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How to Clean the Printhead on your Printer

How To Clean the Printhead on Your Printer

Linsey Knerl
Today’s printers are designed for consumers to purchase and care for without the help of a professional, but they still need some occasional TLC. Regular maintenance, including attention to the printheads, is a must for ensuring trouble-free prints and a full printer life. Use these tips for HP printer cleaning and you’ll experience fewer issues.

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 of inks. When you purchase an HP inkjet printer, you are getting both as long as you take care of the printer and only purchase genuine HP Ink products.

Why 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 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 to do at your home or office.
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.
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 symptom 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

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 a new cartridge and try printing again.

How to clean the printhead on HP products

HP printer cleaning has been made so simple that it’s almost no task at all. Anyone wanting to know how to clean clogged printheads should use the included software and the printer’s notification system to make sure that the regular maintenance cycle isn’t enough to resolve the issue.
If you have Windows 10 and a connected printer, you can simplify maintenance tasks by using HP Smart utility to check the status of your printer and print quality reports. To initiate the cleaning process from this utility, click Printer Quality Tools and choose the cleaning maintenance process. It can take more than one time for the print quality to improve, so run this process at least twice.

Manual printhead cleaning instructions

If the automated process doesn’t work, you may need to do some manual cleaning. Not all HP printers can be cleaned the same way, so look at the documentation for your printer if these instructions don’t seem to fit your model.
  1. Make sure your printer is powered on
  2. Open the door to access the cartridge - this varies by model
  3. Wait until the cartridges have stopped moving and are in the center of the carriage
  4. Push the release tab on the printer cartridge and pull it out of the printer. Remove only one cartridge at a time and do not leave ink cartridges out of the printer for more than 30 minutes at a time
  5. Set the cartridges on a clean piece of white paper with the ink nozzles pointing up
  6. There is a latch handle on the side of the print carriage. Lift it until it pulls up and lift the printhead out of the printer
  7. Dampen a clean, lint-free cloth or paper (coffee filters work best) with distilled water and wipe the electrical contact squares from the bottom to the top. These are metallic and easy to identify. Avoid wiping beyond this area and clean until no new ink shows on the cleaning cloth. Make sure you don’t touch the metal contacts with your fingers
  8. Wipe away any excess ink from the edge between the nozzles and contacts with a new, damp cloth
  9. Wipe the plastic ramps on either side of the nozzles, wiping in the direction away from the nozzles
  10. Use a dry, lint-free cloth to make sure everything is dry
  11. Locate the electrical contacts inside the printer (refer to your manual for details). Use a new, damp, lint-free cloth and wipe them from top to bottom, using new cloths with each pass. When no more ink appears on the cloth, you are done
  12. Dry the contact area before replacing the printhead. Lower the latch handle to seat it in place
Replace the cartridges and try printing again.

Manual ink cartridge cleaning instructions

If you still have issues after cleaning the printhead, you may need to consider a manual ink cartridge cleaning. To do this:
  1. Make sure your printer is powered on
  2. Open the door to access the cartridge - again, this varies by model
  3. Wait until the cartridges have stopped moving and are in the center of the carriage
  4. Push the release tab on the printer cartridge and pull it out of the printer. Remove only one cartridge at a time and do not leave ink cartridges out of the printer for more than 30 minutes at a time
  5. Set the cartridge on a clean piece of white paper with the ink nozzles pointing up
  6. Be careful not to touch the ink nozzle plate directly. Use a lightly moistened and clean, foam rubber swab to clean the surface and spaces around the ink nozzle. Use only distilled water and never alcohol or another cleaning agent
  7. Dry with a new swab and place back into the printer according to the manufacturer’s directions. You can also allow the cartridge to air-dry for 10 minutes before replacing
  8. Repeat with any other cartridge that displays printing issues
  9. Close the door to the printer and try printing again

Troubleshooting additional problems

If that still doesn’t work, reach out to HP customer support before attempting to use 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 reps 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 Author: Linsey Knerl is a contributing writer for HP® Tech Takes. 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.

Disclosure: Our site may get a share of revenue from the sale of the products featured on this page.

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