manually cleaning a printhead

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I have a Canon MP730 printer and it's started to print colored documents
really bad. I've done the cleaning, head alignment and nozzle check, with no
positive effects. The printer gets easy use, just occasional printing at
I would like to remove the printhead, (I have it in my hand now), and
somehow manually clean it to see if that makes any difference, but I'm not
sure what kind of cleaner to use or what procedure.
I'm trying to determine if: A: the printhead is dirty and needs to be
cleaned, B: the printhead is malfunctioning and needs to be replaced, or C:
it's something other than a printhead problem. When I do a printhead
alignment setup it prints 11 columns of patterns and 5 of them are
completely blank, when it used to print all 11. The printing has been
deteriorating for a while, now it's really bad. Does anyone know how to do
this, or could maybe recommend a website on the Internet that might have
some info? I went to the Canon site, and that was no more help than what I
had in my manual.


Re: manually cleaning a printhead

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I use a Q-Tip dampened with distilled water.  It seems to work
pretty well.  (It usually takes a good number of Q-Tips.)

-- Bob Day

Re: manually cleaning a printhead

Hi Snyde.
There's a great probability that it's simply a severely clogged head
nozzle/ink channel that the printer's internal pump cannot fix during a head
cleaning cycle but that YOU can fix. I have an Epson stylus color 440 bought
in 1999 that refuses to die and feeding it with ink cost almost nothing. I
just cleaned the print head two times since with absolute success. Did a few
other printers successfully also. For a total of  17 machines with the same
problem as you have, only two could not be saved. So the chances are great
that you may save yours.
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That's part of your problem. A fact with inkjet printers is that they must
be used often (at least twice a month) to maintain print quality. Sooner or
later the ink dries out in the head's nozzles. I don't know what is the
price range/quality of this printer, Snyde. If it's an el-cheapo
printer...the kind that cost the same amount to get ink cartridges than to
buy a new one, my procedure may seem to not be so cost effective, timewise.
But if you're like me and preffer to spend some time to get a new life on a
piece of equipment instead of throwing it's 3~4 lbs worth of plastic to the
environment, you may want to spend the time and follow my procedure. Since
you've already disassemble the head, starting from there, it should take
about 45~60 mins + the one hour soak time for the head once you have all the
stuff needed. First, check the obvious. Is the print head's an integral part
of the cartridge? I think that it's only HP doing that but i'm not shure.
Replace simply the cartridge if the head is integrated to it! Also, be shure
that you have remaining ink in the cartridges! Speaking of it, i just hope
that you just not let the cartridges stand there in free air? The holes
underneath should be sealed with adhesive tape, but better, use a small
Ziplock bag and put the cartridges in with a wet towel and seal. Note that
you need at least 1/4 remaining ink for each color since when you reinstall
the cartriges, the newly cleaned head and it's channels will be empty, and a
few cleaning cycles will be needed for priming. You did noticed the approx.
remaining ink recently with the printer's utilities, isn't it? Now that the
obvious things have been ruled out, let's get to the fun part! ;-)

1st, here's the stuff you need. cost= <$10 CND:
I've bought the ammonia at the local drugstore among the other domestic

I've bought that syringue medication dispenser at the same place. You will
need to find in an harware store a 1 foot lenght of clear plastic tubing. It
obviously needs to fit snugly the dispenser's tip. Get thereafter some
distilled water (at least 2L / 8 cups). Ordinary tap water just contains too
much impurities that may clog further the very small ink channels/nozzles.
Have a clean container that can go to the microwave oven. I used 1L empty
plastic margarine container throughly cleaned. Rince that container with the
distilled water. Rince also the the dispenser/tubing assembly. Using a
(rinced!) measuring cup, prepare 2 cups/ ½L of the "magic head cleaning
potion" that is one part ammonia, for ten part distilled water (10%
ammonia). Stir the mix and put it to the microwave oven (no, that won't
catch fire! :-) ) for 25~35 seconds depending on the power of you mw oven.
The goal if to warm the mix to only about 35~40°C (about 95~105°F). Leave
the mw door open for the next few hours as there will be a slight odour
remaining. Now that you have everything ready, let's go to the 1st step of
the cleaning process.  Depending on the type of head, fill the container
with between 3~10 mm of the potion. My particular container has a slightly
curved bottom so i only had to put the head straight down in the container
as you can see there:

This is my print head in 2002 before actually cleaning. Dried ink, dust,
cat's hair...yackkk!

Of course you don't want the controller board on the head to get wet... only
the head surface soaking a few mm deep. If your container's bottom is
perfectly flat, you may want to tilt the head assembly against the side of
the container so ink can freely wick out. Or use some small diameter straws
or something else under the head. Be shure to not bump the head surface
against anything.  You will notice that inks will wick out from all channels
and mix together under the head and spread into the potion in a messy black
fluid. Don't worry since it's only the 1st part of the procedure. Leave the
head there for an hour, gently stirring away seeping ink from under the head
every few minutes. Ok it's been a hour so let's move on. Place the head on
it's side over a towel so you don't mess anything with ink.  Discard the
messy fluid down the drain and rince the container with ordinary tap water
this time. Now reheat in the mw oven the potion in the measuring cup. Time
to ask for your spouse, your son, no matter who to help you with the 2nd
step. That person will control the dispenser (well, you'll control that
person! ;-)). Use safety goggles to protect you eyes from the potion. It's
not battery electrolyte, but with a small amount of ammonia, i would not
like to have it in my eyes. Place the head over the container you've just
rinced. Ask your helper to fill the dispenser with the warm potion and while
holding the head with one hand, use the tubing with the other one to rince
the inky surface of the head while your helper push the piston of the
dispenser. Ok now the tricky part: While holding the head face down toward
the container with one hand, you will have to push and hold firmly the
tubing over one of the spigots pictured here while your helper push slowly
the piston.

The pressure that your helper is maintaining  push away the remaining ink
corresponding to the spigot you are injecting to. This will help finish to
clear out the channel and nozzle. That's why i suggest that you protect your
eyes because if you happen to stop holding correctly the tubing on the
spigot, the potion will spurt. You should see the tiny microjets
(impressive!) of ink (eventually the clear potion) flowing out of the
nozzles. Here's a picture taken with a computer microscope set at 60X
magnification, were you can see some of the many nozzles. Too bad i forgot
to get a picture of the microjets from those nozzles while cleaning!

Depending on the resolution of the print head, if your room have the correct
lighting you should be able to tell if any nozzle is still clogged for that
particular color. If so (infrequent), then the procedure should be repeated
but ask your helper to put a little more pressure on the piston. Keep in
mind that enough pressure is when the nozzles produce straight microjets.
Applying more pressure is risking to make a mess and/or damage the head.
Even if fluids seem to flow perfectly from all the nozzles from a particular
color, always use all the dispenser's contents (about 2cc). Now continue for
the remaining spigots. Thereafter, ask your helper to rince the dispenser
with distilled water. Then it's time to rince all the ink channels/nozzles
by repeating the same thing but with distilled water this time. No need to
warm it in the mw oven since now the head should be unclogged...we just want
to rince it. Ok the worst is over thereafter. :-) Now place the head on a
towel. Place an air dryer about 1 foot of the head's control board. Put a
towel also under the dryer so the vibration of the motor won't make it moves
from it's target. Start the dryer on low speed/low heat and let it run for
10 mins. This is just a precaution in the case were fluids spilled on the

In the mean time, have a look at your printer. If ink in your print head
dryed, there's a possibility that the head cap (where the head parks after
printing) is not making a perfect seal. Most often it's because of
impurities. Cleaning the cap and the wiper blade is necessary. This is the
3rd step. Here's the cap from my Stylus Color 440.
Ok, if you dont feel comfortable removing the entire cap asembly as i did
(not evident the 1st time), you don't have to. I did it to clean all the cap
assy by soaking it completely in the same potion as for the print head.
But if you don't do the same, do at least the following. Remove the porous
pad shown here.
Soak it in the potion a few minutes just in case there's some dryed ink on
it. Use cotton swabs or better, the foamy thing women use to remove makeup.
Soak it in some of the potion and clean the rim of the cap. Depending on
your model, you will have a kind of wiper blade that looks like that one.
As for the cap, i've removed the wiper blade assembly to clean it the same
way as the cap. But as an alternative you can clean it in-place just like
the cap, but i will take longer. Keep in mind that the wiper blade will
probably contains A LOT of ink. Unless you soak it separetely in the potion,
you will never be able to remove all the ink...never! You won't have too.
Just get rid of the sticky ink particules, dust...etc. Reinstall the porous
pad in the cap. Be shure that every section of this small porous pad is
UNDER the level of the cap's rim. If not, the pad may come in contact with
the head's surface when the later is parked and may wick out the ink from
your cartridge! The only function of the pad is to absorb (with the help of
the internal pump) the ink that your head's spits out before printing or
during a head cleaning cycle thus, preventing splashing.

The control board must be dry at that time isn't it? ;-) Time to reinstall
the head and give it a try. (Don't forget it's ribbon cable and the ink
cartridges! :-) ). Just follow the priming instructions like when you
install a new cartridge. After a certain amount of cycles and testing, the
test pattern should print ok, hence everything else. Sometimes, the test
pattern may show ok, but printed text may still have some minor quality
issues like thin lines or dots beyond the character boundary. Then i've
found that it's better to make in Wordpad or something else a page full of
text in the color with wich you still have a problem, and print a few times
that page. It waste less ink that to do make multiples cleaning cycles to
correct that. Another issue that happens sometimes after you've primed ok,
is that all the text or images print perfectly, but 24~48 hours later, you
find that you have problems again. I think this is related more then
everything else to air buildup in the cartridge itself during handling.
Normally, a cleaning cycle or two and everything is back on track. Remember,
unless you have a laser printer, print often, print better! ;-) Goodluck and
keep in touch Snyde.

Montréal Québec
PS: 1000 excuses for grammatical errors or
omissions, i'm a "pure" french canadian!  :-)
(If replying also by e-mail, remove
"no spam" from the adress.)

Re: manually cleaning a printhead


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Wow, very detailed.  You should have this on a web page somewhere.

Re: manually cleaning a printhead

Yeah Null. The pictures were taken since a while for a project i've
abandonned, that was to build a section on a website about the cleaning
procedures. Now that i have more time to spare, i realise that it may worth
the effort to finally do it since it could really help a few ones to get a
new life for their printer. Now that i have a real digicam, i may even get a
few better shots to show than the ones i had with my webcam at that time!

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Re: manually cleaning a printhead

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Hey, Kilo,
 GREAT POST. Thanks for that. I'll get the supplies tomorrow and work on it
this weekend. I'll let you know how it goes.
Take care,

Re: manually cleaning a printhead

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Maybe some of the elements in the print head have stopped
functioning ? Maybe whatever electrical connection scheme
the printhead uses is not working properly ?

I used to clean print heads with alcohol, but a note of caution.
You can apply alcohol to the face of the print head, and then
use a low-lint cleaning cloth to wipe it. But there is a chance
that repeated wiping will actually force dirt and grime into
the tiny, tiny holes on the face of the printhead. I managed
to ruin one that way, so cleaning the thing manually always
carries some risk of damage with it. It is better to use
any built-in head cleaning function, then mess with it yourself.

If you are not using a printer for a while, it helps if the
print head has some form of cap that can be snapped over it.
That can help prevent it from drying out. Dryed on ink is
one reason for smearing,

Losing entire rows or columns of elements, to me at least,
implies that a row or column in the matrix is not making
electrical connection, or the elements are blown. Your
problem could be electrical, or it could be clogging, but
your problem sounds electrical to me, for a precise group
of elements to stop functioning like that.

Print heads and ink are how the printer companies make money,
so don't expect any help from them.


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