How printer head cleaning works is a question to which a lot of us want to know the answer. Especially those of us who have had an annoying experience with a printer which refuses to function properly.
It’s never a pleasant experience when your printer starts printing out weird lines and smears. A lot of times, many people assume that the ink has run out, but it could be because of a clogged printer head.
The part of the printer where ink is sprayed onto the paper through tiny nozzles is called the printer head.
You are likely to get flawed prints when the printer head is dirty, or in some cases, the printing may stop halfway, or even a malfunction.
To tackle this problem, the self-cleaning mechanism was introduced, and most modern printers have this feature. However, if the printer is old, or if it is not used for a long time, the built-in cleaning procedure might fail, and you may be required to do manual cleaning.
How does a printer’s self-cleaning mechanism work?
Most printers perform a cleaning cycle after every two to three days.
Some models allow you to configure the cleaning cycle, like epson with their printer head cleaning utility.
During this process, the printer will use some amount of ink to moisten the print head.
The printer attempts to spray ink from all the nozzles at one go and moistens the printer head and softens the partially dry ink.
After this, the wiper blade, which is usually made of soft rubber, spreads a thin layer of ink on the head to moisten it.
Some printers have a wiper blade that moves while the printer head remains stationary. The video below demonstrates cleaning of a wiper blade on an Epson printer:
Then the ink is once again fired from all the nozzles to ensure that the passage is clear from hardened ink or ink lumps.
To prevent the ink used in the cleaning process from spreading all over the inside of the printer, the used ink is collected in a small tray which is usually placed beneath the cleaning station.
The ink cartridges and the printer head go back to a specially designed place every time the print job is done. This is designed to keep the head free from dust and debris, and also to keep the ink from drying out.
Is the self-cleaning mechanism same for all printers?
The self-cleaning mechanism can be found on most modern printers, but the activation method differs from brand to brand. In some brands, you can activate the cleaning process simply with a push of a button or a switch.
Nowadays, the majority of the manufacturers have included this feature in a software which is provided at the time of purchasing the printer.
For these types of printers, you have to install the software, open it and initiate a cleaning process with a few clicks. Regardless of the activation method, the self-cleaning mechanism of most printers uses an air suction pump to free a clogged printer head.
The air suction pump is connected to the end shaft of the page feed stepper motor. It is activated only when the shaft rolls in a reverse direction. During this process, the pump attempts to suck ink through a blocked or clogged cartridge. This is why some printers use a sheet of paper and roll it forward and backwards when the cleaning process is initiated.
The cleaning procedure in some printers is quite simple; the entire cleaning cycle involves wiping the printer head with a wiping blade a few times.
There is another type of printer which pushes air into the nozzles in an attempt to push out the hardened ink.
If your printer does not return to its normal condition even after running the clean cycle for 3 to 4 times, it’s a clear indication of a clogged print-head or a malfunctioning ink cartridge.
The self-cleaning mechanism, however, cannot clean up a printer head which is severely clogged. In such a case, you have to clean the cartridge and the printer head manually.
The most convenient and easiest way to free your printer head from clog is to use this feature, which is a self-cleaning mechanism. But this mechanism is not very effective if you have an old printer or cartridges. In other words, if your printer head is heavily clogged, you may have to resort to other cleaning methods.
How To Manually Clean printer heads?
Cleaning the printer head with air.
Similar to the self-cleaning mechanism that pushes air into the nozzles, this technique can be replicated to clean severely clogged cartridge channels or clogged print-head. However, in this case, the air pressure will be much greater.
How does it work?
In this method, a pipe is attached to the cartridge nozzle, and the air is blown in using a vacuum cleaner.
If done correctly, the air forced into the cartridge will eventually try to find its way out, and the only way out is through the tiny nozzle channels. This will push out the dried ink or hardened ink from the nozzle. The nozzle channels cannot withstand too much air pressure. You have to keep the air pressure controlled when this cleaning process is performed.
Using Isopropyl Alcohol.
A dried-up ink can be very stubborn, and extremely hard to get rid of, especially if the printer was not used for a long time. The best solution in such a situation would be to use an Isopropyl alcohol.
This liquid can free a clogged print-head by dissolving dry ink. Isopropyl alcohol is best for this job because, it is strong enough to cause the hardened ink to dissolve, but not strong enough to cause any damage to the delicate parts of the printer head.
How does it work?
In this method, a syringe or a dropper is used to put isopropyl alcohol into the ink cartridge. As the liquid seeps into the sponge-like material, it will slowly reach the printer head where the passageway is clogged.
The hardened ink will dissolve within a few minutes after it comes in contact with it. Keep in mind that you need to put a sufficient amount of isopropyl alcohol into the cartridge; it needs to wet the whole clogged part to melt way the dried ink.
There is also another method of cleaning which uses isopropyl alcohol.
This method is very simple, but it works like a charm if the printer head is not severely clogged. For this, you will need a lint-free cloth and isopropyl alcohol.
You can simply remove the printer head and wipe it with a lint-free cloth dipped in isopropyl alcohol. It works because the alcohol is known for melting dried ink, and the lint-free cloth ensures a clean wipe. Also, alcohol does not leave any residue as it evaporates very quickly.
The Soaking method.
This method is only used when everything fails and is used as a last resort. It’s called the soaking method because it involves soaking the clogged head in the water. This is a rather long and slow process, but it is one of the best and effective methods to free a clogged printer head.
How does it work?
Start by making sure the printer head is detached from the printer and placed in a shallow plastic pan which is covered with a soft microfiber cloth. The microfiber cloth prevents the delicate printer head from coming in contact with the plastic. Then purified or distilled water is heated, not boiled, as this can damage the printer head.
The heated water is then mixed with ammonia in a 1:1 ratio. When the water-ammonia solution is ready, it is poured into the pan, slightly over a quarter inch.
This solution can effectively dissolve hardened or dry ink. The purpose of using heated water is to speed up the process. A few minutes after soaking the printer head, you should see some ink flowing out from the clogged printer head. Moving the printer head to a fresh new spot after a few minutes will ensure better cleaning.
How to keep your printer heads running in good condition?
The best way to ensure the smooth functioning of your printer is to prevent it from clogging in the first place. One of the primary reasons why a printer head gets clogged is not using it for a prolonged period of time.
You may already know that the ink used in printers dries up quickly; it’s designed that way. Also, the passageway in the nozzles is so tiny that it can easily be clogged if it is not used for days. So, it’s always safe to run your printer at least once a day, once a week if you can’t.
Keeping your printer in a dusty or dirty environment is another factor which facilitates the clogging process. Always keep it covered with a plastic or a clean cloth to protect it from contaminants.
If you know how your printer works, and understand it’s cleaning mechanism, you can save a lot of money in the long run. You might have replaced your printer cartridge many times before, just because of a small clogged issue which could have been an easy fix if you knew how it worked.
The next time you encounter the same problem, you should be able to fix it easily. Also, remember that each manufacturer has different built-in cleaning mechanisms; so it will help you a lot if you read the manuals.