Cleaning your ink jet printer.

Ink jet printers were created in the 1980s and changed the landscape of desktop publishing. Cheaper than their powdered-toner based laser cousins, ink jets provided high-quality color printing that still leads the home-computing market today.

Originally priced in the hundreds, today the average inkjet printer costs around $75 and is intended to last about 3 years with normal use. Most people, however, keep a desktop printer for much longer, and with proper care and maintenance, yours can last longer as well.

Generally you can tell when a printer needs cleaning if it’s leaving streaks or smudges on the paper, or if the colors aren’t quite right. You may also be running out of ink, so be sure to check the ink levels through the printer’s software before you begin. If you need to install new cartridges, you’ll want to know before you clean the printer.

13120361_10153868557224342_1842236020_oTo follow our instructions here, you’ll need a cup of water, a half-dozen or so cotton swabs (Q-Tips), some paper towels, a few drops of liquid dishwashing soap or machine oil, and a vacuum cleaner with a hose and hand wand. You might also want to include a pair of surgical type latex gloves (or non-latex if you have an allergy) to help keep ink off your hands. Removing the latent ink from your hands can be pretty tough.

Before you begin, unplug the printer from the electrical outlet and from the printer (if not wireless). There are four main components you need to clean when maintaining your printer: Printhead, Ribbon, Ink Reservoir, Stabilizer Bar. Most consumer ink jets have a cartridge-head combination, like you might see in a common HP or Epson. Occasionally, these are separated, but we’re just going to discuss the combination type here.

For step one, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for opening the printer’s cartridge area. Once opened, the carriage should move to present the cartridges in an easy position for removal. Remove the cartridges and lay them aside for the moment.

Cleaning the interior of the printer’s carriage area is a tricky business. Begin by using one of the cotton swabs and clean out the excess ink that collects in the bottom of the ink reservoir, the small catch basin below the cartridge, visible only after removing it. A bit of water on the end of the swab can help dislodge clumped ink.

The ribbon may be hard to see, it's often clear, like cellophane tape.

The ribbon may be hard to see, it’s often clear, like cellophane tape.

Next, you’ll see a ribbon going along from left to right, the length of the carriage. It’s generally a clear cellophane color or white. Using a damp paper towel, gently pinch the ribbon from one end with the paper towel on either side, and wipe down the length of the ribbon, very, very gently. Be careful not to pull on the ribbon but to slide the towel down it to remove any collected ink or dirt. Do this twice, once with the damp towel, then again with a dry one. Once more, be very careful!

Incidentally, some websites suggest using Windex or other cleaning solutions, but this is not a good idea as the ammonia can be damaging to the material over time. Clean water will do nicely. Now you need to clean out excess dust and dirt from the interior of the ink carriage area.

Compressed air cans are a no-no. Regardless of what the sales clerk at the local electronics store might tell you (since they’re trying to sell compressed air), never use compressed air on any computer part except a keyboard! All this will do is blow dust, debris and ink all around the inner workings of the machinery, potentially lodging static-charged dirt on delicate circuitry.

The best way to clean dust and dirt from inside is by using the hose and hand wand of a low-power vacuum cleaner. A household vacuum is fine, or one made for electronics work. But never use a high-powered shop vac – you run the risk of lifting solder right off of exposed circuit boards.


The bottom of the cartridge / printhead combination can be covered in ink.

Locate the metal, stabilizer bar along which the cartridges move. Place a few small drops of the dishwashing liquid (or machine oil) on the bar, going from left to right along its length.

Lubricating the bar will reduce friction and excessive noise as the print cartridge carrier moves back and forth inside the machine.

Finally, it’s time to deal with those pesky ink cartridges. If you’re replacing your cartridges with new ones, you can skip this step. On the bottom of the cartridge is a thin, metal strip with ridges on either side. Using a damp paper towel, dab this area gently, cleaning off clumps of ink until the metal looks brassy in color.

Be gentle and don’t “rub,” just dab. You might need a damp cotton swab to help remove caked on ink. Repeat this with a dry paper towel to clear any excess dampness and replace each cartridge in its holder inside the printer.

That’s it. You’re a printer-cleaning specialist now. Plug the unit back into the wall outlet, turn it on and follow the manufacturer’s instructions on aligning print heads after replacing the cartridges.

If you would like your ink jet printer checked out and professionally cleaned, give us a call at GLD Enterprises Communications, Ltd. Local cleaning service, at your site, starts at just $50.


Disclaimer: Any instructions followed from this information are at your own risk. GLD Enterprises Communications, Ltd. is not liable for damage suffered as a result of following these do-it-yourself instructions.