How-To: Clean a Pelikan Fountain Pen

CleaningI have been asked on a few occasions over the past several weeks about what is the best way to clean a Pelikan fountain pen.  While I’m not sure whether or not my way is the best way, it does work, is easy and relatively quick to accomplish, and does not result in any damage to the pen.  One of the reasons that I enjoy Pelikan’s piston fillers is because of the ease with which they can be cleaned when compared with cartridge/converter models.  Pelikans are also forgiving and can be left to go a bit longer between routine maintenance sessions than some other brands pens.  While cleaning is easy, there are some pitfalls and special considerations to keep in mind, particularly when working with vintage pens.   As such, I have two cleaning methods; one that I reserve for modern pens (1970-present) and one that I use for either modern or vintage pens (pre-1970).  I will do my best to describe both procedures below as well as provide you with some of my views on the intricacies of Pelikan pen maintenance.  As a bonus, I will also review a technique for the cleaning of a cartridge/converter pen.

What You’ll Need:

  1. Room temperature tap water or distilled water (optional)
  2. 2-3 Small (6-8 ounce) cups
  3. Paper towels, cloth, or similar
  4. A dilute (~1:10) ammonia solution (optional)
  5. Cotton swabs (preferably safety swabs)
  6. Bulb syringe (optional for cleaning cartridge/converter pens)


METHOD #1 – Modern Pens (1970-Present)

  1. Empty the pen of any remaining ink by turning the piston knob counter-clockwise to advance the piston forward.
  2. Turn on a sink and adjust the faucet to approximately room temperature.  Fill a cup 1/4 full and set aside.
  3. Run the nib under the faucet until the water appears to clear.  Once clear, unscrew the nib and place it in the cup of water prepared in step 2.
  4. Now place the section under the faucet to remove the remaining ink from the barrel.  Work the piston 2-3 times for good measure.
  5. Dry the outside of the pen with a towel and then replace the nib that has been soaking.  Empty the cup of water and refill until 1/2 full.  Distilled water can be used at this point if there are concerns about the hardness of the tap water.
  6. Place the nib in the water and cycle the piston 2-3 times to ensure that the water remains clear.  If ink persist, continue to flush until it clears.
  7. Using a towel, dry the nib by drawing out any excess moisture and allow to air dry.
  8. If significant staining remains or if there is a particularly stubborn ink, consider using a dilute ammonia solution as outlined below.  Also consider cleaning the cap as described below.


METHOD #2 – Vintage Pens (Pre-1970) and/or Modern Pens (1970-Present)

  1. Empty the pen of any remaining ink by turning the piston knob counter-clockwise to advance the piston forward.
  2. Turn on a sink and adjust the faucet to approximately room temperature.  Fill two cups 1/2 full.  If you are concerned about the hardness of the water in your tap, consider using distilled water.
  3. Submerge the nib into the first cup and repeatedly cycle the piston.  Once the water is heavily colored, switch to the second cup.
  4. Continue cycling the piston until the water flushes clear from the pen.  You may have to empty and refill a cup once or twice.
  5. Using a towel, dry the nib by drawing out any excess moisture and allow to air dry.
  6. If significant staining remains or if there is a particularly stubborn ink, consider using a dilute ammonia solution as outlined below.  Also consider cleaning the cap as described below.


METHOD #3 – Cartridge/Converter Pens

  1. If a converter is attached, empty the pen of any remaining ink by turning the knob on the converter counter-clockwise to advance the piston forward.  If a cartridge was used, discard the cartridge.
  2. Turn on a sink and adjust the faucet to approximately room temperature.  Fill two cups 1/2 full.  If you are concerned about the hardness of the water in your tap, consider using distilled water.
  3. If using a cartridge, skip to step 4.  If using a converter, submerge the mouth in a cup of water and cycle the piston 2-3 times.  The converter should clear fairly quickly.  Fill the converter and invert it a few times to free any ink trapped at the level of the piston seal and empty.  The converter should be clean by this point.
  4. Take a bulb syringe and fill it with water from the first cup.  Place the mouth of the syringe at the back of the section and depress, allowing water to flow through the nib and feed (this can get a little messy).  Repeat 2-3 times and then switch to the fresh cup.  Using the syringe once more to flush the feed/nib, the water should be fairly clean by this point.  Alternatively you can just use a steady stream of water from a sink in place of the bulb syringe to achieve the same effect if that is more convenient for you.
  5. Using a towel, dry the nib by drawing out any excess moisture and allow to air dry.
  6. If significant staining remains or if there is a particularly stubborn ink, consider using a dilute ammonia solution as outlined below.  Also consider cleaning the cap as described below.


Cleaning with Ammonia

  1. Only after first cleaning with tap or distilled water as described above and not achieving a satisfactory effect, consider using a dilute ammonia Cleaning2solution.
  2. You can purchase one of the many pre-made solutions such as J.B.’s Perfect Pen Flush (no affiliation) or make your own dilute 1:10 solution (1 part household ammonia to 10 parts water). 
  3. Fill one cup 1/2 full with the dilute ammonia solution and the other cup 1/2 full with tap or distilled water. Cycle the piston several times in the ammonia solution as you had previously when using water to flush as described above.
  4. When satisfied, expel all of the ammonia into the cup and switch to the cup with water, again cycling the piston several times to flush out any remaining ammonia (this is necessary for proper functioning as the flush has surfactants which will affect the ink’s properties).
  5. You can save the used ammonia for re-use later (until it becomes nearly opaque after which it should be discarded).

*NEVER mix ammonia with bleach, use ammonia on aluminum parts, or soak older pens in an ammonia solution.  ALWAYS use in a well ventilated area.


Cleaning the Cap

  1. While the pen is drying, use a cotton safety swab that has been moistened with water and swab the inside of the cap.
  2. Repeat until the swab tip comes out clean.
  3. Run a dry cotton swab or tissue along the inside of the cap to dry.  Compressed air can also be used.  Allow to air dry prior to reassembling.



The procedures described above will work for a great many of Pelikan’s piston fill and cartridge/converter fountain pens.  This would include essentially all of the pens of both the modern Classic and Souverän lines as well as many vintage models.  When working over a sink, care should be taken to avoid dropping the nib and/or barrel into the drain.  Pelikan pen’s can handle a somewhat infrequent maintenance schedule so even if you only flush every few months, that should be adequate and still you should only require water when flushing.  Pens that are bought used or have been neglected for some time might benefit from a flushing with an ammonia solution but that should be decided on a case by case basis.  Normally, pens will need a reapplication of silicone grease every so often (roughly ~3 years in my experience) to keep the piston moving smoothly.  If you use the faucet method of cleaning described above (Method #1), the frequency of re-lubing may increase.  


Special Considerations:

  • I advocate not using the sink faucet cleaning method for vintage pens because the older ebonite feeds are fragile and I avoid removing the nib from those pens whenever possible as each attempt to do so can run the risk of damaging the feed.  Also, hot water should be avoided as this can damage certain components and does not provide any benefit over room temperature water.


  • My own tap water provided by the city is very hard meaning that there is a high mineral content in the water.  When the water evaporates, these mineral deposits are left behind and can clog feeds.  For this reason, I favor the use of distilled water (specially prepared to remove chemicals and minerals) over tap.  Distilled water is cheap and readily available at any grocery store in 1 gallon jugs.  When I do use the faucet cleaning method, I will always finish with several flushes of distilled water to try to remove any of the remaining hard water left behind from my faucet.


  • Many people favor adding a drop of dish detergent (e.g. Dawn) to the water that they are using to flush the pen with.  This has been cited to help with ink flow problems and can remove some of the releasing agents left on newly minted feeds.  This is generally regarded as a safe practice though one that I do not personally employ as I feel ammonia achieves the same effect.  If you do use a drop and only a drop of Dawn detergent in your flushing process, make sure you follow that with just water to remove all residue and prevent problems down the road.


  • It is often asked whether or not a new pen needs to be flushed before a first fill and there is debate on both sides of this issue.  I do not flush first in my personal practice and have not had any trouble that I would attribute to this practice but many people report otherwise.  Because oils, grit, and releasing agents invisible to the naked eye can be retained from the manufacturing process, ink flow can become impaired.  To combat this, flushing with a drop of detergent or dilute ammonia can clear these left over agents should you find this to be an issue.


  • The number of people who do not clean their pen’s cap has always amazed me.  When I get a used pen, especially vintage ones, this is one of the first things I do and I often feel like I’m pulling a decades’ worth of ink out.  I like my caps clean and so that is part of my routine maintenance.  When done regularly, it usually only takes one or two cotton swabs to get the job done.  Why clean the barrel and nib so effectively only to leave the cap filthy?  Just make sure to dry the cap prior to reassembling.  I use cotton swabs for infants, also called safety swabs, because these have more cotton material and are perfect for the job of cleaning pen caps.  “Be kind, clean your pen’s cap.”


  • Other implements can be used in the cleaning process.  These include syringes, ultrasonic cleaners, brass shims, polishes, etc.  None of these are generally necessary for day-to-day pen maintenance and are usually for more advanced purposes.  I will be addressing some of these separately in future postings so stay tuned.


Cleaning Method #1 (also showing the use of ammonia)

Cleaning Method #2 (also showing the cleaning of a cap) 

Cleaning a Cartridge/Converter Fountain Pen 


*I am not an expert in pen maintenance and make no claims to be one.  I am an enthusiast and hobbyist.  If you have any concerns or doubts, you should seek out further assistance elsewhere.  Anyone following the above procedures do so at their own risk and I am not liable for any damage that may be incurred to the pen, nib, or cap.

32 responses

  1. My m200 cafe creme is my first Pelikan, and my most expensive pen. I appreciate your detailed article on cleaning. While cleaning my cheap pens is no big deal, I have to admin I was a little hesitant to do anything to this one.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You made a great choice for your first Pelikan. I hope that you are enjoying it. It’s hard to kill a Pelikan but I’m glad that my post helped to allay some of your fears.


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  3. Is this method of cleaning pens ok to use with Mont Blancs which have a reservoir? Parker Duofolds? S.T. Dupont’s? I don’t see why it wouldn’t but since you seem to be specifically discussing Pelikan pens and I have no clue about anything about a Pelican pen I’m just curious. I read your disclaimer at the end but hope you can give your best guess. Thanks.


    • Thanks for your comment Philip. I speak about Pelikan because it is what I know and love but I’ll do my best to answer your question. I have successfully used method #2 on many other brands, both piston and cartridge fillers. That list would include Montblanc, TWSBI, Parker, Sheaffer, Pilot, and Lamy. I have had no issues with those in my personal experience. The sink method would only apply to a piston filler with a removable nib so that is much less applicable generally. I hope that is helpful to you.


      • Thanks Joshua. What i guess really surprised was that at least “some nibs” unscreww. I never knew that and i don’t think that is the case for any of my pens that i currently own. Although the concept does have some merit for sure. i thought your videos were very helpful and thorough. thanks again.


        • The user interchangeable nib is one of the great things about Pelikans. Makes for easy cleaning and repair and introduces some great customization possibilities. Thanks for the kind words. I’m glad that you enjoyed the videos.


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  6. Joshua, Have you ever had ink get caught in the sections of your demonstrators? If so, were you able to get it out? Did you have to use a US cleaner?

    “One of the reasons that I enjoy Pelikan’s piston fillers is because of the ease with which they can be cleaned when compared with cartridge/converter models.”

    I generally agree, but there are some c/c pens that are a snap to clean. The Platinum 3776 Century is perhaps my favorite c/c pen and has a converter that comes apart easily. The nib and feed are also easy to remove.


    • Hello and thanks for your comment. I have had this happen on my M200 Cognac demonstrator. It is frustrating and no, I did not have to use an ultrasonic cleaner. With the nib assembly removed, there is a small lip inside the section. I take a 10cc syringe filled with water with a blunt needle attached and place the tip of that syringe at the lip. I then inject the full syringe of water rapidly. This creates a jet of water that flushes out that area of the section. I do this maybe 2-3 times and this has resulted in complete ink clearing. After that its just a matter of letting the water evaporate before reinserting the nib. I assume that any device that can do similarly would work as well but that has been my method to it. I hope that helps you figure out your issues. One of the many challenges of owning and enjoying a demonstrator.


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  8. Thanks Joshua! I have never thought I will find a post about cleaning pens! It might be useful to know that! I work in the sphere of commercial cleaning services and I spend a lot of my time looking for cleaning methods and ideas. Thanks for sharing! 🙂


  9. Thank you. My first Pelikan arrived a couple of days ago and it is the Cafe Creme. Sadly, it is not writing properly at all and one of the things I have been told to try is changing the ink so your video is so helpful! I don’t have any other piston pens, great to find this post.


    • I’m glad that you have found my post helpful. Not knowing the specifics of what you’re experiencing, I’d also suggest that you get a 10x loupe (easily obtained from several sources) and look at the tines of the nib. If they are not aligned, the pen could write poorly


  10. Hello, I’m a new Pelikan owner and also new to your informative blog. Thank you for providing such a wealth of information. My first Pelikan is an M805 Demonstrator. I’m enjoying it immensely and hope to write with it for a very long time.
    When I change ink colors I flush the pen per your instructions and do so until the water runs clear from the pen and I see nothing of color inside. Doing this I have found there is still some ink inside just below where the feed connects to the section. On the Demonstrator this area is silver colored and the remaining ink tends to stay on the top area, roughly where the feed connects.
    Is it possible to remove this ink? I suspect if left to stay a long time it may be difficult to remove.
    Thank you,


  11. Thanks for this video, I have a Cafe Creme and an M205 Amethyst, and knowing that I can take the nib out will make cleaning much easier. Is there a way to remove the piston mechanism so that it can be lubricated? Or is this not possible with these two pens?


    • The piston mechanism should not be routinely removed from the Cafe Creme or the Amethyst. These are friction fitted and any attempts at removal can damage/destroy the pens. The piston does not have to be removed to be lubricated. Simply unscrewing the nib and applying a small drop of silicone grease to the wall next to the piston seal is more than sufficient and works well. That should be all the maintenance that your piston needs. Enjoy your pens.


  12. Joshua I like your articles. I am a fountain pen enthusiast and I was using cartridge/converter pens only till the time I bought Pelikan Souverän M400 fountain pen. I was always afraid of Piston filler because of cleaning issues. I’ve read somewhere that if you are using Pelikan pen daily you need to wash the pen once a year only if you are using 4001 Royal blue ink or Edelstein Sapphire blue ink. Is it true?


    • Glad that you like the posts. It is true that if you are using a relatively low maintenance ink and only that one type of ink you do not need to flush regularly. Flush if not using for a prolonged period or when changing inks. If it were me, I’d probably flush it once a quarter to keep all running smooth but that is likely overkill. Guess it depends on your usage patterns really. I doubt you’ll find one consensus answer on the topic.


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  14. Hi Joshua,

    not sure if you mentioned it, but simply watering a pen can work miracles.

    Recently, I received an M400 white/tortoise with ink dried in the feeder, tank, and behind the piston. As the ink was dried, I removed the nib (water for several hours/days if it does not come out freely), washed out as much as I could under the faucet, then submerged pen and nib in a bowl of water for several hours. The ink dissolved and ran out of the pen collecting around the pen at the bottom of the bowl. I replaced the water and repeated. this time no further ink came out and looking into the pen, I could see it was completely clean. This should work on demonstrators as well.

    The problem was there was also dried ink behind the piston. As I did not want to remove the piston, I submerged the pen, the worked the piston a couple of times. This pushes out the air from behind the piston and then fills this area with water. This way, I was able to remove all of the ink from behind the piston. The tricky part was getting the moisture out again. After working the piston in the aoir a couple of times, you can eject most of the water, but some small drops will remain. If you then refill the pen, you seal the compartment behind the piston – the pen will not dry this way.

    Solution: to dry out completely, the piston has to be all the way up front; there is a crevice between knob and pen. I then placed the pen into the sunlight for a couple of days. Important: the pen must be in a verticle position with the knob pointed upwards. This way, the evaporated moisture escapes and does not recondense while still inside.

    Best regards,


    • Thank you for taking the time to comment and share your experience Carsten. I don’t mean to be contrary but submerging a Pelikan pen in water can cause some undesired issues. One of these is that it can cause older bindes to swell. It can also allow water to seep between layers. Submerging a pen and working the piston will certainly get water behind the piston seal though, as you point out, this can usually be remedied. I certainly would not want to make a regular practice of this. Placing a pen in sunlight can result in discoloration. You might be better served using something like a bag of rice to wick out moisture. The method that you describe is most harmful with vintage models, particularly those with hard rubber components which will quickly and permanently discolor with the techniques that you describe. Not looking to criticize you but I did want to point out for others some of the dangers/pitfalls of what you describe.


  15. Hi from Turkey!

    I am a newbie about fountain pens and consider buying a m400 white tortoise. Some people mention that white parts of pelikans can be stained because of ink. Have you ever heard about something like that, what is your experience? Could the type of ink have an effect on this and what should be considered when buying ink?

    I wonder if the people who make this comment may be the kind of people who *never* clean their pens’ caps? 🙂

    Thank you in advance!


    • Don’t fear the white. While it is true that the white resin can be more prone to staining, the issue is not at all a deal breaker. With mindful ink selection and a relatively decent upkeep, the issues can be largely mitigated. Key points are to not let ink sit on the resin for prolonged periods and to try and avoid some of the more supersaturated inks that are out there. With routine maintenance and some mindfulness, you shouldn’t encounter too many issues. I have not had any staining myself to date. Hope that helps.


      • I guess i can take the risk, because i am very sensitive about cleaning my pens and i adore the look of white tortoise. I guess i am anxious a little because of that a pelikan pen is a *serious* investment in my country, since one euro equals to almost ten turkish liras! 😦

        Thank you so much for your reply, your blog is a great source of information about pelikans and i will keep reading.


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