How to Troubleshoot an IBM Selectric Typewriter

By Jean Asta

Updated September 26, 2017

What you can do to troubleshoot your typewriter.
i Schreibmaschinentastatur image by ut2k3 from

Typewriters might not be used every day in businesses anymore, but there may still be times when they are needed. When that time arises, it's a problem if the machine isn't working. If you have an IBM Selectric Typewriter, you may experience issues from time to time. There are some basic steps you can take to troubleshoot your typewriter. Once you have exhausted these steps, you may need to seek assistance from a professional typewriter repair service.

Check that the machine is plugged into a working outlet and that the On/Off button is in the "On" position.

Verify that the machine is not in the stencil position by adjusting the lever to the left and just below the typing element (the silver ball with the raised alphanumerics). If the type print is too light, check that you have the impression selector set at a medium level. It is the small lever just to the right of the typing element.

Inspect the ribbon to make sure it is taut. Tighten a loose ribbon by inserting a pencil into one of the holes on top of the ribbon cartridge and winding in the direction shown by the arrow. If the ribbon is not imprinting onto the paper, try changing the ribbon by following the steps provided in the user manual. See the References section to access the manual online.

Confirm that the typing element is properly installed by removing it and replacing it into position. To do so, make sure the caps lock is not on, then lift the typing element release lever at the top of the ball. Lift it out, then gently place it back on the post, making certain that the triangle is next to the platen.

Clean the typing element with the brush provided when you purchased the machine, or with a stiff-bristled toothbrush. Do not use any cleanser. Simply brush the element to remove any clotted ink or dust particles.

Clean any debris from between the keys or in the typing mechanism by using the tweezers or the cotton-tipped applicators.

Items you will need

  • Tweezers

  • Cotton-tipped applicators


Do not attempt to disassemble the typewriter unless you are knowledgeable about how electric typewriters work. Otherwise, you could damage sensitive working pieces. Do not use any oil or cleansers on the inside of the machine, as they could damage the machine.