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Ink Cartridge Cleaning and Maintenance

In our last article we covered printer cartridge yield and how it determines the cost of your supplies over the lifetime of the printer.  Last month's newsletter can be found here.  This time, we concentrate on two most common problems related to ink printer cartridges and simple tips you can try to revive your cartridges at home.

PROBLEM 1: Streaky or faint print from your printer cartridge
You try to print, but the output is streaky or faint even though you know that there is still ink in the cartridge.  Perhaps your printer has not been used for a while or you have not been printing in color.  What ever the reason you feel that the cartridge is still not empty but the printing is not acceptable.

PROBLEM 2: Cartridge not recognized
You install a printer cartridge or go to use an existing cartridge and the printer reports that it does not recognize the printer cartridge installed.  A message on the printer or your computer screen asks you to re-install the printer cartridge. 

We will address both of these problems and possible solutions but first a quick cartridge primer.

Integrated Print Head Cartridge Primer
A printhead printer cartridge is composed of a tank, and electrical strip with contacts and a print head.



The tank is the physical body of the cartridge and contains the ink suspended in a sponge.  The print head is where the ink comes out onto the paper through hundreds of little holes called nozzles.  The contacts are connections to the printer which are used to communicate with the cartridge and tell it which nozzles on the print head to fire.

Dirty contacts or print head nozzles may cause streaky print as well as cartridge recognition issues in your printer.  The solution to both of these problems is to clean the print head and the electrical contacts on the cartridge.  It's quick, easy and effective.  It may help you save money by allowing you to revive your cartridge at home instead of buying a new one.  It may help you save time, by eliminating an unnecessary trip to the store for a new cartridge.

SOLVING PROBLEM 1: Streaky or faint printing
If the cartridge is not empty, the most common cause of faint or streaky printing is a clogged print head.  Over time, ink can accumulate on the print head and can dry up.  This blocks the tiny nozzles through which new ink shoots out onto the paper.  As a result, ink destined for paper gets stuck in the sludge which has built up on the print head.  Cleaning the print head is easy.

First take a sheet of a paper towel and fold it 2 or 3 times to increase thickness.  Slightly dampen a paper towel with some distilled water.  Do not oversaturate the paper towel.  One or two sprays from a spray bottle should be sufficient.  If the paper towel is fully saturated with water, it will not draw the ink out of the cartridge.  It is important to use distilled or purified water as regular tap water contains a lot of minerals that could further clog the print head.


Wipe the print head using the paper towel while applying gentle to moderate pressure to remove any ink build up.  Wipe in the direction along the length of the printhead.




The print head should look clean and shiny after you have cleaned it.  If there is too much ink on the print head, use extra paper towel as needed.  It may help to wipe in one direction and use a clean part of the moist paper towel for each wipe.

After you have cleaned the print head, take a new paper towel, fold it again and spray some water on it.  Hold the new paper towel against the print head with your thumb.  Again, two sprays from the spray bottle should be sufficient.  The moist paper towel will wick the ink from the cartridge and cause ink to flow through the print head thus priming it after cleaning.  Hold the paper towel against the print head with your thumb for about 30 seconds.  

SOLVING PROBLEM 2: Cartridge not recognized
The strip and the contacts on a typical print cartridge are made out of copper.  In time, copper oxidizes and blocks the transfer of current.  Also ink and dust can accumulate over time, blocking good contact with the printer.  When this occurs the printer may suddenly stop recognizing the printer cartridge or produce unacceptable prints.  Here is a method to easily clean the contacts on your cartridge.

Using the eraser of a standard NO2 pencil, carefully rub the electrical contacts applying moderate pressure.  You will notice that the copper oxidation will be removed by the eraser and the contacts will turn golden color.  When rubbing, be careful not to cause the edge or corner of electrical strip to curl up.  If your eraser is not new, make sure that the metal eraser holder does not scratch or cut the electrical strip.  Such a scratch or cut can damage the contacts and render the cartridge useless.  In some newer HP cartridges there is a hollow space behind the electrical strip.  Be careful not to puncture the electrical strip by pressing too hard while over the hollow space.


Next, moisten a paper towel with some isopropyl alcohol and clean over the contacts to remove any eraser shavings that may have been left from the previous step.  DO NOT use alcohol to clean the print head.  Make sure to only apply alcohol to the electrical contacts on one side of the printer cartridge.

You are all done!  The print head and electrical contacts are clean now and your cartridge can be re-inserted into the printer for retry.

If problems persist after you have cleaned your cartridge, bring it to Cartridge World Pasadena.  We will test and professionally clean your cartridge.  We will do our best to revive it.  This is a courtesy and free service that we offer to the Pasadena and surrounding community.

It is also important to properly handle your refilled printer cartridge so that it performs with least amount of trouble.  See our Ink Cartridge Handling article on tips on what to do and what not to do with your printer cartridge.

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