Using WD-40 to bring an old typewriter ribbon back to life!

So you have a typewriter with a dry ribbon and don’t know what to do? Well, you can buy a new one on Ebay or at most office supply stores, but are you impatient or penny-pinching and want immediate satisfaction? Well, if you have a can of WD-40, a cardboard box and an old rag, you just may be in business!

Step 1: take the ribbon out of the typewriter, paying careful attention to how it's threaded in the ribbon vibrator. You'll want to put it in correctly when you're done. Get your cardboard box and take it outside.

Step 1: take the ribbon out of the typewriter, paying careful attention to how it’s threaded in the ribbon vibrator. You’ll want to put it in correctly when you’re done. Get your cardboard box and take it outside.

Step 2: Unspool the ribbon into the box completely, and hang the two ends attached to the spools on opposite corners of the box to prevent tangling.

Step 2: Unspool the ribbon into the box completely, and hang the two ends attached to the spools on opposite corners of the box to prevent tangling.

Step 3: Lightly spray down the ribbon with WD-40, being sure to soak the ribbon completely through, but you don't need to go so heavy that you leave a puddle in the box.

Step 3: Lightly spray down the ribbon with WD-40, being sure to soak the ribbon completely through, but you don’t need to go so heavy that you leave a puddle in the box.

Step 4: Let the ribbon soak awhile, then take one end and start reeling the ribbon back into it while holding the ribbon inside your rag to wipe off excess WD-40.

Step 4: Let the ribbon soak awhile, then take one end and start reeling the ribbon back into it while holding the ribbon inside your rag to wipe off excess WD-40.

Step 5: install ribbon back into typewriter. Type!

Step 5: install ribbon back into typewriter. Type!

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Five Years Later: update on Using WD-40 to bring an old typewriter ribbon back to life!

Updated: October 25, 2018 — 10:41 pm

38 Comments

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  1. I wouldn’t try this on ordinary obtainable black ribbons, but I have a dry brown ribbon that really is calling to be refreshed…….

    1. Why not? Because it’s to ordinary?

  2. I like your method. It is much faster than mine. When I thought about just spraying pile of ribbon I was concerned about dry or damp spots. I guess running the ribbon through the rag will even all the WD-40 out all along the ribbon.

  3. Could be interesting on a black and red. This one’s worth tagging for the wiki. My similar efforts were pretty much a failure. Very patchy. I think the ribbon chaos in a small box might be a good solution though for better and more controlled coverage.

    1. I just did this on a red and black spool. It comes out decent, however the black is more grayish and the red is hardly visible.

  4. I just did this with a “gun” ribbon cartridge for a Smith-Corona electric. Had to squirt a little, put it back into the typewriter and type some xxxxxxxxxxx, remove the ribbon and squirt some more, etc. But it worked!

  5. Very excellent how-to and that ribbon is a great color.

  6. How long does this process take?

    My variation on this theme is to lay the spools out on a towel, and dip a smaller piece of terrycloth into a mayonnaise jar lid with WD40. Wipe one side of the ribbon with it, using your index finger, gradually working your way to the end of the spool. Put spools back on typewriter and rewind to the first part you treated, which is fairly dry by now.

    This method takes me 20 minutes. Applying the WD40 to only one side of the ribbon – the side facing the platen – seems to be less messy.

    1. about 10 minutes. the part that takes time is spooling the ribbon back onto the spool. Running the ribbon through a rag evens out the WD-40 coating and soaks up any excess. I need to jerry rig some kind of spool winder to speed up the process. I’m also thinking of making a batch of WD-40/stamp pad ink mixture to try out. Stamp pad ink by itself dries out too fast, but it might be useful as a pigment base with the wd-40 to keep it from drying out on the ribbon.

      1. Have you tried a bobbin winder? You can find them for a couple bucks at craft/art stores (hell, probably even walmart). They have a pincher for the bobbin, but you might be able to put a slip of cardboard in there and then just put the plastic ribbon holder on that then just wind. It’s hand operated so you also don’t have to worry about the winder going to fast or anything like that.

  7. It’s funny how your perceprions change with experience. I used to see this stuff and Duct/Duck tape as essential to any tool kit. Since I’ve started this typewriter madness, I tend to react to the sight of WD40 like a vampire looking at the sun. I’m glad you found a good use for the stuff!

  8. thank you for the tip. I have been keeping all the dried up ribbons. good to know we can give them a second lease of life! :)

  9. I tried your trick on my Olivetti Underwood Studio 44 and it WORKED! Thanks so much:)

  10. thanks man i was just given an old Brothers AX-450 Electronic Typewriter by my grandmother i asked her if i could buy it to type up the first draft of my new book of poetry i thought the touch of an old timely typewriter was just what my book of new poems needed but when i got it home the ink was dried so thanks for the tip i might use it just till i get this ribbon used up though ribbons for mine are like 8 dollars for a 2 pack at wall mart so i think i will also get some ribbons and maybe a few new fonts as backup

    1. Just so you know, this won’t work on carbon ribbons like are used in your electronic Brother AX. It only works on cloth/inked ribbons used in much older typewriters.

  11. Has anyone tried glycerin? I just read in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune newspaper to use glycerin to rejuvenate old typewriter ribbons. Well, the news paper is a little old, Sunday, March 8, 1964. Just thought I’d ask.

  12. Nice find Gene!

  13. For this I used three-in-one oil instead of WD_40 because I had it. It works just as well.

  14. worked for my remington holiday Thanks!

  15. I’m 12 and I have a really really old Remington and the ribbon is really dry, I can’t find a ribbon online so hopefully this will will work. THANKS!!!!!!!😄👍 👍 👍 👍 👍 👍 👍 👍 👍

  16. Discovered over the weekend the typewriter I bought second-hand was all dried up; the ribbon, that is :(
    Just came across this article and now I’m atyping again!

    Thanks for the clearly illustrated steps.

  17. Yes! This works and works well. I have an Underwood circa 1933. Beautiful, still functions perfectly. I use it when I have writers block. I hate the ideal of wasting those fabric ribbons. Saved me.
    Thanks again

  18. JUST got an Adler with a semi dry ribbon, it’s an half inch ribbon so I going to try this

  19. Will this also work on a 1940 Smith & Corona Clipper ribbon?

  20. Conor Graaf Pietermaritzburg South Africa

    Haleleuah

  21. Anonymous Person

    I have just tried this on underwood typewriter from the 1950s. I tried it on a black ribbon that had not been used in 65 years, but instead of using DW-40, I actually had used olive oil cooking spray, this method also works

  22. Saved me time and money, thanks

  23. Yes! This works and works well. I have an silver reed since 1982. Beautiful, still functions perfectly. I tried WD-40 and it work well.
    Thanks you.

  24. I just tried this with a dried out Olivetti black and red ribbon and it works beautifully. The black didn’t run into the red as I had feared. The only issue I had was rolling the ribbon back in without twisting it.

  25. Thank You! we have 3 Sharp Calculators we use and our ribbons most of the time are dry right out of the plastic baggies driving us crazy at 5.00 a ribbon trick works wonders ! i now spray them as soon as i get them. don’t have to unroll just a quick squirt on either side and let sit! works great!

  26. I the process of trying this on a Petite 880 that my daughter had a few years back (she is now 34). I want to give the typewriter to my grand daughter and wanted it to work. Can’t find a replacement ribbon (in a plastic holder that holds the spools) on line. Initial results are that it seems to be working, but hopefully better after it sits for a while.

    1. I’m pretty sure you can use any common spool ribbon, but you take the ribbon off the spools you get and respool it onto your Petite spools, adding eyelets if needed.

  27. I just tried this with the ribbon from a Dot Matrix printer (the Apple ImageWriter II connected to an Apple IIc). It worked great! Thanks for the advice. I had just ordered a new ribbon cartridge from eBay and it was dry as a bone. I was able to open the case of the cartridge and spray all the ribbon in there. I know it’s not quite a typewriter, but almost.

    1. Yes it does – I have a couple Electronic daisywheel typewriters that I managed to find cloth ribbon cartridges for. One thing to watch for with printer and typewriter cartridge ribbons is that sometimes they have foam rubber rollers inside that help feed the ribbon. Those will often be disintegrated, leaving the cartridge unusable. I’ve found I can often rebuild these old rollers using hand-cut rubber or foam replacements. Kind of a PITA, but it isn’t like anyone is making new ones. (:

  28. Standing by waiting and waiting for the WD 40 to fully permeate the ribbon for an old Zehyr with script type slugs! Tiny little font. I have pinned one spool to the box with a T pin and will find a way to make rewinding .. well. Interesting. All these accolades I’m hoping for success!

    1. Okay.. I let the WD 40 soak the ribbon for the little Zephyr / Smith Corona. The spools are tiny. I subbed the T pin with a bamboo skewer to reel in the ribbon and just used my fingers to guide the ribbon onto the spool. Took a while! The ribbon came to life a little, but suspect it had been the original and had been dry for a long time. Save a few bucks and have the satisfaction of getting all that ribbon back on the reel! Thank you.

  29. I have a 1976 Byron Jardine TOY plastic typewriter (made in England), the ribbon spools are 1-1/2″ diameter and the ribbon is 1/4″. I have only found replacement ribbons on ebay UK, for $12+ each.

    Your method definitely looks like it works with the WD40. But I am also thinking of just reinking an get it over with. Unless someone reads this and knows where I can get new ribbons in the USA. Thanks For Reading.

    1. ebay, amazon, any office supply store. Just re-spool the ribbon onto your existing spools. (:

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