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Clean Print Heads - Instructions for Printer Head Cleaning
Last Updated: 01/01/2016

Introduction

If a printer has not been used for a long period of time, the many tiny holes that make up a modern inkjet printer's head may become clogged with dried ink. Clogged printer heads greatly affect the quality of the printing job and can eventually lead to damage to the printer. It is very important to clean out printer heads when they are clogged.

Printer Self-Cleaning

Most inkjet printers have some sort of automatic utility program by which you can instruct the printer to go through a self-cleaning cycle. A number of these cleanings, in succession, will usually take care of a clogged printer head. However because the cleaning cycle needs to be repeated multiple times, a significant amount of ink can be consumed during this process - as much as 10-25% of the cartridge's ink.

If the self-cleaning cycle does not solve the problem, try turning the printer off overnight to allow the ink to soften. Turn the printer on the next day and try printing a test pattern to see whether the problem has either disappeared or become less noticeable. This ink-saving procedure can work effectively because sometimes the dried ink on the print head needs time to soften before the printer head can be cleaned completely. Try running the self-cleaning utility again one or more times.

Steps for Manually Cleaning the Printer Head

If the overnight cleaning still does not work, there may be a layer of thick ink that is blocking the holes of the printer's head. The next option is to manually clean the printer head. Follow these steps:

  • Determine from the owner's manual where the print head is located.
  • Remove the ink cartridge from your printer and then dip a cotton swab in hot water or isopropyl alcohol (Some of our Customers recommend : 80% Windex + 20% Isopropyl alcohol) and rub it against the print head. This should loosen any crusted ink. NOTE: Be careful, especially if you use isopropyl alcohol to clean your print heads: Some printers use rubber gaskets, and if you get isopropyl alcohol on the gaskets it could dry them out.
  • For models where the print head is in the printer, drop 7 to 10 drops of isopropyl alcohol (91% denatured isopropyl alcohol - not 'rubbing' alcohol) down the ink receptacle area where the ink actually flows from the cartridge into the head. Run a few self-cleaning utilities. If possible, allow the printer to sit a few hours or overnight and repeat the self-cleaning utility.
  • If the print head is in the cartridge, soak the cartridge print head in hot water. Allow it to soak overnight. Dry the print head area with a paper towel. Repeat the self-cleaning utility.
  • If the hot water soak did not unclog the print head, place the cartridge printer head in isopropyl alcohol and allow it to soak overnight. Use a damp paper towel to wipe off the print head area and dry carefully. Try the self-cleaning utility again.
  • If the alcohol soak did not unclog the print head in the cartridge you may need to purchase a new cartridge. This will provide new print heads that won't be clogged. Contact a service technician for repair of print heads in the printer if the alcohol did not unclog the printer head.

Preventive Maintenance

It's a good idea to regularly conduct preventive maintenance on your inkjet printer to prevent it from developing clogged printer heads. Some steps you can take include:

  • Since print heads become clogged when not used for long periods of time, regularly print a page or two to keep the print heads clear. Some experts say that it is better to print one colorful page a week than to run a printer cleaning cycle, because doing so uses a lot less ink.
  • Turning the printer off when it is not in use can save the printer head from getting clogged with dried ink. Leaving the printer on keeps the ink in the cartridge warm and can make it bleed onto the printer head.
  • If you need to store your printer it would be best to take the printer cartridge out. Be careful to never touch the printer head with oily or dirty hands - this can leave skin oil on the printer head and add to the possibility of it getting clogged.
  • Ideally, printer cleaning cycles should be started once a week to prevent the printer head from getting clogged.

There are other more ink-efficient ways to be able to clean printer heads that will prevent their clogging just as effectively as running the printer's cleaning cycle:

  • Brush the printer heads with Q-tips soaked in water. Sources vary on whether alcohol would be more effective than water, but in the opinion of some printer experts alcohol can be harmful to printer heads and should thus be avoided.
  • Buy a cleaning kit and use it regularly on your printer. A typical cleaning kit usually has a tube of ammonia that you can spray on the printer head to remove dried ink.
  • Covering the printer when not in use to keep it free from dirt and debris also helps prevent the printer heads from getting clogged.


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