How to clean a fountain pen

If you’re looking for a detailed guide on cleaning a clogged fountain pen, you’re in the right place!

It’s only a matter of time before the ink in your fountain pen doesn’t flow quite as smoothly or starts to skip as you’re sketching, leaving white space where there should be lovely ink. When this happens, it’s handy to know how to clean a fountain pen!

Tiny hairs, bits of dust and other debris can gradually work its way into your pen’s insides and once lodged in there, encourage other bits to stick to them. Sooner or later, the ink can’t flow very well past these blockages.

More specialist inks such as drawing inks, waterproof inks and ultra-dark or intense inks can hasten the need for a clean. This is largely because such inks often have tiny suspended particles that, once the ink has dried, make the ink more opaque (because you can’t see the paper through the particles). These particles can get stuck in your pen and require a bit of encouragement to leave. The ink must flow!

Warning: Before you begin

All pens are different. Some have removable ink reservoirs, cartridges or converters and some don’t. Some have removable nib sections and some don’t. Some have removable nibs and some don’t. If you’re not sure you can remove it, don’t force it or you could destroy your pen! Clean your pen at your own risk. I can’t be held responsible for any damage you might do to your pen whilst cleaning.

Basic fountain pen cleaning

If you only use the more common water-soluble inks in your pen, you’ll be pleased to know that it’s pretty easy to clean your pen. Just follow the steps below but first, please read the important note above!

  1. Take the fountain pen apart (see note above)
    Unscrew the barrel of the pen and remove the ink cartridge or converter. If possible, remove the nib section from the barrel and again, if possible, remove the nib. The Lamy Safari enables you to remove the nib by gently holding it at the sides and then sliding it forwards.
  2. Soak the pen in warm water
    Soak the parts in a bowl of warm water for one to two hours. You don’t want to use hot water for this because it could warp the fine metal parts of your pen or even cause some brittle plastics to rapidly expand and crack. Just warm water will do.
  3. Swish water through the pen
    While the parts are soaking, swish the nib sections backwards and forwards to encourage water flow through the section. Be careful not to swish so much that tiny parts such as nibs are sloshed out of the bowl!
  4. Dry the parts
    Put some good quality kitchen roll on a plate and gently place the parts on the kitchen roll to dry for at least twelve hours. The idea of the plate is to stop parts rolling off somewhere. If your pen is very special to you, use a microfiber cloth instead of kitchen towel to reduce the risk of fine scratches to your pen. (My pen is a drawing tool so I’m never that careful).
  5. Put the pen back together
    Reassemble the pen carefully and replace the ink cartridge / converter if you removed it.

Advanced cleaning

If you regularly use specialists inks then you may have to take some additional steps to restore your pen’s flow as the fine particles require more shifting.

  1. Clean your fountain pen using the steps above
    Follow the basic cleaning steps above to clean the easy to remove ink from your fountain pen. Don’t dry or reassemble the pen at the end though – you’re not done yet!
  2. Flush the pen
    Using a fine syringe or specialist cleaning bulb, gently force warm water through the pen. Be careful not to force the syringe into the cartridge space of the pen as you can easily damage the collar that holds the cartridge in place.
  3. Keep flushing
    Do this a few times until the water being flushed through the nib is clear.
  4. Clean the nib section
    If you can remove the nib, use a soft toothbrush to gently brush the channels in the nib holder to remove any particles. Repeat the process for the underside of the nib holder.
  5. Dry the pen
    As explained in the basic steps above, leave the pen components to dry on good kitchen towel or a microfiber cloth for twelve hours or so.
  6. Put the pen back together
    Reassemble the pen and replace the ink cartridge or converter to test if ink flow has been restored.

Fanatical cleaning (if all else fails)

If ink flow still hasn’t been restored after following the advanced steps above, you may need to resort to more specialist methods. There are two options here:

  1. Using a specialist cleaning fluid
    There are a number of different fluids available that are more effective that water alone when trying to soak out those dried up old inks. They’re formulated to be as safe as is possible for the majority of pens out there, be they plastic, plastic and metal or pure metal so they’re certainly worth considering if your pen is particularly valuable.It’s a good idea to use a small glass or container to soak the pen in though – as you’re paying for the fluid, you don’t want to waste it!
  2. Ultrasonic cleaning
    Just as you can clean jewelry using an ultrasonic bath, you can do the same with a fountain pen… apparently.As the pen soaks, the ultrasonic bath uses ultrasonic sound to shake the debris loose.I’ll be honest here – I’ve only read about this method and I’ve also read posts that it could be risky using ultrasonic on some pens. I recommend that if you’re going to go down this route that you thoroughly research the risks and try to find out if your model of pen is suitable for such cleaning.

Conclusion

A good pen is a precision engineered writing (well, drawing in this site’s case) tool and like all tools, it needs to be maintained by regular and careful cleaning.

I hope the tips above will help you to keep your pen in full working order!

8 Replies to “How to clean a fountain pen

  1. Hey,

    Interesting article.

    I have had a fountain pen for years but never ever bothered to clean it or maintain it. After reading your article I am definitely going to start following your instructions.

    Thanks for sharing and all the best,

    Tom

    1. Thanks Tom, I appreciate your comment.

      If you use ‘normal’ water-soluble inks and never give your pen chance to dry up, you can get away with never cleaning your pen. 🙂

      Cleaning is a must if you don’t use the pen regularly or you use the more specialist inks though.

  2. Het Phil!

    Great post! I am an ink pen lover and always seek out the nicest writing gear. My preferred everyday pen at this time is made by TUL. Now I know thanks to you hoe to care and get a little extra mileage out of them.Thanks!

    1. Thanks for your comment Steve.
      I’ll have to take a look at the TUL range of pens. I’ve never had the chance to try one!

  3. This is a great resource for fountain pen cleaning! My father is a big fountain pen fan. I could never get the hang of writing with a fountain pen, but he loves writing with them. As a child, I remember him treasuring the pens and telling me about how they were passed along in the family. They are wonderful tools to write with!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Melinda.
      One of the benefits of a good fountain pen is its longevity. If they’re looked after, they can last for years, even decades!
      Sadly, I don’t have any particularly old pens which is a pity – some of them make wonderful drawing pens.

  4. What an unusual website,I’m sure there are lots of people that will only use fountain pens to write with, so this site will be beneficial to those people.Sadly letter writing isn’t used much anymore with the advent of emails,facebook,twitter etc.It really is a lost art, well done on the content of your site.
    Regards
    Fintan

    1. Sadly, I agree, it seems the art of writing is dying out. Fortunately there is a growing group of people dedicated to keeping the art of fine-writing alive.
      And then there’s people like me that draw with pens instead (but I assure you, I can also write). 🙂

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