Have you ever cleaned a fountain pen, but found that it’s still not as clean as you’d like it to be? I know I sure have. With some inks, getting them completely out of a pen with a normal cleaning can seem impossible. It’s times like this when you may need to take your pen cleaning to the next level and use an ultrasonic cleaner!
For the most part, using an ultrasonic cleaner with your fountain pens is completely safe, although there are a few things you should be aware of. I’ll get to those later. For now, I want to talk about what an ultrasonic cleaner is and how it can be used to get your pens cleaner than ever.
What Is An Ultrasonic Cleaner?
At this point you may be wondering what an ultrasonic cleaner actually is and how it works. An ultrasonic cleaner is a small device that holds water. When turned on, it vibrates at a very high frequency and sends vibrations through the water for a set amount of time (usually a few minutes). Anything that’s in the water is essentially vibrated at the same frequency. While it may not sound like it, this is a very gentle process and is safe for most fountain pens.
Why is this vibration important? Normal soaking is a static process and can only affect the parts of the pen that water touches. If you’ve ever used anything to force water through your feed, you’ve probably noticed that more ink comes out than with normal soaking. This is because you are adding more turbulence and force to the water inside of the pen, so instead of water simply touching the insides of your pen, it is being forced through and having a greater effect than if your pen was simply sitting in water. An ultrasonic cleaner takes things to the next level. It not only adds more turbulence to the water inside of your pen, but it also moves that water at a very high frequency, which essentially is like having the water scrub the insides of your pen and fast-forwarding the cleaning process.
Using An Ultrasonic Cleaner With Fountain Pens
There are a few reasons you may want to use an ultrasonic cleaner with your fountain pens, but all have to do with cleaning ink out of them. The main reason most people use one is to make sure all ink is out of their pens. While flushing with water works most of the time, there are some inks that are highly saturated that make a thorough cleaning tough. One pass through an ultrasonic cleaner should get any remaining ink out of a pen so that your next fill is untainted by old ink.If you’ve ever restored an old fountain pen, chances are you found some dried ink in it. This ink has likely been sitting in the feed for decades and usually needs a good soaking to remove. Even after soaking for many days, I’ve often found that some ink still remains. There have even been times that I’ve soaked a pen for over a week without getting all of the ink out! Fortunately, an ultrasonic cleaner speeds up the process and quickly gets dry ink out of old pens.
Oftentimes when using an ultrasonic cleaner with old pens I’ll see chunks of dry ink come out into the water. If I was simply soaking the pen, these pieces of ink would have to completely dissolve before coming out of the pen. Instead, they are knocked loose and removed from the pen without needing to dissolve first, which greatly speeds up the cleaning process. I will say, though, that an ultrasonic cleaner can’t work miracles. With many old pens, it’s taken me a few flush-fill-ultrasonic cycles to completely get the ink out of a pen.
So how do you actually clean a fountain pen with an ultrasonic cleaner? First, I always start with my normal cleaning process. Once that’s done, it depends on what kind of pen you’re cleaning. I’ve had success with a few different ways. The easiest way is if you have a pen that takes a cartridge or converter and can simply place the section with the nib directly in the cleaner. This will completely submerge it and circulate water through it during the cleaning process. If you are using a pen that has a removable nib, you can simply remove the nib unit and use the cleaner to clean it, while flushing the section and converter/pen body with water as you normally would.If you don’t typically disassemble your pen for cleaning, you can still use an ultrasonic cleaner. Most come with some sort of basket that makes removing submerged items easier. I’ve found that I can rest the tip of my nib in one of the open parts of the basket and lay the body of my pen on the edge of the cleaner during cleaning. If you do this, keep an eye on your pen and make sure it doesn’t become unbalanced and fall, as it is likely to shift from the vibrations. If your cleaner doesn’t have a basket, you can simply hold the tip of the pen in the water during the cleaning process. Don’t feel like you need to use your ultrasonic cleaner every time you clean a pen. While it shouldn’t hurt anything, it isn’t necessary. I usually use mine if I’ve waited too long before cleaning my pens and the ink has completely dried out in the nib. I also use it if I’ve used a high-saturation ink that I know will make cleaning difficult.
Things To Be Aware Of
While an ultrasonic cleaner can greatly speed up the cleaning process, there are a few things you should be aware of. First, it shouldn’t change the process you use when cleaning your pens. Any precautions you would normally take should still be followed. If you wouldn’t completely submerge your pens during normal cleaning, you shouldn’t completely submerge them in an ultrasonic cleaner. If your pen material can be damaged by water, using an ultrasonic cleaner doesn’t change that fact.
There are also a few additional things that you should be aware of. If you have any pens that have some sort of inlay, you might want to avoid using an ultrasonic cleaner with them. The main example I’ve heard of is the vintage Parker 61, which has a piece of metal inlaid in the plastic resin above the nib. Due to the high vibrations in the water, some people have had this inlaid piece of metal fall out during cleaning. With that being said, I would avoid using an ultrasonic cleaner on any pens that have inlays (such as mother of pearl), unless the nib section can be removed and cleaned separately from the parts of the pen with inlays.
One other precaution you might consider taking has to do with how many pens you clean at the same time. There have been times when I’ve had 5 or more pen sections in my cleaner. While it runs, the pens tend to move around a bit due to the vibrations. With so many pens being cleaned at once, a few will inevitably touch and start vibrating together. While I’ve never experienced any damage from this, it’s good to be aware of in case you have any pens that may have a delicate finish or that you want to be extra careful with.
Choosing An Ultrasonic Cleaner
While ultrasonic cleaners don’t have many options, there will be some differences between models. One main difference will be the size. If you only plan to use an ultrasonic cleaner to clean your fountain pens, you won’t need a very big one. Since most are already made to clean jewelry, I’d guess that any cleaner you find will work for a fountain pen. Another option you might find is the length of the cleaning cycle. For example, the one that I have runs on a 3-minute cycle, while other cleaners have multiple cycle lengths that range from 90 seconds to 10 minutes.
One final thing to be aware of is where the controls are located. On mine, the buttons are on the lid, which means a wire has to run from the lid to the base (hidden in the hinges). I have seen people post about that wire breaking over time and suggesting that cleaners with the buttons in the base unit instead of the lid are less likely to break. My cleaner has the buttons in the lid and has worked well since I bought it 10 years ago, but I suppose there is a chance it could eventually wear out. I wouldn’t let that be a deal breaker, but it is something to keep in mind while shopping.
An ultrasonic cleaner is a great and relatively inexpensive tool to add to your pen-cleaning routine. It can help with getting highly-saturated inks out of your fountain pens so that the next ink you fill with looks the way it’s supposed to. An ultrasonic cleaner can also help clean dried ink out of fountain pens that have been sitting for weeks, months or even years. Even though it can really help clean your pens thoroughly, don’t feel like you need to use one every time you clean your pens. It probably wouldn’t hurt anything if you did, but it probably wouldn’t really help, either.