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Simple Inkjet printer cleaning

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Inkjet printer cleaning

Cleaning old ink – how household cleaners can shift dried up 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.

K80 and household cleaner

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 :-)

ink removal

Be sure to read the safety warnings at the end of the article…

This article dates from 2005 and has updates and suggestions at the end.

Cleaning inkjet printers – shifting dried up ink.

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.

cleaner and HP K80 printer

A cleaner inkjet

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.

printer ink solvent

Kitchen roll aka Kitchen towelI originally discovered how good it was when it dissolved the ink on some kitchen towel I was using to clean an old Epson 3000.

Note added for some in the US :-)
I’ve been asked what kitchen roll/towel is?
It’s this sort of paper, used in the kitchen – like giant thick toilet paper :-)
<—

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.

print cartridge cleaning

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)

  • Turn on printer – head moves across
  • Pull power cord so the head is left ‘unparked’
  • Spray cleaner onto the parking pads
  • Carefully soak up spray with kitchen roll
  • Repeat if there was a lot of dried up ink on the pads
  • Spray again – leave the pad soaked with the cleaner
  • Turn printer on, let head return.
  • Switch printer off with it’s own power button
  • Wait overnight :-)

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).

solvents and ingredientsIf 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.

This is a very powerful cleaner and solvent.

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.

Important disclaimer

Use products like this on your printer at your own risk.

I’ve used this particular product for several years and have never had any problems with it, you should take care to test it for yourself.

Do read all safety precautions.

Bad news from Sainsbury’s (Jan. 06)

soapy waterMy 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
It seems they will look into it (yeah, sure ;-)

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)

inclusion of Isopropanol

Notes Added since the formulation change [thanks for all the updates]

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

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.

spray for inkjet cleaningDecember 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.

June 2010

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.

Wizz inkjet cleanerNote 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)

http://householdproducts.nlm.nih.gov/cgi-bin/household/brands?tbl=chem&id=148

June 2011 – In the UK ‘Spic & Span’ glass cleaner (from Veekay.co.uk) has all the ingredients of the original Sainsburys mix.

January 2012 – From the US… Resolve carpet cleaner

http://www.biosci.ohio-state.edu/~safety/MSDS/RESOLVE%20CARPET%20CLEANER.htm

March 2012 – From the US… Armor All Auto Glass Cleaner

http://www.armoredautogroup.com/pdf/Armor-All/Armor-All-Auto-Glass-Cleaner-(6-2011).pdf

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 cleaning

http://www.rbeuroinfo.com/

November 2016

The entire site has been rewritten/updated, and hopefully all the info has made it over – please do email me or leave comments below.

These comments from Andrew Parsons

My contribution is the Rug Doctor cleaner.  This is readily available, does a good job of dissolving ink and comes in a handy spray container.

In the older (possibly all) the epson printers the printhead manifold contains fine stainless steel mesh that you can never get at unless you break open the manifold and then it is all over.  This gets clogged and is very difficult to clean.  I haven’t really found a good cleaner/solvent yet.  The machines I am most familiar with are the Epson 7600s – old but pretty common.  One of the tricks here, if the printhead is badly clogged and you have it out, is to remove the printhead from the manifold by undoing the three screws and then using a syringe and rubber tubing push cleaning fluid through the manifold.  If you cannot get the fuid to flow nicely through the manifold you obviously have no chance with the complete head assembly, so you have to fix the clogged manifold first.  As there are no electronics inthe manifold, it is essentially a series of pipes with the mesh filter in it you can be pretty vigorous as there is nothing to harm.  Meanwhile you can sit the head itself on some kitchen towel soaked in cleaner as a preliminary to a full clean.

Keeping pigment inkjet printers clean and clear is a significant part of their operation and if you do have the head out everyone talks about the head being clogged and soaking it from the bottom.  The assumption being that the nozzles themselves are blocked, however it is quite possible that the manifold is blocked, owing to the fine mesh filter.  It is easy to verify if this is the case by removing the head from the manifold and checking.

More print related information

For information about other printers, paper reviews and profiling (colour management) see the Printing section of the main Articles and Reviews page, or use the search box at the top of any page. There are also specific index pages for any articles connected with the following topics:

 


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  • Gast007

    To clean the head of my old Epson Stylus C86 I use the chemicals of ultrasonic cleaners with best success. There are chemicals which contain 5 to 15% non-ionic surfactant (on the label in german: nichtionische Tenside) and are able to unclog pigment ink printers. Actually I use Emag EM-080, diluted 1+1 with water:

    https://www.amazon.co.uk/Emag-Reinigungskonzentrat-Universal-5l-Em80/dp/B002ZMFXLM/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1479416912&sr=8-1&keywords=emag+em80

  • Pstark

    For Canon wide format printers, it is important to note that different ink cartriges may have different ingredients, and that may affect how you wish to clean them.
    For the IPF 710 the colored inks cartidges contain isopropyl alcohol, glycol, ethylene urea, and a surfactant (surfynol or acetylenol), dye and water. The type of glycol is listed as confidential in some of the Asian country MSDS sheets.
    However for the BK and MBK the ingredients change:
    The BK ingredients are glycerin, ethylene glycol, ethylene urea, a surfactant/wetting agent (lactam or naphthalene sulfonic acid) and water.
    The MBK cartrige contains glycerin, diethelene glycol, the same wetting agent and water.
    My point is that the BK and MBK cartriges may not react in the same manner to the color cartridges when using specific cleaning agents as their ingredients and particulates are quite different. Seals may suffer and leak over time, nozzles may clog, lines may deteriorate, etc.
    Your mileage may vary, just be aware of the differences in the ink types.

    • kacoooper

      Thanks for the notes – you make some very useful points.

  • dave ramsay

    ive tried neat isopropanol alcohol but with no effect on cleaning as far as dissolving goes its more likely to flake or clump,does it have to be in solution with water

    • kacoooper

      best with a bit of water and detergent
      A bit of the glycol as well helps.

      Experiment with different mixes on printed sheets to find what works best – I’ve used this with some of the cleaners I’ve tried

  • Graham

    Hi

    I have quite a few Epson large format printers with blocked nozzles. I have managed to clear some of the printers but others are proving to be more stubborn. First of all I would like to comment on the Wizz glass cleaner; the Wizz glass cleaner I have is different to the one above and does not contain the two magic ingredients so if you are buying this stuff check the ingredients first.

    Now for the two magic ingredients; Isopropyl and ether glycol. Here in the UK Isopropyl is available from Ebay for about £14 for 5L as for ether glycol, well that’s a little more difficult. For a start which ether glycol is it, in the post before this Tommy suggests that it is PGME however I would suggest that it is more likely to be EGBE (Ethylene glycol butyl ether) for the simple fact that it is about £6 a litre cheaper. You can get a little more info about it at http://www.shell.com/content/dam/shell/static/chemicals/downloads/products-services/egbe-world-of-solutions.pdf As you can see from the article not only is EGBE used extensively in glass and tile cleaners it also acts to dissolve or suspend pigments and resins until the coating is applied to surfaces. When you think that the Epson K3 inks are pigment ink encapsulated in resin this would be the ideal stuff to break the inks down. In the UK it appears you can get both PGME and EGBE online from sigmaaldrich.com I have not used this company as yet but will be doing in the near future. The initial formula I will be trying will be 5% EGBE, 15-25% of 99.9% Isopropyl, distilled water and a couple of drops of washing up liquid as a wetting agent.

    Just for information; I have a painted cupboard door that I spilt Magenta K3 ink on which has now been drying for about 6 weeks. Yes I could have cleaned it up straight away but I saw the advantage of letting it dry. I have tried various household cleaners on it and most won’t touch it, including the Wizz glass and window cleaner I have but CIF Power and shine Kitchen does clean it. Be warned I have never tried it on a printhead and it may destroy it if you do try it. BTW I have not left the cleaners to soak on the door I have just put a little on to a kitchen towel, held it for a few seconds and then rubbed for a few seconds.

    • kacoooper

      Thanks for this excellent information

      • Graham

        Further to my post above I tried to buy EBGE from sigmaaldrich.com and was turned down because I did not have an account with them. In fairness they did send me the relevant paper work to open an account but before I was going to go to that trouble I had a scout round the internet and found mistralni.co.uk who are supplying me with a litre bottle. Not only are they supplying it to me without a lot of hassle it is only £13.99 Inclusive rather than just over £30 at sigmaaldrich. BTW you can buy it in smaller quantities if you wish, as little as 50ml.

        I currently have two large format Epson printers with either faulty heads or blocked heads that I have not been able to clear. I was about to buy new heads for them until I did a little research, found this page, did a little bit more research and found the information I wrote above.

        Once I get the chemicals I will try to unblock the heads and report back. I have nothing to loose, I was about to spend over a £1000 on heads so it is worth spending £30 on chemicals. Yes I know I could have bought smaller quantities and spent less but if it works it is far cheaper buying bulk and if it doesn’t the chemicals can be used for other things or other printers.

  • rick

    hi i have a canon i6500 and i think the print head has run out of gas
    i am a bit worried about socking it in liquids as it looks like there is a electric part on the face of the head or a chip wont dipping nit in liquid bugger the head al together ?

    • Canon print heads are replaceable and do have a limited service life

      Anywhere ink goes is meant to be able to get wet anyway? – Just apply cleaners with care

  • Mindbuilder

    Resolve carpet cleaner appears to have Teflon. I think Teflon is a solid even when in such a cleaning solution, and therefore the small particles would be a clogging risk.

    • I’d be very careful with anything run through an IJ printer, but for general cleaning I’d be more forgiving, since the cleaner isn’t drawn through the heads.

      Even so, teflon particles sound potentially problematic

  • Monty West

    Here is a list of ingredients for each product sold in Europe by Reckitt Benckiser.

    http://rbeuroinfo.com/

  • Monty West

    Thanks very much for the accompanying article on cleaning inkjet printers.

    We’ve recently moved house and the packers packed my trusty old HP970c on its side. As you might imagine it leaked spectacularly. Luckily it was wrapped in bubble wrap and so the ink was contained.

    I thought it was a write-off and left it for 4 months. Then I found this site, and others.

    However I was not able to get any of the products mentioned (veekay.co.uk is a wholesale distributors requiring a minimum spend of £500 and no longer list Spic & Span anyway).

    I disassembled my printer using online instructions from a forum. Be sure to wear latex gloves and change them when they get holed especially when cleaning the absorbent mat in the service station/ “spittoon” (sic). I can tell you that it is very difficult to get inkjet ink off of your fingers.

    I took all the ink soaked plastic pieces and washed them in a bucket of hot water with a little washing up liquid using an old 1″ paintbrush. Amazingly, all the ink came off very easily, even from inside the service station.

    I wiped the cartridge print nozzles a couple of times with a tap water dampened paper towel, lubricated the cartridge rod with some bicycle lube and an hour later, after everything was reassembled, produced a very acceptable full colour test print.

    So thank you Keith and northlight-images.co.uk for inspiring me to rescue my old printer.