How to clean a fountain pen nib – Proper fountain pen care

uncapped iridium point fountain pen

If you are a proud owner of a fountain pen, you would want to give it the proper care and maintenance it deserves and it will pay dividends by giving that smooth, easy feel of writing as the first day you purchased it. There really is not much in the way of fountain pen care and maintenance but there are a few simple things to look out for.

If you happen to wonder about how to clean a fountain pen nib or rather the fountain pen, it’s not that you have to take it out and oil or polish it but it does require a bit more consideration than you would accord a ballpoint pen.  You really won’t be washing the nib specifically since running water through the section would be sufficient.  Read on to find out how to clean your fountain pen thoroughly.

Washing your pen

When you have exhausted the ink in your pen, it will definitely become obvious as in the case of a ballpoint pen, the ink trail will start to thin out and break. You won’t need to disassemble your pen to check if there is ink left in the reservoir. Unless of course, you suspect your pen is faulty.

No matter the type of ink receptacle, washing out the nib is the same. I will go into a bit more detail about cleaning converters below.

  1. Disassemble the pen and this might seem obvious but if you lay the parts on a flat surface, make sure they are on a piece of cloth or at least set in place so that they don’t roll off the surface you put them on. The last thing you would want would be having the case scratched.
  2. Run the section with the nib under a slow stream of cool water till the water runs clear. Do not use soap or hot water as these could damage the internal pen mechanism. In any case, fountain pen ink is water-soluble (most kinds) so using any sort of cleaning agent is not necessary.
  3. For a thorough clean, you can even soak the section in water for a while to completely remove all the ink inside. This prevents ink from drying on the fins if you intend to fill your fountain pen with a different ink or if you don’t intend to use it for a while.
  4. When drying your fountain pen, ideally would dry it with a lint-less cloth soft cloth or tissue paper. Try to avoid using microfiber cloths as the fibers could be trapped in the nibs or fins and would cause clogging.

Next, I will go over some brief points about cleaning the ink Disassemble or converters of your pens. Most modern pens usually use a screw-in converter but I have seen some Parker and Mont Blanc models using piston converters.

Screw type converters

Usually, I would fill them with water like you would draw ink into the converter. Except in the case of cleaning it, you would be turning it counter clockwise to expel the water again. Repeat several times until the water inside the converter is clear. Or if opaque, the water expelled is clear.

Remember to let it dry completely before storing it or assembling your fountain pen so that the interior stays dry. If you are refilling the converter with the same type of ink, there is no need to wash it between refills. Though of course if you use your pen regularly, it would be best to wash it a couple of times each year.

I know of some people who fill their converters with different brands/colours of inks between uses and though I don’t do this, it does yield some interesting colours. I would say in general that you should proceed with caution if you want to try this as some inks lose their special characteristics or an unexpected chemical reaction could take place and clog or even damage your pen. If you should want to experiment, I would say a rule of thumb would be to mix only the same brand of inks together.

Pump or piston type converters

Much like the case of screw type converters, fill the sac with clean, cool water and for pump converters, depress the sac fully to expel the water. Do not use warm or hot water here again as you could risk vulcanizing the rubber sac. Piston-type converters function very similar to screw type converters, simply push the plunger down to expel the water. Fill and flush till the water runs clear.

Another way to ensure that the fins hidden in the grip section of the fountain pen are free of ink is to use the converter to flush water through it. When doing this, you can draw water with the nib on or just with the converter alone. Then press the piston or turn the screw type converter counter clockwise to run water through the nib.

Storing your pens

When not using your pens, you would need to ensure they are stored properly as well. This isn’t as complicated or troublesome as I probably made it sound so don’t worry! A few things to note though, when storing them, I try to ensure that they will not be in contact with any other hard material, including other pens. This is because the fountain pen casing or barrel could be scratched. You wouldn’t want to find your beloved pen with unintended score marks!

“Inked” or pens filled with ink

For inked pens, there seems to be a clean divide on people who store them nib up or horizontally. The rationale for storing them nib up is that any excess ink inside the pen (or in the fins) will flow back into the converter and not dry inside the pen mechanism. On the flip side though, because there is no ink or less ink in the fins when you start using it again, it might take a moment to get the ink flowing again.

If this happens, simply brush the tines gently or dip the pen into the ink bottle again. The capillary action will draw the ink from the converter into the nib and you’re good to go. For those who store them nib up, I’ve seen a re purposed test tube holder used to store pens as well.

Storing them horizontally is fine as well. I don’t personally have any bad experience with this storage method. In fact, this is how all my pens are currently stored.

“Uninked” or unfilled pens

For pens which I am storing, I actually keep the box they come with when I bought them (or any other packaging) and keep them inside a drawer. Of course this takes up more space but I think some boxes really complement the pen well and they make my collection very stackable.

If your pen came in a leather or cloth bag, it is perfectly fine leaving them inside as well. I have even seen a collector’s pen come in a glass case before.

Traveling with your pen

I haven’t had any negative experience traveling with my fountain pens on the road but one caveat is if you plan to bring them with you on flights. Should you choose to do this, definitely store them nib up as the decreased pressure on board a plane will force the air in the converter out. If there happens to be any ink in the fins or the nib, it will very possibly leak out of the pen and into the cap!

It really depends your mileage may vary (pun unintended) carrying your fountain pen with you on the plane but the safest thing to do would be to empty it first. That way you wouldn’t have to worry about this occurring. And yes, you can empty the ink back into the original ink pot to avoid wasting it.

Parting thoughts

Fountain pen care and maintenance really isn’t rocket science. Well, the closest it gets to that is most probably flying with it! But do share your thoughts and experiences with caring for your pen. Do you have any other tips to offer or any stories about bring your fountain pen around with you? Do let us know in the comments!

Jaron

www.fountainpensonline.com

About the author

Jaron is a self-confessed idealist who is passionate about fountain pens, badminton, jogging, nature and food. When not blogging, he can be found watching videos on YouTube or reading.

Comments

  1. Hi Jaron,
    Great article.
    I love the in-depth look at caring for a fountain pen.
    I use them often but seem to have to replace them frequently, as a result of pressing too hard when writing.
    What do you recommend to those who press too hard when using fountain pens?

    Thank you

    1. Hi Theresa! Thanks for stopping by and I am glad to hear that you are a regular fountain pen user! When writing with fountain pens you won’t really need to use much force when writing usually and applying lighter pressure than what you would when using a ballpoint pen should be fine.

      If you are pressing down too hard, I would recommend using a medium nib if you aren’t already as I’m guessing you might be trying to make a clearer mark on the paper. Another thing you could think of is using a flexible nib which would have more allowance to greater pressure though your script might be a bit different!

  2. This is a great article. It’s something I’ve never actually thought about and this is explained with such great technical clarity. I never knew that about having to store a fountain pen nib up when flying, I’m glad you mention it as I’m sure it’s something that most people wouldn’t think of. Fascinating.

    I had a fountain pen when I was at junior school and I remember loving it because it felt so grown up and it was my first proper grown up thing. I think using fountain pens is something that is a bit of a dying art, so I’m glad that you’ve written this post and brought it to peoples attention again.

    What do you like to use your fountain pens for in particular? Is there any particular brand or model you favour?

    1. Thank you for your comment! I think writing is almost a bit of a dying art (with everything going digital) let alone fountain pens. 🙂 I’m glad you have such sentiments about this post.

      I actually usually use my pens when I know I will be writing a bit longer and not just a short note. I suppose that is so that I can savour it. To be very specific, I favour the Waterman Harmony. I feel a great deal of affinity for the brand but I also have a great deal of sentiment towards this particular model. Stay tuned for when I talk about specific brands and models!

  3. Hi, Jaron this is an amazing article one of the best post I have come across. It truly is inspiring and admirable seeing people talk about different passions. I would’ve loved to learn how to write with a fancy fountain pen. I know about ball pens if I even said that term correctly. It is a good feeling writing with a nice pen though. I really like the way you explain the proper care for your pen to traveling with it. Thank you again for this interesting article 🙂

    1. Hi Viviana! I think my earlier reply may have gotten lost somewhere so I hope you are not getting duplicate notifications. 🙂 It really is a different experience writing with a fountain pen. Entry fountain pens aren’t all that expensive and you could pick one up and let me know how it goes!

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