How Do I Clean My HP Printer Heads?

By Karyn Maier

Most HP printer heads can easily be cleaned.
i paper feed image by Glenn Jenkinson from

As every desktop publisher and computer user knows, the ability to print legible documents on demand is a necessity. Unfortunately, there comes a day when initiating the print command generates a pile of papers on which only half the letters are visible. While changing the printer cartridge is the obvious and immediate cure, the day your HP printer refuses to print is usually the same day you first realize you're out of ink cartridges. The good news is that you can often save the day by cleaning your HP printer heads.

Recognize that your printer is probably not completely out of ink. HP inkjet printers come equipped with a sensor that warns you when you're running low on ink, which is measured by the weight of the ink cartridge. However, many times this sensor gets thrown off track when the ink can't move forward onto the printer heads. This is usually because the tiny holes on the printer heads have become clogged with dried ink, especially if the printer hasn't been used for some time.

Run the automatic utility tool that comes with your HP printer. This might remedy your problem. Move on to Step 3 to manually clean the printer heads if this doesn't work.

Take a moment to get familiar with the components of your HP printer, if you haven't already done so. Most HP inkjet printers have a small handle on the front that opens a door or tray. When you open it, you'll hear the printer cartridges--one for black ink, one for color--move toward the center position. However, depending on your model, you may only have one cartridge for both inks. Note too that HP cartridges contain built-in printer heads, as opposed to other brands that utilize stationary printer heads and removable ink cartridges.

Firmly grasp the cartridge on the left with your thumb on the top and your forefinger on the bottom and pull in a downward motion. This will release the ink cartridge from its bay so that you can completely remove it. Once removed, place the cartridge on its side on a paper towel or piece of paper.

Pour a capful of isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) into a small dish or cup and dab a cotton swab into it to moisten. You don't want the swab saturated, so twist the head of the swab around the side of the container to remove any excess.

Gently rub the moistened cotton swab over the printer heads a few times, or until the copper contacts look clear.

Set the cartridge down on the paper towel or paper again to dry. In about five minutes, you can return it to its bay in the printer.

Repeat these steps with the second cartridge (if applicable) and close the access panel door on your printer. You should now be able to print clearly with clean printer heads.