Cleaning Metal Type

… … …

It’s good practice when using both wood or metal type to thoroughly clean each element before and after printing. Due to the age of most metal type (that which has not been newly cast) there is a high probability that there will be a ‘build up’ of ink deposits and dust on it. This will impact upon the integrity of any print you make from it. Cleaning type will expand its lifespan and ensure the definition of print (specifically for more ornamental elements) is increased.

The metals used in the manufacture of type have limitations due to their softness and won’t stand up to any aggressive cleaning. The use of abrasives or wire brushing is not recommended and therefore this impacts on the options available to clean and restore very dirty type.

Option 1:

Where metal type has low levels of ink residue, this can bee cleaned by soaking each element overnight in white spirit. The following day use a soft brush (an old tooth brush as long as the bristles are not too stiff) to work the ink ‘build up’ off. Rinse the ink debris and clean off the excess white spirit with a rag before applying protective oil and storing type safely in a case or galley tray.

Option 2:

If the metal type has a greater ‘build up’ of ink or there are still some traces of ink after option 1. Make up a rich solution of biological washing powder and warm water. Completely submerge the type in the solution in a plastic container. Leave to soak overnight. Clean off the solution with a soft brush (as above) – work the brush in small circles on the face of the type. If there is still a residue of ink follow the process for a second twenty four hours. Once complete, clean off the solution in warm water, dry the type and apply penetrating oil to all surfaces for protection.

Option 3:

Where type has had ink left on it for a considerable amount of time option 1 and 2 may not be able to shift the residue without the possibility of damaging the type. In this instance use a lye, alkaline drain cleaner. Soak the type for five to ten minutes thereafter rinse off in warm water. For this process ensure you wear both gloves and goggles and make sure all of the cleaner has been washed away before drying and applying oil to the type for protection.

All of these options have the capacity to damage the type during the cleaning process. Take your time, do not over clean or apply too much pressure – always wear protection for your hands, eyes and any exposed skin. Ensure you dispose of the cleaning liquids and materials sustainably.

… … …


Above – a typical box of wooden type which has not been used in a long time and covered in both ink residue and dust.

Details about cleaning wooden type to follow.

… … …

© Middleton – 2020


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s