How to clean a fountain pen – A guide

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How to clean an old fountain pen

If you use and collect vintage fountain pens, you’ve probably tried to clean one at some stage, or at least wondered how to do it.

Cleaning old fountain pens can be a very messy affair, but if like us you love old pens, then it is something of a necessary evil, especially if you want to prolong the life and preserve the usage of the pen.

In short, here’s how to clean old fountain pens:

  1. Remove old ink cartridges if possible
  2. Remove nib and feed if possible
  3. Soak nib and assembly in cold, clean water for anywhere between 20 mins and two days, depending on the scale of the problem
  4. Rinse under cold running water
  5. Dry as thoroughly as possible with a lint-free cloth or towel
  6. You’re done!

Why do fountain pens need cleaning?

Pen manufacturers generally recommend cleaning fountain pens between each ink refill as best practice. Fountain pens are susceptible to picking up flecks of dust and dirt, which can clog the nib and lead to ink spills, blockages, and malfunctioning pens. Mould and oxidisation of the nib can also occur in older vintage fountain pens.

Ink can dry out in the nib if the pen is not stored correctly between uses. We advise that fountain pens should be stored with the cap on and the writing point up, to avoid it drying out. If you are not using your pen for a longer period, then ideally you should store your fountain pen in the original case or covering. This can help to avoid scratches and damage to the barrel of the pen. For more info about common fountain pen mistakes, check out this great video.

How to clean an old fountain pen

Cleaning a vintage fountain pen can often be a complicated and tricky procedure. It all depends on the type of fountain pen that you own, what kind of mechanism the pen has, the condition of the pen and how long it has been since it was last cleaned.

First things first, you’ll need to get ready and prepare an area in which to clean your pen.

Top tip: Wear old clothes or something that you don’t mind getting some ink on. We’ll be honest, this could get messy!

You’ll need some water, so the kitchen or utility room is often the best place to clean out your fountain pen. Putting down some old newspaper on your surfaces can help absorb any spillages.

How to clean a fountain pen with a removable nib

Cleaning fountain pen nibs that can be fully removed from the pen are probably the easiest type of pen to clean, as you can simply detach the nib section and place it in cool water to soak. After about 20 minutes, flush the nib through under lightly running water. This should remove any old or clogged ink.

You could also buy a bulb syringe to help you flush water through the mechanism – but be sure that you have a good seal, otherwise water (and ink) will squirt back at you! If you get it right, the water will flow through the nib and force the old ink out.

Be sure to dry the nib thoroughly using a soft cloth or old towel. Then reassemble the pen and add new ink as necessary.

Cleaning cartridge and converter fountain pens

Some of the more modern fountain pens have removable sections that can be cleaned. If you have one of these types of fountain pen, then remove the cartridge or converter and flush the nib and grip section under gently running water.

Converter fountain pens can be flushed out by drawing water up through the nib and forcing the water out.

If you’re unable to draw any water through, you might need to give the assembly a good long soak first.

You will need to keep flushing the pen out until all of the ink has gone and the water runs clear.

Once the pen is clean, lightly blow air through the nib section to remove any water, then dry the nib and grip section thoroughly with a cloth or towel.

We recommend leaving the pen to dry overnight before putting it back together and refilling with ink.

Cleaning dip pen nibs and older fountain pens

If your fountain pen has a fixed nib that is not easily removed from the body of the pen, then soaking it upright is really the only way to clean it. Most vintage fountain pen filling systems, including piston fillers, will need to be cleaned this way.

As you can’t soak the nib properly, it will often take considerable time to get a pen clean. You can leave the pen propped upright with just the nib part submerged overnight or even over the course of a few days, if necessary.

At the very least, you’ll probably have to fill and flush your pen out multiple times with clean water before you get all of the ink out of the nib and feed.

WARNING – if your pen has a joint between the nib section and the body, then keep the water level below the joint so that water does not seep into the body of the pen.

Can all fountain pens be cleaned with water?

The answer is no. Some modern pens will be fine if rinsed with cool water, however, the same cannot be said for vintage fountain pens. Our advice is that if you’re not sure then please don’t try this at home as you can end up damaging the pen instead of cleaning it.

Fountain pens that have metal parts such as caps and clips should only have limited water exposure. While it may be safe to quickly rinse them, you’ll need to ensure that they are completely dry so that rust does not occur. Do not use warm or hot water as this can discolour your pen.

WARNING – Some materials should have strictly no exposure to water. For example, hard rubber, casein, and any natural lacquers – materials which are typically found on vintage fountain pens – should NOT be cleaned with water.

Cleaning a fountain pen with dried ink

Cleaning a fountain pen nib with stubborn dried ink can be particularly troublesome. If you have some cash to splash, you could fork out for an ultrasonic cleaner. These work by vibrating water at a very high frequency. This circulates the water much faster through the nib than just soaking. However, this machine can only be used for pens that can safely be submerged in water.

In fact, we don’t recommend placing antique or valuable pens parts and nibs inside an ultrasonic cleaner or indeed using it for whole pens that cannot be taken apart. To be completely honest, we suggest leaving this apparatus to the professionals.

Cleaning pen nibs using fountain pen cleaning solution

If water alone won’t get your fountain pen clean, then there are various pen cleaning solutions available to buy. Each has varying degrees of success, depending on which reviews you read.

If you’re feeling adventurous, then you can make your own fountain pen cleaning solution recipe. Ammonia is one of the most popular chemicals used. The recommended ammonia dilution for creating your own nib cleaning solution is a ratio of 10:1 parts water to ammonia. i.e. 10 ml of water to every 1 ml of ammonia.

WARNING – If you are unsure of the material of your fountain pen, or if it might be damaged by ammonia, then DO NOT use an ammonia-based solution to clean your pen!

Cleaning your fountain pen with vinegar is an alternative to using ammonia. Add one teaspoon of vinegar in one cup of cool, clean water. Once again, we advise against using any substance on your vintage fountain pen unless you are completely sure that there will be no ill effects.

Alternative solution one: Sell your old fountain pen

Here at Vintage Cash Cow, we LOVE vintage fountain pens. We’ll happily buy any old pens in any old condition. We buy all types of fountain pens whether they’re dirty, dried up, not working or even if they have bent nibs.

Selling your fountain pen to us is so simple. Just request an info pack from us – it has all the information that you need to know, including some Freepost stickers.

Collect up your vintage fountain pens plus anything else that you fancy turning into cash and send it to us.

Our in house experts will value your items and send you a quote. Accept the offer and be paid the same day. You could even put the money towards a brand new fountain pen!

If you don’t like our offer, then we’ll send your stuff back free of charge, no questions asked.

Alternative solution two: Spend money

Believe it or not, there are a few specialist fountain pen cleaners and repair centres out there!

You can organise to send your fountain pen to them and they’ll do their best to recondition your old pen. The results will depend on its history and condition, but it could save you some time and a lot of mess.

Specialist services such as this don’t come cheap though, and there are a very limited number of options currently available in the UK. The cost of having such maintenance done on your pen can often outweigh the benefits and, at the end of the day, it is unlikely to add any significant overall value to the pen.

Remember, there is always the risk of causing damage when cleaning delicate vintage pens. You could end up doing more harm than good if you’re not careful – but don’t worry if the worst happens, because we buy vintage pens in any condition.

If you’ve got any questions, why not contact one of our friendly team today? They’re always on hand to answer any questions that you might have.

If you have any tips or experiences with cleaning fountain pens, let us know in the comments!