How to Clean a Fountain Pen

How to Clean a Fountain Pen

July 7, 2015 - Posted by Ryan to Guides, Fountain Pens

Like any well-tuned machine, fountain pens need periodic cleaning to keep them performing their best. This article will cover the basics of fountain pen cleaning, as well as some advanced techniques for experienced users.

Why Clean a Fountain Pen?
Fountain pens rely on capillary action to work. Over time, dust, fibers, and flakes of dried ink can build up in the nib and feed, disrupting the capillary action and causing the pen to write poorly. Symptoms of a pen in need of cleaning include slow or inconsistent ink flow, scratchiness, and skipping.
When to Clean a Fountain Pen?
Fountain pens should be cleaned every 4-8 weeks, even if they are still writing well. Fountain pens should also be cleaned whenever you are changing from one ink to another.
Basic Cleaning
If your pen is writing well and you will not be changing inks, a basic cleaning should be sufficient.
Step 1: Disassemble the Pen
First, uncap the pen and remove the nib section (also referred to as the grip section or just "the section") from the barrel of the pen. This is usually done by unscrewing the pen where the nib section meets the barrel.

If your fountain pen uses a cartridge or converter, remove it from the nib section. To save the ink and use it again after cleaning the pen, you can use a piece of tape to seal the opening of the cartridge or converter to keep it from drying out.

Step 2: Rinse
Hold the nib section under running water for a few seconds. This will wash off any easily removable ink and make the next step go much faster.

Use only cold or room-temperature water when cleaning a fountain pen. Hot water may warp or damage some components.

Step 3: Soak
Prepare a cup of clean water and place the nib section in it to soak. Replace the water when it becomes saturated with ink. Repeat until the water remains clean for at least an hour. Note that some inks—especially ones that have high saturation or water resistance—can take longer than others to clean out of a pen.

Regular tap water generally works fine, but distilled water may be safer if your tap water has a high mineral content.

Step 4: Dry
Remove the nib section from the water and let it dry for 12–24 hours. For best results, leave it sitting nib-down in a small cup with the nib wrapped in a soft, smooth cloth or paper towel to help draw the water out of the nib section.
Step 5: Reassemble the Pen
Once the nib section is dry, install the cartridge or converter if the pen uses one, and screw the nib section back into the barrel.

If your pen is writing poorly or if you want to change inks, we recommend flushing the pen to give it a more thorough cleaning. "Flushing" simply means forcing water through the nib section until it is clean.

If the pen has a converter or built-in filling system, use the following instructions:

Step 1
Disassemble and rinse the pen, following steps one and two of the Basic Cleaning instructions above.
Step 2
Place the open end of the converter or barrel in a cup of water. Fill and empty the ink chamber until it is clean.
Step 3
Re-attach the converter or barrel to the nib section.

Place the nib in a cup of water.

Step 4
Use the converter or built-in filling system to cycle water in and out of the pen. Repeat until no more ink is visible when pushing water out of the pen, replacing the water if it becomes saturated with ink.
Step 5
Let the nib section soak for a few hours to dissolve any remaining traces of ink.
Step 6
Dry and reassemble the pen, following steps four and five of the Basic Cleaning instructions.
Platinum Fountain Pen Ink Cleaner Kits

If the pen does not have a converter or built-in filling system but does use either Platinum or standard international ink cartridges (Diamine, J. Herbin, Kaweco, Pelikan, etc.), you can also use the above instructions, using the cleaning bulb from one of the Platinum Fountain Pen Ink Cleaner Kits instead of a converter.

(1) Unscrew the nib section from the fountain pen.
(2) Install the bulb into the nib section to clean.
Cartridge-Syringe Hack

For other cartridge fountain pens, you may be able to create an improvised cleaning syringe by cutting off the end of an empty ink cartridge and fitting it to either a bulb or Luer lock syringe, available at most drugstores. Install the cartridge-syringe assembly into the nib section and use it to flush the pen. Note that the fit between the cartridge and syringe must be airtight for this to work.

(1) Cut the end of the cartridge to create an opening.
(2) Insert the open end into the syringe.
(3) Install the cartridge into the nib section.
(4) Dip the nib section into the cup and use the syringe to draw up the water.

If this trick does not work, you can still give the pen a more thorough cleaning by combining the basic cleaning method with one or both of the following advanced techniques.

Advanced Techniques - Commercial Cleaning Solutions

Sometimes water alone isn't enough to clean out a pen completely. Several companies make cleaning solutions specifically designed for pens:

  • Step 1: Rinse and flush or soak the nib section of the pen with plain water using the instructions from the previous sections.
  • Step 2: Prepare the cleaning solution, following any instructions listed on its packaging. To make the solution last longer, transfer a few milliliters to a smaller bottle or vial to use and save the rest for future cleanings.
  • Step 3: Soak the nib section in the cleaning solution. If the pen has a converter or built-in filling system, use it to pull the cleaning solution into the nib section. Note: J. Herbin recommends soaking a pen for 5 minutes using its solution. Speedball recommends 30 minutes for its solution, and Platinum suggests soaking for up to 24 hours with its solution. In our experience, all three cleaners perform similarly, and there shouldn't be any harm in letting your pen soak for longer than the recommended time.
  • Step 4: Rinse and flush or soak the nib section with plain water. Any cleaning solution left in the pen may interfere with ink flow.
  • Step 5: Dry the nib section and reassemble the pen.
Advanced Techniques - Homemade Cleaning Solutions

You can also mix your own cleaning solution using common household cleaners:

  • Dishwashing Soap: Mixing a small amount of dishwashing soap with water will create a safe and effective pen cleaning solution.
  • Ammonia: For very tough clogs or inks that are particularly hard to clean, you can use a 10-to-1 mixture of water and ammonia. Do not use ammonia to clean aluminum, brass, or copper pen components, since ammonia can corrode these metals.
  • Bleach: If all else fails, you can try cleaning the pen with a very diluted (20-to-1 or so) mixture of water and bleach. Bleach can be damaging to some pen components, so it should only be used as a last resort. Never use ammonia and bleach together, as they will react to form toxic vapors.
Advanced Techniques - Disassembly
Disassembling the Nib Section
With some fountain pens, the nib section can be further disassembled, allowing an even more thorough cleaning. Many nibs and feeds are held in place by friction and can be simply pulled out. Be extremely careful when attempting this, and do not try to force the nib out if it feels stuck. Doing this may void any manufacturer's warranty your pen might have, and if you aren't careful, this can quickly turn your pen cleaning into a pen ruining.
Once the nib and feed have been removed from the section, rinse all three and let them soak for a few hours. Lay them out on a cloth or paper towel to dry, then slide the nib and feed back into the section and reassemble the pen.
Notable exceptions include the Lamy Safari and Al-Star pens, whose feeds cannot be safely removed. Many Kaweco fountain pens use a screw-in nib unit, with the nib and feed installed in a removable nib collar. To avoid damaging the threading on the collar or section of these pens, unscrew the entire nib unit first and then pull the nib and feed out of the collar.
Summary & Conclusion

With regular care and cleaning, a fountain pen can last a lifetime and keep on writing just as well as when it was new. Do you have any thoughts or questions about fountain pen maintenance? Leave a comment and let us know!

When to clean your fountain pen Every 4-8 weeks or whenever you are changing ink
When to do a basic cleaning If your pen is writing well and you will not be changing inks
When to flush your fountain pen If your pen is writing poorly or if you will be changing inks
Fountain pen cleaning solutions J. Herbin, Platinum, Speedball

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