Disclaimer: I am by no means a professional nib expert, so the tips here are based on my experience only. Please use your best judgement to determine whether the tips/procedure provided here is suitable for your situation.
If it isn’t apparent in my ink reviews, I’m not overfond of pen cleaning. Let me be clear, I don’t mind the process of flushing the pen (once or twice) but often more pigmented inks require a LOT of flushing for it to be clean enough for my liking and there’s nothing worse after flushing it through many times, drying it on the paper towel and seeing ink remnants seep out onto the paper. Argh!!
I was on the Fountain pens Australia Facebook page when I saw one or two users comment on their cleaning process, using an ultrasonic cleaner they had recently purchased. I’ve owned an ultrasonic cleaner for a while, but have always been scared to use it ever since it damaged some jewellery I had used in it, so it had been kept in storage for a few years.
After seeing the posts on Facebook, I dug out the cleaner and tried it out using a few cheaper pens. It seemed to work ok but for one or two inks, it still seemed to be leaking a bit of ink remnants after sonicating, so I thought I would have a play around to see if I could improve my cleaning process.
The combinations I tried were:
- No pre-flush/soaking – straight into the sonicator (plain water)
- No pre-flush/soaking – straight into the sonicator (soapy water)
- Pre-flush nib before sonication (water)
- Pre-flush nib before sonication (soapy water)
- Soak nib overnight (room temperature plain water) before sonication
- Soak nib overnight (room temperature soapy water) before sonication
For all “soapy water” methods, a drop of dishwashing liquid was added to room temperature water before mixing and all soapy water methods were followed by a sonication in plain water to rinse out the soap.
For both procedures without pre-flushing or soaking, I found the nib was hardest to clean. I ran the ultrasonic cleaner for 30 seconds per run and had to run the ultrasonic cleaner at least 4-5 times before you couldn’t see ink coming out of the nib anymore. When drying, the nibs still leaked a bit of ink remnant, so it would take about 2-3 more runs before the nib was sufficiently clean.
For the pre-flush before sonication, both procedures, it yielded a better result that no pre-flushing, but it still took about 3-4 times in the sonicator to yield a sufficiently clean result.
The best result I found was when the nib was soaked overnight. For more stubborn inks, a soapy overnight soak appeared to yield a better result, whilst Iroshizuku inks were fine in just normal water. Around 2-3 runs in the sonicator and the nib was near perfect, with no leakage onto the paper towel when drying.
I didn’t notice a huge amount of difference between using soapy and non-soapy water in the sonicator itself, but I am sure that it would make a difference in more stubborn inks.
For the record, the inks I cleaned from pens in this experiment were various Iroshizuku inks and more pigmented Sailor inks. One other note I would make is that the ultrasonic cleaner I used was marketed as a “commercial grade jeweller’s ultrasonic cleaner” – whether this makes a genuine difference or is just good marketing, I am not sure.
Some additional tips:
- Be wary and keep an eye out for how your nibs are jostled about whilst sonicating. They like to move around and I expect that if they spend the whole time hitting the side of the sonicator, it can’t be great for the nib tipping
- No matter how strong your ultrasonic cleaner is, don’t just leave nibs in there for extended periods of time, as I expect extended sonication baths will weaken the nib tipping and may cause it to dislodge
- Don’t put your hand or any part of your body in an ultrasonic cleaner while it is running.
- Be mindful of your ears when the ultrasonic cleaner is running.