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How to Clean a Printhead for Better Ink Efficiency
Daniel Horowitz and Linsey Knerl
May 13, 2019
After your printer has been used for a number of projects, it’s common for users to begin running into quality issues. This can include streaking, fading, or even missing text on your prints, and it can often be the result of a dirty printhead.
What is a printhead? The answer is simpler than you may imagine. The printhead is a component in a printer that houses ink cartridges. It’s typically located under the cover of your printer, and it can become clogged with ink over time.
No matter which type of cartridge you use - compatible, reusable, or branded - ink can dry out and cause problems with the appearance of your prints. If this is left unaddressed, then your printer has the potential to break down and may have to be replaced entirely.
A printhead can usually be cleaned in one of two ways: through software on your PC or manually by taking out the printhead.
Here’s a quick rundown of how you can clean your printer head from the HP experts:
1. Run the “Clean Printhead” function from your computer.
2. If the above step doesn’t work, open the cover of your printer and then unplug it from the electrical outlet.
3. Remove each ink cartridge and clean the contacts with a cloth.
4. Clean printhead contacts.
5. Reinsert print cartridges.
6. Plug in your printer to the electrical outlet.
7. Allow the printer to boot up and run the automated startup sequence.
8. Print a test sheet to see if this simple procedure fixed the issue.
9. You may need to do this procedure several more times.
10. If all else fails, bring your printer to a repair shop.
It’s important to remember that these parts are delicate. If you choose to perform the repair yourself, you should be careful not to damage the contacts on both the printhead and your ink cartridges. If they’re damaged, it’s likely that you’ll need to take the printer to a professional for repair.
How printers work
Inkjet printers function by spraying tiny droplets of liquid ink over the surface of the paper. With smaller droplets, you can make sharper images. Ink comes in three major colors (cyan, yellow, and magenta) as well as black. By combining the colors together in a specific pattern, the other shades of the color palette are formed.
To create crisp, clear prints, the ink must be applied with precision. One way to ensure this is with a quality printer. Another is to be sure you are only using the highest-quality inks. When you purchase an HP inkjet printer, you are getting both of these - as long as you take care of the printer and only purchase genuine HP Ink products.
When should I clean the printhead?
A printhead can become dirty after it has been sitting idle for a period of time. It’s recommended that you perform a few print jobs each month in order to maintain print quality and to keep the ink from drying in the cartridges. However, even if you print a few times a week, you may still find yourself dealing with HP printhead problems.
You’ll know fairly quickly if your printhead is causing you problems. If your PC or the LCD screen on your printer is telling you that your ink cartridges are full but no ink is passing through to the paper, then it’s most likely that you are dealing with a clogged printhead. Blurry documents and images that appear faded are also signs that it’s time to remove the excess ink.
Before you start the process of cleaning, you’ll need to perform a nozzle check to make sure it’s actually causing the issues. You can usually do this from either your computer or your printer on newer models. This can help you avoid touching the printhead and damaging the contacts on either the ink cartridges or the printhead itself.
Why printer maintenance is necessary
You wouldn’t drive your car more than 5,000 miles without an oil change, so why would you run your printer for an extended period of time without completing regular maintenance tasks? You wouldn’t.
Cleaning the printhead is just one thing you can do to ensure smooth operation. It’s also one of the easiest tasks to do at your home or office.
Automated maintenance mode is often enough
Today’s HP printers are equipped with innovative software that can sense the first signs of trouble and automatically put the printer into maintenance mode. This usually includes tasks such as print head cleaning and alignment.
If you haven’t printed in some time, however, it may be necessary to perform an extra step or two to clean ink heads on an HP printer.
Streaky prints call for additional steps
You may be notified by your printing software or the display on the printer itself that maintenance is needed. Another way to tell that your print heads are dirty is if your print jobs come out partially printed or streaky. If your printer display says that you’re low on ink but you have a full cartridge, this may also be a sign of a dirty printhead.
Whether the printer notifies you or you suspect it’s an issue from the quality of your prints, don’t do any more printing until you’ve taken the following steps.
Before you clean your printer
First, make sure that you are using genuine HP printer cartridges. HP printers are designed to maximize efficiency and quality with HP original components. Check to see that your cartridge is an HP ink product and is the right fit for your model.
If you see that the cartridge shows sign of damage, has exploded, or doesn’t fit correctly, remove the cartridge and insert a new one. Wait for the printer to go through the automated maintenance tasks for the new cartridge and try printing again.
How can I clean an HP printhead from my computer?
1. Start the process of cleaning your HP inkjet printhead by clicking the “Start” button.
2. Access your Control Panel which allows you to see several menus including “Printers and Scanners” (You’ll find a list of any printers you have connected to previously as well as the ones you currently use).
3. Click on the printer icon and choose “Properties” (This window allows you to see how much ink you have available in your ink cartridges or if there are any issues associated with your devices).
4. If you see an indication that your ink cartridges are all full but your print jobs are fuzzy or smudged, then this is a clear indication that you need to clean the printhead.
5. Choose “Printing Preferences,” and then the “Service” tab.
6. From there, you have the option to choose “Printer Services” on the next window.
7. You’ll see a command to “Clean Printheads,” which will start the process of cleaning the printhead without you physically removing it.
How can I clean HP printhead by hand?
If you have tried cleaning the printhead through the software but you’re still noticing problems with your print jobs, then you may need to manually clean it. Again, it’s important to be careful when dealing with the ink cartridges and the printhead because they’re easily damaged.
1. Turn on the printer then open the access door (This varies by model).
2. The printer carriage will move to the center and you can access the printhead and cartridges.
3. Wait until the cartridges have stopped moving before unplugging your device from the electrical outlet - about 3 seconds (This keeps the printer carriage in one place so you can remove the clogged printhead).
4. Remove the cartridges by lifting up or pushing on the tab that holds them in place and pulling them out (Remove one at a time and try not to leave them out of the printer from more than 30 minutes).
5. Set the cartridges on a clean piece of paper on their side making sure the nozzle is pointing away from any surface.
First clean the ink cartridge contact points.
6. Use a lint-free cloth in order to wipe off excess ink from the contacts located on the bottom of each ink cartridge, but do not clean off or touch the nozzle itself.
7. The contacts should be pointing away from any surface to avoid damage and the nozzle should not be pointing down, otherwise you can cause the rest of the ink in the chamber to drain out (Laying it on its side is your best bet).
8. If ink remains on the contacts, use a cotton or foam rubber swab moistened with bottled water to gently clean it off (Note: DO NOT use alcohol or any other cleaning fluid to clean the contact points or print head).
9. Dry the contact point with a clean swab or allow to air dry for 10 minutes before replacing the ink cartridge in the printer.
10. Once you are done with one cartridge, lay it on its side on your clean sheet of paper and use the same method to clean the rest of the cartridges.
Now it’s time to clean the printhead itself.
11. Look for the contact points on the print carriage inside the printer and gently wipe them off using a lint-free cloth.
12. Make sure there isn’t any ink left on the printer contacts.
13. Just as on the ink cartridges, if you are having difficulty removing the excess ink, use a cotton swab and mineral water until it is clean.
14. Wait around five minutes for the print carriage to dry and then reinsert the ink cartridges into the printer.
15. Snap them into place and make sure they’re secure before you plug in the power cord.
16. Close the cover to the printhead and wait for the initialization process to finish before trying to print any documents.
What if my printer still isn’t working?
If you’re still experiencing quality issues or printhead errors, then there may be other problems at play. Before taking any other actions, it’s recommended that you clean the printhead and ink cartridges four or five more times.
Also, leave your printer unplugged overnight and double check the nozzle on your ink cartridges to make sure they aren’t full. You want to give everything a chance to dry out before cleaning.
Old or damaged ink cartridges can also cause issues with your printer’s performance. If the above steps haven’t fixed the problem, replacing your cartridges could be the answer.
Go through the process of cleaning your printhead’s contacts again before you insert new printer cartridges. After the initialization process, try printing another document to see if your images are clear and that there is no streaking or fading.
If there are still problems with your printer, it may be time to take it into a repair shop that specifically works on the brand you have purchased.
Call on an expert from HP®
A skilled HP expert may be able to identify the problem and fix your printhead so you no longer have issues with your print jobs. He or she can also make recommendations for keeping your printer clean so you can avoid running into similar problems in the future.
Also, make sure you avoid using a harsh cleaner on your printer or taking it apart. You don’t want to do anything that would void the warranty on either your printer or the HP ink cartridge.
HP representatives are there to help with the best printhead cleaning solution for your particular model of printer and can offer solutions or repair options to get you printing again quickly.
About the Authors: Daniel Horowitz and Linsey Knerl are a contributing writers for HP® Tech Takes. Daniel is a New York-based author and has written for publications such as USA Today, Digital Trends, Unwinnable Magazine, and many other media outlets. Linsey is a Midwest-based author, public speaker, and member of the ASJA. She has a passion for helping consumers and small business owners do more with their resources via the latest tech solutions.