If you have an Epson printer and your prints are coming out faint, incomplete, or streaked with lines, chances are you have a clogged nozzle–a common problem many users have with Epson printers.
It’s unavoidable that print heads clog over time as small amounts of ink residue dry up and collect in the nozzles. Being judicious about replacing cartridges promptly when the low ink alert goes off can do a lot to prevent ink from drying inside the nozzles, but you still may end up with one or several may still get clogged for a different reason. Blocked printheads can happen regardless if you use original Epson or aftermarket cartridges.
The Cause of Clogs
Printheads clog because nozzles get blocked by either air or ink. Clogs usually happen when:
You don’t change your ink cartridge right away when you get a low ink warning and instead you keep printing until you see faded printouts. When you put with a new cartridge, your printer prepares the printhead for the new ink cartridge, this is called priming. Priming is when the printer pushes ink through the nozzles to force air out. The downside to this is sometimes the printer can push too much ink and the excess would smear all over the printhead where it ends up blocking more nozzles. And when the smeared ink dries, you once again end up with clogged nozzles and worse printouts than before.
You don’t turn off your printer. Ink dries up in the nozzles when you don’t use it regularly. Turning your printer on triggers the printer to run a mini-cleaning cycle and gets the ink flowing again.
You don’t use your printer regularly. As mentioned previously, ink dries up when unused so if you only use your printer about twice a month, we suggest you choose a laser printer. Laser printers use toner powder and don’t dry up.
Knowing the common causes of clogged printheads can help you take the necessary steps to prevent them from happening. As the old adage goes, prevention is always better than cure.
Ways to Clean Your Printhead
Check your nozzles and run cleaning cycles using the menu on your printer before you open up your unit and clean it manually.
Printhead Cleaning Cycles.
Epson printer models feature a pretty efficient cleaning cycle that will usually clear out the nozzles in one or two cycles. Keep in mind, however, that the newer models have longer cleaning cycles that unfortunately use more ink every time. Here’s how to get started:
- Before you do anything else, make sure the printer isn’t showing any errors on the LCD screen.
- Press the Home button and select “Setup” then select “Maintenance.”
- Select “Printhead Nozzle Check“
- Your printer will produce a page with four colored grids designed to illustrate which nozzles are blocked (and which are not).
- If no gaps are present, select done.
- If there are gaps or some lines are faint, select “Clean the printhead” and continue.
Caution: Never turn off your printer during a cleaning cycle. Doing so can cause permanent damage to the unit!
PLEASE NOTE: This process is specific to select Epson Workforce, Artisan, and SureColor model printers, but can be broadly applied across several different models, including most Expression models. Please consult with your printer manual if you have any questions about your particular printer.
Check out our video below to learn on how to run a printhead nozzle check and clean the printhead directly from your printer display:
For a visual look into the cleaning process for A3 and A4 style printers, check out this helpful YouTube tutorial here.
If you run two or three cycles with no improvement in your print quality, allow the printer to rest for several hours—up to six hours wait time is recommended by Epson. After this, go through a cleaning cycle again and see if this improves the print quality. A lot of people will keep running cleaning cycles until the head clears, often running six or eight cycles, which may work—until the next morning, when all the ink used in the cleaning cycles that collected on the head dries and plugs again. Of course, doing this repeatedly will make your clog worse over time–AND use up a lot of ink.
Contact Epson for further instruction if you are under warranty and still not seeing an improvement. If you are no longer under warranty, you can manually clean the integral pieces to clear out stubborn ink clogs.
Cleaning your printhead can be done manually in one of several ways, some more complex and challenging than others. Here are some common troubleshooting solutions that work on most Epson inkjet printer models, listed from the easiest to the most involved.
Clean Sponges with Distilled Water.
- Turn off the printer and open the top. You should be able to see the printhead assembly.
- Look for a small plastic lever, which will pop up when the printer isn’t printing, to the left of the assembly. Move it forward and down to release the printhead, then push the assembly to the right. It may only move an inch or less at first, but when you push it to a stop, it will click. This fully releases the assembly so you can push it to the side.
- If there is no lever next to your printhead assembly, print a page with the top up and unplug the printer with the assembly in the center, unlocked.
- You should see sponges, which store ink from the cartridges in the carriage. Using an eyedropper or plastic syringe, saturate the sponges with distilled water or Windex solution.
- Move the assembly back over the sponges as far right as it will go.
- Let the distilled water set for at least fifteen minutes. For the best results, consider letting the printer soak overnight.
- Print six to eight pages dense with text and images until your prints are come out clean and crisp. If you are still not getting good results, consider moving on to the next step in cleaning your printhead.
Distilled Water in Ink Port.
- Remove the ink cartridges from your printhead carriage.
- With the ink cartridges removed, you will see small cone-shaped indents which take the ink from the cartridge to the printhead. These are ink ports, and there should be one for each color/black cartridge.
- Using an eye dropper or plastic syringe, put a couple of drops of distilled water or printhead cleaner into the ink port that may be plugged. Do not put cleaner into all of the ports! If you’re unsure, which color is which, look at the bottom of the ink port for color residue. Usually, yellow is the color on the far right, and going left it’s magenta, cyan, and, finally, black on the far left.
- Replace ink cartridges and wait for the printer to set up the new cartridge. If any water or solution dripped from the printhead, wipe it up with a paper towel before proceeding.
- Print out six to eight pages of text and images to test clarity. Still not getting good results? Try this next procedure:
Cleaning the Printhead with Paper Towels.
- Turn your printer off.
- Tear a single sheet of paper towel in half and fold it lengthwise until it is about one-half inch wide.
- Open the top of your printer and look for a rubber roller that transports paper through the feed system. This feed system is where the printhead runs over when printing.
- Secure the paper towel to the roller with tape and apply several drops of distilled water or cleaner near the middle of the towel.
- Move the printhead assembly over the paper towel and let it rest for at least fifteen minutes. Allow time for the dried ink on the printhead to begin to dissolve. In time, you will see a collection of black ink on the paper towel—this is more than just the black ink, it’s actually a combination of all colors into one pool.
- Repeat with fresh damp paper towels until you start to see individual colors from each ink port. You may need to repeat the process several times to see good results.
- Next, you will want to turn your printer back on. Before you do so, make sure the printhead assembly has returned to its ready position, rather than resting in the center.
- Print several pages to make sure each of the ports are cleared.
Here’s a video on how to do the paper towel method to clean your printhead. Although the cartridge is not an Epson cartridge, the method is similar.
Faster printing speeds and sharper images mean it’s more likely that your printhead will suffer. With more Epson printers being produced with these capabilities, the better off you are knowing how to prevent clogged nozzles.