Unlike disposable pens, fountain pens are built to last. But, if you’ve read any of our posts on fountain pens, you know you need to clean them to keep them writing smooth. Today I’m going to go over some basics, like why you should clean your fountain pens, how to keep a fountain pen clean, and some good tips for fountain pen maintenance. So let’s talk about how to clean fountain pens.
You can find our other fountain pen posts here.
Table of Contents
- Why Clean Fountain Pens?
- When To Clean a Fountain Pen?
- Basic Fountain Pen Cleaning Technique
- How to Flush a Fountain pen
- Tools For Cleaning Fountain Pens
- Advanced Cleaning Techniques
- Fountain Pen Cleaning Solution Options
- General Fountain Pen cleaning Tips and Tricks
- More Fountain Pen Resources
Why Clean Fountain Pens?
So to start off, let’s talk about why cleaning a fountain pen is a good idea. Fountain pens works via capillary action which is the process of a liquid flowing in a narrow space in opposition to external forces like gravity. You can think about a paper towel sucking up liquid from a spill. This is how the ink flows across the nib to the tip and onto the page. You can see more of how fountain pens work Here.
Over time, paper fibers, dust, and dried ink clumps will build up within the feed and nib, which disrupts this capillary action, causing the ink to flow improperly or possibly not write at all. You can tell if your pen needs to be cleaned is if the ink flow is inconsistent, the ink runs slowly, the pen feels scratchy on the page, or if the ink skips.
When To Clean a Fountain Pen?
On average, fountain pens need to be cleaned about every 1 to 2 months even if they’re writing well. Or whenever you change inks. This is to keep the inks from mixing inside the pen and causing muddy colors or the inks reacting badly with each other. This is especially possible if you’re using special inks like waterproof options or quick-drying types.
Here are a few different cleaning techniques and when you may want to choose each one.
- When your pen is writing well
- And you aren’t changing the type of ink
Flush Your Pen:
- When your pen is not writing well
- Or you are changing types of ink
Clean the Nib Section
- You want a thorough clean
- It’s been a significant amount of time since your last cleaning
- You used high-maintenance inks
Now finally, let’s get into how to clean fountain pens.
Basic Fountain Pen Cleaning Technique
The basic cleaning technique should be enough when your pen is still writing well, and you aren’t going to be changing the type of ink.
Step 1: Disassemble the Pen
- A. Remove the pen cap.
- B. Unscrew the nib (sometimes called the section or grip section) from the barrel. Remove the converter or cartridge if you have a fountain pen with one. If your cartridge is empty, you can throw it away. If you would like to reuse it, you can try refilling it with a syringe. For more help you can check out our fountain pen filling system guide Here.
Step 2: Rinse
With cool, running water from the faucet, rinse the nib section until the water runs clear. This washes off the surface ink.
Step 3: Soak
If your pen is relatively new, or has been well taken care of, you may be able to skip this step. However, if you want to be thorough or your pen is well-used, you can fill a cup with clean water to soak the section.
When the water becomes filled with ink, replace it with fresh water. Continue changing out the water until the it stays clean for an hour. Some inks—like water-resistant or highly saturated ones—may take longer to fully clean out.
Step 4: Dry
Finally, dry out the section completely. A great way to dry it out is to put it nib down in a cup or small container filled with a paper towel or soft cloth to let gravity help pull the water out. You can also simply let the section rest on a paper towel but this may take longer. This could take up to 24 hours.
Step 5: Reassemble
When the section is completely dry, you can install a new converter or cartridge depending on your pen type. Then simply screw the barrel back on.
How to Flush a Fountain pen
If you are changing inks or your pen isn’t writing well, you should flush your pen to ensure a thorough clean. “Flushing” refers to forcing water through each section. This is more for pens with a built-in filling system or converter as rinsing or running under water won’t completely clean them.
To be honest, even flushing the mechanisms won’t get them looking absolutely spotless, but they will be much better off and will keep them running more smoothly.
Step 1: Disassemble and Rinse
Disassemble your pen and rinse it by following the first two steps from the instructions above for cartridge pens.
Step 2: Flush the Filling System
Fill the chamber with clean water as if you were filling it with ink. Then empty it. Continue until clean. You may need to replace the water to ensure a thorough clean. Or, you can choose to empty the dirty ink in a separate glass.
Step 3: Partially Assemble
Attach the barrel or converter to the nib to prepare to flush the feed of the pen.
Step 4: Flush the Feed
In a new cup clean of water, submerged the nib and use the filling system or converter to cycle water through the the nib and filling system. Repeat filling and unfilling until the water runs clear when exiting the pen. Make sure you replace the water every few times so it doesn’t become too inky.
You can also release your rinsed water into a separate cup to avoid getting ink into your clean water.
Step 5: Soak the Section
Finally, soak the nib in a cup of water as we did in the basic cleaning. Allow it to sit for at least a few hours to help dissolve the ink left inside. You can also soak the converter or filling mechanism to get any stubborn ink.
Step 6: Dry and Reassemble
Lasty, let dry completely either on a paper towel or in a cup with paper towels or a cloth as we did in the basic cleaning. This will take around 24 hours. Then finally, reassemble as usual, and fill with your next ink of choice.
Tools For Cleaning Fountain Pens
Fountain pen cleaning tools can be extremely helpful if your pen doesn’t have either a filling system or converter. Usually these are pipettes that attach as a converter would or a syringe, helping you to properly flush your pen.
These are great to clean all of your pens at one time because a pipette or syringe can hold more water than standard converters and takes less time to fully clean.
At-Home Cleaning Hacks
If you don’t want to buy a kit, or can’t find one that works with your fountain pen, you can attempt to hack a cleaning system with household items or those you can get easier than a fountain pen cleaning kit. The easiest hack is using an empty ink cartridge along with a syringe to help flush any ink out.
But note, you’ll need to airtight fit with the syringe and cartridge. You may need to try a few different items like a pipette or different syringe or plunger-type item to get it to work.
Follow the steps below to get started.
1. First, create an opening in the cartidge by cutting the end that does not insert into the pen.
2. Attach the cartridges cut end to the opening of the syringe. Make sure you create a tight seal so water does not escape from the cartridge.
3. Insert the cartridge into the pen as you normally would with a full ink cartridge. Then place the nib in a cup of clean water.
4. Draw water up into the syringe and depress the syringe to flush the pen clean.
If you don’t have a syringe, you can also use a pipette which are typically cheaper and easier, especially from household items . Simply trim the pipette’s opening to match cartridge width. Then, using the same technique as above, flush your pen.
Fountain Pen Cleaning Kits
Now that we’ve talked about items you can typically find at home let’s get into cleaning kits you can buy ready to go. These kits usually include a pipette, syringe, or an attachment similar to a cartridge.
Before buying a kit, check your pen and the kit carefully to make sure they are compatible. Here are the basic steps to using a cleaning kit. In the photos below, we are cleaning a Kaweco Sport with the Platinum Fountain Pen Ink Cleaner Kit.
1. Remove the converter or cartridge and insert the bulb into the section.
2. Clean the nib and section by flushing water through the pen.
|Sailor Fountain Pen Maintenance Kit||Sailor fountain pens only|
|Point Fountain Pen Cleaning Kit||Most pens that accept international short size cartridges|
|Platinum Fountain Pen Ink Cleaner Kit – Japanese Model||Platinum fountain pens only|
|Platinum Fountain Pen Ink Cleaner Kit – European Model||Most pens that accept international short size cartridges|
|Kaweco Cleaning Syringe||Most pens that accept international short size cartridges|
Advanced Cleaning Techniques
How to Clean a Fountain Pen Cap
Fountain pen caps are essential for keeping the ink from drying out, but ink can often get stuck between the inner cap and the main outer cap. With some ingenuity, it’s possible to remove some inner caps to help clean the ink.
However, some inner caps are not removable and prying them off could damage your cap and make your pen almost useless.
Step 1: Create a Tool
To create a tool to help remove the inner cap, you’ll need a rubber band and an unsharpened pencil. Loop the rubber band around the end of the pencil. If you use the eraser end, the metal, called a ferrule, could scratch the cap. Make sure to hold the rubber band taught, but you don’t need to stretch the rubber band.
For some pen caps, this may not be wide enough. If you find it’s the next steps aren’t working, try looping another rubber band on top of the first to widen the tool.
Step 2: Insert the Tool into the Cap
Insert the pencil with the rubber band into the cap. Gently twist the pencil until you feel the rubber band catch the walls of the inner cap.
Step 3: Pull out the Inner Cap
To remove the inner cap, gently tug the pencil out. It should come out easily, so don’t force it.
Step 4: Clean the Cap
With the inner cap out, rinse with running water or take a wet cotton swab to clean the inside of the cap. Before reassembling, dry both the inner and outer cap thoroughly. Remember to push the inner cap all the way to the top of the cap to ensure proper placement.
How to Clean a Converter
Some converters can be disassembled (Schmidt K5 and LAMY Z 28, for example). This lets you clean any ink stuck within the piston. Follow the steps below to clean your converter.
Step 1: Remove the Piston Ring
To remove the piston ring, first twist the converter’s knob in clockwise and pull the piston completely up. Then using a firm grip or a grippy material grasp the metal ring on the converter. Now to remove the ring, twist counterclockwise.
Step 2: Remove the Piston and Clean
To bring the piston mechanism out completely, pull on the converter’s knob gently. Then clean the chamber by rinsing, using the steps above, or wipe out with a q-tip. Then let dry completely for at least 24 hours.
Step 3: Apply Silicone Grease
Optionally, you may want to apply a tiny amount of silicone grease to the piston. This keeps it from sticking and helps it run smoothly.
Step 4: Reassemble the Converter
Now you just need to reassemble. First, insert the piston into the tube firmly. And finally, replace the piston ring piston. Keep in mind that some rings (namely LAMY converters) need a squeeze to help fit it properly. Just remember not to for any piece or you risk breakage.
How to Clean a Fountain Pen Nib
Some types of fountain pens allow for further disassembling of the nib. This allows for even better cleaning. It’s an especially useful technique if you use high-maintenance inks like pigment-based ones, glitter, or iron gall.
To clean the pen, you’ll need to detach the cartridge or converter before removing the feed and nib.
Be careful when disassembling the nib as it’s very delicate. Trying to pry or force the metal pieces could lead to bending the metal, which will make the pen unable to write properly and could void the warranty if your pen has one. You may also break the metal which will obviously ruin your pen.
Read more about How to Choose a Fountain Pen Nib.
Feeds and nibs are installed either by a collar or by friction. For pens screwed in with a removable nib (like the Kaweco fountain pens), simply unscrew the nib unit first to avoid damaging the section or the threading on the collar. Then, pull the feed and nib from the collar.
Friction-fitted fountain pens like the TWSBI ECO and Pilot Metropolitan have feeds and nibs that easily pull out. The feed and nib may need to be positioned in a specific way within the grip section so check before you disassemble.
When the feed and nib are removed, rinse them all under running water and then let them soak just as we’ve done in other cleaning techniques, ideally for a few hours. Then, simply lay them out to dry on a paper towel or cloth. After they’re completely dry, replace the feed and nib in the section and carefully reassemble.
Fountain Pen Cleaning Solution Options
Store-Bough Fountain Pen Solutions
Many times, especially if you use high-maintenance inks, water is not enough to completely clean a pen. Cleaning solutions are available to specifically help clean out fountain pens. If you opt for using a solution, the following basic steps will help:
- Step 1: Using the basic cleaning instructions above, soak or rinse and flush the nib section of the pen with clean water.
- Step 2: Follow the instructions on the packaging of your specific cleaning solution to prepare it for use. to avoid wasting the solution (and having more ready to go for future cleanings), put a few milliliters in another bottle for use this time and store the rest in an empty vial.
- Step 3: Following the specific instructions for your solution, soak your rinsed nib section in the solution. If your pen has a filling system or converter, you can suck the cleaning solution up through the nib to clean in there as well. Follow the steps above for flushing your pen for more help. In my experience, you can let your pen soak longer than the recommended time on your solution packaging. It won’t harm your pen in any way.
- Step 4: Using clean water, soak or flush and rinse (or a combination of the two) all sections you cleaned with the solution. If any solution left in the pen it will interfere with the ink flow of the pen so make sure you do a thorough job with this.
- Step 5: Let each section dry completely using the techniques above, such as laying out on a paper towel or sitting upright in a glass surrounded by towels.
- Step 6: Finally, reassemble and fill with your new ink.
Homemade Cleaning Solutions
For at-home solutions, common household cleaners can be great for cleaning your fountain pens. However, never use acetone or rubbing alcohol to clean your fountain pens. They can irreversibly damage your pen. In my opinion, the best option for at-home supplies is simply dishwashing liquid.
Dishwashing Liquid is definitely the most accessible option for most people as we all have it in our homes. Mix a drop or two with water and clean using the solution technique above.
If a mild dishwashing soap doesn’t work, you can always try the next two options. However, they should be used with caution as they have the potential for damaging some components.
- Bleach: Clean your pen with a diluted mixture of water to bleach(about a 20-1 ratio). Don’t soak pen parts in a bleach mixture for long periods of time to avoid possible damage.
- Ammonia: For particularly difficult clogs or difficult-to-clean inks that are particularly hard to clean, try a 10-to-1 mixture of water and ammonia. Do not use ammonia on copper, brass, aluminum pen components, since ammonia will corrode these metals.
And most importantly, never mis bleach and ammonia, as they toxic vapors that are life-threatening.
General Fountain Pen cleaning Tips and Tricks
- Only use room temperature or cold water when cleaning any fountain pen. Hot water can warp some parts of the pen, especially the smaller plastic pieces.
- If you have hard tap water with a high mineral content it’s recommended to use distilled or softened water to clean fountain pens. Hard water can leave behind minerals in the feed or barrel which will cause ink flow problems.
- If your fountain pen has ink stains on the converter or barrel, the Sailor Shikiori Doyou may be able to help remove the stains. For this method, first, clean the pen as normal and fill the pen with the Shikiori Do you ink. Leave the pen to sit overnight, and then flush the ink out of the pen and clean once again. This may not work, but it could be a good last-ditch effort if all else fails.
- Specialty fountain pen inks like shimmering inks, pigmented inks, and iron gall are not harmful to pens. However, they can become clogged or may start to have issues writing if you leave these inks in the pen for a week or longer without writing. I recommend flushing the pen flushing the pen if you are going to be leaving these inks in your pens for a long period to avoid cleaning issues down the road.
- If you are performing a basic cleaning of your fountain pen and want to save the ink in the cartridge or converter, use a piece of tape to seal the opening of the cartridge or converter to keep it from drying out.
And that’s it! That’s how to clean fountain pens. Remember that with regular cleaning a fountain pen can last a lifetime while continuing to write as well as the day you bought it. If you have questions about maintenance for your fountain pen make sure to leave me a comment down below.
More Fountain Pen Resources
- The Beginner’s Guide to Fountain Pens
- How Fountain Pens Work
- Fountain Pen Filling Systems Explained
- How to Write with a Fountain Pen
You can also find all of our other fountain pen guides Here.