Arrgh! Streaks! Missing colors! White lines!
Nothing bums out an inkjet user more than the dreaded clogged printhead. Little bits of dust, debris, and dried ink block the tiny holes on the printhead, and now your prints come out streaky, with white lines were color should be. Your inkjet is only partially jetting.
Some inkjet printers clog more often than others. The Internet buzzes with conjecture: the micro-holes in Epson printheads deliver sharper prints, but clog more easily. Canon PIXMA inkjets clog less often because they run a preemptive head cleaning cycle. But regardless of what brand of inkjet printer you use, clogged printheads are inevitable.
3 Kinds Of Clogs
There are essentially three types of printhead clogs you’ll encounter:
- Simple Clogs: These can often be remedied by running a head cleaning cycle and nozzle check on your printer.
- Stubborn Clogs: When nozzle check/head cleaning doesn’t work, you may need the Windex Method (detailed below).
- Hardcore Clogs: Windex didn’t work? Ugh. Time to break out the big guns.
Where’s Your Head?
Your inkjet’s printheads are traditionally mounted on the bottom of a plastic carriage inside the printer called the printhead assembly. The printhead assembly carriage holds the ink cartridges and moves back and forth — with the help of a belt and a stabilizer bar — spraying ink onto the paper.
Clean the printhead with a soft, lint-free cloth, but don't touch the electronic components.
Printheads contain microscopic holes that shoot out droplets of colored ink. If you don’t run your printer that often, ink dries out, clogging your printheads. Even air bubbles in your ink cartridge can block the nozzle. But simple clogs can often be remedied by running a head cleaning cycle and nozzle check on your printer. In fact, run the head cleaning cycle twice before running a nozzle check. There should be no missing lines on your printout. If there are, run another head cleaning cycle.
Stubborn Clogs (The Windex Method)
Sometimes you have to get physical with stubborn clogs. Warm water can often loosen ink that has dried on the nozzles. Other times you’ll need Windex, or some other ammonia-based solvent, for a deeper cleaning.
- Turn your printer on. It will begin to run through its initialization startup process. As soon as the print heads begin to move long the carriage track, unplug the printer from the wall. This will keep the print heads loose (unparked) along the carriage track, making it easier to move and work on.
- Remove all ink cartridges from the printer. It’s a good idea to wrap them in plastic wrap to keep them from drying out while you work.
- Fold half-a-sheet of paper towel into quarters lengthwise, and dampen with warm water or cleaning solvent. There are several third-party cleaning solvents that can perform a more thorough cleaning. (YouTuber Robb’s Homemade Life made a homemade printhead cleaning solution that was 8 parts Windex to 2 parts rubbing alcohol.)
- Position the damp paper towel on the print track beneath the printhead assembly carriage. Move the printheads back and forth over the damp paper towel. You should see ink residue on the paper towel.
- Get a new piece of paper towel and repeat Steps 2 and 3 until no residue appears on the damp paper towel when you rub the printhead assembly carriage across it.
- Replace your ink cartridges and power up the printer. Cross your fingers and run a test print!
It seems like a cosmic joke. You spend thousands on a top-of-the-line inkjet printer and it clogs more frequently than your $100 inkjet! High-end inkjet printers use pigment ink which can dry out and clog faster than standard ink. They also use ultra-microscopic printhead holes to deliver the desired detail, but these tiny holes can be quick to clog.
To clear a hardcore clog on a printhead, you’re going to need to perform many of the same procedures used to fix a stubborn clog, only you’ll need to remove the printhead assembly from your printer first. Removing the printhead assembly is a post for another time, but once it’s out, you have some options for clearing out those stubborn clogged printheads.
One of the most thorough involves soaking the printheads in a solution of water and ammonia for several hours, and then flushing the heads clean by running them under warm tap water. We’ve seen others have success with this method, and it’s cheaper than replacing the printhead assembly. Other options for “blasting out” tough clogs include using needles and syringes to flush cleaning solution and/or warm water through the printheads, and using a straw or rubber tube to blow air through the printheads.
Perhaps the best way to avoid printhead clogs is to stop them from happening. Keep your ink flowing free by:
- Using your inkjet printer at least twice a week.
- Running head cleaning cycles as least once a month.
- Occasionally run paper of differing thickness through your printer to clear excess ink off the heads.
- Stick with genuine OEM ink cartridges.
- Occasionally use a “cleaning cartridge” or “maintenance cartridge” if available for your model printer.
Ink cartridge manufacturers will tell you differently (often boasting about the technological advancements they’ve made in print heads) but they really don’t mind when your print heads clog. Wasting ink running nozzle checks? Cool by them. That means you buy more ink, which makes ink cartridge manufacturers happy.
Keeping your print heads clean is your responsibility, a hassle that comes with pride of printer ownership. Use your inkjet printer at least twice a week if not more, run the clean printhead feature on your printer monthly, and you’ll have better prints and less wasted ink in the long run.