Cleaning Green…


I was wondering if anyone has any suggestions for eco-friendly letterpress cleaners. I recently began using GUNK engine degreaser but the aerosol option didn’t fare too well with my family. the smell traveled from my garage into the house and now everyone is upset with me! can anyone recommend other options for cleaners (there are years and years of dirt and gooey black grime on my letterpress) that don’t smell and are also eco-friendly/non-toxic?

Any help (and solutions to the current smell problem) is much appreciated!!!


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As former director and founder of Art Center College of Design’s Archetype Press (1985-2001) I discovered an ‘eco-friendly’ product made by Amway named Industro Clean or words similar. Just dilute according to directions or use full strength. Non-toxic, has a ‘soapy’ smell. I’ve performed intense cleaning on twenty five, possibly more, Vandercooks and platen presses. Will not remove caked, dried ink or ancient varnishes. Amway has more info for you.

Vance Studley

Simple Green is a pretty good general cleaner to keep around. Breaks down grime and ink really well, and is pretty harmless. Also readily available.

In “Cleaning Green” one should not only consider the soap / solvent used, but also what happens to the crud and wastewater produced. Environmentally speaking, the GUNK is not nearly as bad as the crud it’s removing. A lot of the old inks and lubricants contained some serious heavy metals and other chemicals which could harm the eco-system.

If you are serious about your Environmental Impact, you can’t just let the crud fall on the ground and the water run off into the storm drain. Businesses who clean machinery, car washes, and garages are all required to capture their washwater for just that reason.

Unless it were a huge machine, I wouldn’t fool with soap and water at all. I’d load it onto a trailer and take it to a U-Wash-M car wash, and blast it with hot water. Since the car-wash reclaims their water (or at least is supposed to reclaim their water) then you aren’t dumping crud into the eco-system.

If it IS a big machine that doesn’t like to be moved, then I’d rent a power-washer and once again I’d blast it with high pressure hot water. That option would of course still drop crud onto the ground, but at least you wouldn’t have the GUNK smell.

This is the full name of the product I recommend:
Amway Industroclean Heavy Duty Cleaner. Contact any Amway distributor.

Vance Studley

I use vegetable oil, followed by simple green to clean up all oil based printing inks (Daniel Smith, Graphic Chemical). Letterpress inks are different, so vegetable oil may not work as well, or at all, but is worth testing.

I use kerosene. After cleaning, I leave the rags out and the ink dries, leaving no emulisified ink/oil mess that may never dry. The key to using any cleaning compound is to use the minimum neccessary to get the job done.

I would be leery of using Simple Green or citrus based cleaners on rubber rollers, as I am not certain what the long term effects would be. I would NEVER use any WATER based cleaners on composition rollers.

Whatever you do in printing, you will produce waste. The key to being “eco-friendly” is to minimize the waste through job design and production process. If running a multi-color job, starting with the lightest colors and working to the darkest will reduce the amount of washup required with each color change.

Hi—I have a little press in my home too and between what I already knew and a little info from others this is what I came up with. Vegetable shortening (crisco) to remove the base layer of ink. Then I wash the platen and rollers with an orange cleaner from the automotive section (I do not know the long term effect this will have on rubber rollers). You shouldn’t need too much because the crisco helps get a lot of the ink off. Then because the orange cleaner leaves a greasy residue wipe everything with rubbing alcohol. In the letterpress studio where I print larger projects they use denatured mineral spirits after the crisco but I wanted a solution that wouldn’t possibly spontaneously combust. I’m thinking about trying California Wash. Practice using as few shop towels as possible for cleanup!

i like using the California Wash for washing up ink and cleaning rollers. It does a nice clean and doesnt damage the rubber.
I would avoid the pressure washer approach described above. it might give a good clean, but you will be driving moisture and water in to metal parts that were not designed to be wet, and into spaces that you won’t be able to get dry, and your press will rust. Sorry if this is an aside form your question, but I must say, don’t pressure wash your old machine or you will do more harm than good.
Happy printing

Incredible. There are those using cleaner to clean up after using cleaner? Is there a gain to be made from trading reams of paper towelling in substituting some kitchen grease with kerosene? And some would also use a cleaner without any understanding of its effect upon the press rollers? Alcohol upon rubber? Best re-think that before the rubber turns hard as a carp and begins to split.. As for the power washing suggestion - that remains the best approach to thoroughly cleaning a machine of accummulated grime. Of course implied in that doing is ensuring that all oil holes and mating surfaces are forced air-dried and then oiled; using, you know, that terrible stuff that is ‘killing the planet’. Heaven forbid the use of kerosene to clean the press, but using the chemical hybrids making up a polyplate is eco-friendly ? Were any of this ‘save-the-planet’ nonsense to be taken seriously, we’d be in an age of making marks in mud with naturally-fallen tree branches. However, after reading many of the posts, logic, thinking-through problems, reasoning, and opening a reference book are completely alien to a large number of people. Mores the pity.

I use mineral spirits.

Where ever your cleaner is made is where you should start thinking about how eco-friendly you are becoming. It’s all part of the process.

Is the producer of the product eco-friendly? The process starts a long way from even before the product hits the shelf. If your the last in the line of the product life then I’ll bet your the least to be polluting the planet from that process.

The energy it takes to make the product, the by-product of making the product that is waste, the distribution of the product (think diesel or gasoline or railroads).

Think way back.