We sell a lot of fountain pens, so people quite often ask us about cleaning them. So we thought it would be a good idea to make a simple blog post to answer the question, so we can point people to it, and those who don’t like to ask can still find the answer.
Cleaning a fountain pen isn’t difficult. You don’t need any special equipment or cleaning materials. Such things do exist, and we do sell some cleaning fluids - they’re very good, but the vast majority of the time, they’re not needed - just plain old tap water does the job quite nicely.
The other related question people often have is how often should they be cleaning their fountain pens. Opinion varies on that, and some people say they should be cleaned very now and again, but for the most part, we don’t really worry about it unless there’s a problem. We have pens we’ve been using for years, that have never been cleaned out, and some that have been left unused that have just started working perfectly again when filled up again with ink. Sometimes though, a pen gets clogged up with dried ink, and needs cleaning.
Even when there’s no problem with a pen, you may want to clean it out when changing ink colours. If you don’t, the previous colour will tend to linger, changing the colour of the new ink for a while. Although it’s very rare, there are a few combinations of inks that can react together, so a good clean can avoid them mixing. Almost all fountain pen inks can ‘touch’ each other with no bad effects, though, other than the colour looking a little different to the intended shade.
The most useful piece of equipment is something you may well already have - a converter. It’s the ‘refillable cartridge’ that lets a cartridge-filled pen use bottled ink. If you don’t have one, you can probably manage without, but it’s a fairly cheap addition that can be useful for cleaning, and lets you use a lot more inks.
With a converter, to clean your fountain pen, just fit the converter into the pen, then repeatedly fill and empty it with plain water. Eventually, the water should come out clear. At that point, you’re good to go.
If you don’t have a converter, it’s usually enough to just unscrew the barrel, and sit the front part of the pen in a cup of water to soak. If it’s clogged up with dried ink, this might not be enough, but it’s worth a try. While it won’t apply to many people, we should mention at this point that soaking in water can be a problem for some vintage pens. Most are fine, but some are made of a plastic called casein, which is damaged by prolonged contact with water. If it’s an old pen of any value, you might want to do a little research on what it’s likely to be made of before you soak it, just in case.
There are a couple of other methods worth mentioning, though both require other equipment, so they’re more likely to be of interest to those who do this sort of thing a lot.
Ear bulb. Yes. We know, it sounds a bit odd. But hear us out. There are large rubber bulbs available for filling with warm water, used to flush out ear wax. The nozzle is often just about the right size that you can hold it firmly against the back of a fountain pen’s feed, and use it to push a lot of water through quickly. Some people love this method, especially those with a whole collection of pens to clean.
Ultrasonic jewellery cleaner. We use one of these in our office, and they’re very good. You fill it with warm water, and it uses sound waves in the water to vibrate dirt and ink out of the nooks and crannies of a pen feed. You’d need to have a few things to use it for to justify buying one, but they’re also quite fun to watch ink that wouldn’t come out any other way just magically float out of the pen! While there have been very occasional reports of these cleaners causing gold plating to flake away, problems are very rare, and in these odd cases, it’s likely the plating hadn’t adhered correctly in the first place - we’ve used ours a lot, with no problems.
Cleaning fluids. There are several specialist fluids available for cleaning fountain pens. We do sell them, so we’re certainly not saying you shouldn’t use them, and if you have a stubborn pen, or just want to make the job as quick and easy as possible, they’re very good - it’s just that plain water does a good enough job almost every time.