Ballpoint Pens: Care & Maintenance

As with any type of pen, ballpoint pens require some care and maintenance to ensure their longevity. Storing them correctly is important to ensure ink flows freely when you write. Cheaper ballpoint pens, or biros, may also need a bit of perseverance to get them working. We’ve put together a care guide, so you know how to look after your pen, and we’ve also included some tips on how to get your pen working again should it seemingly have dried out.

How to Store Biros

One of the most common issues ballpoint pens face when it comes to them drying out is exposure to air. When air gets inside the cartridge it will make the ink dry up and for ballpoint ink, which is already quite thick, this will normally clog it completely. To avoid getting air inside the cartridge, make sure when you store your pen you retract the nib or cap the end. You can also keep them in a case, this will help prevent you losing or damaging the pen. Luxury pens with a metal barrel are especially worth keeping in a pouch or case to avoid scratches.

In regards to pen position, ballpoint pens that use gel ink should be stood upright. This will prevent them leaking. Traditional ballpoint pens that use oil based ink should be stored vertically so the thinner ink moves to the bottom ready for writing. This should make ink flow smoother when it comes to writing.

Can Ballpoint Pens Dry Out/ Why Ballpoint Pens Stop Working

Ballpoint and rollerball pens are designed to keep air out from the ink cartridge. The ball in the nib is designed to act as a cap to stop air getting through. However, air can still get inside the pen especially if the pen is left uncapped. More often however, people assume ballpoint pens have dried out because they stop writing. A better explanation would be that the thick ink inside the cartridge cannot flow as freely as needed. Additionally, ballpoint pens can stop working because the ink left in the ball when unused has been exposed to air and as a result clogged. Both issues can be fixed rather easily however so you can get your pen to start working again.

How to Fix Ballpoint Pens

A lot of people ask us how to make ballpoint pens work and how to get them to write. Ink flow can be inconsistent in ballpoint pens so where people might assume it’s dried up or the ink has run out, it may not necessarily be the case. Ballpoint pens depend on gravity to release the ink, they don’t write upside down, so you may have to hold them facing downwards for the ink to start moving. Similarly, if your new pen is not working try shaking the pen. Air bubbles can get inside the cartridge but shaking them will push the ink towards the nib ready for writing.

If your ball pen is no longer writing, the solution isn’t necessarily to change the ink. There are a few things you can try first to restart a dry pen. Firstly, try scribbling on a piece of paper. This can get the ink moving and sometimes a scribble is all the pen needs. Likewise, try applying additional pressure when writing and see if this helps you restart your pen. It is also recommended you push the pen hard into the paper and draw a forceful vertical line. This can also help get the ink moving. Remember, ballpoint pens use a thicker ink so may need some perseverance when trying to get the ink flow. It’s mainly cheaper biros however that experience these problems.

Other methods for restarting a pen may include:

  • Lighter method. This requires care and attention but holding a lighter to the nib of the pen can melt any ink that is clogging the ballpoint. Boiling water should also work. Be careful when exposing your pen and make sure you only show the end of the metal tip to the flame or water. If you go too far you will damage your pen.
  • Blow into an open ink cartridge. If your ink doesn’t have a cap on the end, blow into the opposite end to the nib.
  • Draw dots on a piece of paper. When you start to see ink coming out, scribble a pattern of swirls until the pen writes fluently to make sure the ink is working as it should
  • Tap the pen on a surface with a piece of paper underneath. As with shaking, this should get the ink moving better, although make sure you have paper underneath in case the cartridge starts leaking.
  • Write on a rubber or rubber surface like the bottom of your shoe. This can help unclog the ball in the nib.
  • Similarly, instead or rubbing the ballpoint nib on a rubber. Rub it against an emery board or piece of fabric. Both objects can also help unclog the tip.

If none of the above solutions work or you have used your pen a lot, it may be time to replace the cartridge.

Why do Ballpoint Pens Leak?

Ballpoint pens often leak when the temperature is raised. When people wear them in a shirt pocket the temperature of the human body raises the heat of the ink cartridge causing the ink to flow. If not capped or positioned vertically the pen is likely to leak. Fabric and paper are also materials that help the ink flow, so they can also cause the pen to leak.

How to Clean Ballpoint Pens

You will have read some tips above on unclogging the ball in the tip of the pen. If the nib of your pen contains dried ink, you can release it with heat or by scribbling on a piece of paper.

If your cartridge leaks inside the barrel then you should soak the pen, after removing the cartridge, in a cup of water. This should gradually remove any remnants of the ink, but you can also try holding the barrel under the tap for a more vigorous rinse. If the ink still doesn’t budge, try inserting a wet cotton swab inside the pen to remove manually. It’s best to avoid household cleaners and detergents to make sure you don’t damage the metal.

Removing Ballpoint Ink

Ballpoint ink tends to be more difficult to remove but If your pen has leaked or you’ve managed to get ink on objects around your home, we have a few tips on how you can remove the stains.

Leather

If you have ballpoint pen stains on leather than you need to proceed with caution. Leather can be easy to ruin and unfortunately the solution will depend on the object. It’s best to start off trying the manufacturer’s recommended cleaning solution. If that doesn’t work, we recommend you spot check different solutions on a small out of sight part of the leather. Try spraying hairspray on the area and let it sit for a minute, but don’t let it dry. Then wipe clean with a wet cloth and try your usual cleaning solution. Alternatively, you could try rubbing alcohol onto the area. Always spot check the solution first however and remember to be careful as different fabrics will react in different ways

Fabric

If you have got ink on clothes or furnishings, the best way to remove stains would be to try rubbing alcohol or nail polish remover on the stain. Blot at the stain with a clean cloth until it disappears and then apply your normal laundry detergent onto the area. After 5 minutes wash the fabric in hot water. If the fabric is delicate like silk or wool, you may want to seek professional cleaning advice.

Skin

If you have ballpoint pen ink on your skin normal household soap should remove it. It may require pressure and a scrubber however. Perseverance is key to removing the ink, but it will eventually disappear.