How to Clean Your Printer's Printheads

A quick cleaning fixes ink lines and poor quality

Inkjet printers create high-quality document and photo output. Sometimes the printheads get clogged, and image quality suffers. You might see ink smudges or lines on the paper. However, cleaning printheads is a quick and simple process.

There are a few ways to clean printheads. You can use the self-cleaning features on a Windows PC or Mac, or clean printheads manually.

The information in this article applies generally to most inkjet printers in use with a Mac or PC. Consult your printer manual or online resources to find out the best method to clean its printheads.

Ink cartridges in a Canon printer.
Aks / CC BY 2.5 / Wikimedia Commons

Clean Printheads via a Windows PC

Your printer's printer drivers offer a way to clean the printheads through the Windows Control Panel.

These are general instructions. Check your printer documentation for cleaning options on the printer's menu or other instructions.

  1. Open Control Panel. Use either the Power User Menu or Start menu, depending on the Windows version.

    open Control Panel from the Windows 10 start menu
  2. Choose Hardware and Sound or Printers and Other Hardware. The option you see depends on the Windows version.

    Hardware and Sound icon in Control Panel in Windows 10
  3. Select Device and Printers or View Installed Printers or Fax Printers.

  4. Find your printer, right-click the printer, then choose Properties.

    Printer Properties in Windows 10 Devices and Printers
  5. Go to the Maintenance or Hardware tab.

    Most printers should have a similar set of options. Others have cleaning features under a Tools or More Options tab.

  6. Select a cleaning option, such as Clean Heads or Clean Cartridges. If asked which printheads to unclog, select All Colors, if this option is available.

    If you don't see any cleaning option, consult your printer manual. The printer may not have a self-cleaning feature.

  7. Select OK, Start, or a similar command to start the cleaning process. Follow any on-screen prompts that appear.

    Make sure the printer is turned on and that paper is loaded in case a test sheet is part of the printer's process.

  8. Follow and answer any on-screen prompts while the printer cleans itself. The printer may ask to print a test page. If you're happy with the results, you're done. Repeat the process if the print quality is unacceptable.

    If, after two cleanings, you still get a poor result, look for a Deep Cleaning option. Alternatively, read the manual cleaning instructions at the end of this article.

Clean Printheads via a Mac

On a Mac, your printer likely came with a Utility application that lets you check ink levels and make test and diagnostic prints. Look for it in the Applications folder.

Manually Clean Your Printheads

Sometimes a simple manual cleaning process removes clogged ink. Before you begin, you'll need water, isopropyl alcohol, a soft microfiber cloth or paper towels, and a bowl.

  1. Turn off and unplug the printer.

  2. Gently remove the inkjet cartridges. Consult the printer manual for specific information about this process.

  3. Gently remove the printhead tray where the cartridges sit. Consult the printer manual for specific information about this process.

    If the print cartridges incorporate printheads, skip this step.

  4. Mix a half cup of water and a half cup of isopropyl alcohol in a bowl.

  5. Place the printhead unit into the mixture. If the cartridges have built-in printheads, place the cartridges into the mixture one at a time.

  6. Wait two minutes while the printhead unit or cartridges sit.

  7. Remove the printhead unit or cartridges and dry completely with a microfiber cloth or paper towel.

  8. Place the printhead unit or cartridges into the printer and print a test page. If it's printing normally, you're done. If you're not happy with the print quality, you may need to soak the printhead unit or cartridges for a longer period of time.