It is ridiculously easy to make your own pen cleaner. It’s also really inexpensive. In fact, it’s so inexpensive that you could make up a whole bunch and share it with your local pen friends. Leave it on their doorstep in a pen equivalent of ding-dong-dash.
In our current era of working-from-home (or in some cases, maybe not really having a full-time job at all, like me) this is something that you can do while loading and unloading the dishwasher, washing machine, fixing lunch or doing household cleaning. This is a chore you’ll actually want to do because it means you can refill your pens with new ink!
The materials needed to make pen cleaner/pen flush can be acquired on your next trip to the grocery store. Just grab a bottle of
- a bottle of household ammonia (usually 5% solution, non-sudsing)
- a bottle of plain dishwashing liquid (the kind without any lotion or moisturizers in it. In the US, I recommend Dawn or Joy)
- a bottle or distilled water (no impurities, chlorine or hard water deposits)
Using a measuring cup, measure out 9 parts water (say 9oz or 90ml, etc) then top with 1 part ammonia (1oz or 10ml). Add a couple drops of dish liquid… one, two, three, maybe four if you’re feeling generous.
Then pour all of it into a storage jar. Make another batch if this only fills your jar a little bit. You have TONS of ammonia and water and dish soap. Pour it in too.
If you have more jars, make a batch for a friend or to keep at work — whenever you go back into the office. Repeat as needed. That did not cost anywhere near the $10+ that most people charge for pen flush. Now, you can go spend that $10 on paper or ink or something else way more fun.
Label it “pen flush” or “pen cleaner” so no one tries to drink it or pour it out.
To use, either decant a small amount into a dish or ultrasonic cleaner and drop dirty pen parts in or just flush pens in the jar until the liquid is completely black and then make a fresh batch.
Be sure to rinse your pens in clear fresh water several times after using pen flush to be sure you’ve removed any residue of soap and ammonia before storing or refilling.
32 comments / Add your comment below
Yup, that’s the recipe. I’ve been using it for years. I make it in a big bottle and put some in a small jar for my pen cleaning station on the windowsill above the kitchen sink.
Thank you for sharing!
Very helpful. Thanks Ana! Always look forward to mail from The Well Appointed Desk.
Thanks for the great tip. There is a typo however in the recipe example. It should read 10 mL..not 1 mL.
That would be some WEAK SAUCE! I fixed the typo.
Text incorrectly says 1 ounce = 10 ml. Actually 1 ounce = 30ml.
My point was to use a nice round value, not to be volumetrically equivalent. I can’t math very well so my recommendation was to find a measuring cup and use the 9:1 ratio to equal 10 whether you’re using metric or imperial values without making enough pen flush to fill a tanker truck.
Some people are easily confused Ana.. It was perfectly clear what you meant as it was just ratios.
“…can be acquired on your next trip to the grocery store.”
No mask = no trip, unless I want to be CANCELLED by a Karen. Can’t buy masks due to hoarders. Prolly doesn’t matter anyways, last time I went to the store (like 20 years ago) all sold outa bleach, ammonia, alcohol, hand sanitizer, toilet paper, you name it.
I had great luck finding supplies at my local Dollar Store — bonus: Karen’s don’t tend to shop at Dollar Tree.
Dollar Tree – aye – course laid in, no Karens spotted on radar…
Thanks for the recipe with cool illustrations!
Thanks for pulling back the curtain on this useful solution!
Ahhh I was a sucker who bought a pen flush!! Definitely making a big ol’ batch of this!!
Some people just refill the bottle of pen flush they purchased with their own mix once they realize it’s not rocket science. Trust me, we all bought a bottle at some point, so you’re not alone!
That is a fabulous suggestion! Stay safe.
Clean Pens has been on my to-do list for at least a week. Thank you for this recipe, I will get right to it!
I was about to buy a pen flush solution, and found this article…..money saved…cha-ching!!
But my question would be, how often would I need to use a pen flush for cleaning my pens? and would it cause any long term damage to any parts or material? One thing to note is that, I tend to change inks almost every time the pen needs a refill.
It’s not necessary to use pen flush every time you change inks. If you have a dark ink, it may help to get the color out faster. If you have had any nib creep or crusting, the flush will help or if you have left your ink in your pen and it’s dried in your pen. The flush will not damage modern pens but be sure to flush with clean water after using to remove any traces of the flush so that it does not mix with the ink. With vintage pens, I use pen flush as a last resort if water and an ultrasonic cleaner does not work first.
Many thanks for the tip
Thank you for the recipe. I was thinking I’d refill the pen flush bottle I bought whenever it is used up.
Thank you for mentioning to put it in a sonic cleaner. I’d never thought of that.
I usually only use pen flush with shimmering inks, or a pen taking a long time to get clean. Would you recommend using it to clean all pens, or not?
Pen flush is really only necessary if you are having trouble getting pens clean with water. So, it sounds like you are doing everything right!
In my area thanks to Covid-19, I cannot find a drop of Ammonia anywhere.
I’ve looked through every store that is around me from multi-stores like, Target & Walmart, to grocery stores like, Harris Teeter & Wegmans, down to the cheapie stores like, The Dollar General and even The Dollar Tree! Not one bottle of any size.
All they did have were gaping holes where the products used to be.
Do you think that maybe replacing the ammonia with something that has ammonia in it, like plain old Windex, would work?
I really wanted to ask a “Pro on Pens” like yourself if this is safe or not.
I wouldn’t even dip one of my cheapie Jinhoa’s into a Windex flush if you think it a bad idea.
I’ve got 6 – 1 pint Mason jars lined up with the Pen Flush stickers I bought from you on them (I’ve sealed the stickers onto the jar so they wont get messed up), ready to go out into the world filled with flush. Then shortages put the brakes on!
Thank you for any advice you have to offer me on this.
There are other ingredients in windex that I worry might damage some plastics or resins, like the blue dye might stain, even in the diluted solution. The run on ammonia has to end soon, doesn’t it? In the meantime, you can was your pens with water and a few drops of dishwashing liquid and that should get most of the gunk off.
Thanks for recipe. Looks great. I now have recipes for ” windex ” like agent, and Vinyl Record cleaner both have been used for 25-30 years; and now a new hobby of collecting Fountain pens thus necessitating pen flush.
Ana’s comment noted concern about glass cleaner. Correct 91% isopropyl alcohol along w either photo flow or jet dry are in my home made mix. Sorry to be off track.
Thanks for the insight about Windex. As has been mentioned recently isopropyl alcohol can damage pens over time — a concern with so much hand sanitizer use. So, avoiding washing pens with alcohol is definitely wise. Also, not handling your pens if your hands are still damp from hand sanitizer to avoid getting alcohol on the pen’s surface. If it’s unavoidable, maybe stick to metal pens for the duration of the pandemic?
In my part of the world, I can only get cloudy ammonia which is a mixture of soap and ammonia. Is it safe to use as a pen cleaning agent? If so, what would be the dilution factor? Cloudy ammonia has 18g/L of ammonium hydroxide. I could not get the complete ingredient list.
Thanks in advance.
Since its unclear (pun intended) what types of soap is included in the cloudy ammonia, I would recommend trying to clean your pens using just water and a few drops of plain dish soap (the kind with no lotion or fancy additives). Clear ammonia solution is usually about 4%-5% concentration so the 18g/L would also need to be used with a lot more water and a lot less solution — closer to a 18:1 or 20:1 ratio (water:ammonia).
While Ultrasonic cleaners can seem expensive, they are also an excellent option for cleaning pens with just water and a few drops of dish soap.
I am loving this money-saving blog. I never knew that I could make my own pen flush. I am a calligraphy artist and have spent a fortune on flushing my pens. Not that I have time to clean them all, but I am gonna try it at least once.
Thank you very much for pulling back the curtain on this useful solution!