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Inkjet printer cleaning
Cleaning old ink
At Northlight Images we have a variety of inkjet printers which we use for test purposes, general office printing and our fine art landscape prints.
Also, we get given lots of peoples' 'junk' dried up printers.
Here are some ideas on what to use for cleaning your printer and tips about how to do it.
This article is regularly updated as product formulations change and we get new products suggested.
Cleaning up old ink
Over the years I've fixed and cleaned many inkjet printers. Many of them had dried up inks, clogged heads and ink covered rollers.
After much experimentation (including the oft quoted windowlene) we came across the ideal solution -- in the bathroom :-)
Be sure to read the safety warnings at the end of the article...
For updates and comments see also the associated blog topic for this article.
My number one favourite for getting rid of dried up inkjet ink and cleaning inkjet printers is Sainsbury's Bathroom cleaner (alternatives are covered later).
Here it is, in front of my trusty old HP K80 which I've used in numerous reviews and tests.
The solvents in the cleaner make short work of any dried up inks.
This is the quickest test of whether a liquid is any good.
I originally discovered how good it was when it dissolved the ink on some kitchen towel I was using to clean an old Epson 3000.
It works a treat on cleaning inky fingers as well.
Here it is after I've used it to clean an old cartridge out of the K80.
Just spray some on the kitchen towel and touch the print head on to the area.
A quick wipe, and back to a perfect nozzle check.
Note how the solvents in the cleaner have made the pattern on the paper run.
Other inkjet cleaning uses
Take a thickish sheet of the largest size paper your printer uses, spray it lightly with the cleaner. Form feed it through the printer a few times.
This works well in getting any muck off the print rollers. If you've not got a thick paper, then load a sheet of paper first, lightly spray it, and then feed it through.
Take care -- since torn wet soggy bits of paper are a pain to clean out of your printer (Yes, it has happened :-)
If you take some kitchen roll and carefully fold it several times, you can make a strip that will fit in the foam filled gap under where the head goes on Epson printers.
You can manually release the head (or pull the plug when it is out of its 'park' position) and gently slide it over the folded kitchen roll. Spray some cleaner in the middle section and you will see just how much dried ink your heads have built up.
For a dried up head, you can also spray the cleaner onto the parking pads (where the head rests)
You can get cartridges full of cleaning solution but I prefer to get an old empty cartridge and add a few cc of isopropanol to it through the vent tube (this is a fiddly operation and needs a syringe). This cartridge now has very dilute ink/solvent in it.
Run some test prints and see if the clogs go away. The very dilute ink and solvent is much easier to see on paper than pure cleaning fluid.
One important thing that people often forget when dealing with clogged inkjet printers is waiting. Sometimes no amount of cleaning cycles on your printer seem to work - after a few you are just wasting ink.
Put the cleaner in place, and leave it overnight. The Epson 3000 I fixed took a week of cleaning - first thing in the morning, last thing in the afternoon.
Why does it work so well for removing dried inks?
My suspicion is that it is the isopropanol and propylene glycol ether that really go to work on the ink and make the difference between this product and the inferior versions (see later).
If you are not in the UK, here are the ingredients, so you can look for a local equivalent. I used the bathroom cleaner rather than the kitchen cleaner (green pack) since it does not have sodium hydroxide in it.
If I wanted to run a cleaning solution through a print head I'd use something much less aggressive like isopropyl alcohol/distilled water or one of the suggested solvents in second link at the end of the article.
Isopropanol is relatively easy to get from your local chemist (drugstore), but from various suggestions I've seen on the web, having a detergent and the glycol ether helps shift things even better.
Once you get to the need for forcing liquids through a print head, you've got to accept that it may just be too late for that printer, although I did once remove the head from a Stylus Color 800 and put it in an ultrasonic cleaning bath with some isopropyl alcohol - it's been in regular use by someone for the last 3 years and has been fine ever since.
Remember, cleaning inkjet printers can cause them to never work again...
That said, the Epson 3000 I cleaned, had been unused for over three years. It took a week of running the head over folded up kitchen roll soaked in the cleaner to get it printing again - it has worked perfectly ever since.
Bad news from Sainsbury's (Jan. 06)
My local (Fosse Park, Leicester) Sainsbury's has had a big rebuild - not only have they withdrawn several items I regularly used to buy, but the cleaner has been reformulated.
It now dissolves ink far less well -- the new sort seems to have all the decent stuff taken out :-(
I'm not entirely satisfied (see the fine print on the pic) so I rang the freephone number
If you want the old original (non watered down version) back then ring 0800 636262 and complain!
I'll try a few other UK sources for something that works as well...
2010 - The sort of ingredients to look out for (see more suggestions below)
Nov 2006 - the current version is still weak, but I've found that adding about 5-10% Isopropanol (aka isopropyl alcohol) restores much of its ink busting ability
Thanks to everyone who has ever purchased something via our links.
December 2006 - I've had some more info (thanks Jack) about possible chemicals that should be looked out for when researching potential cleaners
"The term 'propylene glycol ether' isn't that definitive, but I suspect it means propylene glycol methyl ether or the ethyl ether, both of which are used in household cleaners. Since you report Sainsbury have dropped the old formulation, I guess I need to start looking at other cleaners on the shelves to see if PGME or PGEE are still used anywhere."
This was after looking at ways of clearing the notoriously difficult to shift Epson 'Durabrite' pigment inks.
July 2008 - I've had several more suggestions for cleaners if you are using an HP or Canon printer where the heads are more easily accessible, these include leaving the head standing in water/isopropyl alcohol overnight.
Not of direct use for Epson printers, since the heads are not meant to come out (unless being replaced in a service centre)
March 2009 - a UK substitute for the cleaner?
We were sent some information about a (UK) cleaner called 'Wizz kitchen cleaner multi action' [thanks!]
Product Info (it's bright yellow) from 'Wizz Products' - I'm told it's commonly found in cheap stores :-) We've not tried it yet, so use with care.
May 2009 - A report that Sainsbury's cleaner with 25% isopropanol added still works fine.
December 2009 - In the UK I'm told (thanks) that AutoGlym Active Insect Remover, from a car parts store, disolves Epson ink very well.
If you have any suggestions for a replacement for cleaning inkjet printers, then feel free to let us know :-)
April 2010 - In the UK I'm told (thanks Brian) that 'Gumption' contains >5% isopropanol and works very well.
Found for a pound at 'Poundland'...
The picture to the right shows a bottle - as with all such cleaners, test it carefully on different materials before soaking parts of your printer with it.
At last a product with just the right ingredients...
I've been sent details of another wonder inkjet cleaning product from Wizz in the UK.
Note the important glycol and alcohol - this is what used to make the original Sainsburys mix so good.
Thanks to Roy for letting me know about this one and sending the pictures.
Also found at 'Poundland'.
Note to US readers - if you find a product similar, that works well, please do let me know and I'll add it to the list...
June 2010 - see update and comments in the associated blog topic for this article relating to PGME. Do feel free to add any comments/observations.
April 2011 - We're sent a very useful US site [thanks Patrick] that shows products that have a particular ingredient in them (isopropanol in this instance)
January 2012 - From the US... Resolve carpet cleaner
May 2012 - One from Demark: “Borup Vindues & Glasrens” which can be purchased in any Silvan shop.
February 2013 - Cillit Bang Multi Power Cleaner Degreaser gets a thumbs up for ink cleanig
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