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Cleaning and Maintaining Ink-Jet Printers – Keep Your Home Office Hardware Running Optimally

written by: Joli Ballew•edited by: Ronda Bowen•updated: 7/5/2011

You can maintain your inkjet printer and save money at the same time. Learn how to clean it (both inside and out), and resolve common problems to get the most from your inkjet printer and lengthen its life.

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    Accessing Maintenance Tools

    Almost all modern printers come with a self-diagnosing feature that allows you to maintain them on a regular basis. With this, you can see the status of the printer; perform a nozzle check, head cleaning, or print head alignment; or switch out cartridges. You should perform each of these tests as needed, but at least three times a year.

    Usually, you can access these built-in options by doing the following:

    1. In Windows XP, click Start, and then Printers and Faxes. In Windows Vista, click Start, and in the Start Search window, type Printers. Click it to open the Printers folder.

    2. Right-click the printer’s icon to troubleshoot or maintain and select Printing Preferences or Properties. In most cases, Printing Preferences is the appropriate choice. If you must use Properties, from the Printer dialog box that appears, choose File and then Properties.

    3. Work through the tabs until you find the maintenance tools.

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    Troubleshooting and Preventive Maintenance

    Some problems can be avoided and or resolved by performing maintenance tasks. Here are some common problems and their solutions.

    The print is light on the page and you think you may be out of ink - View the status of the printer using the printer's built in maintenance tools.

    Gaps appear in the print or you believe the print nozzles are clogged with ink - Perform a nozzle check. This check will force ink through the clogged nozzles, thus clearing any dried ink.

    The nozzles are (or were) clogged and the nozzle check has been performed, or you believe the print heads are not clean - Perform a head cleaning.

    Print is blurry or misaligned, or vertical or horizontal lines appear on the printout - Perform a print head alignment.

    No ink appears on the page (black, color, or both), or the computer indicates that the ink cartridge is empty - Replace the cartridge.

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    Cleaning the Inside of Your Ink-Jet Printer

    You can clean the inside of the printer and the cartridges, but if you do, do so carefully. Manually cleaning the inside of the case usually isn’t necessary though, and it can cause more problems than it’s worth. If you must though, you can clean the cartridges:

    1. Turn the printer on, open the cover, and let the cartridges move to the center of the printer. If that doesn’t work, you can get the cartridges to the desired position by choosing the option to change the printer cartridges in the printer’s preferences dialog box. Most of the time, it’s also okay to move them yourself if they don’t move there automatically.

    2. Turn off the printer and unplug it. Open the printer door to view the inside.

    3. Remove the empty cartridges, being careful not to touch any part of the cartridge or the printer. Place the cartridges on a piece of paper.

    4. Run a cotton swab under water and squeeze out the excess.

    5. Carefully clean each cartridge with the cotton swab, removing dust and dirt. Do not touch the nozzle plate or any of the circuitry.

    6. Replace the cartridges, plug in, and then turn on the printer.

    When cleaning a printer, keep these tips in mind:

    * Don’t clean any part of the printer with alcohol, although people will tell you it’s a good way to remove dried ink. It’s too easy to mess up and damage something.

    * Don’t remove the ink residue inside the case; this is normal.

    * Don’t lubricate any parts with oil.

    * Don’t work on the inside of the case with the printer plugged in.

    * Don’t leave cartridges out for more than 30 minutes. They will dry up.

    * Do purchase a printer cleaning kit if all else fails. Cleaning cartridge kits contain special cleaning fluid that can solve most print problems inexpensively.

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    Cleaning the Outside of Your Ink-Jet Printer

    Every time you change an ink-jet cartridge, you should clean the outside of the printer with a damp cloth. As with monitors and other devices, make sure nothing spills inside the printer. Moisten a lint-free cotton cloth with cleaner first, and then wipe the outside gently.

    To clean any stray dust or lint in the paper path or tray, use a soft brush or a vacuum and small brush attachment. You can also use a feather duster or a hand vacuum. Just be careful not to jar anything loose or leave any remnants of the dust cloth or feather duster. Finally, use compressed air to blow dust and grime out of the ports, both the USB and standard parallel ports.