Get Started: Caring for your Fountain Pen
It is widely documented that there is a resurgence of interest in fountain pens both from a hobbyist point of view and also from a practical day-to-day perspective (I won't even delve into the creative applications of fountain pens in art and crafts - that’s a whole other article!). There are a variety of explanations for the rise in popularity of fountain pens; from sustainability, to visibility in popular culture, and even pure-and-simple nostalgia. It matters not, the reason for the rise. Perhaps you, dear reader, are new to fountain pens or maybe you have returned to an old love - it may even be that you are a seasoned fountain pen user and have stumbled upon this article as a refresher. Hopefully this article will provide some practical advice and tips for cleaning and maintaining your fountain pen(s).
Fountain pens are elegant writing instruments that require a little extra care and attention compared to a regular ballpoint or rollerball pen. Fountain pens, regardless of budget, offer a unique writing experience and proper cleaning and maintenance will ensure the optimal condition of your writing instrument.
So, where does one start when it comes to cleaning and maintaining a fountain pen? Firstly, you should get to know your fountain pen and its elements to ensure the right approach to maintenance. Always refer to manufacturer advice on pen maintenance but you can also contact your local seller and scour the internet for information, tips and tricks.
Get To Know Your Fountain Pen
Without providing an entire dissertation on each and every fountain pen type, there are various components of a fountain pen we can familiarise ourselves with. Knowing the basic anatomy of your pen helps you successfully disassemble and clean it effectively.
Broadly speaking, a typical fountain pen is made up of the following:
- Nib - this could be made from a number of different metals (stainless steel, gold or silver alloys, titanium, iridium or in some rare pieces, palladium) and is the tip of the pen which comes into contact with the writing surface. The nib determines the flow of ink and the line width and there are many variations to consider.
Kaweco 060 Nib Unit - Gold Plate Premium
- Feed- this is the piece which delivers ink from the reservoir to the nib itself and controls the flow of air back into the reservoir.
- Ink Reservoir - The component of your pen which holds the ink - this could be a converter or a cartridge in most cases.
- Barrel - this is the main body of the fountain pen and houses the ink reservoir. If you have a demonstrator pen then this section may be transparent allowing you to see inside the pen. Barrels vary in design and shape and give the fountain pen character and charm.
- Cap - This is the ‘lid’ which protects the nib and prevents ink from drying out. It can also be designed to be placed on the end of the pen (posted) when in use to create a different feel, length and weight than you would otherwise experience (unposted). Be aware that some fountain pens recommend not posting because of the risk of damage to the barrel and others feature no cap at all! Capless pens have remarkably precise engineering which allows the nib to be retracted when not in use.
- Clip - This is not a universal feature but you will likely find a large amount of fountain pens with either a fixed clip or a removable one which allows the fountain pen to be secured to a pocket or notebook.
- Section - The section is found between the nib and barrel and is the ideal positioning for gripping your pen. These can be very practical and ergonomic or elaborate designed and decorated (as with most external parts of a fountain pen!)
- Finial - speaking of decorative, the finial is found at the end of the cap or the barrel and will often display the brand logo or other ornamental feature or embellishment.
Image credit: The Project Garments - https://www.theprojectgarments.com/blogs/news/on-pen-it-depends
Common Fountain Pen Types:
Getting to know the unique anatomy of your fountain pen helps to ensure correct care and maintenance. It is also a good idea to differentiate between types of fountain pens when planning your cleaning and maintenance regimen
Cartridge/Converter Pens: probably the most commonly used fountain pens. These types of pen utilise cartridges and/or converters to hold ink. Both ink receptacles can be reusable although it is more common to come across disposable cartridges. Converters allow for bottled inks to be used.
Piston Fillers: These fountain pens have an integrated piston filler mechanism which draws ink into the barrel of the pen.
Eyedropper Pens: As the name suggests, these types of fountain pen are filled directly using an eyedropper or syringe into the large barrel.
Vacuum Fillers: Ink is drawn into the barrel using a vacuum mechanism housed within the pen body.
- Vintage Fountain Pens: Antique or vintage fountain pens may have one of the aforementioned filling mechanisms or they may be more unique. It is worth seeking a specialist in vintage pens to advise on any specialist care or cleaning that may be required for your specific pen. This is not to say that you will need to go to a specialist every time it needs cleaning but it is advisable to obtain professional insights particularly for instruments of high value (whether monetary or sentimental value).
Irrespective of the type of pen you are working with, it is important to familiarise yourself with any specific cleaning or maintenance instructions provided by the manufacturer and to identify if there are any inks or cleaners that should not be used with your specific pen.
Why Do I Need to Clean My Fountain Pen?
If you are used to using disposable pens or predominantly rollerball and ballpoint pens you may be asking yourself - why do I need to worry about cleaning and maintenance of my fountain pen?
In simple terms, the ink in a fountain pen is liquid and can leave residues and dry out causing blockages if not properly cleaned and maintained. A fountain pen works through capillary action. This is a physical phenomenon in which a liquid uses surface tension to draw itself along a narrow tube. In a fountain pen, ink flows down a channel in the feed and the nib slit to the writing surface. Over time, dust, paper fibres, and flakes of dried ink can build up in the nib and feed, disrupting the capillary action. Fountain pens may continue to work even if they have not been cleaned in a while but oftentimes they do not function at the level as they should and you may experience inconsistent ink flow, skipping and other writing problems…not to mention it can cause damage to the pen itself in the long-term.
Maintaining your fountain pen, even just the basic acts of regular/ semi-regular cleaning and proper storage, helps prolong its lifespan and prevents damage to the nib and other components. Depending on the pen you are using and the regularity of use you may also want to consider additional maintenance such as tunings, professional servicing and the replacing nibs or worn or damaged parts (should this be necessary).
How often should you clean your fountain pen?
One of the most important aspects of fountain pen maintenance is regular cleaning. But how often should you clean your fountain pen? As a general rule of thumb, it is recommended to deep clean your pen every 4-8 weeks or whenever you change ink colours, this may involve using a cleaning solution.
A more basic flush of the pen (disassembling the pen fully and cleaning all the parts and flushing through) may be required more frequently if you use the pen daily. It would be suggested that weekly or every other week would be sufficient for this - particularly if you perform daily cleaning. If you use your pen a lot, a quick rinse daily (or on days it is used) can help prevent build up of dried ink and residues (thus meaning less frequent deeper cleaning would be required). This daily cleaning would not require a full disassembly of the pen but rather a quick rinse and clean off of any spilt ink on the exterior of the nib or body of the pen. If you notice any ink flow issues or skipping, it may be a sign that your pen needs cleaning and you may decide that observing the behaviours and characteristics of your pen for indications of its cleaning needs may be more suited to your lifestyle and the way you use your fountain pen.
With this in mind, there are some aspects to consider when deciding how regularly to clean your fountain pen:
1. Ink Type
The type of ink you use plays a significant role in determining how often you should clean your fountain pen. The different properties and compositions of inks will mean different things for cleaning your fountain pen. Some inks, such as iron gall or pigmented inks, are more prone to clogging and require more frequent cleaning. Iron gall inks in particular, may require greater care when used because of their corrosive nature. Understanding the characteristics of the ink you use will help you choose the appropriate cleaning method. You should also be conscious of inks with sheen or sparkle properties and refer to manufacturers advice when using them in your fountain pen and when thinking about your cleaning schedule. On the other hand, standard fountain pen inks typically require less frequent cleaning.
- An example of a sheen ink
2. Frequency of Use
The frequency at which you use your fountain pen also affects the cleaning schedule. If you use your pen daily, it is recommended to clean it more frequently, approximately every two to four weeks. Regular use can lead to ink residue buildup, which may affect the pen's performance over time. You will get a feel for how your pen should write the more often you use it so will be able to recognise when something feels ‘off’.
3. Pen Storage
How you store your fountain pen when not in use can impact the cleaning frequency. If you leave your pen unused for an extended period, it is advisable to clean it before storing it away. Ink residue can dry up and harden, causing clogs and potential damage to the pen.
4. Pen Maintenance
Proper pen maintenance can also influence the cleaning frequency. Regularly flushing your pen with clean water or using a pen flush solution can help prevent ink buildup and prolong the time between deep cleanings. Additionally, keeping the nib clean and free from debris will contribute to the pen's overall performance.
5. Personal Preference
Ultimately, the cleaning frequency of your fountain pen depends on your personal preference and tolerance for ink residue. Some individuals prefer to clean their pens more frequently to ensure optimal performance, while others may be more lenient. Experimenting with different cleaning schedules can help you find the right balance for your needs.
Cleaning your fountain pen regularly is crucial for maintaining its performance and longevity. Factors such as ink type, frequency of use, pen storage, pen maintenance, and personal preference all play a role in determining how often you should clean your pen. By following these guidelines and adapting them to your specific circumstances, you can ensure that your fountain pen continues to provide you with a smooth and enjoyable writing experience for years to come.
Getting Started: Fountain Pen Cleaning
First things first, you will want to gather everything you need so you have it to hand. To clean your fountain pen, you will need the following:
- A bowl or glass of clean water - there is some discussion around whether distilled water is required because it has fewer minerals and contaminants. You may also considered filtered water especially if the tap water in your area is particularly hard/soft/chalky etc
- A bulb, syringe, pipette or similar
- A soft cloth, lint-free fabric scrap or kitchen roll (be aware of low quality products that may leave behind their own residue or may get caught in any fine detailing). Look for a lint free cloth that is relatively thin to allow you to feel the elements you are cleaning while you are cleaning them.
- A soft toothbrush and cotton buds (you know…the ones you definitely don’t put in your ears) both are handy tools to have nearby for cleaning and drying parts of your pen.
If you are doing a more in depth clean you may wish to use a cleaning solution - ensure that whatever solution you are using is suitable for the pen you are cleaning so you do not risk damaging your fountain pen.
How to Clean Your Fountain Pen: Step-by-Step
Now that you have gathered everything together ready to clean your fountain pen you will want to prepare for the cleaning process. Begin by emptying your pen of any ink - remove cartridges or empty free flowing ink by either pouring into a bottle or blotting with tissue until no ink is coming out. Once you are happy that no more ink can be removed, you will want to disassemble the pen, remove the cap, converter/cartridge (if not already done) and feed from the section. I like to have a soft lint free towel or cloth to place each piece on to ensure they do not roll off the work surface. Refer to your manufacturers instructions for disassembly and always take time and care during this stage of the process.
Follow these steps to clean your fountain pen:
- Flush the pen: Fill your receptacle with the water of your choosing (filtered, distilled, tap) and submerge the nib and section. Gently agitate the section back and forth to repeatedly draw water into the pen and expel it until the water runs clear. Running the pen under the tap may provide a rinsing effect useful for daily cleaning rituals, but longer-term it is insufficient for caring for your pen.
- Clean the nib: Rinse the nib and feed under running water, taking care not to damage the delicate nib.If there are stubborn ink deposits you can use a soft toothbrush (or even a baby brush) to gently remove the deposits. A bulb syringe or pipette is also useful at this point to direct water through the parts. Be extra careful not to damage the nib. Use a soft cloth or quality kitchen roll to dry them thoroughly.
- If necessary use a cleaning solution: If you find that water flushing is not completely cleaning your fountain pen then use a cleaning solution following the specific instructions to be sure of a safe and effective clean.
- Soak the nib: If your pen has stubborn ink residue, you can soak the nib and feed in water for a few hours or overnight. This will help dissolve the dried ink and make it easier to clean.
- Reassemble the pen: rinse each part through with clean water to ensure all of the debris and deposits have been removed. Pat each component dry making sure that there is no remaining moisture…if you have time you may wish to leave the parts overnight to air dry to be sure that no moisture is present. Once all the components are clean and dry, reassemble the pen carefully. Make sure everything fits snugly and securely.
It should be noted that if you are inking up your pen almost immediately, you do not need to be quite so concerned with moisture as fountain pen ink is largely water so a few droplets will do no harm, however if you are storing your pen you may want to be more vigilant.
Cleaning your fountain pen does not need to feel like a chore and once you have completed the process a few times it will become second nature and even therapeutic.
The final step to the process - if you are changing inks or cleaning it to be used in the immediate future - is to perform a writing test. Not only is this a fun way to test out a new ink (if you are changing inks), but it allows you to clear through any minor dilution of ink and to check that the fresh ink is flowing smoothly and the fountain pen is writing as it should.
Fountain Pen Care and Maintenance Tips
Fountain Pen Storage
One crucial aspect of fountain pen maintenance is proper storage. Whether you're a seasoned collector or a beginner, learning how to store your fountain pen correctly will ensure that it remains in optimal condition for years to come.
Why is proper storage important?
Proper storage prevents ink from drying out, protects the nib from damage, and maintains the pen's overall functionality. By following these guidelines, you can avoid common issues such as ink clogging, nib corrosion, and leakage.
Clean the pen
Before storing your fountain pen, it's essential to clean it thoroughly. Rinse the pen with lukewarm water until the water runs clear. This step removes any residual ink and prevents it from drying out inside the pen, which could lead to clogging or staining.
Empty the ink
Next, empty the ink reservoir completely. Use the pen's filling mechanism to expel any remaining ink. If your pen has a removable converter or cartridge, remove it and clean it separately. This step ensures that no ink residue remains in the pen, reducing the risk of leakage or contamination during storage.
Protect the nib
When storing your fountain pen, it's crucial to protect the delicate nib. Gently blot the nib with a soft, lint-free cloth to remove any excess moisture. Then, carefully place a protective cap over the nib to shield it from dust, debris, and accidental damage. Make sure the cap fits securely to prevent air from entering the pen, which can cause ink evaporation.
Choose the right storage location
Now that your fountain pen is clean and protected, it's time to find the perfect storage location. Opt for a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight and extreme temperature fluctuations. Avoid storing your pen near sources of heat, such as radiators or electronics, as heat can cause ink to expand and leak. You may decide that display storage is your preference and opt for a pen holder that can take pride of place on your desk or in your home. An alternative (or additional storage option) could be a pen case in one of its many forms - soft, hard, leather, canvas, roll, singular or multiple pen holding…the options are diverse and can be selected based on your own personal style.
Store vertically or horizontally
Deciding whether to store your fountain pen upright or horizontally depends on the pen's design and ink flow system. Pens with a capillary action may be more successfully stored horizontally to ensure even ink distribution. On the other hand, pens with a gravity-fed ink flow system, like most traditional fountain pens, can be stored vertically or horizontally without affecting their performance. Pens with a wetter writing experience may benefit from being stored nib upwards which keeps the ink away from the feed - this is useful for drier writers. Horizontal storage is generally preferred but consider your own preference and experiment with storage direction to see what works best for you and your pen(s).
Regularly inspect and rotate
Even when stored correctly, fountain pens benefit from periodic inspection and rotation. Every few months, check your stored pens for any signs of ink residue, corrosion, or damage. If you notice any issues, clean the pen thoroughly and address the problem promptly. Additionally, consider rotating your stored pens to prevent the ink from settling or drying out in one pen for an extended period
Additional Maintenance Tips
Here are a few additional tips to keep your fountain pen in top shape:
- Avoid exposing your pen to extreme temperatures, as it can affect the ink flow and pen performance.
- Use high-quality fountain pen ink to minimise clogging and improve writing performance.
- If you won't be using your pen for an extended period, clean it thoroughly and empty the ink to prevent drying and clogging.
- Never use hot water to clean your fountain pen - this can cause warping or distortion to the components.
- Homemade cleaning solutions can be used but NEVER use acetone or rubbing alcohol as these will likely irreversibly damage your pen. Washing-up liquid (a very small amount) mixed with water can be an effective cleaner and for tough marks or clogs, a 10-to-1 water to ammonia solution can be used (but should not be used on aluminium, brass or copper elements as ammonia will corrode these). Where possible, specific fountain pen cleaning solutions would be preferable to homemade solutions.
- Only use fountain pen ink in your fountain pen - this may seem obvious, but you may find shellac or acrylic based inks, india inks and calligraphy inks (you can find fountain pen specific calligraphy inks) living with fountain pen inks when they are designed for use with dip pens. If you were to use a dip pen ink in a fountain pen it would be too viscous and would clog your pen and cause long term damage…much like putting the wrong fuel in your car
By following these steps, you can ensure that your beloved fountain pen remains in excellent condition, ready to deliver a smooth and enjoyable writing experience whenever you need it. Remember, proper cleaning, storage and maintenance is an investment in the longevity and performance of your fountain pen collection.