How to Clean & Maintain Your Inkjet Printer

Inkjet printers may look like little plastic boxes with some electronics crammed inside, but they are actually very sophisticated pieces of hardware. Witness the print head zipping back and forth while spraying drops of ink the size of a red blood cell and hitting the mark with that drop thousands of times a second. Get the idea? Printers need care and should be taken care of to get consistent print quality, paper feed, and longer print life.

Part 1: Software based maintenance

Start with a Nozzle Check

If your print quality starts to go down (thin lines, colors suddenly shift or become light) the first thing to do is run a nozzle check. Using a plain piece of paper, your printer will print a small test of each ink color and its many nozzles

Head Cleaning

What to look for: Sudden color shifts in your prints. Blacks may start to have a bronzed look. Lines that run the same direction as the print head.

The head cleaning cycle ensures all ink nozzles are clear and free of any obstructions. Always run a cleaning if your printer has set for more than a month between printings.

Head Alignment

What to look for: White repeating lines or a grid like pattern on your print can indicate misalignment of heads. Perform this function when needed.

You will need a couple of sheets of plain or photo paper for the process. Alignment ensures all the nozzles are pointing the right directing and firing ink in the right place. Some newer printer models have an automatic alignment and clean function you can run instead of the manual process.

Where to find these tools

Your printer will have a maintenance or utility function where you can access these plus other functions. Some printers, particularily HP models, may not have cleanin functions that you can access.

Maintenance screen shots Mac

You will likely find utility and maintenance controls in System Preferences » Print & Fax » Set Up Printers.

Cchoose your printer in the printer list and click Utility near the top of the screen.

If you are having trouble with ink streaks on your paper, try this:

Take an 8.5x11 sheet of plain paper. Soak the interior of the sheet with rubbing alcohol, leaving all four edges completely dry. Run this sheet through your printer 2-3 times front and back. This will clean all of the internal rollers of debris and any ink