I found a box of several old ballpoint pens. When I open them up, I can see each has a significant amount of ink in it. However, when I try to write with one, no ink is transferred to the paper.

I've tried running them under water, but this doesn't work very often. (< 25%) Is there any way to revive the pens?

  • 1
    Sucking on the tip helps sometimes, though this may be a bad idea depending on the pen Dec 10, 2014 at 3:01
  • 1
    @Zach rather than suck on the tip, blow on the other side.
    – Carl
    Nov 11, 2015 at 2:31
  • I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it does not seem to need a life hack, which is defined as an outside-the-box solution. Licking pens, drawing squiggly lines on things, etc. are well-established techniques that folks have been doing for ages, and this is merely an everyday "How To" question about learning a new skill. The author has not shown how this need an "outside the box" solution. See about Lifehacks. Sep 29, 2016 at 13:38
  • 6
    @CaptainObvious The best method is being saught and I don't think that you can say that an "outside the box" solution isn't being saught. Maybe the best answer is licking the tip, maybe it isn't. This seeks to be a canonical answer on the topic.
    – Mooseman
    Oct 6, 2016 at 10:17
  • @Mooseman Licking pens, drawing squiggly lines on things, etc. are well-established techniques that folks have been doing for ages, and this is merely an everyday "How To" question about learning a new skill. Oct 6, 2016 at 12:43

9 Answers 9


Since I am not to keen on licking ballpoint pens; if you have shoes on with rubber soles, draw a few lines on the bottom of your shoe... After that, go to the paper and it will almost instantly write again.

Since the ball in the pen get clogged up, the rubber pushes the ball loose from the clogged up ink. The drawing of the lines makes sure the small cloggs are transferred to your sole instead of your tongue.

  • If rubber is gonna work, woudn't it be easier to just use an eraser? May 10, 2021 at 10:25

Lick them vigorously. Ideally, just the point - but if you get too enthusiastic, no harm done.

Ballpoint pens work by using a small rotating metal ball to transfer ink from the internal reservoir to the paper, and over time ink can gum up the ball preventing it from rolling. All you need to do is soften the ink and your pen will work again!

If the ink in the reservoir has dried, you'll have to replace it entirely though.

  • 1
    I've tried a number of things on these answers, to no avail. I just found another pen that wouldn't write and I just touched the tip to my tongue for literally two seconds and it's writing like new. It's a perfect solution for me, as I'm often too lazy to get up out of my chair in the middle of doing something! Feb 15, 2015 at 17:16

Heat will help the ink flow.

  • hold the tip of the pen under running warm water, or

  • place the pen in sunlight for some time, or

  • hold the tip of the pen near a candle flame for 2-3 seconds and quickly remove it from the flame.

After that, scribble on a piece of paper, it will start working.

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    I was going to mention the flame source, although, I typically used a lighter. This heats up the tip and can help clear up a stuck roller. Dec 16, 2014 at 14:14
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    Keyword here is 2-3 seconds for the flame. Let it cool a bit before pressing down on paper. I extra heated mine and the metal tip collapsed into the plastic when pressed onto paper hahaha
    – Davbog
    Apr 9, 2020 at 15:17

The idea is that the tip is clogged. And you want to allow it to flow again.


You may try to dilate the tip (and slim the ink) with heat to allow the ink to flow. Other answers have already pointed to heat based solutions, such as using a candle.

Another option for the heat idea is to use pen against glass very fast. Glass won't get a permanent mark, and it will be hard for the ballpoint pen to scratch it. The fast motion is meant to heat the point of the pen by friction.

You may also try to use gravity (leaving the pen in a verticall position) to try to force the ink to flow. Other options are to use centrifugal force (that is a virtual force, it exists), or - in the case of cheap rollerball pens - dismantle the pen and blow the ink to the tip from the opposite side - beware of excess flow, do it against something that can absorb the ink.

On the other hand the ink may be dry. If it is not totally dry, you may try to mix it.

What kind of ink is it? Ink is usally a suspension in water, oil or alcohol. Rollerball pen usually are water based, others may use oil. Alcohol is only common in markers.

Whatever it is... add that to the ink - or the tip, if you don't have access to the ink. Water (Saliva from licking has been also suggested), Mineral Oil (Johnson's Baby Oil will do) or Alcohol (Isopropyl or in its defect, Methanol), depending the case.


Usually shaking the pens or leaving them upside down will do the trick. I also have a few pens that I really like, but I'm having problems with the ink so I find a working pen with the same or similar ink reservoir and I will switch the two.


There's one solution / it works all the time! Wet a napkin and take the ink cartridge and roll it up in the napkin/ place in mic for 20 sec !

  • 1
    What about the tip of the cartridge?
    – Just Do It
    Feb 20, 2016 at 15:33
  • @JustDoIt I think they're usually made of plastic, so it won't matter (if that's what you're referring to).
    – Joachim
    Feb 5, 2021 at 17:03
  • I'm fairly sure there are easier and less risky ways to acquire heat than to put metal into microwave ovens.
    – Andreas
    Dec 8, 2022 at 23:57

Actually I had these great pens which I seriously loved and used them but after around the first or second time I used them they stopped working. So I saw this post and tried various methods but what worked for me is that I removed the refill and separated the metal nib part from the plastic part and then put a very tiny amount of nail polish remover into both parts then I shook them for a minute and rubbed the big forcefully on to an eraser because the ball wasn't moving so I did this to the other pen too and it worked.

Also keep some nail polish remover handy in case you got some ink on your hands.:)


Try shaking your pen, placing gas at the top of the pen with a lighter for at max 7 seconds minimum 3 seconds as the ink may turn red or the plastic will burn. Or how about rubbing your pen at the bottom sole of your shoe, that often does not work for me though. The easiest way for me is to draw plenty of swirls on a piece of paper lightly to begin with then with more pressure as it help build up the surface area strength. You can also just buy a new pen.


Seconding user19's point about heat, but if neither running water, sunlight or flame is available try the following:

For most cheap ballpoint pens, the bit that actually holds the ink is a narrow piece of plastic tubing with a nib on the end. You can usually remove this part from the outer casing by taking off the end cap at the back of the pen and tipping it out. Gently flex the tube with your fingers a few times. The motion plus the heat from your fingers frees up the ink flow.

This is assuming that the pen is broadly similar to the "Bic" brand. I've included that link for illustrative purposes only and not at all because some of the reviews are hilarious.

  • Somehow one doesn't expect a downvote and an un-upvote on a suggested method of biro resuscitation. Obviously you felt strongly that wiggling the pen inner tube was not the way to go. What went wrong? Dec 10, 2015 at 22:24

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