How To Clean A Fountain Pen Nib After Filling It

If you ask someone how to clean fountain pen nib after filling with ink, they may smirk and point out that their pens tend to clean themselves in their suit or pants pocket.

Jokes aside, though, one cannot take this issue lightly. A full fountain pen with ink dribbling out can badly blot your favorite clothing and/or create smudges as you start to write.

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What’s the Precise Problem?

Unless there is a malfunction or structural flaw with the pen and nib’s capillary system, it is unlikely that large amounts of ink will seep out of a full pen. The more common problem is “nib creep” – this is when a bit of ink escapes through the slit and makes it to the surface of the fountain pen nib.

With ink on the nib, there may be smudges on your fingers if the pen is put to use immediately. But it could be more – the ink could stain your clothes if the pen is carried out for a while before being used. Depending on the type of ink, the stains could cause damage that is hard to get rid of.

Does Nib Creep Happen All the Time?

Some ink escaping is pretty much a fact of life. Fountain pens with dark nibs could make the ink sitting on the surface less noticeable, while bright and pale metallic nibs will highlight the issue. But nib creeps exist in either case.

Many experts believe that nib creep is primarily caused by the type of nib being used. For example, gold nibs are more wettable than steel, and plated gold (using platinum, palladium etc. plating) is even worse in this regard, so they will show more nib creep. Also, nibs that are slightly damaged or not well finished will leave channels for the ink to seep through more.

Additionally, users report that certain types of ink (e.g. Noodlers) seem to cause more of a problem than others. But all types of ink will cause some nib creep, and many believe that choosing one type of ink over another is not the solution. Getting the nib fixed may be.

How to Clean Fountain Pen Nib after Filling

Using the premise that some nib creep is inevitable, how do you clean the nib to minimize the damage? The suggestions range from cleaning with fluids to different types of dry or wet rags or tissue. A common theme that runs across the suggestions is that one should focus on the tip of the nib, and in particular, stay away from the breather hole or the slit in the nib.

Wash in Cold Water

Running a gentle (not splashy) stream of cold water over the tip of the nib can do the trick. However, you have to be extremely careful to not get water into the ink reservoir by splashing the breather hole or the slit.

Many people will wash with water and then wipe using one of the methods suggested below.

Be aware that even if you execute this method perfectly, you may well get watery ink for the first few minutes of writing after you have cleaned the nib.

Use a Wet Paper Towel or Napkin

Using a wet paper towel is the preferred solution for many, given that it combines both water and an absorbent medium. Purists may not like this option since it will introduce water back into the pen if you are not extra careful. Also, a wet paper surface is partially saturated with water, which means that applying it on a smooth surface like a nib to wipe ink droplets off may or may not do the job adequately.

Use Dry Tissue

One of the most popular methods to clean a nib after refilling is to use a dry napkin, tissue, or paper towel. Ideally, you should fold the edges and use the point/edge to dab at the tip end of the nib. Make sure to stay away from the split or the breather hole.

Use and Reuse a Rag

Many regular fountain pen users will settle on using, and reusing, a paper towel or rag to wipe the ink off the nib. You have probably seen these ink-stained pieces of cloth lying around the writing desk of someone who regularly uses a fountain pen.

Besides convenience, the other advantage is that you do not need to evaluate every piece of tissue, kitchen roll or napkin that you use. A good absorbent towel or cloth will give you the same performance every time you use it.

Wax the Nib

Given the way the capillary system work, ink will tend to bleed onto the nib in almost all cases. If, however, the ink does not sit there indefinitely, there will be less scope for stains or smudges.

Some fountain pen users, therefore, suggest waxing the nib, which will make ink droplets slide off the surface of the nib as they come up through the capillary system.

While this is theoretically possible, waxing may also block off the pores that make the capillary systems work. As a result, this may not be the optimal way to treat a problem that could be minimized using one of the above, more mundane, options.

Will These Nib Cleaning Options Do the Trick?

The answer here depends on the repeatability, and extent, of the problem.

Many fountain pen users will tell you to get used to some nib creep no matter what. In most cases, this would boil down to the fact that even if you were able to successfully wipe off the nib the first time around, nib creep could still creep in when you left the pen sitting overnight.

The reason could be a nib that is not well finished or damaged, or possibly the metal – as we discussed, nibs that are gold, or gold plated, are prone to more nib creep than some other metals. On some occasions, the reason could be the type of nib, though the jury is still out on how much the ink affects seepage.

The practical answer is to continue dabbing at, aka cleaning, the pen, every time you pick it up for use. Assume that a pen filled close to the brim with ink will have some nib creep by default, and deal with it accordingly.

Does fountain pen ink evaporate

Fountain Pens Need to be Cleaned Regularly

While the solutions discussed above are intended to fix a short-term problem – namely, preventing a full pen from leaking – good fountain pen care includes cleaning the parts regularly, even after use. This is a topic for another day.

The Last Word

Nib creep is part of the deal for fountain pen users. If the leakage is substantial, you may want to investigate whether the pen or the nib has structural issues, or if the grip does not close properly. However, with normal pens, the solutions suggested above should work to not create unwanted leaks in clothing or smudges while you are writing.

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