Fountain Pen 101: Cleaning & Filling

Welcome back to Fountain Pen 101 and happy Fountain Pen Friday. This week, I’ll be discussing cleaning and filling your pens. However, because videos can explain cleaning WAY better than words ever can, I’ll be linking to videos for a decent portion of this post. I’ll also provide you links to good pen cleaning supplies. NOTE: The prices listed below are in USD and don’t include tax or shipping.

Cleaning is one of the down sides to fountain pens, especially if you can’t disassemble the pen. However, it is vital to preserving the quality and prolonging the life of your fountain pen.

As a rule, you should thoroughly clean your pen every time you change inks or before you store your pen for an extended period of time (think more than 2 weeks without use). If you are simply refilling your pen with the same ink (some people always use the same ink in a specific pen), then you should clean your pen every 1-2 months.

Looking for something specific? Jump around this post with these links: Tap Water vs Distilled Water | Pen Flush | Ultrasonic Cleaner | Good Tools | Cleaning Instruction | Tips & Tricks

How to Know It’s Clean

You’ll know your pen is clean when water comes through the nib clear. Don’t trust your eyes. Lightly press a paper towel to the nib. If you see any color, your pen isn’t clean yet.

dirty vs clean nib.
Notice the bit of ink on the left. The pen wasn’t quite clean. After a couple more flushes, though, no more ink. 

Tap Water vs Distilled Water

It’s perfectly okay to use tap water to clean your pen. I do, and have yet to have a problem. That said, if you have very hard water, or really, if you wouldn’t drink your tap water, you probably don’t want to clean your pens with it. Because no one has a way of knowing what your tap water is like (unless they’ve been to your house and tested it), most people will recommend cleaning your pen with distilled water. And, if you have a REALLY precious pen, distilled water is the safer option, since there aren’t any particulates to mess up your pen.

Pen Flush

Pen flush is a solution of diluted ammonia and, generally, dish soap. It’s fabulous for pens with dried ink, or particularly difficult to clean pens. I don’t know the science behind why the ingredients in pen flush were chosen. And, oddly enough, there doesn’t seem to be much about it online. Most pen flush discussions seem to focus on whether pen flush is actually necessary, and how you should NEVER clean a pen with bleach.

I have yet to use pen flush to clean a pen. Although there have been a few times I’ve wished I had some around, just to see if it would work better.

It’s possible to make your own pen flush (Google can teach you how), but unless you’re exclusively using pen flush to clean your pen, I don’t think it’s worth the hassle. Just buy a bottle from someone to have on hand.

Where to buy: Goulet Pens (8oz, $11) | Pen Chalet (8oz, $10.98 – Sale Price) | Anderson Pens (8oz, $11) | Bertram’s Inkwell (8oz, $14) NOTE: these are all different pen flushes, so you may want to try a couple to see if any of them works better for you.

Ultrasonic Cleaner

While I’ve yet to use pen flush, I adore my ultrasonic cleaner (UC). When a nib is being stubborn about releasing ink, I pop it in the UC for one or two rounds and that generally does the trick. Sadly, UCs really only work on cartridge/converter pens or pens that have a removable nib unit. You only want to put the nib unit or grip section into the UC, and even then, use your best judgement. You certainly wouldn’t want to put fragile material into a UC.

The UC I have is sadly no longer available on Amazon, but after a quick check, this one seems to be the best balance of price/reviews/quality.

Good Tools

Several tools are mentioned in the videos below, including blunt needle syringes and bulb syringes. So here are some links to pick them up. However, while the most popular syringes to fill pens are 5ml+, I prefer these 1ml syringes I found on Amazon as you’re less likely to overfill a pen.

Bulb Syringe: Amazon ($4.58) | Goulet Pen Co. ($4) | Pen Chalet ($4) | Anderson Pens ($2.25) | iPenStore ($2.97)

Syringe: Goulet Pen Co. (2x5ml, $5) | Pen Chalet (1x10ml, $2.50) | Anderson Pens (2x5ml, $4.50) | Vanness (2x10ml, $5) | JetPens (1x3ml, $250) | iPenStore (2x5ml, $2.97)

Cleaning Kit: Goulet Pen Co. ($17.90) | iPenStore ($19.97) NOTE: These kits contain different items.

Cleaning Instruction

Like I promised, here are some good videos to watch if you need help cleaning or filling your pen. Generally, with built-in ink reservoirs the way you clean your pen is the same way you fill it. I suppose, technically, the same can apply for cartridge/converter pens, but it depends on precisely how you’re cleaning your pen.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a good video on cleaning sac/bladder reservoir pens. If anyone knows of one, please leave me the link in the comments so I can add it. Having never owned a sac/bladder pen, I can only assume that, like other pens, you can clean them the same way you fill them, and, if you can remove the nib unit, it will be easier to clean

Overview with Cartridge/Converter Pens

This video covers general pen maintenance. If you want to jump straight to cleaning, it starts at the 7:25 timestamp.

Keep in mind that eyedropper pens were once cartridge/converter pens, so you clean them in the same way. You just have to make sure to really clean out the body of the pen. And double check the water-tightness when you’re done cleaning. You don’t want a leaky pen.

Piston Fill Pens

Some piston-fill pens have removable nib units. If so, I find it easier to remove the nib unit and clean it using one of the tricks below, then clean out the ink reservoir using a syringe, and re-assemble the pen.

Vacuum Fill Pens

While this video is technically about the TWSBI Vac Mini, the information applies to most vacuum fill pens.

Tips & Tricks

Brian Goulet offers these two tricks for cleaning pens faster. However, Jim stumbled across an even faster method for pens with removable nib units (see below).

Rather than modify a cartridge, Jim discovered that the nub of a nib unit fits right into the top of a 5ml syringe. NOTE: Click the images to view them larger.

GIF showing how to connect a nib unit and to a syringe.

I’ve found that cleaning goes faster if you suck the water through the nib, then remove the nib from the syringe to discharge the water. It generally only takes 2-4 syringes full.

GIF showing how to clean a nib unit connected to a syringe.

That’s a wrap! Did I miss anything you wanted to know about? Do you have any thoughts about pen cleaning? Let me know in the comments, and come back next week to discuss paper.

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