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13th June 2019 Printing

One of the most persistent myths in inkjet printing is that one can use Windex to clean a print head.

In nearly 20 years of professional printing work, and after contact with thousands of printers across Australia and the world, I have never even once heard a reliable report of this method working.  And I have had many, many reports of damage to print heads caused by attempting this procedure.

I strongly suggest you never ever touch your print head or attempt to manually clean it and that you certainly NEVER put Windex anywhere near your print head.

The risk of permanent, expensive damage is both enormous and real.  The odds are very very high you will cause harm, and very low you will solve the problem.  So - as they say - be cautious, because Here Be Dragons.

In general if you follow our tips on Solving Inkjet Printer Issues you will be able to solve most inkjet issues.  Stubborn clogs are possible, but the best (safest) solvent for clogged ink is more ink (and no, this is not just an Epson/Canon/HP conspiracy theory to get you to waste ink).

Of course if the head is permanently clogged and simply won't come clean using the traditional ways, you don't really have anything to lose by trying Windex, right?  Actually, you do.  Because you might yet be able to rescue your print head, but Windex isn't the way to do it.

Windex is a poor 'solution' to the problem (pardon the pun).  If you really feel you must try and use a solvent other than ink itself to clear blocked nozzles, there are much better options than Windex that might yet just get you out of inkjet hell.

Specifically, Why Not Windex?

Good for windows.  Very bad for printers.
Good for windows. Very bad for printers.

First and foremost, Windex in Australia generally doesn't even have ammonia in it - and ammonia is the supposedly desirable component.

Secondly - even if you DO buy the version with ammonia (you can still get it) ammonia forms bonds with copper - and most modern inkjet print heads have copper in them.  So you're just as likely to create clogs (via, basically, rust) - as you are to clear them.  Even if ammonia was a magnificent solvent for pigment printer ink (it isn't) - you're likely to permanently damage the delicate parts of your print head whilst attempting to clean them with this caustic chemical.

Thirdly, Windex is full of other chemicals (to help it dry quickly, without streaks) - chemicals designed to clean glass, none of which help inkjet printer heads, and may well inter-react with these incredibly sophisticated and delicate devices in negative ways.

Finally - the generally recommended approach (spray Windex on to a pad and leave the print head sitting on this pad overnight) - may well cause physical abrasion to the print head.  To get the Windex into a useful spot, your pad has to be thick - meaning the print head will then rub the pad as you position it over the pad.  Physical abrasion of the head is the quickest way to kill a print head permanently.

Windex is great for glass.  It is utterly rubbish for cleaning print heads.

How To Clear A Blocked Head

Again, and worth repeating:

We don't generally recommend this.  At all.

We suggest you consider doing this only if you're definitely at the point where the head and/or printer is a write off - and you have nothing to lose anyway. 

Most people feel they are at that point without giving things enough time (ink plugs, being dissolved by other ink, may take several days to work clear) -   usually because their printer has let them down when on a deadline.  We've all been there, and for sure it sucks. But consider using a service to meet your immediate deadline, and giving yourself the chance to solve your problem more calmly when you have more time.

If, after careful consideration, you have decided to give it a go, here are a few tips:

Consider removing your print head

It can be best to entirely remove the print head from your printer - IF you're technically capable.  This will give you much better access to the print head without the risk of physically damaging the myriad of delicate nozzles.  If the print head stays in the printer you will need to use the printer's fill and flush mechanisms to draw the fluid through the head (as opposed to soaking the head directly in the fluid).

If you must use the 'pad approach' then make sure you use a really soft, but non linting pad.  You don't want fibres from the pad getting wicked up into your printer nozzles and creating their own clogs.

Use a proper product...or mix your own

I would be inclined to use Piezo Flush.  I.e. something that has been specially formulated AND real world tested to be safe with recent, high end inkjet printers.  It's not expensive, and apart from having to get it from the USA, it's readily available.

On the other hand, these things are not magic.  You can make up your own solution, and this is what we have seen reports of people using as effective solutions to dissolve ink plugs:

  • 20 parts of isopropyl alcohol (aka isopropanol) 100 %
  • 3 parts of propylene glycol (not to be confused with the toxic ethylene glycol)
  • 77 parts of distilled or de-mineralised water


Be prepared for possible failure

Inkjet printer heads are complex.  And the systems that get ink to the print head also.  So your issue may not even actually be blocked nozzles - it might be an ink delivery problem (could be the cartridge itself, or pumps, dampers etc), or certain nozzle on your print head may be electrically dead.

Not all things can be fixed, unfortunately!

Actually Doing It

In terms of actually doing it, once you have an appropriate ink dissolving solution that is safe for your print head (i.e. NOT Windex), then ideally you just soak the head in the solution - it can be left for hours or even days.  The solution acts as a solvent to dissolve the plug of ink and with any luck, your problem will be solved.

If you haven't removed the print head, you generally will need to use refillable cartridges (sold at various places online) - filled with your solvent fluid.  Then you run the 'init fill' process to move the fluid through the lines, into the head, and leave again for hours/days.  Then flush ink through the system again and, with a prevailing wind from the south and a healthy dose of luck - you'll have your perfect nozzle check pattern back!

Good luck!

(Remember, though, that if your printer is old (as is normally the case when you hit these issues) - there are many other parts that may fail in the future, or even be imminently about to fail - sometimes it's better just to buy a new print head, or very often a new printer, and move on - if you've had good use out of your current model, it may just make more economic sense as these machines, whilst robust, are not infinite.  It's rare to see heavily used printers over 10 years old still functioning perfectly, for example).