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How To Clean Printer Heads: Review For All Popular Brands

While technology has come a long way since the printing press, modern printers can last a long time with proper care and maintenance. One way to save yourself money and time is proper printer maintenance, and cleaning the print heads can go a long way to getting the most out of not just your printer, but also getting more ink from the cartridges as well. With proper cleaning and care, your print heads will ensure ink is used appropriately and reduce printing errors.

A print head is essentially the component that puts ink to paper in the printer by excreting small ink drops out of many nozzles either directly onto the page, a printing ribbon, or a printing plate. The nozzle pattern on the print head itself will vary depending on the manufacturer and whether it is multi-color or mono-color. 

A print head can be located either on the ink cartridges themselves or built into the printer. Dot-matrix printers will typically have the print head located just above the print output and move back and forth, similar to a typewriter while printing and impress the ink onto the page.

Inkjet printers will often have them on the ink cartridge and are located on the side of the cartridge that faces inside the printer when loaded and are typically underneath a ribbon when packaged for sale to prevent drying.

Inkjet printers that use an integrated print head are located near the front or side of the printer with an access panel for easier access. Here is a handy link to learn more about inkjet printers and how they work.

clean priting heads

Two Types Of Print Heads: How They Differ

Besides where the print head is located, as discussed before, there is another key difference in print heads based on your printer manufacturer and how electricity is applied to the print head to produce images.

Piezoelectric Print Heads

Used by Epson inkjet printers, the piezoelectric print head contains microscopic piezoelectric pieces that conduct electricity and bend backwards behind the print nozzle, releasing the ink. Since this process is caused by an electrical charge, it is much easier to get precise dots of various sizes.

Thermal Print Heads

HP and Canon inkjet printers use electricity to heat resistors behind the print nozzle that vaporizes the ink so quickly that a bubble forms and explodes, letting the ink onto the paper. After ejection, the chamber is cooled and lets in more ink to repeat the process to continue to create the image.

How to Clean Canon Printer Printhead

How Can You Tell If A Printhead Is Clogged: When To Clean

Ink levels are normal, but the printer prints blank pages.

  • Faded and blurry printouts.
  • Gaps in printouts.
  • A particular color is missing from the printout.
  • Poor color quality printouts.

After identifying an issue like the ones listed above, there are a few steps to take to determine whether your problem can be resolved by cleaning the print head(s).

One of the most effective ways is to perform a nozzle check, which simply means having your printer create a test page that includes several patterns and all available colors.

If your printer has built-in controls, you can find options to print a test page under "Maintenance/Settings." Many printers also work with your computer's operating system. By entering your system preferences or settings and selecting "Printers & Scanners," you should also find an option to print a test page.

Once you have confirmed an issue with the nozzle or print head, you can start the process of cleaning your print head with the tips below.

Cleaning Your Printer Heads: Maintenance For Popular Printer Brands

1. How to Clean HP Print heads?

Automatic Cleaning – How do I get my HP printer to clean itself?
  • Ensure printer has at least three pieces of paper loaded per cleaning.
  • Using controls on the printer:
  • Select “Printer Maintenance” from the Systems settings.
  • Select “Clean Print head” and cycle through the on-screen options.
  • Using your computer:
  • Open “Printers/Scanners” in your system settings
  • Select your device
  • Select “Manage”
  • Select “Printer Properties”
  • Select "Clean the Print Cartridges”
  • Confirm the printout is clean and clear and if not, repeat the process one to two times to see if there is an improvement. If not, try manual cleaning.
Manual Cleaning

Supplies: Waterproof container, dry paper towels, lint-free cloth, filtered/distilled hot water

  • Place dry paper towel into a waterproof container and fold as needed, so paper towel sits on the bottom of the container.
  • Completely submerge the paper towel with the hot water (roughly 2 inches or 5 centimeters of water).
  • Remove ink cartridges via access panel and place the sticker side down on paper towel.
  • Where you removed the ink cartridges, look for a grey latch to release print head and pull up and out to remove.
  • Wet lint-free cloth lightly and gently wipe away ink on the print head nozzle.
  • Place print head in container with wet paper towels and let soak for at least 10 minutes with the print head nozzle facing down.
  • Remove print head from the bath and let rest on dry paper towel with nozzle facing up for at least 15 minutes or until dried completely.
  • Reinstall print head, secure release latch, and reinstall ink cartridges.
  • Run the automatic cleaning function on the printer and check the test page for improvements.

2. How to Clean Epson Print heads?

Automatic Cleaning
  • From the Home screen, select "Setup," then "Maintenance," then "Print head Nozzle Check”. Check the printout to see if any of the four colored grids have gaps.
  • If no gaps, select "Done."
  • If gaps appear or colors are faded, select “Clean the print head”.
  • If no improvement after one to two attempts, follow Manual Cleaning steps.
Manual Cleaning

Supplies: Paper towels, tape, distilled/filtered water

  • Fold paper towel in half lengthwise until it is roughly ½ inch or 1.5 cm wide
  • Open the printer and locate rubber roller
  • Attach paper towel to roller with tape
  • Wet paper towel with a few drops of distilled/filtered water in the middle of the paper towel
  • Move print head assembly over the paper towel
  • After resting for at least 15 minutes, check for dissolved ink on the paper towel
  • If ink looks black, repeat steps 4-6 with a new paper towel
  • If individual colors can be identified, move print head assembly to the original position and remove paper towel
  • Print test page again and check for improvement

3. How to Clean Canon Print heads?

Automatic Cleaning
  • Select “Setup” or gear icon on built-in display
  • Select “Maintenance” or tools icon
  • Select “Cleaning” then “Yes)
  • Print test page
  • If colors are not faded and there are no gaps, the process succeeded
  • If there are gaps or faded colors, repeat the process one to two times to check for improvement, and if no improvement, continue to manual cleaning
Manual Cleaning

Supplies: Waterproof container, dry paper towels, lint-free cloth, filtered/distilled hot water

  • Place paper towels in waterproof container, folding as necessary to fit
  • Cover paper towels with hot water, enough to fully submerge print head
  • Place dry paper towel to the side of the container
  • Open the access panel and wait for cartridges to center, then remove
  • Lift latch on cartridge housing to release print head, pulling up and out to remove
  • Wet the lint-free cloth lightly and wipe away ink from print head nozzle
  • Place the print head in container with the nozzle facing the paper towels at the bottom
  • Let print head soak for 10 minutes, then remove and set on dry paper towel to dry for at least 15 minutes with nozzle facing up
  • Reinstall print head and ink cartridges, securing the latch on the ink cartridge housing
  • Print test page to check for improvements

4. How to Clean Brother Print heads?

Automatic Cleaning
  • Press “Ink” key on the control panel or press "Menu" and select "Ink”
  • Select “Cleaning”
  • Select "Black," "Color” or “All” depending on affected colors
  • Print test page and check for improvements
  • If no improvements, repeat the process one to two times, checking for changes. If no changes, use manual cleaning steps
Manual Cleaning

Supplies: Distilled/filtered water, lint-free cloth or paper towel, waterproof container

  • Turn the printer off and unplug
  • Open access panel on printer to remove ink cartridges
  • Remove ink cartridge tray and print head
  • Dampen lint-free cloth or paper towel and brush over electrical contact area on ink cartridge tray until no new ink shows up on cloth or paper towel
  • Remove excess dried ink from contacts, edges, and ramps
  • Add warm distilled/filtered water to container
  • Soak print head unit in the water for at least five minutes. Dab print head unit with dry paper towel until completely dried and excess ink is removed
  • Reinstall print head unit, ink cartridge tray, and ink cartridges
  • Print test page

5. How to Clean Print Heads on Ink Cartridges

Manual Cleaning

Supplies: Distilled/filtered water, paper towel

  • Remove ink cartridges from printer
  • Blot cartridge on wet paper towel with print head facing down
  • Hold ink cartridge with print head facing down on dry paper towel for 2-3 minutes, allowing ink to flow onto paper towel. Do not wipe ink cartridge against the paper towel
  • Once dry, reinstall ink cartridges
  • Print test page
How to Improve Print Quality

People Also Ask (FAQs)

Can you use rubbing alcohol to clean printer heads? What about vinegar?

Yes, but only to clean the contacts on the print heads by blotting on a paper towel soaked with rubbing alcohol or a diluted vinegar and water solution.

How do I prevent my print head from clogging?

Run the automatic printer head cleaning process at least once a month if the printer does not see frequent use and if the printer has not been used for longer than a month, perform a manual cleaning.

Does print head cleaning waste ink?

Print head cleaning does use ink which is why it is recommended only to attempt the automatic process a few times before resorting to manual methods.

How often should you clean printer heads?

For printers that see daily use, run the automatic cleaning process once a month. For printers that have not been used in over a month, attempt the automatic cleaning process before use and manually clean if needed.

What causes print head failure?

Infrequent use of the printer can allow ink to dry and cause print head failure. However, faulty ink cartridges can also cause issues if they leak. For those anticipating infrequent use, check out this article on top printers for infrequent use.

How long does a print head last?

With regular cleaning and maintenance, the print head can last as long as the other components of the printer.


Regular print head cleaning and maintenance can save you the hassle and cost of buying new ink cartridges too frequently (or having to refill) and extend the life of your printer for many years. Be sure to refer to the instruction manual of your printer for any additional details and use the steps from this article to increase the quality of your prints.