TYPEWRITERS 201: GENERAL MAINTENANCE
A clean typewriter is a healthy typewriter! Here are a few tried-and-true cleaning tips from our Austin Typewriter, Ink. grease-monkeys!* NOTE: Austin Typewriter, Ink. is not responsible for any damage, explosions, coughing, wheezing, dandruff, or nuclear meltdowns associated with this list of suggestions. Use at your own risk :)
- Never use WD-40.
- Invest in an inexpensive air-compressor. This is one of the easiest and most effective cleaning methods for dirty typewriters. If your typewriter has a cowl (cover) that opens, open it up and remove the ribbon spools. Spray from approximately 6 inches (15 cm) away, using a paint brush to dislodge any difficult debris. Keep an eye out for any flying springs or loose screws!
- See rule number one. No matter what.
- Avoid cleaning with water-based products. Water produces or encourages rust, the mortal enemy of the typewriter. There are times when you cannot avoid it, like when cleaning textured machines. But when possible, always opt for the non-water method.
- Do not "dunk wash" your machine. Though some may debate, it is our opinion that this actually does more harm than good. Rusted parts will flash-rust, grime cannot be removed without violent agitation and no matter how thorough you are, you will never get all the water out.
- Mineral spirits are still the best for cleaning non-painted metal parts. Magic in a bottle, this is! Be careful to avoid getting it on painted surfaces, rubber, and/or plastic bits.
- Metal polish does wonders for tarnished metal parts. An old t-shirt and some metal polish will often do for most chrome or nickel tarnish but for more stubborn corrosion, consider using 0000 steel wool with the polish. Just be sure to clean out all the metal shavings or else you will have “rust dust” after awhile.
- If it ain’t broke—don’t fix it. Some typewriter people have a fully-functional machine and think—because it has a quirk or two—that they should tear it apart or do something drastic. If the issue is not affecting the typing experience or not harming the machine, consider leaving it be! Call it “character” :)
- Get advice. There are so many resources available to aid in repair and diagnosis. Not only is there the “Antique Typewriter Maintenance Group” on Facebook, but also a whole line of repair manuals available from Theodore Munk of the TWDB! If the repair seems too daunting of a task, take a look at our “Resources” section for a listing of typewriter repair businesses throughout the state!
- Don’t force it. If it’s not coming easily, stop what you are doing and re-evaluate the situation. Maybe you missed a screw? Maybe you forgot to take the “Shift Lock” off? Maybe you just need to step away for a night? Don’t break a perfectly good machine just because you got frustrated!
- (Almost) everything can be fixed. It’s a fact of typewriter-life, you are going to break something; you are going to destroy a machine you really like. But you know what? Most of the mistakes can be fixed with either a parts machine or 3D printing! And what cannot be fixed, can be replaced. Typewriters were made by the millions: you may have to be patient but another will surely come around.