Jot + Tittle Typewriters

Typewriter Cleaning Process (photos)

cleaning a vintage typewriter

If you are a behind-the-scenes person like me, then you love to understand what goes into how stuff works. Or in our case, what goes into preparing the typewriters for sale and/or servicing.

It’s good to understand the typewriter cleaning process. Grasping the work that goes into serving and repair creates an appreciation for what fine machines these are. And it’s a good reminder that these are not newly manufactured, but carefully cleaned and examined vintage items. In actuality, each typewriter requires individualized servicing. But there is somewhat of a process that we go through to get the vintage typewriter in working condition again.

For illustration purposes, we chose a 1957 Remington Rand Quiet Riter that was in decent condition. Found at a local estate sale, the exterior looked good but we never know for sure what we’ll find until we get it to the shop and give it a thorough inspection.

Most of our typewriters are found through local online marketplaces, auctions, garage sales, estate sales, and hunting second-hand shops. Sometimes they are quite layered in dirt and grime like this Underwood below:

A vintage Underwood manual typewriter waiting to be brought back to life.

This type of condition is fairly common so when we find one in great shape and only needing a few minor repairs, we’re thrilled!

TYPEWRITER CLEANING PROCESS

First things first. Rob uses a solution to clean each key and the escapement with a Qtip. I asked why he didn’t just use a toothbrush and it was because the toothbrush spreads the dirt around. Cotton swabs are inexpensive and can get into tiny places. (And yes, we do buy them in large quantities!)

cleaning the interior of a vintage manual typewriter using a cotton swab

Everything has to be checked on a typewriter. He’ll spin it around, turn it upside down, poke and prod every square inch. One of the main things we check is the bell.

Everyone LOVES the sound of a bell when the carriage return gets to the end. Interestingly, the bell isn’t always the easiest part of the typewriter to fix. Sometimes the metal is so old that you get more of dull *tink* rather than a pleasant *ding*.

In the case of the 1957 Remington, the bell wasn’t working so Rob took apart the back metal panel and discovered damaged springs.

repairing the bell on a vintage typewriter
The springs on a typewriter are VERY tiny and require magnifying glasses and tweezers to get them back into place.

At first, the bell didn’t make any sound, then gave a hard “thunk”. Eventually, he was able to get it to give out a faint *ding*. Definitely not like it was as a brand new machine, but at least it is working.

Detailed cleaning of a vintage typewriter

After the keys and bars are all shiny and clean, Rob checks the remaining parts including the margins, tabs, carriage release, drawband, and anything else that catches his eye.

Before we do a type test we need to remove the old ribbon and install and a new one.

Installing a new inked ribbon in a vintage typewriter.
Rolling a new inked ribbon onto a metal spool.

Most typewriters use a removable ribbon spool so it’s an easy in and out. However, some typewriters, especially Remingtons, use a fixed metal spool. This requires manually winding new ribbon into the machine. Not difficult – but messy!

Now comes the true test…the typing test.

This is where we discover how much work actually needs to be done on the typewriter. Each typewriter goes through several typing tests, with the final one being recorded and uploaded to our YouTube channel for potential buyers to review before they purchase.

typing test on a vintage typewriter

In this case, as in almost all the typewriters, several of the keys were not striking the paper. Sometimes it’s an easy fix, other times we have to work a little harder to get the machine to type well. And every once in awhile, we’re unable to get it to type at all. (Those typewriters end up being used for spare parts.)

Repairing some of the metal keys.
testing the keys of a typewriter
Testing the keys again.

Once the keys are all working, then it’s time to clean up the roller and spiffy up the exterior of the typewriter.

For our electronic Smith Corona typewriters, we usually repaint the exterior. These tend to be our most popular typewriters.

In the case of the 1957 Remington Rand and other manual typewriters, keeping the integrity of the original color is our priority.

Checking the roller.
The final details.

For a typewriter in good condition when it comes to us, this process takes only a couple hours, but there are some, especially the really old typewriters, that take a few days of buffing, cleaning, and repair work before it’s ready to be put up on the shop.

Need a vintage typewriter repaired or cleaned?

We are in the Southwest Missouri area. Contact us at [email protected] to set up an appointment.

Interested in purchasing a vintage typewriter?

  1. Read our post about what to look for when typewriter hunting and the difference between Serviced, Restored and Renovated Vintage Typewriters.
  2. Then visit us on our Etsy shop!