What is good pen hygiene? How do I do it? Why do I care?

In my opinion, good pen hygiene is essential to ensure a long life for your pens. How often I clean out my pens varies depending on how I use them. As a general rule, I never leave a pen inked for longer than 2 months (there are some exceptions). If I’m refilling a pen with the same color over and over again I will generally rinse the pen after two or three consecutive fills or one month. If I’m changing colors I rinse the pen out before filling it with the next color. Once a year I give all my regularly used pens a thorough rinsing.

I often use an ear bulb or syringe to force water through the feed. It speeds this process up tremendously. If you don’t have one or the other I can guarantee you it will be the best $5 you’ll spend on this hobby.

Here’s directions to the various rinses I do. Everyone does this differently, but this is what I do:

Rinse for pen to be inked with the same color again:

  1. Once the pen has run dry on ink I cycle water through it over and over again until the water runs mostly clear.
  2. I swaddle the nib in paper towel and place the pen nib down in a shot glass. I let the pen sit until the paper towel has wicked most of the moisture away.
  3. I refill the pen with the same ink.

I do this after every 2-3 fills or every month depending.

Rinse for pen to be inked with a different color:

  1. Once I decide to change ink colors I empty the pen of any ink.
  2. I cycle water through it over and over again until the water runs absolutely clear.
    • (To Switch from an Iron Gall Ink to a regular ink: rinse with diluted distilled white vinegar and follow with a pure water rinse before proceeding to step 3.)
  3. I swaddle the nib in paper towel, grip the pen firmly in my hand, and shake any residual water out of the pen (like you would shake the mercury down on a thermometer).
  4. I swaddle the nib in a new piece of paper towel and place the pen nib down in a shot glass. I let the pen sit over night to ensure that all the moisture is out of the pen.
  5. I refill the pen  with the new ink.

I do this every time I change inks.

Major Rinse:

  1. I empty the pen of any ink.
  2. I cycle water through it over and over again until the water runs clear.
    • (If Iron Gall ink was in the pen: rinse with diluted distilled white vinegar and follow with a pure water rinse before proceeding to step 3.)
  3. I take a shot glass, fill it with water, add one drop of dish washing liquid, and cycle all of it through the pen.
  4. I cycle water through the pen to rinse out the soap.
  5. I take a shot glass, fill it with an ammonia solution that is roughly 10:1 water to ammonia, and cycle all of it through the pen.
  6. I cycle water through the pen until I’m sure I’ve gotten all the ammonia out.
  7. I swaddle the nib in paper towel, grip the pen firmly in my hand, and shake any residual water out of the pen (like you would shake the mercury down on a thermometer).
  8. I swaddle the nib in a new piece of paper towel and place the pen nib down in a shot glass. I let the pen sit over night to ensure that all the moisture is out of the pen.
  9. If the pen is a piston filler, plunger filler, or any other type of filler that requires lubrication  I lub it up with pure silicon grease (this may require some simple disassembly or judicious use of a toothpick).

I do this before filling a pen for the first time, once a year as a part of routine maintenance of the pen, when I’m getting ready to sell a pen or if I’m going to store a pen for an extended period of time.

Pen restorer and nibmeister Richard Binder has an excellent article on how to take care of your pens. I suggest you read it. Care and Feeding: How to Pamper your Pens.

Updated December 11, 2010

8 Responses to “What is good pen hygiene? How do I do it? Why do I care?”

  1. John December 13, 2010 at 4:17 PM #

    I’m new to your excellent site and a convert to fountain pens. This is an interesting article and I guess there must be some connection betwen hygeine and my problem – leaks. Its sounding a bit medical at this point! I carry around pens in a case in my pocket during the day so they do get jolted around. My first was a Pelikan M800 and it was OK to start with but then became messy from leaks – I mean whilst the nib was inside the cap. Then it broke in two so I fell out of love with it even though Pelikan repaired it for free. But by then I had my eye on a Mont Blanc and the salesman said they never leak or break. Surely at that price they can’t leak I convinced myself. Well mine did.
    There’s a pattern developing here which points to the fault being mine. But what is it? Could it be the ink or my filling technique or is it just too much to expect pens not to leak when carried around? Determined to succeed after those two expensive purchases I went down market and bought a Lamy and the latest a TWSBI Diamond. These are both amazing pens for the prices and the designs are so stylish. No leaks yet! I think both my Pelikan and Mont Blanc will sit on the shelf until I can beat the leaks.
    Any advice or thoughts on that subject would be most welcome.

    • Dizzy Pen December 13, 2010 at 4:39 PM #

      John, I don’t think your problem is related to hygiene. I think your problem has to do with how you carry your pens.

      Do your pens leak when they are 100% full or is it only once the ink has been used up a bit? Temperature changes as well as pressure changes can cause the pens to leak. Namely, air in the ink chamber expands (due to temperature or pressure changes) and pushes whatever ink is in the feed out into the cap. This in addition to your pens being constantly jostled around could really cause any pen to leak not matter how much you paid for it.

      There are some pens with ink shut offs. One in particular is the Pilot Custom 823. When the piston nob is screwed all the way down it actually seals the ink chamber off from the feed. These pens do not leak at all if the value is closed.

      If I were you, I’d try carrying my pens in a different location. If the leaking stops then you know what your problem was.

      It will also keep you from snapping your pens in two. This is a common problem when one carries one’s pens in their pocket. The pen gets stuck and the pressure of you bending at the waist cracks it.

  2. John December 16, 2010 at 5:58 PM #

    Thanks for your advice – I thought it must be my fault. Now you’ve got me interested in the Pilot Custom 823. Its not officially available in the UK but I see there’s a supplier on e-bay. Are you planning to publish your review soon?

    • Dizzy Pen December 16, 2010 at 6:18 PM #

      Hopefully before the end of the year, but I make no promises. I’m going to be away from home for two weeks.

      Do bear in mind that the 823 may not leak, but it can still snap in two while in your pocket. You really should reevaluate that carry method.

  3. John December 19, 2010 at 4:09 PM #

    Don’t worry I’ve taken in every word of your advice! I look forward to the 823 review.

  4. Fred August 25, 2011 at 9:30 PM #

    I have two Pelikan pens – a Level 5 and a Level 65 – and I’m puzzled by how/whether to apply your hygiene procedure to these two pens. A fine needle and syringe, or an empty Level 5 ink bottle, can be used to empty the pen of ink and to flush it out, but it is a laborious process. My Level 5 sits in its stand on my desk and is not often used – after two years it still had ink in it and still wrote without a problem, but I went ahead spent spent an hour cleaning and flushing. I don’t think it was worth the time.

    • Dizzy Pen August 25, 2011 at 9:51 PM #

      By all means do what you want with your pens. If you don’t want to flush them or if you think it’s a waste of time then don’t bother.

      This is just my personal opinion on the matter, and this is what I do with my pens. It’s not meant to be a one size fits all solution.

  5. Wayne March 10, 2012 at 12:43 PM #

    I just started reading your blog and have especially enjoyed your advice on FP maintenance. As I value my pens my plans are to follow your advice. Thanks!

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