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, but 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 your printheads. Use the self-cleaning features on a Windows PC or Mac, or clean them manually.

While the information here applies generally to most inkjet printers in use with a Mac or PC, consult your printer's manual or online resources to find out the best method to clean its printheads.

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

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's documentation for cleaning options on the printer's menu or other instructions.

  1. Open Control Panel through the Power User Menu or Start menu, depending on your version of Windows.

    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 your 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 on it, and choose Properties.

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

    Most printers should have a very similar set of options, while some 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 pop up.

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

  8. Follow and answer any on-screen prompts while the printer cleans itself. Your 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 still unacceptable.

If, after two cleanings, you're still getting 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 comes with a Utility application that lets you check ink levels and make test and diagnostic prints. Look for it in your Applications folder.

Manually Clean Your Printheads

Sometimes a simple manual cleaning process will remove clogged ink.

  1. Prepare water, isopropyl alcohol, a soft microfiber cloth or paper towels, and a bowl.

  2. Turn off and unplug your printer.

  3. Gently remove the inkjet cartridges. Consult your manual for specific information about this process.

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

    If your print cartridges incorporate printheads, skip this step.

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

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

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

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

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