Print head cleaning tips


Summary: This document contains a list of “print head cleaning tips.” It is an updated version of an older document, to provide additional information.



How to use this document

Removing cartridges from different printers


Run print head cleaning cycles

Clean the capping station

Use flush cartridges or dye ink cartridges

Dislodge air bubbles from the cartridges

Fix air flow problems on desktop printer cartridges

Scrub the bottom of the print head



How to use this document:  Many of these tips require that you put liquid (Windex or water), and your hands into the printer housing. Please be careful as you do this, to avoid damaging your printer and to avoid an electric shock. Follow these safety tips:

·          Wear gloves (rubber, latex or nitrile) when working on your printer, particularly on a step that requires you to place your hands into the printer.

·          Wear eye protection, to avoid splashing ink or Windex in your eyes.

·          Before you put any liquid into your printer, either by dripping it in or by using a dampened paper towel, unplug the printer first. The steps below explain when to do this in the process.

·          If you accidentally spill liquid inside your printer, try to dry the liquid out before doing anything else (with the printer unplugged). Let the printer air dry as long as possible, although in this case you should reinsert the cartridges, and push the print head back to the capping station before doing so.


Many of the tips listed below are not Epson-sanctioned, although they have been proven to be very effective over the years. When performed carefully and with attention to the warnings listed above, they are also very safe. Nonetheless, if you choose to use these tips, Vermont Photoinkjet stipulates that you assume all risks of damage to your printer, other property or your health.



Removing cartridges from different printers: On most printers, you may remove and reinsert cartridges without affecting their performance. On certain models, however, you must remove your cartridges in a special way in order to retain the ink level information stored on the cartridge chips.


Printer models 1270, 1280, 1290, 2000P. If you wish to remove a prefilled cartridge that you plan to reuse in the future, you must unplug the printer before removing it. If you leave the printer turned on when pulling a cartridge from one of these printers, you will write an “empty cartridge” message to the chip on the cartridge, making the cartridge stop being accepted by the printer. To safely remove your cartridges for reuse, simply push the “ink change” (yellow) button on the printer, and after the print head moves to the left side of the carriage, unplug the printer, and then remove the cartridges. If you plan to discard your removed cartridges, you may leave the printer turned on. If you have a PiezoFlow system, you may safely remove your cartridges with the printer turned on.


Printer models 860, 1160, 1200. On these printers, ink level information is stored in the printer memory, and not in a chip on the cartridges. If you flip open the cartridge lid, and then close it, while the printer is turned on, the ink level for that cartridge will return to a full reading. If you move the print head to the ink change position, unplug the printer and then open and close the cartridge lid, when you plug the printer back it will retain the same ink level as it had before unplugging it.


Keep this information in mind as you remove and replace cartridges in your printer. If you remove a half-full flush cartridge, and put it back in the printer at some point in the future, the ink level reported by the printer will be wrong. Under certain circumstances the printer may tell you that a cartridge is empty when in reality it is not, or a printer may tell you a cartridge still has ink in it when it is really empty, and this all depends on how you removed the cartridge just before installing this one.


Printer models 2100, 2200, R1800, R800 and R2400. These printers use chipped cartridges, but unlike the chipped cartridges in older printers (e.g., 1280), the chip retains the actual ink level in it.


Printer models 3000, 7000, 7500, 9000 and 9500: These printers all use large format cartridges without chips on them. How you remove a cartridge from these printers is very important in certain ways. If you remove a cartridge from any of these printers and then replace or reinsert it, the ink level for that channel will reset to full. However, if you remove all of the cartridges in a 3000, 7000 or 7500 while the printer is turned on, and then turn it off with the cartridges still out, the printer will empty itself of all the ink in the tubes and print heads. This cycle is called a “transport dump,” and it should be avoided if you are not intending to run one. If you remove and replace a cartridge while any of the above printers are turned off, the printer will retain the previous ink level status.


Storing removed cartridges for later use. Cartridges may be safely stored by following these suggestions:

Place clear plastic tape over the ink outlet holes on the bottoms of the cartridges, and over the air vents, if applicable. Place the cartridges into plastic bags and close them tightly. Make sure to stand the cartridges up as they sit in the printer: certain cartridges will leak from their air vents if they are left on their side or upside down.

For large format cartridges, place tape over the ink outlet holes and seal them in plastic bags.

For PiezoFlow Continuous Inking System cartridges, visit 



List of print head cleaning tips:


Tip #1: Run print head cleaning cycles.

Printers affected: all models


Quite often, running several print head cleaning cycles will unclog a nozzle, when perhaps one or two cycles will not.


Run up to five cycles in sequence. Print a nozzle check pattern after every one or two cleaning cycles to see if you have made any progress. On most printers, after approximately every fifth cycle, the printer will perform a more power head cleaning routine.


Compare the nozzle check patterns and see if there is an improvement. If you see steady progress, by the time you have run 5 cycles, try one or two more and see if it continues to improve. If you don’t see much progress, or if you see the problem get worse, go to the next step.


On large format printers, you can run a head cleaning cycle either from the printer utility on your computer or from the control panel on the printer. Most large format printers offer different “levels” of cleaning. The cycle run from the computer is a standard cleaning cycle. From the printer, you can run more powerful cycles as well- depending on your printer model and which menu you access on the printer, you can run any of the following:

·          Powerful cleaning cycle

·          KK0

·          KK1

·          KK2

·          Initial Fill

The “KK” cycles increase in power (and in ink usage) as the number increases. The initial fill cycle uses the most ink. If a standard cleaning cycle does not fix the problem, try one or two KK2 cycles. Print frequent nozzle check patterns to check your progress. Learn more about these different cleaning cycles in your printer manual.


On desktop printers, you may run a nozzle check pattern from the printer, without needing to open the printer utility window on your computer. While the printer is on, hold down the “ink droplet” button for several seconds until a cycle begins. You can also print a nozzle check pattern from your printer as well: turn off the printer, load a sheet of paper in the paper tray (usually copier paper), and turn the printer back on as you hold down the page feed button. On most printers this will result in the printing of a nozzle check pattern.


Note about “automatic” nozzle check cycles: in addition to the standard nozzle check pattern utility on Epson printers certain newer printer models offer an automatic version of the nozzle check pattern. In the automatic mode the printer prints a special pattern, measures it, runs a cleaning cycle if needed, up to 3 or five times, until either the problem is fixed, or the printer stops trying. With Piezography inks, the measurement system on these printers will always reject an automatic nozzle check pattern, regardless of how it looks. If you want to run the automatic cycle, realize that you must look at the patterns as they printer, to determine if the cleaning has been successful or not. If you see a perfect nozzle check pattern in this mode, you can abort the cycle when you want to. Alternatively, you may start an automatic cycle, and let it run through its steps, knowing in advance the print head has been cleaned several times. Also you will have a printout of the nozzle check patterns printed during this process. Just keep in mind that no matter how good or bad the actual pattern looks, the printer will always determine it is bad.




Tip #2: Clean the capping station.

Printers affected: all models


This tip is easy to perform and often highly effective in fixing not only missing nozzles, but also any residual color you may see in a print shortly after installing a set of Piezography inks in a printer for the first time. This tip is especially helpful if you see a nozzle check pattern become worse after running more and more cleaning cycles.


The capping station is a rectangular flat sponge surrounded by a raised gasket. When the print head is in the “parked position,” at the right side of the printer carriage, the gasket of the cap presses against the print head, sealing it. One purpose of this is to keep the print head from drying out due to air exposure. The second reason is that the cap is used as part of cleaning cycles: the sponge in the cap is porous, connected to a small vacuum pump underneath. During cleaning cycles, ink is pulled or printed out of the print head, and the ink drains into the sponge, with help from the cap. The ink is then deposited on an absorbent waste pad inside the printer. Sometimes the sponge will clog up, due to dried ink, or due to paper fiber in the sponge, and this keeps the ink from draining out properly. The excess ink will then make contact with the print head, and transfer onto the print head’s nozzle surface. This can cause blocked nozzles, or can even cause the printer to print the wrong color, if leftover color ink is pulled back into the nozzles and printed out again.


Cleaning off the sponge and gasket of the capping station allows the print head to stay clean. This can often make an ink jetting problem disappear instantly. The steps for cleaning the capping station are listed below. Please note that certain printer models have two caps (and two printheads).

1.       Access the cap: Move the print head off the cap in order to inspect and clean it.

·          Desktop printers: push the “ink change” button to move print head off the cap. Unplug the printer

·          3000 printer: Unplug the printer, and manually slide the print head to the left side. Unplug the printer

·          Large format Epson printers: use initiate a “cutter replace” function from the printer control panel, to move the print head. Unplug the printer after the print head moves over.

2.       Look inside the printer case, below where the print head was originally sitting, to find the cap or caps. A cap is a rectangular piece, approximately 1” high by 2” wide (the exact size varies from printer to printer). It is mounted on a spring loaded mechanism. On certain large format printers, there may be a second device to the left of the capping station. It is simply an opening into the printer body, for the printer to shoot ink into during cleaning cycle. It is not spring loaded. Among the different printers, the following models have two caps, one next to the other: 3000, 7000, 7500, 9000, 9500, R800, R1800, R2400.

3.       Look at the cap, using a flashlight if necessary.

·          It should be horizontal, not tilted at an angle. If it tilted, there may be a problem with the fixture supporting it. This can cause ongoing problems due to ink drying out in the print head. This problem usually requires the printer to be serviced professionally.

·          The surface of the sponge must be flat, and sitting below the level of the gasket. Make sure that it does not bow up at all. Sometimes, the sponge will lift up in the center or an edge. When this happens the sponge will always contact the print head, and cause ongoing problems. Older model printers are more prone to this problem. Newer models have a metal piece holding the sponge down.

4.       Clean the cap. Sometimes you may notice a buildup of residue or liquid in the cap or on the gasket; other times you will not. Use a drinking straw to deposit warm water, or use the tube from the inside of a bottle of Windex to deposit Windex, onto the sponge. Use your finger to dispense only two or three drops of liquid at a time. The liquid will remain in the cap for a few seconds, but will soon drain out. Repeat this several times. Try not to let the Windex or water spill around the cap, and into the printer.

5.       Fold a paper towel into a 4”x4” (10cm X 10cm) pad. Press the towel gently on the sponge to dab away ink and water or Windex. As you push on the sponge, push down and slightly to the right, to protect the spring-loaded mechanism that supports it. Pushing too hard, or pushing to the left can damage the capping station (and hence the printer). After dabbing several times, you will remove much of the liquid, but you can never remove all of it.

6.       Dip a cotton swab (Q-Tip) in water, and use it to wipe gently around the edge of the capping station gasket, to remove dirt buildup there. Again, be careful not to push the capping station out of alignment.

7.       Plug the printer back in, turn it on if necessary, and return the print head to the parked position.  Run one or two print head cleaning cycles, and then print a nozzle check pattern. If the nozzle check pattern is better, but not perfect, either run additional cleaning cycles, or clean the cap again.


Tip #3: Use flush cartridges or dye ink cartridges.

Printers affected: desktop models

On 3000 printers and large format, this procedure is to be avoided, since the flush cycle uses a lot of ink and flush fluid. Use it only as a last resort.


If you think that the ink has dried inside your printer, then you may consider using flush, or dye ink cartridges. Dye ink is nearly as effective to use as flush fluid, since it doesn’t have solids (pigment particles) in it. Depending on your printer model, you may wish to use Epson dye ink cartridges instead of flush cartridges. 1270, 1280, 1290 and 2000P flush cartridges contain clear flush fluid, which makes it impossible to see the nozzle check pattern they print, and so they are not very helpful at giving you a feel for how well they are working. Epson 860, 1160 and 1200 printers use a tinted flush fluid.


It is known that PiezoTone and Piezography NK6 inks can be interchanged with Epson dye ink, plus Darn Good Dye ink cartridges. Therefore, there are no concerns of ink compatibility when going from one set to the other.


Below are listed the procedures for flushing your printer with flush or dye ink cartridges. The procedure for desktop printers contains additional steps which may be more helpful if included, but they may be skipped due to time constraints. These steps are indicated with an asterisk (*).


Large Format  and 3000 printers:


a.       Remove the ink cartridges and use the “ink change” procedures initially used to install the flush cartridges. After filling the printer with flush fluid, move the print head off the capping station, deposit a few drops of Windex or water (see Tip #2, above), and then replace the print head to the capping station, before turning off the printer.

b.       If time permits, turn off the printer overnight or longer (flush fluid is very inert and can be left in the printer a long time).

c.       Turn on the printer, print a nozzle check pattern, and try to see if it looks better. You may run a cleaning cycle if desired.

d.       Replace your flush cartridges with the PiezoTone or NK6/NK7 ink cartridges. If your ink cartridges are near expiration, or if they are nearly empty, strongly consider replacing them with fresh cartridges, rather than installing them.


Desktop printers using prefilled cartridges. If you have a PiezoFlow (CIS) system, see the note below:

a.       Remove the cartridges from the printer.

b.       Before you install the next set of cartridges, deposit two or three drops of water or Windex, using a straw, on the sponge in the capping station.*

c.       Use the straw to deposit liquid into the black plastic spikes inside the printer’s cartridge holder.*

d.       Install the flush or dye ink cartridges. Return the print head to the parked position, run one print head cleaning cycle, and turn the printer off. Leave the printer turned off for several hours, overnight, or longer if possible.

e.       Turn on the printer, run two head cleaning cycles, and then print a nozzle check pattern. At this point, you should see an improvement in the previously missing nozzles. If the nozzle check pattern is not yet perfect, run additional print head cleaning cycles, and you should see continuing improvement.

f.        When you have a perfect nozzle check pattern, tap your PiezoTone or NK6/NK7 cartridges on the table, gently, a few times (place a paper towel down to contain drips). This will help to dislodge air bubbles that may have formed near the ink outlet holes in the bottoms of the cartridges.

g.       Remove the flush or dye ink cartridges, and use water dampened cotton swabs (q-tip) to clean around the black plastic spikes inside the cartridges holders. Use dry cotton swabs to dry out the cartridge holders and spikes, and then reinstall the PiezoTone or Piezography NK6/NK7 cartridges.

h.       Return the print head to the parked position, run two print head cleaning cycles, and print a nozzle check pattern to confirm that it is good. Print the flush image (here) on typing paper, to flush out the flush fluid or dye ink.


Note for PiezoFlow users: If you have a PiezoFlow system, modify the above procedure as follows.

·          Close the pinch valves before removing it from the printer;

·          Place the PiezoFlow system on newspapers, to protect the table from ink drips.



Tip #4: Dislodge air bubbles from the cartridges.

Whenever you remove and reinstall a cartridge, you will admit air into the print head, which could temporarily affect the printer operation. Oftentimes, allowing the printer to sit undisturbed for an hour will help the air bubble to move out of the way.


You can try to dislodge a bubble that is blocking ink flow out of the cartridge, by tapping the cartridge gently on a table surface a few times before installing the cartridge. Place a few sheets of newspaper or paper towels on the table to protect it from ink drips. Note that certain cartridges have spring loaded valves at their ink outlet holes, but many cartridges do not. The cartridges without valves can drip more than other cartridges when you tap them, so be careful.


Tip #5: Fix air flow problems on desktop printer cartridges


Note: This tip applies only to prefilled cartridges. Do not attempt this fix on CIS or PiezoFlow cartridges, as you will damage them.


Ink flow problems can occur if the air channels on the top of the cartridge become blocked. These air channels must be open to allow ink to flow out of the cartridge. Two different causes of blocked air vents have been seen:

·          Ink can enter the air vents of the cartridge during shipping, blocking air flow even after you have opened the air vent (by pulling the plastic tab);

·          A piece of the tab can remain over the hole, keeping the air vent blocked even after pulling the tab.


The solution to either problem is the same: physically open the air vent with a pin.


The procedure for doing this depends on the type of printer involved:

A. Printers that use two cartridges; one of which has three or five color channels in it (models 860, 1160, 1200, 1270, 1280, 1290, 2000P);

B. Printers that use one cartridge per color, i.e., a printer with 6, 7 or 8 individual cartridges (models 2100, 2200, R1800, R800).


A. Printers that use two cartridges: These cartridges have the pull tab on one end of the top, and small plastic channels that run under the label, leading to the air intake hole at the other end of the top of the cartridge. On these types of cartridges the vent blockage will occur either from ink blocking the vent, or an incompletely removed tab, so that part of the vent is still sealed.

Solution: The cartridge label covers a firmly fastened layer plastic film, which is either clear or white (depending on printer model). The plastic film covers the air channels and air intake on the cartridge body. To fix this type of cartridge, peel off the top cartridge label, exposing this second film. Then, either remove the film completely, or else trace the air channels back to the air intake holes and poke through the plastic film with a pin, bypassing the vent channels completely. Be sure to poke through each air intake hole; there is one hole per ink position (1 hole for the black and , 3 or 5 for the color cartridge).


On cartridges with clear film layers, it is easy to see the air intake holes. On cartridge with opaque plastic films on them, you may be able to see the holes through the film, or else you can see small depressions in the plastic film that covers the intake holes. Each air intake hole is ¼ to ½ inch from the edge, and on color cartridges they are evenly spaced.


If you wish to put the label back on the cartridge, be sure not to cover the holes you just created. You may, however, cover the end of the cartridge that used to hold the vent tab, since these vents have been bypassed.


It has been determined that poking holes of different sizes into the film has no effect on the amount of ink flow out of the cartridge, and so you may poke one, or several holes into each air intake without fear of changing how your cartridge will print. However, when you remove a modified cartridge from your printer, you may cause ink to spill out of the cartridge, through the new holes. Also, the ink inside the cartridge may evaporate a little more quickly due to the hole directly into the cartridge. The difference in evaporation rate is not extreme, and it should not affect a cartridge during its recommended lifetime, which is six months after first installing it.


If you wish to remove a modified cartridge from your printer and store it for future use, put tape over both the ink outlet, as well as air inlet holes, to help keep the ink from drying out during storage.


B. Printers that use one cartridge per color: These cartridges are of a two piece design, and they have the vent tab directly over the air inlet hole in the cartridge. There are not air channels on these designs.


On these cartridges what can occasionally happen is that the vent tab will not completely pull off the cartridge, leaving the air intake hole still blocked. This prevents ink from printing out of the cartridge and appears as a clog.


To fix this problem, locate the air vent hole over the vent tab, and poke a pin through it. Then reassemble the cartridge, reinstall it and you should have good ink flow at this point.


Different models of cartridges have different procedures:

·          2100/2200 printer cartridges are a two piece design. You can access the vent hole by separating the cartridges into its two halves. To separate the two halves, hold the outer holder in one hand, and pry the inner portion out of it, by pressing on the bottom part of the cartridge. The top of the inner portion has a black plug and a small circular hole in it. Poke a pin through the circular hole, but do not disturb the black plug. Reassemble the cartridge and put it back into the printer.

·          R800/ R1800 printer cartridges are a different two piece design, and again the vent hole is in the inner portion. Separate the cartridge by sliding the inner portion out of the holder. At the top of the inner portion you will see a black plug and two small, circular holes. Locate the hole nearest one edge of the cartridge and poke a pin though that. Do not poke a hole through the other hole (which is near the middle of the top of the cartridge), and do not disturb the black plug. After poking a hole in the air inlet, reassemble the cartridge and put it back into the printer.


Important note about troubleshooting: On most printers, the position of each “color,” or shade or density of ink in the nozzle check pattern does not correspond to the order of the cartridges in the printer. For example, the fourth cartridge from the left in the printer may not be responsible for the fourth nozzle check pattern position. Look at the color nozzle check pattern schematic on the Epson utility and match the colors shown to the locations of each color position cartridge, or position within a cartridge. Be sure to fix the correct cartridge or position within a cartridge. As a simple precaution, it is often best to use the above procedure on every cartridge, or every position within a cartridge.


Tip #6: Scrub the bottom of the print head.

Use This procedure to clean the bottom of the print head, where the nozzles are located. You will manually move the print head back and forth over a folded, wetted paper towel. This procedure can remove a buildup of dirt (paper fiber) that may not be removed by print head cleaning cycles. Use this procedure sparingly, and understand that it is the most invasive of the tips listed, in that it can damage the print head if performed improperly. A dry paper towel can actually scratch the print head, affecting its performance. Additionally, if there is any abrasive residue built up on the print head, this technique may either scratch the print head or else force a piece of solid matter into a nozzle, permanently closing it. However, if used carefully and in moderation, it can be a very effective cleaning technique, particularly on an older printer, perhaps one that has never been cleaned before, or one that has sat for a long period of time without use.


a. Get several paper towels and a glass of warm water or a bottle of Windex.

b. Push the appropriate button(s) to move the print head to the left side of the carriage. After the print head has moved, unplug the printer power cord. If necessary, manually push the print head to the far left side of the printer carriage.

c. Cut a paper towel in half, and fold the towel lengthwise until the strip is about 1” (2.5cm) wide, by approximately 8 inches long.

d. Push the folded paper towel strip in the black plastic channel beneath where the print head travels back and forth when printing.

e. Moisten the left one inch of paper. Manually slide the print head over the left edge of the paper towel, trying not to slide or drag the towel as you do so.

f. As soon as you can see a small portion of the paper towel on the left side of the print head, wet the rest of the towel. Place a few drops of water or Windex along the length of the towel, and let the liquid spread. The paper should be completely dampened, but not oversaturated with liquid.

g. Gently slide the print head back and forth over the towel, being careful not to shift or tear the towel as you do this. As you slide the print head you will see the paper towel turn black. This is dried ink wiped from the nozzle plate, and ink pulled out of the nozzles by capillary action.

h. After two or three passes over the paper towel, slide the print head to the far left, remove the towel, and replace it with a new one, following steps c-g above. Two towels are generally enough to remove the majority of the debris on the print head. Additional towels will continue to turn black, but this is mainly due to ink from inside the print head, wicking onto the towel by capillary action.

i. When you have finished scrubbing the print head, remove the towel, and use a clean, dry paper towel to clean up any liquid remaining in the black plastic channel.

j. Plug in the printer, and run one or two cleaning cycles to remove any remaining paper fibers from the bottom of the print head. Then verify you have a perfect nozzle check pattern before printing.