How to Repair a Typewriter

By Ashley Mackenzie
Sticky keys and faint print are easy problems to fix.

If you have found a typewriter at an antique store or yard sale, chances are it is decades old. Typewriters can make you feel like you have traveled back in time, but not if the typewriter is covered in rust and nonfunctional. As computers replace typewriters in this age of technology, finding parts and repairmen for typewriters has become increasingly challenging. Fortunately, a few tricks can help you transform your typewriter into a usable machine again.

Clean your typewriter to eliminate minor functioning problems. Use water with a few drops of hand dishwashing soap and a cloth to wipe down the typewriter, as Dr. Richard Polt at Xavier University recommends. Clean crevices with a toothbrush and Q-tips.

Use aluminum polish to remove rust, a common culprit in typewriter malfunctioning because typewriters have metal parts. This may unstick some of the keys.

Click each key to see if any stick. Untangle letter bars that are stuck together. If a type bar gets stuck against the platen--the roller where the paper goes--and does not fall back into place after releasing the key, hold the type bar where it hits the platen and bend it gently to one side, then the other. Continue doing this until the key is properly repositioned.

Drip typewriter or sewing machine oil into the slots between the typewriter key segment slots. A 1977 Reader's Digest article on typewriters states that oil repairs keys that do not easily hit the platen. If this does not work, use a concoction of one part typewriter oil and one part nail polish remover and let sit for five minutes.

Rub the platen with an emery cloth if paper has a habit of slipping while you are typing. Roll the platen as you go to reach all sides. Vacuum up leftover debris and clean with denatured alcohol. If this does not work, Reader's Digest recommends replacing the platen.

Replace an old ribbon that causes faint or blurry print. Many office supply stores still sell them. Detach the top of the typewriter. Replace the old spools with the new ones and thread the ribbon in front of the platen. Reattach the top of the typewriter to finish.

Tip

The Typewriter Restoration Site recommends taking pictures as you take apart your typewriter so you remember where everything goes.