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How to Clean & Maintain Your Inkjet Printer

Inkjet printers may look like little plastic boxes with some electronics crammed inside, but they are actually very sophisticated pieces of hardware. Witness the print head zipping back and forth while spraying drops of ink the size of a red blood cell and hitting the mark with that drop thousands of times a second. Get the idea? Printers need care and should be taken care of to get consistent print quality, paper feed, and longer print life.

Part 1: Software based maintenance

Start with a Nozzle Check

If your print quality starts to go down (thin lines, colors suddenly shift or become light) the first thing to do is run a nozzle check. Using a plain piece of paper, your printer will print a small test of each ink color and its many nozzles.

Virtually all inkjet printers have functions called head cleaning and head alignment.

Head Cleaning

What to look for: Sudden color shifts in your prints. Blacks may start to have a bronzed look. Lines that run the same direction as the print head.

The head cleaning cycle ensures all ink nozzles are clear and free of any obstructions. Always run a cleaning if your printer has set for more than a month between printings.

Head Alignment

What to look for: White repeating lines or a grid like pattern on your print can indicate misalignment of heads. Perform this function when needed.

You will need a couple of sheets of plain or photo paper for the process. Alignment ensures all the nozzles are pointing the right directing and firing ink in the right place. Some newer printer models have an automatic alignment and clean function you can run instead of the manual process.

Where to find these tools

Your printer will have a maintenance or utility function where you can access these plus other functions. Some printers, particularily HP models, may not have cleanin functions that you can access.

Maintenance screen shots Mac

You will likely find utility and maintenance controls in System Preferences » Print & Fax » Set Up Printers.

Cchoose your printer in the printer list and click Utility near the top of the screen.



Maintenance screen shots Windows

Newer Epson printers

Older Epson models

Canon Printers

Some Canon printers also have additional cleaning features. As you can see below, this model has a bottom plate and roller cleaning option.

Part 2: Printer Roller and Feed Mechanism Cleaning Tips

If you use your printer often, and especially if you use 2-sided inkjet papers, proper maintenance of the feed rollers is important. Paper leaves behind dust as it runs through your printer. 2-sided papers leave inkjet coating behind, which can be slick. You will eventually notice inconsistent feeding or sometimes your printer will not feed at all.

Also, ink overspray can build up on the rollers below the print head. This results in black streaks, usually on the back of your paper.

Follow the steps below and any feed or streaking issues should dissappear.

NOTE! Red River Paper assumes no liability if you follow these cleaning steps. If you are careless in cleaning your printer, damage could occur. We have been cleaning our printers in this manner for 13 years with no problems to date.

What you will need:

1) Bottle of rubbing alcohol

2) Alcohol pads

First, look down the feed tray of your printer - see image below.

Canon printer note!

Because Canon printers do not have an on demand paper feed button, you will not be able to reach the entire roller.

When running the alcohol soaked sheet through, you will have to make a print - we suggest a text document with only one line or character.

If you put your fingers in the feed path, you will feel rubber coated rollers. Take your alcohol swab and hold it on a roller with your finger. Now, push the paper feed button on your printer - the rollers will move. Don't be alarmed if your finger gets tugged a bit. It will NOT get pulled into the mechanism! Cycle the paper feed a few times and make sure you clean each roller.

If you are having trouble with ink streaks on your paper, try this:

Take an 8.5x11 sheet of plain paper. Soak the interior of the sheet with rubbing alcohol, leaving all four edges completely dry. Run this sheet through your printer 2-3 times front and back. This will clean all of the internal rollers of debris and any ink.


Use canned air to blow any remaining dust and debris from the print feed path and inside the printer. Be gentle with the air and do not get it too close to any delicate parts.

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