The infamous print head cleaning

by Andy Ng on August 20, 2021 Categories: Tech Tips

Everything needs to be maintained, including all those electronic devices deployed in your home-based office or workplace, and few devices require more attention than your inkjet printer. Whether you use your printer a lot, or hardly at all, you have to change ink cartridge, and/or clean the print head every now and then.

Believe it or not, an inkjet printer that sits (especially for long periods) idle will require print head cleaning more often than one that gets used frequently. If a cartridge doesn’t have ink passing through it now and then, the ink in them dries out, clogging the print nozzles, where the ink is actually applied to the paper. If a set of cartridges sits idle for too long, the nozzles may clog to the point of no return, and no amount of cleaning will unclog them.

The good news here is that most inkjet printers use print cartridges with the print heads built into them. Hence, a clogged print head is not a disaster. Fixing it usually simply requires buying a new ink tank. However, as you can imagine, throwing away unused ink cartridges can get expensive.

Finally, one more thing before we get started. Do not clean your print heads needlessly; it’s a terrific waste of ink.

Cleaning the print head:

If you thinking that cleaning a print head full of coagulated ink sounds messy, well have no fear. It’s all automatic, and you don’t have to touch the print heads themselves, nor even the ink cartridges, for that matter.

In the following example, I’m using Brother’s MFC-J5620DW. However, the procedure, and the ensuing dialog boxes are quite similar, regardless of the make and model of the printer. Unlike some others, though, this Brother Inkjet allows to you clean just the black print head, all three of the colour print heads (cyan, magenta, and yellow) at once, or all four cartridges in the same cleaning session.

Which type of cleaning you should perform depends on your print quality. If, for example, you see discrepancies in your black lines and text, perhaps the black print head needs to be cleaned. In any case, it’s not always easy to tell.

Depending on your printer, you may find instructions in the manual for diagnosing print quality, as does this Brother model. Sometimes, though, you might just have to clean them all.

To clean your print heads, follow these steps:
  1. Go to Windows Control Panel. (There’s a few ways to do this. One of the more common is to hover or click the right side of your screen to bring up the Charms menu.
  2. Click Settings (the gear icon) to open the Settings sub-panel, and then click Control Panel.
  3. In the “Adjust your computer’s settings” section of the Control Panel, under Hardware and Sound, click View devices and printers to open the Devices and Printers dialog box.
  4. Right-click (or the appropriate touch combination for your device) the icon for your printer and choose Printing Preferences.
  5. Click or press Settings, and then Ink.
  6. Click or press Cleaning.
  7. Choose Black, Colour or All.
  8. Let ‘er rip. (Click OK or whatever.)

When the cleaning is finished, the printer will return to Ready mode.

Usually, one cleaning is enough; seldom have I had to do this twice, but I have had to. Brother’s manual says that if after five times print quality doesn’t clear up, you should give up and buy another cartridge, or cartridges. By the time you’ve flushed an ink tank that many times, you would have used up a bunch of the ink inside, anyway. But then, nowadays, some ink cartridges are pretty big, good for thousands of pages.