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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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).
- Put the pen back together
Reassemble the pen carefully and replace the ink cartridge / converter if you removed it.
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.
- 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!
- 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.
- Keep flushing
Do this a few times until the water being flushed through the nib is clear.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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!
- 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.
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!