This morning, as Melanie cleaned the Vandercook, she exclaimed, “I’m a changed person!”. Printer friend Kate Barber recently suggested that we try cleaning the press with baby oil instead of vegetable shortening. It works like a charm! The ink lifts off of the rollers much more quickly and easily than the shortening. It may have even provided a more thorough cleaning.
Why is that? The baby oil is much less viscous than vegetable shortening; is that the deciding factor? Do we have any scientifically-inclined readers out there? Help us understand!
We still needed some solvent at the end for the final wipe-down, but the baby oil definitely sped up the initial cleaning process. There are two “teams” in terms of the best way to clean a letterpress: the team that says the only way to properly clean a press is with solvents, and the “non-toxic” team that tries to use as little solvent as possible, exchanging heavy use of solvent for mineral oils and shortenings. We are on the second team. We try to use as little solvent (California Wash) as possible – about a gallon every year. The use of baby oil might just help us continue on our non-toxic route more easily.
We’ll have to keep experimenting to find the best combination of cleaners for the Vandercook – we certainly want it squeaky clean!