S. :o)

That’s not the SOS I know from my military career. And I agree with Paul that lacquer thinner works best, used with the usual precautions.

Is lacquer thinner the American equivalent of what we Brits call cellulose thinners? Lacquer thinner doesn’t seem to be sold in the UK.

Difficult to establish the exact composition as it seems there isn’t one specified, but here are a couple of general recipes. Both about 50% toluene, but the cellulose thinners have up to 30% acetone against 30% methanol for the lacquer. (Paint stripper is water, organic solvent and amine salt.)

Cellulose thinners would be the equivalent of Lacquer Thinners in the US. It is very strong, and should only be used with good ventilation - preferably outside. It is also very flammable so be careful. It will remove paint so be careful of accidental spills. I have used it to remove paint from the fronts of type cases, and it evaporates so quickly that if you get it on your skin it will dry out the skin enough to make it crack and bleed - so use gloves.

Finnan haddie is perhaps better than fish flavored jello aka…lutefisk I do believe some would disagree
Besides you can print on dried cod