Office Tips

How to Handle Leaking Pens and Why They Happen

Whether your pen redecorated the front of your shirt, the pockets on your pants, or the inside of your travel bag, nobody likes an ink stain from leaking pens. So why do pens leak, and how do you stop it from happening in the first place? Here’s what you need to know to get rid of stains and stop them. 

Why Do Pens Leak?

Most pens are made with some sort of vacuum or other mechanism to prevent leaking. So why do pens explode or leak? Here are a few reasons your pen might be trying to redesign your clothes and upholstery: 

  • The tip is touching something: Just like when writing on paper, pens release their ink when there is contact with their tips. That means if you leave your pens uncapped or exposed in your pocket, it’s going to write on your clothes or your bag. Prolonged pressure and contact can continue to pull ink from your pen until you get a sizeable stain, especially with fast-flowing pens.
  • The tip is damaged or loose: For an example, ballpoint pens use a small metal ball in the tip to evenly distribute ink while maintaining a vacuum inside the ink cartridge. If that ball gets jammed backward or damaged, it can compromise that vacuum and allow ink to come out freely.
  • Extreme temperatures: Extreme hot or cold can cause the ink in your pen to expand (forcing it out) or contract and then expand again later when it warms up. Leaving your fancy new fountain pen unattended in a hot car in the summer, therefore, could result in some interesting new spattered ink designs on your car’s interior. Even your body heat, according to, can cause ballpoint pen ink to become more liquid and leak out.
  • Air pressure: Ever hear about pens exploding on a plane? Well, it could happen. As a plane gains altitude rapidly, the pressure outside the pen becomes much lighter than the pressure in the pen. Remember science class? The higher pressure in the pen is going to want to release into the low-pressure air outside it, which means leakage. This is most common with rollerball pens, according to an article on, but you can avoid this by getting rollerballs with unique plane-safe technology.

What Types of Pens Are Most Likely to Leak?

Believe it or not, it’s the fancy types that are most likely to create leaking pens. While cheap, underperforming pens are more likely to skip or streak (aka, they’re TOO good at keeping the ink in) more expensive pens and luxurious pens often trade easy-flowing ink for a little more leakage-risk. The most common styles include: 

  • Fountain pens: I mean, it’s in the name. Like a fountain, fountain pens release their ink more freely than other pens, offering bold lines and calligraphy-like writing options for people who love making word art. Downside? It’s more prone to leaking from things like shaking the pen, damaging the delicate tip, and even leaving it stored tip-down too much. While they make gorgeous words, fountain pens require a little more care than your average ballpoint.
  • Rollerball pens: Rollerball pens often are made with water-based ink, which means it is easier to pull the ink out (and keep it coming!) just from contact with the tip. It also means that, just like fountain pens, it is more prone to changing temperature from extreme heat and releasing ink when there are sudden changes in air pressure, like on planes.
  • Ballpoint pens: While not as likely to leak as the other two, according to, it has been known to happen that ballpoint pens kept upside down in your pocket will leak as your body heat warms up the ink, making it more liquid and harder for the ball tip to keep back. The same can be said for other heat sources, like heaters, hot cars, etc.

How to Prevent Pens from Leaking

So, are you doomed to ink stains just to enjoy a free-flowing pen style? Nope! Here are some basic steps to keep the ink where it belongs – in the pen or on the paper. 

  • Store at the right angle: For fountain and rollerball pens that are more prone to the effects of gravity, leaving your pens tip-down is not the best idea. Instead, keep them laying down in a drawer or fancy storage box to help them last longer.
  • Avoid extreme temperature: As mentioned before, leaving your fancy new pen in a hot car is probably not the best way to preserve it. In other words, don’t leave your pen stored in an environment you wouldn’t want to be in yourself.
  • Keep the tip covered: Don’t want your pen leaving lines and dots on your bags and pockets? Keep the cap on when carrying it, or keep the tip retracted if it is retractable. This also can help protect against damaging the pen tip.
  • Use a plastic bag: Aside from buying fancy airplane pens, you can actually help protect against air pressure changes on your pens with a plastic Ziploc-style bag. Keeping your pen in the bag, according to, will maintain steady pressure inside the bag where your pen is, no matter what the pressure is outside.

Why Do Some Pen Types Bleed and Leak More?

Stains on your clothes isn’t the only problem that comes from a leaky pen. Some pen types are also prone to bleeding while writing, which means more ink is coming out on the paper than you intended. Here are a few factors that influence that, and can cause leaking in general: 

  • Thinner ink: While gel pens are gel based and ballpoint pens use oil-based ink, rollerball pens and fountain pens often use water-based ink. This makes the ink thinner and more free-flowing, but also makes it more susceptible to expansion from heat, problems with air pressure, and more likely to bleed freely on contact.
  • Writing angle: Fountain pens especially don’t do well when you write like a toddler gripping a crayon. To preserve the tip and get the best lines, make sure you’re writing at an angle rather than pressing the tip straight down on the paper.
  • Design: Not all pens are created equal. While cheap pens aren’t guaranteed to leak, poorly made rollerballs and fountain pens aren’t going to have the same design features as the more expensive models that keep the ink in place no matter where you’re writing. Basically, if you’re upgrading to a fancy pen style, invest in a reliable brand.

How Do I Handle Ink Stains and Spills?

It’s all well and good to know how to prevent ink spills, but odds are you’re reading this because you already have a leaking problem and the stain to prove it. If you want to get that ink out, here are the top tips from experts like Ask Anna Moseley and Tide

For gel-based ink: 

  1. Make a 1:1 mixture of rubbing alcohol and vinegar and let it sit on the stain for 5 minutes.
  1. Sprinkle salt on the stain and mixture and let that sit for another 5 minutes.
  1. Scrub thoroughly with a toothbrush and then rinse in hot water.
  1. Rinse until the stain lifts, then dab with a clean cloth. If the stain isn’t out, repeat steps 1-3 until it lifts.
  1. Let it air dry, then toss in the wash like normal. Tada, you’re stain-free!

For markers, ballpoint pens, and water-based ink pens: 

  1. Spray the stain and surrounding area with hairspray and let it sit for 3-5 minutes.
  1. Note, Tide says rubbing alcohol or hand sanitizer can also work.
  1. Blot the excess ink away with a paper towel, then repeat step 1.
  1. Toss it in the washing machine like normal. Don’t put other clothes with it!
  1. Repeat if necessary, and you’re done!


Katie Yelisetti

From marketing tips to product recommendations, I’m here to help small businesses be their best.

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