A reader wrote to ask me why the inkjet heads on his Epson printer keep clogging up. I emailed him back asking whether or not he left his printer on for long periods of time. His response was that he leaves his printer and computer on all the time and never turns either one off.

AH HA!

The culprit has been found. Most (NOT ALL) inkjet printers need to be turned OFF when not in use. Most inkjets use a shutdown routine that parks the heads and caps them. This restricts air flow to the print heads so that they don’t dry out.

So if you are done printing for the day, turn your inkjet printer off – just to be safe. Also be sure to let it run through its entire shut down and start up routine every time you cycle it on or off. This keeps the heads clean and makes sure that they don’t dry out or clog.

Join the conversation! 28 Comments

  1. Ahhhh!

    Its always the little things that I forget.

    Thanks for great tips, Scott and team.

  2. That is very brief answer. Inkjets do not “like” being left OFF for long periods too,… Epson in particular suggest at least weekly test usage if normal usage is not planned during that period. And there is a manufacturer and price/quality level difference. From personal experience some manufacturers control this issue much better (under the same type of usage I never needed inkjet heads cleaned on the Canon printer and frequently needed to do this on all Epson printers I have owned). Dramatic difference with the quality level of the printer/cartridges can be observed too. My “cheap” Epson printers annoyed the H* out of me with day-to-day need for head cleaning and related ink waste. Since I got R2400 situation is much better and I need it only after prolonged (month) periods of it not being in use (and turned off).

  3. @dusan the answer, brief or not – is correct. I never said that the printer likes to be turned off. I said it should be turned off when not in use. If the choice is leaving it off for long periods of time or leaving it ON for long periods of time, the best choice is off.

    And while it’s not a huge issue, it is still important – that, according to the three engineers I interviewed prior to writing this post.

  4. @dusan the answer, brief or not – is correct. I never said that the printer likes to be turned off. I said it should be turned off when not in use. If the choice is leaving it off for long periods of time or leaving it ON for long periods of time, the best choice is off.

    And while it’s not a huge issue, it is still important – that, according to the three engineers I interviewed prior to writing this post.

  5. @Scott. Thanks for the advice, it’s something most people wouldn’t think of IMO.

    Can you tell me what your photo (above) is of? I like it, but I’ve been staring at it for the past 5 minutes and can’t make it out!

    Cheers

    Dave

  6. @Scott. Thanks for the advice, it’s something most people wouldn’t think of IMO.

    Can you tell me what your photo (above) is of? I like it, but I’ve been staring at it for the past 5 minutes and can’t make it out!

    Cheers

    Dave

  7. @Dave It’s a grain silo at sunrise take with a 14mm lens while laying on my back.

  8. @Dave It’s a grain silo at sunrise take with a 14mm lens while laying on my back.

  9. The Epson Pro printers (I’m not sure about the Canon Pro printers) actually need to be left on to prevent clogging. They seal the heads after printing and if you turn the printer off it can’t maintain the seal and clogging occurs.

  10. The Epson Pro printers (I’m not sure about the Canon Pro printers) actually need to be left on to prevent clogging. They seal the heads after printing and if you turn the printer off it can’t maintain the seal and clogging occurs.

  11. @Corey depends on which models you’re talking about but that’s the reason I said MOST NOT ALL printers need to be turned off.

  12. @Corey depends on which models you’re talking about but that’s the reason I said MOST NOT ALL printers need to be turned off.

  13. I have an Epson and it never gets turned off and is still going strong. May be I am just luck. It is an RX510 so it is a bit long in the tooth. It doesn’t even get used much any more, kids finished at Uni.

    It has been an excellent printer, be it an average photo printer. When I replace it I will be looking for a photo printer more than a general use one. Use a HP laser for that.

    I will keep this advise in mind when a new one gets bought.

    Great information.

  14. Any tips for cleaning clogged heads if cleaning and deep cleaning doesn’t work? My printer’s head just clogged & after about 40 cleaning, and 20 deep cleans it still won’t print right.

  15. Trevor, I imagine that the older printers aren’t as fussy because they weren’t built to make as tiny dots with tiny nozzles, at least as much as the new ones might be. Newer, cheaper printers, may be built with heavy corner-cutting in mind as well.

    Kelly, it sounds to me that the print head may be done for, but that depends on what you mean by “clean” and “deep clean”. If those are just buttons you click in the computer’s printer control panel without actually getting inside the printer, then that’s not enough. If you haven’t already, try to clean the ink squirting part of the print head with a cotton swab and isopropyl alcohol. Some printers have replaceable print heads, some don’t. If the head is replaceable, it might be worth getting a new one. Save that, you might need a new printer.

  16. When I managed the Print/Scanner Forum for CompuServe, I had a woman in Paris on my staff. who was free lance photographer and a real Epson expert She had all kinds of cleaning techniques for Epson printers, but she never cracked the problem on the newer machines.

    Sadly, her photography business took off and we lost her expertise.

    Canon printers are unusually susceptible to clogging IF you use third party inks. Canon uses a 2 picoliter ink droplet in contrast to Epson and HP which use 7-9 picoliter drops. So far, 100% of the Canon users I’ve had complain about clogged heads admit to using third party ink.

    HP has come up with self-maintaining print heads that can be found both on consumer models as well as the new high end professional machines Leave them on and they will determine when their heads need cleaning. Not only that, they recycle the ink from the cleaning, filter it and return it to the print head reservoir.

    I’ve been dubious of this system, but I’ve used them now for about 3 years and dealt with many folks who have them and I’ve yet to hear of a clogged head.

    I’ve noticed that some of these new pro level HP machines have broken the monopoly that Epson has had on professional photographers.

    We’ll see how that turns out.

    Lee who is now 148 hours closer to getting his electric power restored than he was last Sunday.

  17. When I managed the Print/Scanner Forum for CompuServe, I had a woman in Paris on my staff. who was free lance photographer and a real Epson expert She had all kinds of cleaning techniques for Epson printers, but she never cracked the problem on the newer machines.

    Sadly, her photography business took off and we lost her expertise.

    Canon printers are unusually susceptible to clogging IF you use third party inks. Canon uses a 2 picoliter ink droplet in contrast to Epson and HP which use 7-9 picoliter drops. So far, 100% of the Canon users I’ve had complain about clogged heads admit to using third party ink.

    HP has come up with self-maintaining print heads that can be found both on consumer models as well as the new high end professional machines Leave them on and they will determine when their heads need cleaning. Not only that, they recycle the ink from the cleaning, filter it and return it to the print head reservoir.

    I’ve been dubious of this system, but I’ve used them now for about 3 years and dealt with many folks who have them and I’ve yet to hear of a clogged head.

    I’ve noticed that some of these new pro level HP machines have broken the monopoly that Epson has had on professional photographers.

    We’ll see how that turns out.

    Lee who is now 148 hours closer to getting his electric power restored than he was last Sunday.

  18. My Epson R-380 never gets turned off, and I have no clogging problems.

  19. My Epson R-380 never gets turned off, and I have no clogging problems.

  20. Sorry, I just read about cleaning clogged heads. Here’s a technique that has worked for Canon printers. I’m not sure it will give the quality results a photographer requires, but I can tell from many users on our forum that it does work.

    Take a paper towel and fold it to about four thicknesses. Remove the print heads and sit the nozzles on the towel overnite. Air dry…do not rub. Then run the cleaning routine.

  21. Sorry, I just read about cleaning clogged heads. Here’s a technique that has worked for Canon printers. I’m not sure it will give the quality results a photographer requires, but I can tell from many users on our forum that it does work.

    Take a paper towel and fold it to about four thicknesses. Remove the print heads and sit the nozzles on the towel overnite. Air dry…do not rub. Then run the cleaning routine.

  22. Ooops…left out…soak the towel with water. Duh!

  23. Clogging is a common problem, not only with Epsons, but with many other inkjet printers. I always turn off my Epson printers if I’m not going to use them on a specific day. As Scott notes, every printer is different, and some printers, like the HP Designjet Z3100 and HP Photosmart Pro B9180 are designed to stay on at all times. I would venture to say that clogging of inkjet heads has caused more people to pull hair out of their heads than just about any other inkjet printing subject. I’ve posted much of the info below previously on inkjettips.com, but I thought it would be better to add the full text here instead of just linking to it.

    The following tips can be used for many desktop Epson printers. In some cases, these tips will work with other printer brands as well. Just to be safe, I should say that these suggestions are based on my personal experiences and though I doubt they will do any harm, proceed at your own risk. They are my recommendations and won’t necessarily be the same as the recommendations of the printer manufacturer.

    1. First, for best results, you should operate your printer in a room with relative humidity levels ideally between about 35-60%. With lower humidity levels, the printheads will be more prone to clogging. Adding a humidifier to a room is one way to bring up the level, or you can create a mini-greenhouse environment by covering your printer with plastic (a garbage bag works) and placing a 1 quart plastic container about 1/2 filled with distilled water with about 10 holes the size of a pencil eraser cut in the top of the plastic cover. An electric drill makes the hole drilling pretty easy to do. Basically, whatever will allow water to evaporate out without having a completely open container near your printer is fine.

    Then carefully place the container on the exit tray of the printer and cover the printer and tray with plastic. The water will slowly evaporate and help keep the heads from clogging. Even though the water is distilled, over time mold can grow (yummy!), so clean the container every month or so and replace the water. This procedure has been very helpful for a client of mine with an Epson Stylus Pro 4000 printer. She often travels for a month at a time, and she would always have bad clogging. Now it just takes about one cleaning cycle and she’s usually good to go.

    2. Cover the printer when not in use with a plastic sheet or bag, but still allow some air to enter. Often, clogging occurs due to dust and pet hair finding its way into your printer’s delicate printheads.

    3. After running a nozzle check through the printer utility, check it for any gaps. If there are any, do a single cleaning cycle. If that does not fix the problem, proceed with the suggestion below.

    4. One pretty effective way to deal with clogs is to press the button usually used when changing cartridges for about a half second. After the print head moves to the left, pull out the plug from the wall or power strip. Then check the parking pads for any dust or hair (you’d be surprised what ends up in there, especially if you have furry pets or people around). Any hair or gunk can be gently removed with a toothpick and/or tweezers. A flashlight is recommended to do this properly.

    The pads will have various colors of ink in them, and they reside just below where the printhead normally parks. Then clean the area around the pads with a lint-free cloth and saturate the parking pads with about 5-10 drops of distilled water or Windex glass cleaner. Then plug the printer’s power cord in and press the same button you pressed before and let the printer sit for about 24 hours. Then run a nozzle check and make a print to see if that clears the problem. Rubber gloves can keep your hands from getting full of ink.

    5. I also recommend running a nozzle check every few days, and also print a small 2×3 inch print of an image like the test target I have available here http://www.andrewdarlow.com/calib.html . This should also help to reduce the amount of clogging.

    6. Generally speaking, you should never run your printer’s cleaning cycle more than 3 times in a row after doing a nozzle check. You will waste a lot of ink and probably just make the problem worse.

    7. If that doesn’t work, another technique I’ve used successfully involves folding a paper towel, saturating it with Windex or a similar cleaning fluid, and running the head manually over it using the technique for moving the head described above in number 4. I usually tape it down as well, and I like to use Viva paper towels for this because they produce virtually no lint. For those without access to Viva paper towels, I would look for “low lint” paper towels.

    Hope that helps!

    Andrew Darlow
    Editor, ImagingBuffet.com
    http://www.imagingbuffet.com

  24. Clogging is a common problem, not only with Epsons, but with many other inkjet printers. I always turn off my Epson printers if I’m not going to use them on a specific day. As Scott notes, every printer is different, and some printers, like the HP Designjet Z3100 and HP Photosmart Pro B9180 are designed to stay on at all times. I would venture to say that clogging of inkjet heads has caused more people to pull hair out of their heads than just about any other inkjet printing subject. I’ve posted much of the info below previously on inkjettips.com, but I thought it would be better to add the full text here instead of just linking to it.

    The following tips can be used for many desktop Epson printers. In some cases, these tips will work with other printer brands as well. Just to be safe, I should say that these suggestions are based on my personal experiences and though I doubt they will do any harm, proceed at your own risk. They are my recommendations and won’t necessarily be the same as the recommendations of the printer manufacturer.

    1. First, for best results, you should operate your printer in a room with relative humidity levels ideally between about 35-60%. With lower humidity levels, the printheads will be more prone to clogging. Adding a humidifier to a room is one way to bring up the level, or you can create a mini-greenhouse environment by covering your printer with plastic (a garbage bag works) and placing a 1 quart plastic container about 1/2 filled with distilled water with about 10 holes the size of a pencil eraser cut in the top of the plastic cover. An electric drill makes the hole drilling pretty easy to do. Basically, whatever will allow water to evaporate out without having a completely open container near your printer is fine.

    Then carefully place the container on the exit tray of the printer and cover the printer and tray with plastic. The water will slowly evaporate and help keep the heads from clogging. Even though the water is distilled, over time mold can grow (yummy!), so clean the container every month or so and replace the water. This procedure has been very helpful for a client of mine with an Epson Stylus Pro 4000 printer. She often travels for a month at a time, and she would always have bad clogging. Now it just takes about one cleaning cycle and she’s usually good to go.

    2. Cover the printer when not in use with a plastic sheet or bag, but still allow some air to enter. Often, clogging occurs due to dust and pet hair finding its way into your printer’s delicate printheads.

    3. After running a nozzle check through the printer utility, check it for any gaps. If there are any, do a single cleaning cycle. If that does not fix the problem, proceed with the suggestion below.

    4. One pretty effective way to deal with clogs is to press the button usually used when changing cartridges for about a half second. After the print head moves to the left, pull out the plug from the wall or power strip. Then check the parking pads for any dust or hair (you’d be surprised what ends up in there, especially if you have furry pets or people around). Any hair or gunk can be gently removed with a toothpick and/or tweezers. A flashlight is recommended to do this properly.

    The pads will have various colors of ink in them, and they reside just below where the printhead normally parks. Then clean the area around the pads with a lint-free cloth and saturate the parking pads with about 5-10 drops of distilled water or Windex glass cleaner. Then plug the printer’s power cord in and press the same button you pressed before and let the printer sit for about 24 hours. Then run a nozzle check and make a print to see if that clears the problem. Rubber gloves can keep your hands from getting full of ink.

    5. I also recommend running a nozzle check every few days, and also print a small 2×3 inch print of an image like the test target I have available here http://www.andrewdarlow.com/calib.html . This should also help to reduce the amount of clogging.

    6. Generally speaking, you should never run your printer’s cleaning cycle more than 3 times in a row after doing a nozzle check. You will waste a lot of ink and probably just make the problem worse.

    7. If that doesn’t work, another technique I’ve used successfully involves folding a paper towel, saturating it with Windex or a similar cleaning fluid, and running the head manually over it using the technique for moving the head described above in number 4. I usually tape it down as well, and I like to use Viva paper towels for this because they produce virtually no lint. For those without access to Viva paper towels, I would look for “low lint” paper towels.

    Hope that helps!

    Andrew Darlow
    Editor, ImagingBuffet.com
    http://www.imagingbuffet.com

  25. Scott,
    Can you give advice on Color Laser Printers? I ditched inkjets specifically because of these issues and the fact that one toner cartridge lasts 5000 pages vs. 100 or so pages with an inkjet.

  26. Scott,
    Can you give advice on Color Laser Printers? I ditched inkjets specifically because of these issues and the fact that one toner cartridge lasts 5000 pages vs. 100 or so pages with an inkjet.

  27. Just a quick note to anyone out there struggling with a clogged print head – don’t overlook the obvious. After a couple clean and deep cleans didn’t do it for my Canon, read the tip here about removing print head to set it on a damp paper towel, when – voila – there it was – small piece of paper stuck on end of print head obstructing flow. Remove paper, wipe off excess ink and back in business. Worth a look at least.

  28. Just a quick note to anyone out there struggling with a clogged print head – don’t overlook the obvious. After a couple clean and deep cleans didn’t do it for my Canon, read the tip here about removing print head to set it on a damp paper towel, when – voila – there it was – small piece of paper stuck on end of print head obstructing flow. Remove paper, wipe off excess ink and back in business. Worth a look at least.

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