Saturday, December 5, 2009

A Deeper Clean

Anyone who is interested in different inks is soon going to come up against the question of fountain pen cleaning. It’s obvious that you aren’t going to see true and pure colors on the page unless ink is put into a pen well-flushed of the previous ink. The Internet is full of how-to hints and articles focusing on fountain pen cleaning, and most of it is good information explaining how it’s done by experienced professionals or hobbyists. There are complicated procedures, and there are shortcuts. There are also foolproof ways of doing it, as well as half measure cleanings.
A couple of years back I started out cleaning my first fountain pen very carefully and lovingly in a long drawn out process using only distilled water and a soft, clean cotton cloth. I flushed the pen again and again with the distilled water, sometimes allowing the water to remain in the barrel for a half hour or more. I used a strong squirt bottle on the nib, working carefully to clean deeply. This method worked to my satisfaction, and I never had the experience of degrading a new ink with drops or residue from the previous color.
But one day I was in the neighborhood eyeglass shop and I dropped my glasses into an ultrasonic cleaner there for customer use. It did a fantastic job of cleaning my glasses, and I wondered if other things could be cleaned using the same method. It came to me after some thought that it might also work well for cleaning fountain pens. I didn’t have complete confidence in my idea, so decided to ask a fountain pen-buddy what he thought of putting a pen in an ultrasonic cleaner. We talked about it a day or two later, and he felt that as long as you didn't just toss the pen into the tank of water and walk away, it should be safe and should clean the nib thoroughly. We figured the best way would be to place a small glass half full of water in the center of the tank, and stand the fountain pen up in the glass, with the water level just above the nib.
We got one of the smaller appliance stores to let us try it out briefly, and lo and behold, it worked like a charm! So I bought the ultrasonic cleaner and it has been a ‘can’t live without it’ household item ever since. My Citizen model number SW5800 in the photos above, has a three-minute limit on the timer, but I usually let one pen sit through at least three cycles. I’ve since stopped using only distilled water from beginning to end, making do now with using the distilled water for the final flush and spritzing of the nib.
The red inks are always the most stubborn, as are the deep purples. It seems to take more time to flush those colors out of a pen, but a little patience and a workhorse ultrasonic cleaner from Citizen will do the trick.
As for converters, there has never been a need to clean them in an ultrasonic cleaner, since they flush easily and cleanly with water pulled in and pushed out five or six times. It is easy enough to see when a converter is thoroughly clean.
I’m not sure how popular these cleaners are in the US or other countries, but they shouldn’t be unheard of. There may be a way to order online from the Citizen link here. I paid the equivalent of about $27.00 for my Citizen SW5800 here in Tokyo.
Great little machine if you can get your hands on one. And you can always use it for cleaning your glasses.


  1. That is amazing, I would never hae thought of such a thing. I'm going to hae to look into getting one.

  2. Hello, I just discovered your blog through Pocket Blonde and have been enjoying reading your thorough revews of pens and inks. Your tip about cleaning pens with a sonic cleaner is intriguing. I may have to buy one, as I find it cumbersome to rinse repeatedly. I have a question: How long do you give the newly cleaned pen to dry?


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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America