Step-by-step: How to Clean a Fountain Pen

Fountain pens are generally not disposable as they are designed to be filled with ink multiple times. However, to keep them working well, they need to be correctly maintained. Although this is not a complicated process, the user must periodically clean the pen and ensure that dried ink and other residues don’t build up inside.

Remove the cap and barrel and empty the pen of ink. Remove the converter or cartridge and hold the nib under cool, running water until it is clear. Soak the nib in a cup of distilled or tap water for 10 to fifteen minutes. Flush the parts with clean water, dry them well and then reassemble the pen.

You should always use inks explicitly made for fountain pens to avoid problems. Pigmented inks contain particulates that can clog up the pen’s inner workings and even destroy it, so avoid these wherever possible. However, even if you use ink designed for fountain pens, it is necessary to clean them out from time to time, especially when swapping between different brands or ink types or colors.

The Parts Of A Fountain Pen

To properly clean a fountain pen, you need to understand a bit about its different parts. The outside of the pen is called the barrel and screws or pushes onto the back of the pen. Usually, the barrel doesn’t make contact with the ink unless the pen has leaked or you hold it with inky fingers. Some fountain pens, known as eyedrop fillers, use the barrel itself as the ink reservoir, so the inside is filled with ink.

Most fountain pens are made with caps that cover the nib. The cap is usually made of the same material as the barrel, but it could be made of different material depending on the pen’s design. Since the cap covers the nib, the inside may come into contact with ink if it touches the nib or there is a leak, but most of the time, it too remains ink-free.

The cap may have a metal clip to hold the pen upright in a shirt pocket or stop it from rolling on a flat surface. The cap may also contain a plastic liner that helps to seal the nib and keep it from drying out. If your hands are often sweaty, the cap and the barrel could become a little grubby over time and may require cleaning for aesthetic reasons.

The working parts of the pen consist of the nib, the feed, the grip, and the reservoir. These parts conduct the ink through the pen so that it can be used to write. In some cases, the reservoir may be built into the pen, while in others, it comes as a removable converter or ink cartridge. Cartridges are disposable and don’t need to be cleaned.

Periodic cleaning of all of the working parts is necessary to keep the pen in sound working order. The most thorough cleaning involves disassembling the pen as far as possible. In most cases, the nib can be removed by gently pulling or twisting it out of the grip section.

Sometimes the nib is firmly attached to the feed as a single unit, in which case, remove the whole thing.

The grip is where you hold the pen while writing. It is also the part into which you insert the ink cartridge or converter, and it channels the ink into the feed from the reservoir. If the reservoir is built in, it may not be possible to remove it without breaking the pen, so don’t try it. Examples of these kinds of reservoirs are piston fillers, vacuum fillers, or sac reservoirs. The sac may have to be depressed manually or using a lever or other mechanism to fill it with ink.

Generally speaking, it is unnecessary to completely disassemble a fountain pen every time you clean it. If the ink has dried out inside, you may need to wash all the parts thoroughly to eliminate any blockages. Cleaning the feed and the nib by expelling the ink and flushing the pen out thoroughly is usually all that is required.

What Are The Signs That A Fountain Pen Needs Cleaning?

If the ink doesn’t flow smoothly onto the paper surface, this could be a sign that it needs cleaning. Also, if the pen feels unusually scratchy, the ink skips, leaving blank spaces in your writing, or the ink flow is slow or inconsistent, it is probably time to clean the pen.

Over time paper fibers, dust, and flakes of dried ink can build up in the feed or the nib and disrupt the capillary action inside the pen. Cleaning removes all these so the ink can flow freely again. Also, if you are changing between ink colors or different brands, you should first clean out all traces of the previous ink before refilling.

Can You Clean A Fountain Pen With Water?

You can clean a fountain pen with water. It is usually recommended that you only wash a fountain pen with water. You can buy special solutions called pen flushes that can be used to clean out the insides of a pen, but this is unnecessary. You should never use hot water to clean the pen.

Hot water can damage the delicate feed or other parts of the pen because the heat causes them to expand. Room-temperature, distilled water is the best because it is less likely to contain minute particles that may clog the feed. If your tap water is drinkable, it is usually safe to use it for cleaning purposes.

Using harsh chemicals, soap or alcohol is never a good idea if you want to avoid the risk of damaging the pen. You can soak the nib and feed sections in a clean container of water overnight to dissolve any residues inside them.

How To Clean Your Fountain Pen

Never clean your fountain pen with acetone, raw ammonia, alcohol, or any other chemical solvent. Room temperature tap water is best if you don’t have distilled water to hand. While a few drops of ammonia, bleach or dishwashing liquid can be put into the water you use to clean the pen, you should only consider using them in stubborn cases where nothing else works. Bleach can damage certain pen components, and so can ammonia.

Never mix bleach and ammonia because they react chemically to produce toxic gases. If your tap water has a high mineral content, it could leave unwanted deposits in the feed. Use water softeners or use distilled water instead.

First, remove the cap, then unscrew the barrel section from the grip. Remove the ink cartridge or converter if there is one. The cartridge can usually just be pulled out, but some converters may have to be unscrewed. If the pen still has ink in it, use the piston in the converter to expel it. Empty the pen of ink as much as possible before disassembly.

Hold the part with the nib under the tap with the cold water running until the water coming off the nib runs clear. Ensure you don’t lose any little metal or plastic rings that may fit between the grip and the barrel. When you disassemble the pen, it is best to do so on a flat working surface to avoid losing small parts.

Fill a cup with tap water, place the grip section into it with the nib pointing downwards, and leave it to soak for a while. Replace the water when it becomes discolored with ink and repeat the soaking process until there is no sign of ink in the water. You will have to leave the nib soaking in the water for a while to make sure that there is no more ink left in the pen.

Soak the nib section in a clean glass of water for ten to fifteen minutes. Dry everything well and reassemble the pen. Look inside the cap to see if there are any ink stains inside. If there is a lining inside the cap, don’t try to remove it. The cap lining is usually firmly attached, and you could break it while attempting to extract it.

If the ink is still not flowing well, you may need to flush the pen. Remove the cap and the barrel. Eject the ink from the pen and fill a cup with clean water. If the pen has a converter or a built-in filling system, suck the water into the pen and then expel it through the nib. Do this several times until the water coming out of the pen is clear.

If your pen barrel serves as the reservoir, you need to rinse it out under the running tap until the water runs clear. You can also soak the converter in the same cup in which you soak the nib. Use paper toweling to dry all the parts and then reassemble them. You can also use a water-filled syringe to flush out the converter.

Hold the cap under cool running water to rinse the ink out. Then take a Q-tip, insert it into the cap, and gently turn it against the inner surface to remove all traces of ink. Then hold it under running water again to flush it out. Carefully dry the cap with a piece of paper towel.

Depending on the make of your pen, you may be able to pull the nib and feed out of the grip section. Some of them need to be screwed or twisted out, but others can just be pulled out. Always check the manufacturer’s instructions or website before removing the nib and the feed, so you don’t inadvertently damage the pen.

Kaweco fountain pens have a nib unit that unscrews, while the TWSBI Eco and Pilot Metropolitan’s nib unit can just be pulled out of the grip. The feed may be designed to fit the grip section only when inserted in a particular way. Therefore check when you take it out which way it must be reinserted. Lamy pens have a removable nib section, but the nib blade does not separate from the feed.

Disassembling the nib and feed makes deeper cleaning possible. Soak the nib blade, the feed, and the grip section in a cup of clean water. Then dry them gently and insert the nib and feed back into the grip. Be careful not to clean the nib and feed section with Q-Tips or other fibrous materials where the fibers can detach and become lodged inside.

You can buy fountain pen cleaning kits which are very useful if your pen uses cartridges. The kit usually comes with a silicone or plastic syringe with a bulb or piston on one end. The other end fits into the place where the converter usually goes. After filling it with water, attach the syringe to the grip section of the pen and expel the water through it out of the nib. It may be necessary to do this several times.

Some companies sell cleaning solutions that are specifically for use in fountain pens. If you buy one of these, follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully. You can make your own pen flush solution with one part ammonia to ten parts water and two drops of dish detergent. You can use a bulb syringe to flush the solution through the pen or use the pen’s filling system to draw it up and then express it through the nib.

You can soak the grip section of the pen in the cleaning solution but don’t allow it to stand for a period longer than that recommended by the manufacturer. You suck the solution into the pen using the converter or built-in filling system and then flush it out again through the nib. Flush the pen with clean water a few times to remove all traces of the cleaning solution, then dry it off and reassemble the pen. 

How Often Do You Need To Clean Fountain Pens?

You should clean the pen if the ink runs dry and before refilling it. Some say that you should clean it after every third refill. If you want to swap between different inks, clean the pen thoroughly before filling it with a different ink. The chemical composition of various brands and colored inks differ, and if you mix them within the pen, this can result in the formation of sediments or gels that can block the feed.

If you use pigmented, waterproof, or iron gall inks, you may need to clean the pen once a week or after it has run dry. These ink types build up more residues than standard fountain pen inks.  For most dye-based fountain pen inks, cleaning once every two months is fine. If you use several different pens, you can clean them on a rotation system.

It’s important not to leave a pen lying around with ink in it for months at a time. Fountain pen ink will dry out eventually, and it is much harder to clean a pen with dried-up ink inside it than when the ink is still wet. If you are not going to use the pen for some time, it is better to empty it of ink, wash it well, and store it in a cool, dry place.

Conclusions

To get the most out of your beautiful fountain pen, you should clean it regularly or when the ink no longer flows smoothly. How often you clean depends on how frequently you write and whether you are swapping between different colors or brands. With a bit of maintenance and care, it should last for many years.

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