Before you run out to needlessly to buy another printer, try our fix on how to clean printer heads first! Less landfill = a happier planet and, like our motto says, good planets are hard to find!
The handiest tool in our craft arsenal is actually our home printer; it is indispensable. But over the last few days it has been printing badly at first and then printing completely blank pages. Not a good thing when you need print outs for your next upcyled craft project!
With so many people working from home now, it’s more important than ever to have a printer in good working order.
If you’re getting bad prints, or blank pages, try the easy things first. Run a nozzle check, then try running cleaning the print heads from your printer’s control panel or computer.
Before we get into the tutorial, don’t forget to get your craft mojo on at Birdz of a Feather and subscribe to our newsletter:
How to Clean Printer Heads Epson
Watch this video to see how we clean and fix our Epson printer. The same principles will apply to other printers too.
We ran all the typical troubleshooting (refer to your own manual to see if you can get it working again). However, none of that worked for us. We haven’t been using our printer for crafting very much lately, due to other priorities, so it’s probable that pigment has dried up clogging some or all of the printer heads.
Note that if the cartridge has the print heads built in to it, then instead of doing what we’re about to show you, you’ll want to pour the cleaning solution into a shallow dish and soak it directly for about an hour. Swab the printheads with a cotton swab and repeat the process if necessary until they are clean.
How to Clean Printer Heads – Epson
By the way, we have an Epson WF-3540, but the same principles will work for other makes and models. Since our printer heads are in the printer, and not on the cartridge, you’ll need the following items:
- Cleaning solution – we’re using straight Windex but you could cut it with distilled water or try isopropyl alcohol mixed 50/50 with distilled water too. There are other suggestions below under the ‘what can I use to clean’ section.
- Clear vinyl tubing – should be a snug fit to fit over the printer heads. The tubing we’re using has an inner diameter of 1/8″ and outer diameter of 1/4″ but yours may be different.
- Syringe – we’re using a craft syringe
- Paper towel
- Plastic (optional) – we lay this over the work surface (a wood desk) to catch any drip.
- Plastic wrap – to store the cartridges as you clean the heads
- New cartridge (s) (only if you have run out of a certain colour). We’re using an Epson 126 cartridge compatible with our printer
What can I use to clean printer heads?
Windex to Clean Printer Heads
You can buy a specialty printhead cleaner kit with a cleaning solution, but it’s not really necessary. For water based inks, a soap and water solution will suffice (half a cup of distilled water with a drop of dishwashing liquid and an ounce of isopropyl alcohol). The DIY printhead cleaning solution we use is straight windex for our Epson printer. However, I’ve seen others using combinations of windex and isopropyl alcohol, ammonia and distilled water (one part ammonia to 10 parts water), 50/50 alcohol and water, denatured ethanol and water or even vinegar and water. If you use a solution that includes water, don’t use tap water or any water with added minerals. Be sure to use distilled water. This article goes into more detail about print head solutions and how to make them at home so choose the one that’s best for your own situation.
The solution will be pushed through the printer head nozzles to flush out ink particles that are likely clogging them and interfering with the printer.
IMPORTANT: Disconnect the power supply!
You must move the carriage in such a way that it slides along the rails. To do that you have two choices:
- Start a print job, then unplug your printer from the back. The printhead will stop somewhere in the middle allowing you to move it. Our printer was not detecting our black ink so we didn’t have this option.
- On your printer control panel, pick the option to change your print heads and that will also move it out.
Now, before proceeded with flushing liquid through the printer heads, unplug the cord to the printer to be safe!
How do I Clean the Printhead?
Cut a piece of vinyl tubing (ours is 7″ long).
Connect one end to the syringe.
Cut a double layer of paper towel the same width as below the print head assembly. You can cut separate pieces but I find it easier just to fold it. Wriggle the paper towel underneath the printhead assembly, in between the rails, and then pull it along on the other side of the assembly.
Lay out a piece of plastic wrap. Open the top of the printer carriage (if it isn’t already open) and remove the cartridges.
Put them nozzle down onto the plastic wrap in the order you remove them. Then wrap them up tightly. This will prevent the ink from drying out as you process with the work.
Warm the windex in a glass dish in the microwave at low power for 10 seconds or so. You do not want it hot!
Connect the syringe to one end of the tubing.
Insert the paper towel underneath the print heads, in between the rails. The paper towel acts as a blotter. So ensure it comes out on the other side, as shown below, to catch the ink.
Place the end of the tube in the windex and pull up on the syringe util you have about 2 ccs of windex in the syringe.
Insert the end of the tubing over the first printhead.
Be gentle with this next step. Slowing push and pull on the syringe so the fluid is flushed in and out of the print head. You should see some ink colouring the liquid.
Do this for about a minute and until all the liquid has been pushed out.
Move onto the second print head. But first, slide the paper towel to the right to expose a fresh area. You’ll likely find after the first two printheads that the paper towel needs replacing.
Repeat this process for remaining printheads.
Once complete replace all the ink. On the printer we tap on maintenance, clean the print head and then run a nozzle check. If it doesn’t work the first time try again – or wait until the next day and try again.
Replacing the Cartridge
The printer was indicating our black ink was out, although the levels were looking ok in a previous check. It could be that the computer sensors are not detecting it, so be sure to try wiping the cartridge contacts (any shiny metal) first with isopropyl alcohol.
In our case, we replaced the black ink with a new cartridge. Check the expiry date first before installation.
It took us two tries before we got a great test page with all the colours.
Now we can print again and I can get back to crafting!
Follow the recommendations for your printer for how often you should be printing and running maintenance so the print heads don’t clog with dried ink again. But if they do, you’ll know what to do.
Pin How to Clean Printer Heads
I hope you enjoyed our post on how to clean printer heads; so many people may not even realize there’s an easy fix for a printer that no longer works well! Pinning is always welcome and appreciated.
Cleaning a Printer FAQs
How do I make my own printhead solution?
A homemade printhead cleaning solution is just as effective as a commercial solution. Depending on the type of ink your printer uses, you can use a detergent based solution or one containing ammonia or isopropyl alcohol. Water based inks don’t need as strong a solution as real ink which will need the latter. For our Epson printer, we’re using straight Windex from the bottle, gently heated in the microwave.
How can you tell is a printhead is clogged?
When the printer is not printing clearly, there are obvious missing dots, broken or wavy lines or you are ultimately getting blank pages, it’s a good indication your printhead is clogged and affecting the printer’s function. It’s time to unclog the printheads!