How to Fix Sticky Typewriter Keys

Over the last few years, I’ve had quite a few people ask me about how to fix sticky typewriter keys.  It’s a common problem on vintage typewriters.  Dust and dirt have settled into the machine over the years and before you know it, several of the typebars seem stuck in place.  I can’t count the hours I’ve spent getting sticky typebars unstuck.  Here’s what you’ll need:

  1. Alcohol.  I recommend picking up a can of denatured alcohol although rubbing alcohol will work in a pinch.  Denatured alcohol can be found at most any home improvement store (Lowe’s, Home Depot) and some retailers like Wal-Mart and Michael’s.  Look for it near the turpentine and mineral spirits.
  2. A Sturdy Brush.  You’ll probably want to pick up a cheap brush to use help get the denatured alcohol down into the segment.
  3. Cotton Swabs.  Cotton swabs come in handy when trying to clean dirt off of metal parts on a typewriter.  I buy the biggest box I can find.

Okay, once you have your supplies you’re ready to get to work.  First, make sure you’re protecting both the typewriter and the surface it’s sitting on.  Denature alcohol WILL DAMAGE wood finishes and paint.  Before you can blink, it’ll spot the paint.  Make sure and protect as much of the typewriter as you can with a rag.

sticky typewriter keys

The first thing I usually do is take a dental pick (or needle) and remove any dirt from the segment.  You’ll be surprised on how much dirt and grime will come out of a segment.

Next, you’ll want to dip your brush in the denatured alcohol and rub across the segment just above the sticking typebar.  Once that is complete, I usually move the typebar back and forth by hand to work the alcohol down in the segment.

I’ve learned this process usually needs to be repeated.

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