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Clogged nozzles - Epson printers

Epson printers have a built-in, permanent printhead. While this allows Epson to use a very high quality printhead, anyone who has replaced the printhead after warranty found out real quick that a new printhead cost more than a new printer!

Whether you use original Epson cartridges, compatible Epson cartridges or refill your cartridges, there WILL come a day when a few or even many nozzles will be blocked and the cleaning cycles will not solve the problem. It is not whether it will happen, but most likely when.  I had to return my last Epson printer, an Epson Stylus Color 800, 3 times during the 1 year warranty.  That was the last Epson I will ever own.  I would hazard to say that each year Epson printers seem to get more finicky.  Higher resolution (smaller nozzles), faster printing (faster drying inks) and longer cleaning cycles are a recipe for failure.

It is important to understand the problem and why it happens. 



You just put in a new cartridge and a few nozzles are missing.  You run several cleanings, no improvement, or more times than not, the problem is worse ... even more nozzles are missing or the whole color is gone!  Don't blame the cartridge, it is just a box of ink and unless the manufacturer has used the wrong ink (which is very unlikely these days) then you have just been introduced to the number 1 problem for Epson printer owners.

After 8 or 10 cleans, like a miracle, it starts to print properly ... or you put in another new cartridge (possibly breaking down and actually buying an expensive, original Epson cartridge) and low and behold there it is printing perfectly!  Unfortunately the next morning the problem is even worse than it was!  How can this be?  Now I've got to run several cleanings every time I want to print and sometimes even this doesn't help.  Now my ink cartridges last half as long.  It's just got to be poor quality cartridges?!

And don't forget, 8 or 10 cleanings can use half the ink in the cartridge so you will definitely get fewer pages from a cartridge if you run many cleanings.  Virtually all compatible cartridges contain at least as much ink as an original; in some cases more.  

The above scenario can happen at any time, but it most often happens when changing a cartridge or if the printer has not been used for an extended period of time.  If it takes you six months or more to go through a set of cartridges, your chances of the problem described above is several times more likely than those who use their printer daily. 


Why does it Happen?:

Most people do not change their cartridge(s) when the low ink light comes on.  Instead they wait until they can see that the black or a color has run out.  At this point there is no longer ink in all of the nozzles.  If the cartridge or a color is empty enough to tell by looking at the printout, then some or all of the nozzles are filled with air.  Air in nozzles can quite effectively block ink flow.

To overcome this problem when a new cartridge is put in, your Epson printer will do a priming.  As far as I can tell, the logic is, if the printer can suck enough ink through the printhead, then that should also remove any air in the nozzles.  This usually works.  Unfortunately it can sometimes suck out so much ink that the wipers start to smear the ink all over the printhead which in turn blocks the nozzles.  The more cleanings you do, the more ink that gets smeared on the printheads and the worse it gets.  You have now gone from a problem of air blocking the ink flow on a few nozzles to smeared ink blocking even more nozzles.

If you manage to get all nozzles printing after 6, 8, 10 or more cleanings your problems are probably not over.  In fact, your problems are probably worse.  That half cartridge of ink sucked out during the cleanings has to go somewhere.  Unfortunately there is nowhere for the ink to go except dry on the printhead.  Next day, after the ink has had plenty of time to dry, you're lucky if you've got any ink on the paper when you print.  How can new ink get through that thick layer of dried ink?  Well, it can't!

The only true solution is to remove all that dried ink from the printhead.  This is easily done with most printers.  You simply remove the cartridge/printhead assembly and give the nozzles a quick swipe with a damp paper towel.  There goes your dried ink.  If that doesn't solve the problem, you can suck a small amount of ink out of the nozzles with a priming clip.  That gets rid of any air and it only takes a couple seconds.  Another quick swipe and all excess ink is removed.  Easy when you can hold the printhead in your hand.

You probably know already that the Epson printheads are permanent and cannot be easily removed, therefore cleaning the excess ink off the printhead is not simply a matter of giving it a swipe with a damp paper towel. 

So, before you blame the compatible cartridges or refill kits for your Epson printer not printing properly, please realize that it is probably not the fault of the cartridge or refill kit.  It's just an Epson and that's the nature of the beast!



There are several ways to help prevent clogged nozzles in Epson printheads.


The printhead cleaning cycles on models of Epson printers has consistently gotten longer with each new model introduced to the market. These longer cleaning cycles suck out more ink in an attempt to clear the clog. Unfortunately, after two or three cleaning cycles, excess amounts of ink is being smeared over the printhead and can actually block more or all of the nozzles. The more you clean, the more ink, the more smearing.

If after two cleanings the nozzles aren't cleared, then print at least 10 full pages. If the nozzles don't clear themselves within these 10 pages, then further cleanings will not solve your problem. You will have to manually clean the printheads. See several methods below.



The Epson printers do a "mini-cleaning cycle" when the printer is first turned on. This is to get the ink flowing through the printhead after it has been unused for a while. If you never turn the printer off, then these mini-cleaning cycles to not take place.



You should print several, full color pages AT LEAST ONCE A WEEK! This will help keep the ink from drying out on the printhead or in the nozzles. Seldom used inkjet printers (all brands) cause more problems than those which are used on a daily basis.  If it takes you 4, 6 or more months to use a set of cartridges, then an Epson printer is certainly not the printer for you.  Seriously consider a different brand or a laser printer if you only print black.



The printheads in Epson printers are a very precision made component. Many companies want you to believe that "one ink does all printers". This is simply not possible. While this type of refill kit may work with many printers, Epson owners simply should not take the risk. As models are introduced the ink changes. This is the reason printer manufacturers are continually introducing new inkjet cartridges when they introduce new printers. Higher resolutions and faster printing speeds require ink with very specific characteristics. You may have been able to get away with "one refill kit does all" back 5 years ago, that certainly isn't the case today!

The few $$$ you save by buying cheap refill kits and compatible cartridges WILL come back and haunt you.

Methods to manually clean Epson printheads:

We suggest you perform the suggested methods of manually cleaning the Epson printheads in the order they are listed below. They are listed in order from the easiest to the more difficult. If the first method does not completely solve the problem, then go on to the next.


Distilled water or printhead cleaner in sponges

When the Epson printhead is in its resting or 'off' position, the printheads are above a single or two sponges. By saturating these sponges often excess ink on the printheads will mix with the water and get sucked into the sponge when the printer is turned on.

Move printhead assembly to centre of printer:

Start with the printer turned off. Open top of printer so you can see the printhead/cartridge assembly. On older models of Epson printers you can simply move this assembly to the left, towards the centre of the printer. Newer models have a locking lever which prevents the printhead assembly from moving from the resting position. If you look closely, you should see a small, plastic (usually black or white) lever which comes up whenever the printer stops printing. The lever to which we are referring is just left of the printhead assembly. This lever can be moved forward and down easily with your finger. If you can't see the lever, then print a page with the top open. Watch for a lever that goes down when it starts printing and then goes up after it has stopped.

With the printer off and the lever moved down as far as it will go, gently push the printhead/cartridge assembly to the right. It will only move a fraction of an inch, but you should hear a click. This is a second lock being released. The printhead assembly should now easily move to the left towards the centre of the printer.

Saturate sponge(s):

With the printhead moved, you can now see the sponges which were under the printheads. Take a syringe or eyedropper and saturate the sponge(s). Fill the sponge holder as much as you can. Use distilled water or InkMagic printhead cleaner. Regular water will work, but it is the last choice. Move the printhead assembly back over the sponges ... as far to the right as it will go. Let printer sit for at least 15 minutes before turning it 'on'. You may want to leave it overnight.

Be certain the printhead assembly is as far to the right as it will go before turning the printer 'on'. Print 6 or 8 pages of dense print or graphics if it is the color which is causing the problems. If you still have clogged nozzles, then move on to the next suggestion.


Distilled water or printhead cleaner in ink port

Remove ink cartridge(s) from printer. On newer models you may have to hold one of the buttons down for several seconds for the printheads to move to the centre. Refer to your printer manual.

With the cartridge(s) removed you will now be able to see the small cone shaped ink tubes (ink ports) which take the ink from the cartridge to the printhead. Black has one cone and the color has three. Using a syringe with blunt needle, put a few drops of InkMagic printhead cleaner or distilled water in the cone. We recommend putting water or printhead cleaner only in the cone which sends ink to the printhead causing the problems. e.g. if it is the yellow which has nozzles missing, then put water only in the yellow inkport. If you're not sure which color is which, then look at the holes in the bottom of the color cartridge. Yellow is usually the color on the far right with magenta (red) in the middle and cyan (blue) on the left.

Put the cartridge(s) back into the cartridge holder. Do nothing. Usually after a few minutes the printer will automatically return the printhead assembly to its resting position. If any water or printhead cleaner dripped into the printer, wipe it dry with a paper towel.

Print 6 or 8 pages of dense print or graphics if it is a color which is causing the problems. If you still have clogged nozzles, then move on to the next suggestion.


Clean printhead with paper towels

Fold paper towel and dampen:

Be certain the printer is turned 'off'. Tear a single sheet of paper towel in half. Fold the sheet in half several times until it is about 1/2 inch by whatever length the sheet started at. In other words, you want to fold it so it is long and skinny, not square. Open the cover of the Epson printer. Along the path which the printhead assembly travels when printing, you will see a rubber roller which moves the paper. (this is like the paper roller in a typewriter). Put the paper towel on top of this rubber roller and use tape on each end to secure it. Put a few drops of InkMagic printhead cleaner or distilled water near the middle of the paper towel.

Move printhead assembly over the paper towel and let it rest on top of the damp portion of the paper towel. (See above for information on how to release the printhead assembly.)

We suggest letting the printhead sit over the paper towel for at least 15 minutes. This will soften the ink on the printhead. Move printhead assembly back to its resting position. You will probably notice that the paper towel now has one long black blob of ink on it. (There is so much excess ink on the printheads that all the colors are mixing to make black.) If you cannot clearly see individual colors, then dampen another spot on the paper towel and move the printhead back over the newly dampened spot on the paper towel. Continue repeating this until you see all the individual colors. You may have to use several pieces of folded paper towels.

Before turning the printer 'on', be certain to move the printhead back to its resting position and remove the paper towel from inside the printer. Now that all excess ink has been removed from the printheads, your clogged nozzles should be cleared. It may take several pages of dense print to get the ink flowing properly.

A few nozzles still not printing?

Replace the ink cartridges:

As a final resort, replace the ink cartridge. There is a good chance that you will have to call Epson for warranty repair, if the printer is still under warranty. For this reason we suggest that this time you purchase original Epson cartridges. Never return an Epson printer for warranty with compatible or refilled cartridges. Doing so will give Epson the perfect opportunity to blame the problem on the cartridge or ink. While our experience with Epson printers indicates that it is their built-in printhead technology which is to blame for most of their problems, you certainly won't get anyone at Epson to admit it.

We have only one final suggestion. When it comes to purchasing your next printer, take a long, hard look at Canon, HP or LexMark.  (The Canon printers have received very high reviews lately and they are one of the least expensive to operate if you use InkMagic Compatible Cartridges) If you run into clogged printhead nozzles with HP and LexMark printers, you can simply replace the ink cartridge which has a new printhead built into the cartridge.  Canon printheads are replaceable, but are expensive.  The Canon printhead seldom needs replacing.

See what Epson suggests ... Note, they depend totally on cleaning cycles ... of course, they discourage refilling the cartridges!


This article is protected by copyright laws. You are free to print and use the information contained in this article for your own use only. Reproduction or inclusion of this article on any website or publication is prohibited without written permission by the author.

InkMagic International Ltd. accepts no responsibility for the outcome of any methods this article suggests. While all suggestions listed above have been tried countless times with success, you follow these suggestions at your own risk.


Written by: Dale R. Farrier

President of InkMagic International Ltd.

Reprinted with permission.


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