cleaning lead type

I just got some old cases full of lead type. Some is pretty clean, just dusty. Some is very dirty and some has a bit of oxidization from mouse urine. It is all mixed up and I need to clean it so I can identify and sort it, but this is my first time doing this.
I’m soaking the oxidized type and the really dirty type in white vinegar.
My question is what do I do once I remove the type from the vinegar? Do I give it a final rub with denatured alcohol? Do I leave it alone? Do I oil it? If I should oil it, what kind of oil should I use and how should I go about doing it?
Also, do I need to do anything to the type that looks relatively clean? It’s mixed in with the dirty or oxidized type, so I’m just not sure.
Any advice would be greatly appreciated as I really don’t want to trash any more than I have to!

Log in to reply   12 replies so far

Let’s call it metal type. It is an alloy containing mostly lead with a bit of other metals to make it harder than lead.
I rescued a great anount of type that had been badly stored and a lot of it was oxidized. It would be nice to have a chemical that would remove just the white oxide and not attack the metal. I don’t know of one to do that. I put a small handfull in a plastic container and add liquid dish detergent and some water. The type is only one layer in the bottom. I gently agitate the mix and let it set for a day or so. Again I agitate it and pour off the liquid to be used again. Rinse the type thoroughly in water and set to dry on a cloth or paper. Blot. Much of the dirt should come off and a little of the white oxide. I have a type brush which is about the size of a fingernail brush and it is very tightly set with brass bristles. The brass will abrade the metal type, but you are looking for light abrasion to remove the remaing oxide. Each piece of type, one at a time. Absolute idiot work. That white stuff is lead oxide and not nice. Gloves or baggies over the hands and a dust mask would be prudent. After some use, take the brush outside and bang the bristles against a board or the sidewalk. That gets some of the lead oxide dust out of it. Each brushed piece goes into another plastic container with kerosene in it. A little kerosene will be absorbed into the metal and a light film will remain after the type is taken out and set to dry. Put on some good music and attack the task for about 20 minutes a day. You might try a toothbrush and toothpaste followed by a good rinse, dry and then a kerosene dip.

The best way to clean type is to invest in a small ultrasonic cleaner.
I used one for many years, and used it to clean numbering boxes frequently, after a few minutes in the ultrasonic bath they would come out as clean as a factory fresh new one. There is nothing that can compare with the ease of use or effectiveness of these devices..

Bern Bennett: Could you be specific about the small ultrasonic cleaner you use? What size? What brand? How much type can you clean at once?

Sorry, I can’t remember the brand, as I have been retired for 17 years; but it was only a small one.
We cleaned the type a character at a time, as this saved sorting and dissing back into the case.

I’ve used an ultrasonic bath for my numbering machines. I put a 1/2 teaspoon of TSP in it and let ur rip. Does a great job. I’ve never used type in it but seems like it should work. I bought it from Ultimate Numbering Machine about 10 years ago. It’s called Bransonic and holds about 1 cup of water.

I posted this a while ago:

I have been very successful cleaning type with this method:

Soak in a mild solution of lye (Home Hardware), take the usual precautions. Mix up the solution thoroughly, pour into the type, I use yoghurt containers. Less lye is better, a little will do the trick, experiment. Soak, then rinse. Then use a small ultrasonic cleaner machine (inexpensive, Ebay, 60 watts). the dirt flies off, the type looks like new. Lead by itself is not a problem, take precautions not to ingest it, i.e. don’t eat or smoke at the same time, you will be OK. Keep kids away.The bad stuff is the lead oxide (yellow in appearance), you probably will not see it unless you are also a type caster. I am more afraid of mouse droppings than lead. Spread out on an old towel. After the type is dry, soak the type in a solution of paint thinner and a little oil to give the type a very thin layer of oil to prevent corrosion, this is an important step. Set out on a towel to dry.

This is a very old thread I’m posting into, but I wondered if Dan J or any others had more info on that paint thinner/oil solution he recommends at the end of the last post…? I’m trying some oxidised type in an ultrasonic cleaner and needing more advice on next steps after that. Any tips much appreciated.

Harbor Freight has ultrasonic cleaners, here is a YouTube Link:

The gentleman in the video also mentions what he used to to clean his items - 10 to 1 mixture Castrol Purple Power to water.

No problem; if you clean the type as described, there is now no protection from oxidation, it will corrode eventually, one will see a white powder form on the type. Experiment with an oil/thinner mix that will add a thin layer of oil to the newly cleaned type. By the way, when the type was originally cast, the machine mould was lubricated with oil, which coated the type and protected it from corrosion.

Thanks folks.

@ Docs Coffee - any idea what product Castrol Purple Power might relate to in the UK? Not heard of that before and I’m not finding much via google.

And thanks Dan J.

re “preserving/protecting” type, WD 40 is white spirit and an oil combination, its a bit sludgy and does dry…in photopolymer I use ‘platekote’ to seal the surface of it, it seems much more finer……worth a go to spray on your type just before you diss it, and a quick burst once a year over a case?