How to Really Clean an Inkjet Printer in 5 Simple Steps

There you sit, late at night, typing away with a paper due in the morning. You’ve written a wonderful article, backed it up, and now it’s time to print the beast. After clicking the familiar printer icon, you silently wait for the paper to get pulled into the printer and produce a work of art that Charles Dickens would appreciate. After your printer finishes the that last line you take a look at your masterpiece only to see that there is streaking, blotches, and other impurities. Time after time, you try to “clean” the printer through the manufacture’s software, but all it seems to be doing is drain your precious ink.

If you’ve ever been in this situation, this tutorial will tell you how to really clean your inkjet. By “cleaning”, I actually mean getting some supplies and physically cleaning your printer.

As a technician, I receive many calls about a customer’s inkjet that is not working right or has poor output quality, even after a replaced cartridge. Due to their falling prices and cheap materials, it makes no sense for me to venture out to a house call just to fix a clogged nozzle or poor ink cartridge when the customer could just stop by Wal-Mart on their way home and pick a new one up for 20 bucks. So, to compact this waste, I’ve written this tutorial.


Before we actually get into the cleaning portion of this tutorial, here is some terms you may need to know.

Print Head: This part of an inkjet printer gets the most wear and tear and generally causes the most amount of problems. It is required to print, however doesn’t necessarily have to be included with the ink cartridge. Most of the cartridges you’ll purchase for inexpensive personal-class Canon, HP, and Epson printers will have a print head built right into the ink cartridge. This will prevent a lot of problems, but also opens the doors to those famous “drill-and-fill” cartridge shops in the mall (which can also cause major problems) that disregard the need to change the head along with refilling the ink.

Ink: This should be self explanatory, but I just wanted to note that not all inks are treated the same. Some contain a poor material and make cleaning, installation, and use a real pain. I’ll cover ink cartridge quality in another tutorial.

Print Head Stepper Motor: This motor mainly functions to either park or control the print head assembly. Some printers have a separate stepper motor for parking and controlling the print head.

Stabilizer bar: The stepper motor drives a belt to move the print head. This stabilizer bar ensures that everything is nicely lined up and even.

Paper Feed Assembly: This can differ between printers, but for this tutorial, we’ll refer to this term for the part of the inkjet printer that actually picks up and feeds the paper into the printer.

Interface Ribbon: You may see this ribbon behind the print head/cartridges. It’s responsibility is to be the messenger to tell the print cartridges what color and where to drop the ink.


(HP Deskjet 5650)

Ok, now that we have those terms out of the way, lets start cleaning.


Warning! This tutorial is meant to be an educational experience. I am not responsible for any damage incurred due to the following tutorial. I am not an inkjet expert, just a technician. If your inkjet printer no longer functions because of these instructions, I am not liable for any damage whatsoever.

First try to locate the following cleaning supplies:

  • Glass Cleaner (better known as Windex)
  • Isopropyl Alcohol
  • 3-4 Sheets of Paper Towels
  • Copier/Printer or Sewing Machine Oil (WD-40 may be used if no other types of oil can be found)
  • 2-3 Cotton Swabs (better known as Q-tips)
  • Optional: Latex Gloves
  • Optional: Small hook or pen/pencil (see step 3 to see if you need this)
Cleaning materials
(my collection of tools and cleaning supplies)

Step 1

Remove Cartridges and Power Down


(removing a #57 cartridge from an HP 5650)

If you have them, go ahead and put on your latex or close fitting gloves. Ink generally gets everywhere and can be hard to clean off your hands. It’s important to not work on a printer that’s plugged in. However, sometimes certain inkjet printers will not let you change the ink unless the printer is plugged in. So, if this is the case, go ahead and life the cover of your inkjet so that the cartridges can be removed. Once that’s done, unplug the printer.

NOTE: Be sure not to touch the metal part of a inkjet cartridge, because the natural oils on your hand could inhibit the communication of your cartridge and your printer.

Step 2

Clean Ink Cartridges

(the print head in this picture is dirty and clogged)

To clean the inkjet cartridges, check to see if your cartridge’s have both ink and a print head together.

Together (most common):

Take a paper towel and fold it in fourths. Then add either alcohol (preferred) or Windex to one side of the paper towel. Now, wipe the bottom of the cartridge on the paper towel to clean off the print head in a flower like fashion. It is normal that ink comes out of the cartridge even after you think it’s all clean (that’s what it’s supposed to do).

Separate (less common):

Do not clean the ink cartridges themselves. Since they don’t have a print head and generally don’t control the amount of ink that flows out the bottom, you can get pretty messy if you tried to clean the ink itself. Take the print head and separate it from the ink cartridges, then follow the above directions to clean the head.

Ink 1

(start cleaning by getting a really good “first” wipe)


(notice the star like structure)


(the print head looks much better and is clear from grit and grime)

Step 3

Clean Ribbon and Ink Reservoir

(careful when cleaning the ribbon, they are fragile)

Now take another paper towel and fold it again in fourths. This time spray a thin layer of Windex on the paper towel and clean the ribbon if it has any major ink blotches on it (see picture to better understand this step).

Whenever a printer finishes its document, your ink “rests” or docks usually on the right or left of the printer. Over time, this area can harness a ton of ink mixed with paper dust. This makes a gooey substance that’s can cause big image problems on the paper since every time you print, you run the chance of hitting or docking on this mountain of gooey ink. To clean, we’re not going to use a cleaner, because if you can see a buildup of ink, generally, it’s much too hard to get to and can be very messy. In the picture, I’ve highlighted where this printer’s “reserve” is starting to build up.

Reserve Ink

(a very small patch of “goo”)

Take a long hook or pen/pencil and tear down that mountain of mess. Some printers don’t have this problem, but most do after a long period of printing. Many customers will complain that they just replaced an ink cartridge and still have streaking. When I looked at my printer, there was a small patch of goo.

Step 4

Oil the Stabilizer Bar

After a while of printing, you may notice that the inside of your printer has a thin film of ink inside everywhere. Although it doesn’t really matter when it’s on the plastic, this can affect the oil on the stabilizing bar, making it harder and harder for the print heads to move. Sometimes it gets so bad that you can hear a “crunch” or “grind” and the end of a printing job. It may appear that the printer isn’t aligning right or can’t dock, but sometimes the lack of oil is the cause.


(just a few drop will do the trick)

To oil this bar, simply put small dabs on different parts of the bar and drag the print mount/head across the bar manually to get a good coating.

Movement of print head

(gently rock the cartridge carrier back and forth, spreading the oil)

Step 5

General Outside Cleanup and Paper Pickup Assembly

Once all the previous steps have been completed, you may want to clean the paper pickup assembly if you suspect it has ink on the rollers which causes paper to jam or not feed properly. My printer has a rear access door which is convenient, but other inkjet printers may have hard to reach rollers. I would suggest doing your best in getting at these rollers with a cotton swab and some glass cleaner or alcohol.

Paper Pickup Assembly

(this is found on the rear of the printer)

To clean the outside, take a paper towel and fold in fourths. Spray a thin film of Windex on it and wipe the outside of the printer to your liking.

The Finished Product

Printer Done

That concludes this tutorial of how to clean an inkjet printer. Hopefully it will save a few inkjets from an early grave at the landfill.

For more information on inkjet printers, check out Wikipedia’s extensive article on inkjet printers.

107 Replies to “How to Really Clean an Inkjet Printer in 5 Simple Steps”

  1. Great information. I’ve yet to see a printer manual/help from the manufacturer that even mentions the deposits at the docking/parking area, much less how to clean them. The buildup there can get horrendous over time.

  2. Thanks so much! I overuse my printer and it needs cleaning about every 6 months. I was at the point of considering just getting a $100 printer every 6 months instead of paying the $90 cleaning fee. I suspected that it was a simple procedure that I could do myself, but was unsure exactly what needed to be cleaned and what cleaning solvents to use. Your information has not only saved me $90, but also saved my printer from the dump before its time is really up. Again, thanks so much!

  3. Thanks for taking the time to post this. Never owned a DM printer before. A year ago I was given a “non working” HP 1220C large format printer – Followed your directions, and ran a spotless test page, the small patch of goo, was a half inch thick from the pad to the bottom of the print head.

  4. I have been active in the printer throw away mode. Normally when my printer starts giving me print quality issues or I just replaced the print cartridge (only manufacture ones) and it works for two weeks and I only print two documents and it says “low ink” again I get frustrated and just go buy a new one. Not TODAY!! I found your post and you have saved me $$ and frustration.
    You are a gem!

  5. This is really helpful-Thanks! What about the glass? I’ve cleaned the outside but it’s the inside that is all foggy and dusty. There’s no way to open it other than taking out the screws and disassembling the thing. Any tips?

  6. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
    I am trying to finish printing 150 double-sided, borderless wedding programs for my supervisor, however, on SOME of the pages, I would get a little smudge of ink on the last edge as it left the printer.
    Yesterday, I cleaned my Canon i860 (which I might add that this printer has done me good on printing lots and lots of high quality photos, images, etc. for years and years) to the best of my ability….and when I started printing again tonight, the “extra black ink” started to showing up on SOME of the pages, except in a different spot on the paper edge than yesterday.
    I found this website (, and read it.
    The thing that caught my attention was the mention of of the grinding sound. Even though another website told me not to touch that bar (because it is coated with white wax – or something), I oiled it as instructed above. I ran a few more pages, but unfortunately had the cancel my print job when the third page had a small, but none-the-less black ink mark on it.
    So I did another “forbidden” thing…while my printer was on, I opened the printer lid, and when the cartridges were front and center, I unplugged the printer. Low and behold I oiled the bar on the far right. [I also learned that when you don’t have the ‘thingie that holds the cartridges’ docked, you can freely (and of course gently) move it back and forth.] So, I when I lightly oiled the bar the second time, I also was able to “swish” the oil around.
    I plugged the printer back in…and when I turned it on…it worked just fine. I was concerned that I might have reinstall the drivers, or something worse…but all that worry for nothing.

    The only warning I would add is to make sure you have a direct path from the oil “dispenser” to the bar so that none of the oil drips and especially that it doesn’t get on one of the other “important belts” on the inside. I used a container of ceiling “Fan Oil” which is especially convenient because it has a long, pointed tip/nose which make applying the oil more exact.
    Thanks again for allowing me to not totally lose what little sanity I have left. dmg

    1. Good tip, be careful that you don’t over apply the oil and that you don’t break a gear if your printer doesn’t support that kind of function.

  7. Beautiful!! Just like automobiles need an oil change, printers need the gunk cleaned up! I printed my notes for class and it was horrible and smudged, and really low quality. I followed these steps re-printed my notes and yay yay hurray!!

    Thanks so Much!

  8. Thank you so very much! It helped a lot but I still have a few streaks in my colors so may have to get a new printer as the ink cartridge is new.


  9. Thanks bunches! I was ready to chuck my printer thinking it was done for. Do you know how many printers I’ve tossed because of this? You don’t want to know. Especially from the grinding noise.

    The only place to get a printer around here is walmart and they sell lexmark printers which I hate. I’ve owned one lexmark for about 5 months and got rid of it.

    I’ve always had epsons. They are real workhorses and I use them like borrowed mules. I go through reams and reams of paper and a lot of black ink cartridges so this is going to save my bacon.


  10. Hey this is a very good how to article. I completed the steps but for some reason my printer is not printing black, it prints colors just fine. I know this must be a physical issue but I don’t know what it could be. I have a s500 canon ink jet printer. Can anyone give me a suggestion on what I need to do to get the black to print? Thank you in advance. PJ

  11. Hi,

    thank you so much.I bought a old 5650 from eBay and the seller neglected to say it had a grinding sound. But it was cheap, so I checked google and thanks to you , and some oil on the stabilizer bar, I now have a working printed that doesn’t sound like it’s sharpening knives everytime I use it. It really did sound like the gears or cogs were broken, thanks again.

  12. I tend to use silicon spray on the bar instead of oil. Silicon spray is formulated to lubricate where there is a mix of friction between metal and plastic. I use the red plastic tube attachment to the spray-can head. If it is not available I put a sheet of paper under the bar so I don’t spray the inside of the printer too.

  13. Great article. I’m a tech too and have to clean up a lot of printers although I dislike working on them and have one tip that I got from HP for you. Don’t use Alcohol to clean your rollers, it dries them out prematurely. I use regular bottled water to do my rollers and it seems to work just as good.

  14. thanks for the info….
    did you have any information on how to disassemble and clean the print head of epson stylus t10 printer?
    thanks in advance…

  15. GREAT INFO! You Rule! Thanks! I HAVE A REQUEST . . .

    Mine Still Needs HELP – My HP PhotoSmart #1315 (Yeah, it’s old (Possibly 2002) but I’m not willing to part with it even though I have an all in one also connected to this PC. It was printing beautifully just days ago!)

    I saw the problem before I came “here”, “GOO” as described above, and A TRUCK LOAD of it….

    My problem is I can not easily “access” that location of my printer just by “lifting the lid” and removing the ink cartridges. The GOO’d up reservoir is to the right, UNDER a stationary portion of the printers “shell” (the printer “Buttons” & “Screen” are in/on/above that section of the printer).

    I can’t ship it off to HP or wherever as all that ink accumulated will SPILL (it’s that bad) all over the rest of the unit creating further damage.

    I did take a Q-tip to reach over in to the goo pool and it is a LOT of gooey DEEP yuck & WORSE YET, I have been hearing your mentioned “crunch/grinding” for some time now…geeze LISTEN to your machine would be a CLUE here!

    Maybe I continue to send Q-tips or a crochet hook into the war zone until I no longer come up with slimy goo but then what?

    If it were in a location where I could see everything and get at the “dumping-zone” easily, it would be just-a-PEACHY!

    CAN ANYONE HELP MY SITUATION? My preference is to CLEAN not toss.

    (if you e-mail, put in the subject line “Photosmart 1315” in case you end up in “junk mail” as an “unknown”).

    THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU! (in advance) Stef

  16. Hi: I wrecked a new HP all-in-one printer/scanner by trying to clean printer-head parking spot with Hamerrite Solvent. Although this works wonders with contact adhesive and to lesser extent Superglue it dissolved the gray plastic of which 90% of printer is made. Had I but known about the existence of this site . . . . Fatal (for the printer) self inflicted wound!

    Very useful site and comments!

    Willem Botha

  17. I have an HP InkJet 85G series all in one. The one thing I found was a puddle of ink under the printer. I tried the refilled cartridges once with no problem but am wondering if this “leak” is from that or from over time the resting cartridge heads. My all in one is about 5-6 years old.


  18. Just a quick message as I pass this site on my searches 🙂

    That’s an excellent tutorial, all well written. I just wanted to mention that the cleaning chemicals used may not be available to many ‘fixers’ 🙂 usually as I think it’s an American based cleaner ? anyway, I use CD cleaner fluid (or cassette head cleaner). All these things are harmless to printing equipment, but easily remove ink.

    I fix Epson inkjets every week here in the UK, and a few other makes when asked nicely 🙂
    In the Epson ones, the rubber cleaning strip is the main culprit for blocking them up again & again. I use cotton buds soaked in the CD cleaner to get them all cleaned up again, by gently rubbing the cotton bud along the top and sides of the rubber strip several times (the strip may be hidden on some models and needs to be slid out manually). Do that using several soaked new buds to make a good job of it.

    As mentioned there by Willem, it’s possible for some chemicals to literally melt some plastics 🙁 I learnt that several years ago when an Epson 800 print head turned to molten goo as i watched in shock 😮

    Good luck with those repairs everybody 🙂

  19. Top Man!!! Just saved me £20.00. Only done the windowlene trick on the print catridges as my printer had been sitting for 1 year without use. Thanks!!!!

  20. Do you know how to clean or open a HP photosmart D7260? this printer have the printheads inside the machine but I don’t know how to open it.

  21. Only thing to mention: make sure you have A LOT of paper towels and cotton swabs (Q-tips) on hand. I also found it helpful to put a little cleaning solution in a small dish to dip my swabs into. I was thinking about going the dump-and-buy-new route and due to these instructions, sucessfully cleaned my photo printer (Epson 3-in-one) back to top quality. Thanks!

  22. Thanks! I am a bit of a “geek” but never understood the mechanics of ink jet operation. Looking at a couple of ink jets I haven’t recycled yet, they may still have life left in them. As a side note after one disaster with using a “refilled” an ink jet I will only buy new from now on. Half my cleanup today I’m sure was from that mistake.

    1. I hear that all the time. There is a right and wrong way to refill ink, perhaps I’ll post a tutorial later about this subject.

  23. Can ANYONE tell me the procedure for OPENING (removing the entire cover to reveal the guts) an HP D7260 printer? I understand the 4 star screws are first removed along with the all the cartridges. I don’t know how to “pop” the plastic tabs that releases the chassis from the plastic outer shell. Please help!

  24. Hi! My printer is an HP Deskjet D1660 that I bought new at the end of last spring and used for the remainder of the semester. It sat all summer and when I started printing again this fall it streaks. The pattern is the same every time, some lines print perfect, and at the same location on the page each time some lines are barely visible. I am thinking this is due to a clogged jet… does that sounds right? I did the clean printer head/jet multiple times, and the test pages looked better, but never got perfect. I didn’t notice any difference after the “cleaning” when printing normal text. Only the black streaks as far as I can tell. Is there something I can do manually to fix this??? If so please let me know! I hate throwing things away, especially when they are minimally used. Thanks for any help!

  25. Saw your query re goo under parking spot for printer cartridge/heads.

    Did you get an answer? I have the same problem. Ink is now all over me, my rug, and muy clothes.Didnt work fast enough for gloves.


  26. i have a lexmark x5470 printer, and i do not know how to take it apart to clean it up,i have refilled my ink and some of it drained all over inside of the printer and i am having printing difficulties,,the ink is on the rollers and everywhere,also, when i am trying to print something, the paper does not go down, it seems the ink have dried up on the rollers and i have found this in my printer and i want to know what it is
    any advise would be great

  27. my printer is a lexmakx5470 and for some reason the paper is not getting pulled down to begin the print job,it is only saying “PLEASE LOAD PAPER”,,what do u think is the problem

  28. Is there a way to totally remove all the ink in a inkjet printer? I need it to be ink free. Any help would be appreciated.

    1. I guess you could remove the electronic components and ink cartridges then dunk the printer in a windex-type solution, but this is just hypothetical. I wouldn’t recommend it and it wouldn’t be worth the trouble.

  29. OMG It worked. My canon IP2000 Is 4-5 years old and uses cheap ink cartridges and your instructions worked perfectly. Thank you sooo much!

  30. I am running into the problem of my inks mixing inside the ink cartridge on an HP DeskJet 9300 (yellow has become green). I’m thinking this is a problem of ink buildup in the reservoir seeping back into the cartridge, but I would LOVE your “professional” input. The problem is as FRUSTRATING as a cardiac arrest (and just as Expensive).

  31. Thank you, before reading this I was thinking of using nail polish remover, to remover all this ink splatter, I am so glad I came across this before I did. it came right off no melting plastic, and it is printing so much nicer now.
    thanx again

  32. So, what would someone do if the cartridge somehow got punctured and ink is dripping out the bottom of the printer? Needless to say, the inside of the printer is coated too…

    1. There’s no easy fix for that unfortunately. Best bet is to try and clean the bottom off as best you can and hope the ink stops leaking.

  33. My HP 1315xi printer had so much dried ink on the inside white absorbing pad that there was no place for any more ink to go during the self clean. I unplugged the printer, took it outside in the sun and I used a hose to wash out all of the dried ink. continued on next page

  34. It took about 30 minutes of high pressure hosing until the water ran clean. I then left the printer in the sun to dry. I reinstalled the clean, dry white absorbing pad, plugged the printer back to my computer and powered it up. It works great now.

  35. Great article. Was wondering if you could provide a bit of advice. I picked up an HP Photosmart B8850 second hand. It’s in great shape and looking at the docking sponges it looks like it has seen little use. However the owner (who bought it new) said she hadn’t used it for a few months. I does have original HP carts in it and they are all nearly full, but a couple have expired two months ago. Sure enough all 8 printheads are pretty much clogged. I only get a faint black image when printing the test page. Being a pigment based printer do you have any tips on cleaning these HP 70 print heads? They are easily removed and I have tried celaning with isopropyl and Q-tips, but no luck yet. Thanks!

    1. Sorry, I’m not familiar with that model. Did you try taking the cartridge out and wiping it with a damp paper towel?

  36. My 1220C won’t print red – it comes out yellow. The test page is OK. I have cleaned the printer heads – no success. Any thoughts?

    1. Sounds like your printer is not printing the megenta correctly (yellow + megenta = red). I’d start by physically cleaning the print head and if that doesn’t work, you’ll need to purchase a replacement.

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