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)

Procedure:

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.

 

Discussion:

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.

23 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.

      Like

  2. Pingback: ILovePencil | 2015년 5월 3주차 읽어볼 만한 문구 리뷰들

  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.

    Like

    • 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.

      Like

      • 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.

        Like

        • 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.

          Like

  4. Pingback: Link Love: More Friends & More Purple Inks | The Well-Appointed Desk

  5. Pingback: Sunday Notes and Links | Fountain Pen Quest

  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.

    Like

    • 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.

      Like

  7. Pingback: A Guide to Buying Pelikan « The Pelikan's Perch

  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! 🙂

    Like

  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.

    Like

    • 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

      Like

  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,
    Andy

    Like

  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?
    TIA

    Like

    • 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.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: