How to Clean Your Printer's Printheads

Cleaning Fixes Ink Lines and Low Print Quality

Ink cartridges in a Canon printer.

 Aka / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.5

Image quality suffers when printheads get clogged. You might see ink smudges or lines on the paper. However, cleaning printheads is a quick and simple process.

Below is a step-by-step tutorial on using the printer's cleaning cycle that shouldn't take but 5 or 10 minutes to complete.

Steps for Cleaning Printheads

The instructions here are in Windows for the Canon MX920 specifically, but most printers work in much the same way.

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

  2. Choose Hardware and Sound or Printers and Other Hardware. The option you see is dependant on how new your version of Windows is.

  3. Click or tap Device and Printers or View Installed Printers or Fax Printers.

  4. Find your printer and right-click it to choose Printing Preferences. If your device is a fax machine too, you might see two options - select the one that mentions the printer.

  5. Open a maintenance or cleaning option. For the Canon MX920, the Printing Preferences window has several tabs across the top - choose Maintenance. Again, most printers should have a very similar set of options.

  6. For the Canon MX920, the first button is for cleaning the printheads. After selecting to have them clean, you most likely have to choose which printheads to unclog. The best bet is to choose the option that cleans all of them, like All Colors.

  7. Make sure the printer is turned on and that there’s some paper loaded, then click on Execute or Start, whatever option lets you begin the printhead cleaning. You might see another screen that has you confirm that you do in fact want to print out the pattern.

  8. The printer will print out a pattern with a grid along the top and several bars of different colors. Two images will display on your monitor that you can compare to the printed image.

    In one, the grid and colors are sharp and clear; in the other, some of the grid boxes are missing and the colors are striped.

  9. If the printout matches the sharp, clear image, simply exit to finish. If the printout has missing grid boxes or stripes, then click Cleaning or whatever other option will let you start the printhead cleaning process on your printer.

  10. Once that’s done, you’ll repeat the whole process so you can ensure the cleaning was completely successful. It may take two cleanings if your printheads are really clogged.

  11. If, after two cleanings, you’re still getting a poor result, there’s a Deep Cleaning option on some printers that should do the job.

Do These Steps Not Apply to Your Printer?

The steps given above are for the Canon MX920 all-in-one printer. If you're using a printer that has very different menus and you can't find the printhead cleaning option, you should look for the user manual on the manufacturer's website.

Follow these links if you have a Canon, Brother, Dell, Epson, Ricoh, or HP printer.

Mose user manuals are in the PDF format, so you'll need a PDF reader in order to open it.