Unlike disposable pens, fountain pens are built for years of use, if not a lifetime. However, to keep them running properly, you do need to put a tiny bit of effort into cleaning them.

In this post, we demonstrate how to clean all the most common filling systems and offers tips and best practices on how to keep your pens in excellent working order for the long term.

Why clean a fountain pen?

Why brush your teeth? Why water the garden? If you want to keep your pen writing smoothly for the long-term, you need to clean it. And, it isn't as difficult or time-consuming as it sounds. It doesn't require any special tools, either. All you need is running tap water and a towel.

When do you need to clean a fountain pen?

Even if you use the same ink color, you should clean it at least twice a year to ensure optimal performance. If you love switching colors, you will need to clean it before inking up with a new color. If you're not planning on writing for a while, you need to clean it before it goes into storage.

Let's dive into cleaning pens.

How to clean a cartridge-filling fountain pen

A cartridge fountain pen is the simplest to clean and is one of the most common types of fountain pens used today.

  1. Remove the front section from the barrel of the fountain pen (usually by unscrewing the section)
  2. Remove the empty cartridge from the feed post in the section by pulling out the cartridge.
  3. Dispose of the ink cartridge or rinse it out and reuse it by refilling with a blunt needle syringe.
  4. Rinse the front section, nib, and feed under cool, running tap water until the water runs clear.
  5. Let air dry on a paper towel.

For drying off your pen parts, you may let them air dry on a towel or blot them dry with a paper towel. Also, you could line a cup with a paper towel and let the parts air dry vertically with the nib pointing downward to take advantage of capillary action and gravity to help wick the remaining moisture from the pen.

How to clean a fountain pen converter

A converter can help in cleaning out a nib's section and feed by flushing it several times with water. Much like a cartridge, you could also remove the converter from the section and clean each part separately.

  1. Remove the front section from the barrel of the fountain pen (usually by unscrewing the section)
  2. Submerge the nib and feed in cool water.
  3. Fill the pen like you would with ink, only with the water.
  4. Flush out the pen in a sink or separate cup.
  5. Repeat until the water inside the converter is clear.
  6. Rinse the front section, nib, and feed under cool, running tap water until the water runs clear.
  7. Let air dry on a paper towel.

To help facilitate the process of cleaning a converter, you may want to fill the converter and shake it to dislodge any ink that might cling to the sides of the converter or the piston. For stubborn ink clogs, you may want to fill the pen using a pen flush solution, let sit for 10 minutes, then flush it out.

How to clean a fountain pen with a built-in piston mechanism

Pens with internal-filling mechanisms can be a little tricky to get completely clean again. It helps when you write with a pen that can be disassembled to access the barrel or behind the piston mechanism (like a TWSBI).

  1. Submerge the nib and feed in cool water.
  2. Fill the pen like you would with ink, only with the water.
  3. Flush out the pen in a sink or separate cup.
  4. Repeat until the water inside the pen's body is clear.
  5. Let air dry on a paper towel.

To help expedite the cleaning process, fill the piston pen with water and shake it gently to agitate the residual ink inside. Please see the manufacturer's instruction manual for advice if the pen can be disassembled to access the barrel directly or behind the piston head.

How to clean a fountain pen with a vacuum-filling mechanism

This one-stroke filling mechanism makes filling a fountain pen easy and fun. However, the vacuum-fill fountain pen is also difficult to get completely clean. As you'll see in the demonstration video, it might be impossible to get a vacuum-filling pen to look like a new pen after inking it for the first time.

  1. Submerge the nib and feed in cool water.
  2. Fill the pen like you would with ink, only with the water.
  3. Flush out the pen in a sink or separate cup.
  4. Repeat until the water inside the pen's body is clear.
  5. Let air dry on a paper towel.

The TWSBI Vac Mini and Vac 700R are designed to be detachable at the front section and the back-end as well (a wrench, o-rings and silicone grease are included for such operations) to be thoroughly cleaned and maintenanced.

How to clean an eyedropper fountain pen

Despite its extremely high ink capacity, eyedropper-fill fountain pens are easy to clean since there isn't any filling mechanism standing in the way.

  1. Remove/unscrew the front section from the barrel of the fountain pen.
  2. Rinse out the barrel of the pen until the water runs clear.
  3. Rinse the front section, nib, and feed under cool, running tap water until the water runs clear.
  4. Let air dry on a paper towel.

If the eyedropper-fill pen has a shut-off valve (like the Opus 88), be sure to unscrew the blind cap and pull down the shut off valve rod so it doesn't get in the way of flushing the barrel.

When you ink an eyedropper-fill pen again, be sure to reapply a small dab of silicone grease on the section threads to create a watertight (or ink-tight) seal.

Additional Notes Regarding Shimmer Inks / Sheening Inks

If the pen was sitting inked for some time in a drawer - hey, we're not all perfect, right? - then you may find that a rinse won't be enough to get rid of all the ink residue. A soak in some pen flush like Monteverde brand flush will help clear up stubborn ink clogs. For that "extra" thorough clean, you could throw the nib unit in an ultrasonic jewelry cleaner for a few minutes.

Inks with a lot of sheen or shimmer can pose problems for fountain pens, especially if the ink sits in the pen for a prolonged time. For the most thorough cleaning, you may want to take apart the nib and feed to clean separately and soak them in a pen flush.

If you're having trouble getting a particular pen clean, please let us know in the comments below and I'll provide a helpful reply or publish a new pen-cleaning video to address the issue.

Keep your pens clean and stay inky, my friends. Take care.