If your Epson printer is printing out faint images, skipping lines, or is streaking your image 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 keep printing with depleted ink cartridges. Using empty ink cartridges can result in air bubbles that can clog your cartridge and/or printhead. Apart from clogs, printing with empty ink cartridges can cause your printhead to overheat damaging it permanently.
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.
Option 1: If your printer has a fixed printhead, follow these instructions.
- 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. If you’ve repeated the process and you still don’t see ink being flushed out of the printhead, go to Option 3.
- 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.
Option 3: If your printer does not have a fixed printhead and instead uses ink cartridges with an integrated printhead, here’s a video that shows how to use the paper towel method. Although the cartridge in the video is not Epson, the method is similar.
Cleaning the Printhead with a Printhead Cleaning Kit
If your printer has a fixed printhead, and needs more help flushing the dried ink out from the printhead, follow these steps.
- For this process you’ll need to have a printhead cleaning kit which will come with all the materials you’ll need.
- Power on your printer and print a test page then unplug your printer in the middle of it so that the printheads are in position for cleaning.
- Remove the ink cartridges, wrap them in cling wrap so they don’t dry up, then set them aside.
- Tear a single sheet of paper towel in half and fold it lengthwise until it is about one-half inch wide and place it beneath the printheads. Position the printheads in the middle of the printer.
- Fill a syringe from your printhead cleaning kit with the cleaning solution. Connect a rubber tube to the tip of the syringe.
- Connect the other end of the rubber tube to one of the printhead’s ports. If your printer uses four cartridges, there will be four ports to connect to and flush out.
- Slowly pump cleaning solution through the ink port until your see liquid on the paper towel.
- Remember to flush out ink from all cartridge ports.
- When you’re done, reinstall all the cartridges and restart the printer.
- Print a couple of test pages.
How often should I clean my Epson printer’s printhead?
A printhead can accumulate dirt if it’s not used frequently enough. We recommend printing a few times each month to prevent ink from drying in the cartridges. But even if you do try and print that much, you may still need to run the occasional cleaning. The best time to run a printhead cleaning is when you start to get poor print results. If your printer starts to produce faint, incomplete, or streaky prints, cleaning the printhead will usually clear up the problem right away.
Can clogged printheads damage my Epson printer?
Yes, if you neglect your printhead for a long time you can potentially cause damage to your Epson printer. Over time, the dried ink can cause the printhead to overheat, which may lead to permanent damage.
Why is my Epson printer skipping lines when printing?
Apart from a clogged printhead, one other potential culprit is the electronic connection of your cartridges with your printer. Try removing your cartridges from your printer, and then shutting your printer down. Turn it on after a few hours and wait for your printer to recognize that there aren’t any cartridges installed in the printer. Install all of the cartridges back into the printer and try printing. Of course, it wouldn’t hurt if you clean the contacts and nozzles of your cartridges beforehand. If your printer is still skipping lines when printing, go to your print quality settings and set it to high quality. If this still doesn’t fix it, try getting new cartridges and using those to see if it makes a difference. Unfortunately, Epson cartridges can be quite pricey but an affordable alternative are non-Epson ink replacements.
What else can cause streaky or light prints?
Apart from a clogged printhead, other potential culprits could be low or depleted ink cartridges, poor quality paper, or issues with the printer’s internal components. If a printhead cleaning does not solve your print quality problem, consider replacing your printer cartridges, adjusting your print quality settings or using a different kind of paper. If all else fails, you may need to get your printer serviced by a technician, or consider replacing your printer.
Printhead problems are a common headache for most Epson printer users so the more knowledgeable you are on how to fix it, the better off you’ll be. Watch out for Epson printers that use pigment ink–this ink type can cause printhead problems more than dye-based ink. Have any more questions? Let us know by leaving a comment below.
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