Why Ballpoint Pens Dry Out (And What To Do)

I don’t know about you, but I think most people have experienced that annoying moment where you were pressed for time and needed to quickly jot something down, only to find that the pen you’d frantically been scrambling for is dried out. Why do our ballpoint pens let us down like this?

The main reason why ballpoint pens dry out is due to air exposure. When exposed to air, the ink hardens and clogs the pen’s tip. Air bubbles can form in the ink cartridge and prevent ink from flowing to the tip. Heat or cold can also alter the consistency of the ink and cause it to dry out or thicken.

 Ballpoint pens are usually very reliable, but they are not immune to drying out. Don’t go throwing the dried-out pen away, though! Here we give you a few simple tips on how you might be able to revive a dried-out ballpoint so that it’s as good as new again!

Why Do Ballpoint Pens Dry Out? 

It’s quite irritating when you’re trying to write something and end up having a whole lot of dry scribbles on the paper. The first and most obvious reason why ballpoint pens dry out and refuse to write is that they’re empty (or almost empty).

However, unfortunately, a pen with a full ink cartridge can also dry out suddenly. Why does this happen? Let’s dive into why your ballpoint pen is being dry and difficult.

1. The Ink Has Been Exposed To Air 

Most of the time, the reason for a ballpoint drying out after some time is because the ink has been exposed to air. Once air gets into the ink cartridge of the pen, it causes the ink to dry out and harden or become thicker. 

Air gets into the ink cartridge is if the pen has been left uncapped for some time or forgetting to retract the tip in the case of a retractable ballpoint pen. 

The ink inside a ballpoint is a thick, oil-based ink that can completely clog the entire cartridge and tip mechanism if it’s dried out. Thick, dried-out ink will not flow out of the pen as freely as it should, resulting in a pen that doesn’t want to write.

2. The Pen Was Exposed To Direct Sunlight

So many items we purchase today have an instruction on them that says, “keep out of direct sunlight.” Who could’ve known that the same goes for an item as simple as a ballpoint pen? 

If you’re wondering why you shouldn’t keep your pens lying around in a sunny spot of the office, it is because of the process of evaporation. 

Although ballpoint pens use oil-based ink, there is still a substantial amount of water making up the ink. When exposed to sun and heat, the water evaporates out of the ink and makes the ink too thick to flow out of the mechanism at the tip of the pen. 

3. There Is An Air Bubble In The Ink Cartridge 

Sometimes the reason your pen isn’t writing can be due to an air bubble preventing ink from flowing to the tip. To determine whether that is the case, you will need to remove the ink cartridge from the pen’s barrel. If there is an air bubble, you will notice a gap between the ink and the tip of the cartridge. 

Air bubbles usually form if the pen has been unused for some time and needs to be removed for the pen to work again. 

4. The Pen Was Stored With The Tip Upright

If you’re storing your ballpoint pens with the tips facing upwards, you may be causing unnecessary problems for yourself. Most ballpoint pens have a “ball-and-socket” mechanism that needs gravity to function correctly.

If you store the pen with the tip facing the roof, you allow gravity to push the ink away from the pen’s tip. When you want to use the pen again, you will need to wait for the ink to flow from the back of the pen towards the tip before it works again.

5. Cold Temperatures Have Affected The Ink Flow

Like too much heat can cause problems with your ballpoint pen, so can cold temperatures. You may notice that some of your pens struggle a bit during wintertime. That may be due to the ink being too cold, preventing it from flowing freely. 

The good news is that you can easily solve this problem by heating the ink. 

How To Fix A Dried-Out Ballpoint Pen

A dried-out ballpoint pen can easily be revived, depending on what is causing the problem. Below we have a few tips you can try if the problem is a clogged pen tip or air bubbles in the ink cartridge. You’ll have a working ballpoint pen in no time! 

Draw Vertical Lines Or Scribbles With Hard Pressure

If the problem is dried or hardened ink at the tip of the pen, the first thing you can do is draw a vertical line on a piece of paper while pressing down hard with the pen. You can also do this on rubber (e.g., shoe sole or eraser) or on a piece of fabric. The additional pressure should help loosen hardened or dried ink that prevents ink flow at the pen’s tip. It may take a few scribbles, so persevere until the pen writes smoothly again. 

6. Use Heat To Unclog The Tip Of The Ballpoint Pen

Heat works well to melt in and unclog the tip of a ballpoint pen that seems to be dried out. Here are a few methods to try: 

· Place The Tip Of The Pen In Boiling Water

Boil some water and pour it into a mug. Then place the ballpoint pen’s tip-down into the boiling water for about 5 minutes. Dry the pen and tip with a paper towel and test the ink flow by making some scribbles on a piece of paper.

· Use A Blow Dryer To Unclog The Ballpoint Tip

If you have a blow dryer, you can use it on a high setting for about 2 minutes to heat the pen’s nib and dislodge hardened ink. 

· Hold An Open Flame To The Tip Of The Ballpoint Pen

If you quickly want to unclog the tip of a dried-out ballpoint pen, then use a match or a lighter to create a flame and hold the tip of the pen to the flame for 2-3 seconds. Remove the cartridge to avoid melting the barrel. Allow the tip to cool down before writing. 

7. Use Alcohol To Unclog The Tip Of The Ballpoint Pen

Another way to unclog the tip of a pen is to use a bit of rubbing alcohol or acetone to dissolve hardened, thickened ink. Just pour some alcohol into a bowl and dip the tip of the pen in it for 2-3 seconds. 

8. Get Rid Of Air Bubbles

If an air bubble in the cartridge is preventing ink from flowing to the tip, you can try these tips: 

· Strike The Pen Against A Hard Surface

To get the air bubble out, strike the pen horizontally on a hard surface, e.g., a table and keep an eye on the air bubble. A few strikes should clear out the air bubble. Do not strike too hard to, or it may cause the ink to leak from the tip. 

· Shake The Pen Vigorously

If you notice an air bubble, shake the pan vigorously for a few seconds to loosen the ink and remove the air bubble. 

· Blow Into The End Opposite To The Nib

Another way to get rid of an air bubble at the tip of the ink cartridge of your ballpoint pen is by blowing into the back end of the cartridge, opposite the nib. The air should force the air bubble out and direct the ink towards the tip of the pen. 

(Note: This tip only applies to pens that do not have a cap on the end of the cartridge) 

How To Prevent A Ballpoint Pen From Drying Out

You can make your ballpoint pen last longer and prevent it from drying out by caring for it and storing it correctly.

Store Ballpoint Pens With The Tip Down

When you store your ballpoint pen with the tip down, gravity forces ink to the tip and therefore prevents air from entering the cartridge from the tip. This will prevent air bubbles and dried-out ink from clogging the pen’s tip. 

9. Store Ballpoint Pens In Airtight Bags Or Containers

Keep your pens in plastic pen cases or bags to prevent air drying out the ink. This also protects your pens from damage when carrying them around in your bag. 

10. Keep Ballpoint Pens Away From Heat

Try to store your pens in cool places away from heat or direct sunlight. As mentioned above, heat causes the evaporation of moisture in the ink and will cause your ballpoints to become thick and dry out quickly. Once the consistency of ink has been altered by prolonged exposure to heat, the chances of the pen writing smoothly again are slim. 

11. Always Replace The Cap On Your Ballpoint Pen

To prevent the ink from drying out, always remember to replace the cap on your ballpoint pen. If you have a pen with a retractable tip, be sure to do this when you’re done writing.

12. Dip The Ballpoint Pen Tip In Wax

You can prevent your ballpoint pen from drying out by dipping the tip in a bit of candle wax before you put the pen away. This applies when you won’t be using the pen for a long time. When you need to use it again, just remove the wax from the tip and enjoy smooth, even writing! 


After reading this article, you can know that you don’t have to immediately replace a ballpoint pen when it appears to be dried out. Thankfully, there are various ways to bring a dried-out ballpoint pen back to life again! 

Make your life easier and save a bit on your stationery budget by following our tips on how to store your ballpoint pens correctly. This way, you shouldn’t have to struggle with a dried-out ballpoint pen again in the near future! 

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