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How to Clean an Epson Printhead

How to Clean an Epson Printhead

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. For a visual look into the process, check out this helpful YouTube tutorial for A3 and A4 style printers 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 level, 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.

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.

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55 Comments

  • I bought your ink and believe it is fine for all colors, but I have tried all of the above and still have no black. Do you have any suggestions. Do the ink jets ever completely fail?

    • Hi Chris, if you tried the different cleaning techniques and still aren’t getting black, it could be a faulty cartridge. Cartridges can fail from time to time, but it’s usually pretty rare. You might try a brand new cartridge and see if there is a difference. If you bought remanufactured Epson cartridges from LD Products, they are backed by a lifetime guarantee. Contact our customer service team at 888-321-2552 and we can look into sending out a replacement cartridge to you. Hope this helps!

  • HELP!!! I noticed my print out was a bit blurry, I completed a nozzle check which showed about 3 gaps, so I ran a head clean then an alignment. Now nothing is printing! I have followed the above methods and still have no luck, do you have any ideas. Extremely frustrated.

  • My Epson Photo 1400 (close to 10 years old) was not printing correctly due to lack of use. Having learned the hard way that cleaning the printheads uses up all the ink, I followed your instructions. First cleaned the sponges with distilled water. Colors were good, but black stopped printing. Cleaned the black ink port — still no black. Then cleaned the yellow port (left of the black port), and voila! Everything looks great! Previously I had similar issues with an Epson Workforce that stopped printing color. Followed different instructions from another Internet source and was unable to fix the issues. Too bad: I might have been successful had I found your page at that time. Many thanks!

  • My Epson WorkForce Pro (WF-4630) has the cartridges/nozzles in front. So I’ve done a ton of cleaning (Windex and Distilled Water) from the front using Q-tips. Still horrible lines. So I turned it on its back and cleaned the nozzle some more. It got ever-so-slightly better. But not good. Next, I left a soaked paper towel on it overnight. No significant change. Finally, in desperation, I put Windex on the nozzle with a syringe. Still bad. So I cleaned the other colors. Still bad.
    HELP

    • have you finally be able to correct the problem – I have tried so many things and still cannot fix the streaks

  • my 7620 quit printing yellow cleaned the yellow and the red and blue quit working now none are working. my 7610 is doing the same thing

    • Hi Donna,

      I am sorry you are having trouble with your color cartridges. Running a cleaning is a great idea since it primes the printer cartridges but if you run the cleaning process a few times, it will slowly deplete the cartridge ink levels. I am not sure if this is what happened with your printer but just as a general rule, we recommend running a cleaning 2-3 times. If you still have trouble after that, you’ll likely need to purchase a new printer cartridge. Hope this helps!

  • My Epson WorkForce WiFi 2660 will not print. It has been in storage since June 2017. The cartridges were taken out (he didn’t read the directions to leave them in) and taped up so the ink would not dry out. I have installed the cartridges and tested the ink levels they are fine. I have run 2 head cleanings and still nothing will print. No ink is coming out of any of the cartridges. Now pls what do I do??

    • Hello,

      Unfortunately your cartridges may have dried up while in storage. Even if they are taped up, there is a chance that the nozzles will crust over and ink will start wicking from the cartridge. If you’ve run the printhead cleaning a couple of times and don’t see any signs of improvement, you may need to replace your printer cartridges.

  • Hi, my friend gave me her workforce 545. i bought some replacement ink thinking that the ink had dried and new cartridges. I put the new one in and still no printout. I tried cleaning the printhead a few times already but still no print whatsoever. any solution?

  • I changed my color cartridges on my WF 3540 and now my color copies are all red. What should I do?

  • I have a wf 3640 epson that only had for 27 mts and has stopped working and now they r telling me to. replaced the printhead for 150.00 its kept giving me the code ox97. I only did a printhead cleaning the machine once a month…should I get the same brand again to replace for home uses

    • Honestly I wouldn’t (especially where Staples is currently selling one for $156.79 brand new). I’m on my second WF-3640. I received the same code just after 12 mos with the first one but it went completely dead on me. Replaced that with the same model, which I’ve had for 16 mos and no matter how many times I perform a cleaning, it goes back to blurry spots every two days or so. This has been going on for the last month-ish. I did/do love the options the printer comes with I’m sure I can find them with a more reliable printer

  • Clean Sponges with Distilled Water.
    Worked great for me! I was ready to throw printer out of the window.
    Thanks.

    • mine is going out the window very soon

    • Great explanation in this guide.
      Needed to do your first two steps of cleaning the sponges with distilled water and putting some distilled water in the black ink port on our XP-640. Now working great again.
      After reading the comments I thought there was possibly some hope after all for the printer. Prior to that multiple nozzle cleaning from the maintenance menu was only giving minor improvements, but quality printing was no longer possible.
      Thanks

  • My Epson Workforce 360 is printing beautifully but when I make a copy on the platen (glass bed?) the resulting copy has blurred horizontal lines through the lines of text. Why is this only happening with the COPY function but not with the PRINT function??

    • The problem is in the optical scanner assembly.

      Generally-speaking–and this is highly dependent upon your particular make and model of printer/scanner–you will be looking into one of two areas:

      If your printer/scanner has a document feeder, and you are observing cross scan directed blurring only when you use the document feeder, then your blurring is being caused by document feed problems. Your approach would be to access and clean all paper path feed rollers and feed guides. Also pay attention to any foreign objects that may be in the document feed path, which will need to be removed (paper fasteners, pieces of Post-It, or bits of labels or tape.

      If you observe cross-scan directed blurring only when manually scanning by placing a document on the platen glass, then there is binding in the optical scanner, or the cogged belt has become worn. In this case, disassembling the unit sufficiently to access the optical scanner cavity will be necessary. Cleaning any scanner assembly glide surfaces or rails should help tremendously. If, after thoroughly cleaning of all scanner travel components, the blurring persists, then the replacement of the scanner drive belt would be the next logical step to take.

  • Hello after i follow all the procedure that you published and put all the cartridge back to the print head … instead of one collor missing now all colors would not print or come out of the print head everytime i make a nozzle check .. please help! i am using a Epson WF7710

  • Is there any way to get at the print head nozzels on an Epson ET-2550 that does not have cartridges to remove but instead uses large volume ink tanks? I have tried multiple iterations of the clean, check, soak paper towel/slide print head routines and still get the same blank dots in the same position of the color line check grids, most commonly in the black grid but also showing as bands across color printing. Have soaked overnight multiple times. I cannot locate any place to buy a replacement print head assembly and at this point am considering just junking the entire printer. As an aside, any recommendation on how to empty the almost full ink wells? Thanks.

  • So when you do a nozzle check on the WF 3640 you get four columns of color test bars: BK – BK – YMC – YMC. My first black and the colored columns are fine. There is almost nothing in the second black column except a few dashes of gray here and there, and the “black” column, while fully filled-in, isn’t all that black more dark gray. I’m not terribly interested in taking the thing apart and cleaning with distilled water, and I’ve run three cleaning cycles, but would consider leaving it alone (it is 2:30 PM) till tonight and trying again. I’ve read this thread and I note the various remediating actions I can take, I just am not all that enthusiastic about it. Aside from taking a hose to it, anything else I might try short of buying a new printer? Thanks.

    • These are the simple things you can do to try and fix it! Sounds like there are a lot of problems with Epson Printers and air in the pipes and blocked print heads etc.
      Best bet if you can’t be bothered trying the steps above is to either pay over the odds and go get it serviced or just buy a new printer!

  • 2550 no amount of cleaning heads corrects entire line across missing thru page
    This was not a cheap machine – and I have had only 9 months with last month being this challenge

  • my printer is leaving thin red lines randomly across the page in various places. Can anyone explain why and how to fix.
    thanks lisa s

  • My printer worked perfectly. Ive just replaced it with new ink and now I cant print Black. I cant put in a new cartridge because it is the Epson l565 that uses a refill….I can you please help me
    Ethel

  • My printer is not printing any ting just blank pages

  • So just when I though the ET-2550 was amazing, it forgot about the yellow, so everything is blue, or purplish looking. No yellow showing whatsoever. This was only 5 minutes after I got perfect prints Now the yellow is clogged and I have no idea why. Wasted 5 full 8.5 x 11 premium ultra, and as much ink, except for the yellow of course. So tired of this, it’s happened several times Love the printer, have used it frequently and still clogging. Time to try the Canons.

  • I had almost given up on my Epson WF-3640. I tried your methods but not in order. I did the print head cleaning: nothing
    I did the cleaning with Paper Towels: nothing.
    Then I tried soaking the sponges with Windex and noticed some improvement.
    But when I did the Distilled water in the ink ports and let it work overnight…SUCCESS!
    I know I could buy a new printer for little money, but the satisfaction of succeeding in getting my printer to work again is invaluable.
    Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  • Problem: I have to change colors cartridges, I bough Epson #220 for W-2750 recommended , but printed say do not recognized
    and I have no idea how to fix or what to do it.

  • I need to change cartridges , I got #220 for W-2750. Printer say “do not recognized “I dont know what to do. Can you help me?

  • My Epson 3640 Workforce is printing excess lines all over the page. I have cleaned printheads, and every other instruction. Is there a solution to fix this or am I looking at purchasing a new printer? I have only had this one for about a year.

  • Hey, hey! Thanks! I left a Windex-soaked paper towel under the printer head for 6 hours. Then I replaced it with a series of 3 folded paper towels soaked with distilled water. Now Mr. Workforce 30 has come back to life. You are the best.

    • That’s great news, Mary! Glad to hear you got your Workforce to work (no pun intented!).

  • I have an Epson Artisan 837 that had been printing fine until it just stopped printing in black yesterday. I’ve tried cleaning the ink ports with windex and cleaning the printhead with tissues soaked in windex, but it still won’t print in black. I can’t figure out where the sponges are to clean them. Can you please help ?

  • This printer is clearly a piece of junk that we should not have bought – worked fine with the ink that came with the machine – hasn’t worked well since. I just got home with a new ink cartridge (yellow). Machine will not accept the new cartridge, and I cannot print a test – just keeps telling me to change the yellow ink.

    • I had this same problem and then realized that although the new cartridge was the exact same size as before it was a different model number than accepted by my printer, once I bought an acceptable model cartridge I was able to print no problem.

  • I have an Epson xp-620 printer. I have replaced all the print cartridges and it is still not printing usable copies. I have tried to clean the print heads but there are no directions for my model printer. HELP!!

  • I can’t even get my paper towel to go under the print heads – i try to move it over the top of the paper towel as stated and i scrunches the paper towel up – grr frustrating and annoying as my printer worked fine until today.
    I have the WF2510

  • I have a wf-3520 that I use for business. I have to often clean the print heads in order to get good quality prints. I only use Epson ink cartridges. The past few months I am getting black marks on the paper – worse when I use high quality. I checked the ink cartridges make sure not leaking. Even when I print all red, it still has black smudges. Worse on high. I can’t use it for any business correspondence. Please help with this issue.

  • So, I have a workforce 3620. Recently cleaned the printer heads to get some clogging cleared up, but now nothing prints. Absolutely nothing. 🙁 Where did I go wrong?

  • I am frustrated as I find I have to clean the nozzles after 3 or 4 pages are printed. It works using the maintenance feature on the printer but don’t believe I should have to do this as frequently as I have had to. Cartridges are up to date. I will start to turn printer off as suggested above, hope that helps.

  • HOW DO U UNCLOG EPSON PRINTER MODEL XP-420

  • I have a Epson Workforce WF 3640 I have installed all updates. I have cleaned the heads as the printer advised me. and I an still getting streaked lines every 5 or 6 lines. Smudges that you cannot read. The printer is suppose to get about 500 pages or more on ink cartridges. I only do about 250 pages a month and I am still using over a 100 dollars in ink. What the hell is going on. The printer is only a year old and I do not do photos.

  • I have a WF-7610 – it was missing some lines on the test pattern, primarily parts of the black vertical lines. But the pattern was 95% there. I tried the folded paper tower with windex solution under the print head for some time (discovered this technique on a YouTube video), and since then it prints NO COLOR AT ALL and only maybe 15-20% of the black. I read on another site that the ammonia in Windex can corrode the piezo heads and now feel like an idiot for ruining the printer as per these directions. So now I’m trying the distilled water in the sponges but don’t have my hopes up. Worst is that the printer keeps rapidly draining ink with the cleaning cycles, and yet it still prints nothing. I already bought two new cartridges since I started and now two more are nearly empty. I even carefully disassembled the printer to ensure the purge tubes were not clogged (they aren’t) and put it all back together again which took a couple hours. All for a completely non-functional printer. What a waste of time and money! Epson doesn’t give a crap – they say that it’s a “hardware failure” since the cleaning cycle does not magically fix everything, and referred me to a service center that wants $270 to replace the print head (versus $300 for a brand new equivalent model printer, lol), and also say that despite this printer being in excellent condition and only used lightly, that it’s only designed for a 3-year service life so I shouldn’t be surprised. Ugh what jerks…my color laser printer is over 10 years old and still works perfectly despite printing 7500 pages so far – just doesn’t have as good of color accuracy nor is it wide format. This has been one of the worst technology experiences of my life. I’ve never been a big fan of inkjets due to the expensive ink cartridges, but to go from printing with a little bit of black missing to not being able to print at all in one shot takes it to a whole new level of frustration.

  • My printer keeps saying change ink. I have already put in New ink cartridge and it’s still saying the same thing. I tried the procedure on how to printhead clean but same change ink message keeps coming up. What do I do now?

  • I have an EPSON Workforce (WF-2759=0) that
    will NOT power ON. It was working, until I turned it
    off to attempt using print head cleaner on the Magenta and Yellow ink cartridge slots. Now, the WF-2750 won’t power ON! I tried a new power cord, pressed RESET button to no avail. The correct cart-
    ridges are loaded into the printer.. Any ideas?

  • having done everything advised, and seen every ones feed bad nothing seemed to work .
    However, I went to the stores and brought some Acetone liquid. I carefully dipped a cotton bud into the liquid, and wiped over, the places where described. After several attempts in doing this, and wasting yet another Ink cartridge, I found the perfect solution.
    This time I tipped it on to the printer, before it dried, I used my lighter 🙂
    Why are these printer , such hard work? My one is about 12 months old- or shall I say was. ,

  • My faithful old Epson Stylus Photo R350 refuses to work and is displaying “waste ink pad is flooded – turn off and contact your dealer to replace it”. Is there anything I can do myself? .

    • You can also clean the waste ink pads yourself.

      1. You need to first locate where the waste ink pads are. You can find them at the back of your printer. Google where it is for the Epson Stylus Photo R350.
      2. Unplug the printer. Make sure you’re using gloves when doing this.
      3. Remove the waste pad cover. And take out used waste pads.
      4. Wash the pads under hot water and dry them out properly for a few hours.
      5. Put the pads back into the assembly. Screw cover back on. Turn your printer on.
      6. Next step is to restart your printer’s waste ink pad counter otherwise your printer still won’t print.
      7. Look for the right program online to reset the waste pad counter for your printer.
      8. After you’ve reset the counter, try printing.

      Hope this works!

  • This worked! I can print again after following the instructions to clean the print heads. This printer WF-3520 has worked like a charm over the 4-5 years I have had it for home use. But I just bought an off-brand black ink replacement cartridge, and feared the worse. Thanks for these instructions

  • My Epson printer won’t print a decent “Nozzle Check” without missing lines I have tried replacing the offending cartridges but it does not work out and the issue still persists, Later I clean my printer’s printhead so if you ever face the issue be sure you have clogged print heads.

  • I am never ever buying an Epson printer again. I have wasted a whole week trying to clean my 18 month old, occasionally used printer – I cleaned it with recommended fluid, then with the paper towel technique and now it just prints a very faint image and it’s much worse than before. I have changed all the cartridges from brand new cartridges to another new set and nothing works. My husband has a Canon and it’s 100 times better.

  • I have had repeatedly problems with my Epson. I tried all the suggestions regarding the missing lines from replacing the cartridges to cleaning the heads and everything else. I am a small business owner and having a printer that works periodically is killing me from not being able to print invoices or proposals. I am buying a new printer and it won’t be an Epson.. Totally disappointed in the printer and I have had less than a year.

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