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How to clean HP or Lexmark printheads


Horizontal or vertical gaps (including blank lines) in the printing?

If you've just recently replaced a cartridge and the printed page is entirely blank, contains blank gaps or missing text:

1) Make sure you've removed the protective shipping tape or vent tape.

a) This is easily overlooked but is quite simple to remedy. On HP, Lexmark, Dell and similar disposable print head cartridges, you'll find a strip of plastic film on the bottom of the cartridge covering the printhead. This tape is used to seal and protect the printhead during shipping. It prevents ink from entering the printhead where it dries to form an ink clog.


The red-brown film which contains fine circuitry used to operate the cartridge. Removing the control ribbon will render your cartridge useless.

b) On Epson, Canon and Brother cartridges, for fixed print head inkjet printers, you'll see a tear off strip, usually with a graphic which indicates that the tag is to be pulled. The tear off strip seals the the vent holes on the top of the cartridge to prevent it from drying out on the shelf or during shipping.

After ensuring that the shipping tape has been removed, run the printer's "Head Cleaning" utility to prime the cartridge, then print a test page.


2) If your printed output still indicates clogged ink nozzles:

  1. From inside a software application such as MS Word or Notepad, go to the File menu and click "Print".
  2. Click on your printer in the list to select it.
  3. Click on the "Preferences" button and the "Utilities" or "Maintenance" tab
  4. Locate and run the "Head Cleaning" utility at lease once but no more than 3 times consecutively.
  5. Print a Test page .

*WARNING: If your cartridge houses your print head as in HP and Lexmark inkjet printers, never use the Head Cleaning utility more than 3 times consecutively! You'll likely burn out the resistors in the cartridge's print head. Wait 20 minutes while the print head cools before trying again. Check your printer manual and documentation for recommended methods.

Since most Epson and Canon printers use suction pumps to clear clogged print heads, repeatedly running the cleaning cycle applies increased suction to the clogged print heads. This tends to waste a great deal of ink and in most cases, probably won't damage the print heads. But may cause an airlock in the cartridge. Check your printer manual and documentation for recommended methods.

Wait a minute or two to let the ink soften and liquify between cleaning cycles. Always print a "Nozzle Check" or "Test Page" between cleaning cycles. Check the test pattern to ensure that all nozzles are firing. If not, wait a few minutes before trying again.

TIP: Print two or three pages of a full spectrum color image (to remove air bubbles or foam that a printhead cleaning cycle may not have removed). If the printed image is still not acceptable, repeat the process.


Missing colours or not printing at all?

If your cartridge has been sitting unused for a couple of days, or you've let it sit for days with the power on, a long weekend for example, it's likely that your print-heads may be clogged with dry ink.

If you've already tried the "Head Cleaning" or "Nozzle Check" function built into your printer driver software, you're in for a little work.

In either case, you can also try full page print test "over and over again" method. This trial-and-error method can take up to 15 or 20 prints and it will also waste a lot of your ink but It may eventually clear the clogged inkjet print head.

If Black Only is giving problems, try a greyscale test. Before you print the greyscale test page, be sure to disable colour printing. From the print menu, select Printing Preferences and look for an option to print all colours as black or greyscale. This will focus your cleaning efforts on the problem cartridge while conserving the colour ink. Make certain to reset your printing preferences to allow colour printing when the clogged print head is cleared and you're satisfied with your printing results.

If you've got a graphics application such as PhotoShop Elements, you can create a test page consisting of a large block of the clogged colour, then use it to focus on the problem colour. Doing so will prevent wasting the other colours that are working.

Often times, just soaking the print heads in a cleaning fluid consisting of warm distilled water, (not tap water) with isopropyl (denatured) alcohol or Multi-Task Windex (containing ammonia) can do the trick. In extreme cases, a 50/50 solution of 98% isopropyl alcohol and hot water may be necessary.

*WARNING: Isopropyl alcohol is extremely flammable and evaporates quickly. To avoid the possibility of fire, work in a well ventilated area and be sure to avoid any sources of ignition, open flames or sparks.

TIP: You need not buy any "special" cleaning fluids since most of them are made by mixing the same chemicals listed above.

*WARNING: The following procedures can get messy. Select a suitable work area such as a work bench.

TIP: Most spilled ink should clean up with alcohol.


To clean ink cartridges with print heads:

  1. Take a shallow dish and pour in the liquid to a depth of 3 to 6mm (1/8 to 1/4"). You should have just enough to wet the print head.
  2. Remove the problem cartridge from your printer. Avoid touching the print head or contact ribbon and place it with the print head in the liquid. Let it soak. Depending on the degree of blockage, this process can take anywhere from 10 minutes to overnight.
  3. This process does require patience, so just let the cartridge sit. Refrain from tapping it or rubbing the print head. In doing so, you may just drive the clog back into the print head. You'll know it's working when the colour you've been having problems with starts to flow into the surrounding cleaning liquid.
  4. Take a few sheets of paper towel, fold them into a pad and pour some cleaning fluid into the center. The towel need not be completely soaked, but the center should be quite wet.
  5. Remove the cartridge and holding it gently by the sides, be careful not to touch the electrode ribbon and gently push it down into the center of the moistened paper towel. Rock the cartridge gently from side to side, front to back in a dabbing action in order to draw the clog out and get the ink flowing more freely.
  6. You should see the colour spotting on the paper towel. Once you've established that the ink is flowing, reinstall the cartridge and, try another head cleaning and print a few more test prints.

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