How to clean a Canon printhead

How To Clean A Canon Printhead (2 Easy Methods!)

Over time, it is common for the printhead to become clogged up with ink, causing print quality to rapidly decline. Knowing how to clean a Canon printhead can prevent all sorts of quality related issues and help keep your printer running smoothly.

How To Clean A Canon Printhead

To clean a Canon printhead, start by running the self-cleaning Canon Printer Utilities. Conduct a ‘Cleaning’ followed by running a ‘Deep Cleaning’. If printhead quality issues persist, perform a manual clean by soaking the printhead for 2 minutes in a 50-50 mixture of distilled water and isopropyl alcohol.

The ‘printhead’ is the component that receives an image and then transfers the correct amount of ink to a page. Depending on your printer model, the printheads will either be located directly on the bottom of the ink cartridges or on the bottom of the unit that houses the ink cartridges.

I highly recommend you start with method 1 below and only proceed to method 2 as needed.

We will start with the easier automated tools and then work our way to the more involved manual steps.

Method 1:  Self-Cleaning Canon Printer Utilities

Canon Printer utilities allow you to perform printer maintenance directly from your printer settings, without the need to physically handle the device yourself.

This is by far the easiest printhead cleaning option and you should always start your process here.

How To Clean Canon Printhead Using Self-Cleaning Utilities

To access the utilities, first navigate to Start Settings Devices Printers & Scanners.

Next, click on your Printer model and select Manage followed by Printing Preferences.

Windows Printer Preferences

Within Printing Preferences, select the Maintenance tab.

Click Cleaning on the Maintenance tab and when the Print Head Cleaning dialog box opens, select the ink group you desire.

Finally, select Execute to begin the process.

When the process has finished, a Nozzle Check dialog box will appear. To check whether the print quality has improved, click Print Check Pattern.

If the print quality is still poor, run the Cleaning function a few more times.

If, after multiple attempts you see no improvement, an additional option called Deep Cleaning under the same Maintenance tab should be selected next. 

Canon printhead self-cleaning printer utilities

For difficult cases, where the regular cleaning utility is not sufficient, deep cleaning will often do the trick.

While each of these self-cleaning methods unfortunately result in the loss of a fair amount of ink, they are often highly effective.

In the event both the standard and deep cleaning utilities don’t unclog the Canon printer heads, try turning the printer off overnight.

Often times this will allow the caked on ink to soften up a bit, at which point you can try running the self-cleaning utilities again.

How To Align Canon Printhead

Print heads routinely become misaligned over time.

In most cases, your printer will still print but the output will appear slightly “off”. However, in more extreme cases, your printer may not even print at all.

Printhead misalignment is extremely common following cleaning. For this reason it is critical to subsequently run the Print Head Alignment utility.

To align your Canon printhead, go to Start Settings Devices Printers & Scanners then click on your model and select Manage followed by Printing Preferences.

Within Printing Preferences, select the Maintenance tab and this time click Print Head Alignment.

Canon printhead alignment

Run BOTH the horizontal and vertical alignment tests and follow the on-screen instructions.

Users have indicated that interpreting the alignment print tests can be confusing. If you are having any trouble, check out this Canon printhead alignment guide for additional information.

Method 2: Manual Canon Printhead Cleaning

Many users will find that using the printhead automated tool is not enough. The ink build up is simply too great and the printhead blockages remain in place.

If you find yourself in this situation, you will need to perform a manual clean.

There are a number of different techniques you can try. Let’s review each of these techniques, starting with the easier tips and ending with the more involved processes.

Preparing The Canon Printhead For Cleaning

To prepare the printer, use the side opening to insert your finger and lift up to open the top of the printer to access the ink cartridge holder.

With the top of the printer open, insert a piece of folded up paper into to the upper lid contact switch slot. This will trick the printer into thinking the top lid is closed.

Printer lid contact switch

Now, with the top of the printer open, simply print a document from your PC. As soon as the ink cartridges slide towards the middle of the printer, pull the power cord out from the back of the printer.

Depending on your specific Canon printer model, ink cartridge access may be through a front facing opening on the device.

This will free up the printer compartment and allow you to easily move it from side to side for greater access.

Next, unclip each of the printer cartridges and fully remove them from the printer. It’s a good idea to place the ink cartridges in a sealed plastic bag to prevent the ink from drying.

Even if you suspect there is only one printhead clogged, I highly recommend you clean all of the printheads at the same time.

Fold up a paper towel and carefully feed it underneath the ink cartridge housing unit . This will serve to absorb any excess ink, fluid, and debris during the process.

Canon printer ink cartridge housing unit

Lastly, mix a small amount of 50% distilled water with 50% isopropyl alcohol in a shallow bowl or plate. We only want enough liquid to just barley soak the printheads. Don’t over do it!

Importantly, you don’t want to use tap or mineralized drinking water, as those particles may have a negative effect on the heads after a few clean ups. Therefore, it is always good to use distilled water, which you should be easily able to find in any grocery store.

Locating The Canon Printheads

At this stage is critical to determine where your printheads are located. Start by examining the bottom of the ink cartridges.

Locating the printhead on an ink cartridge

If you see a thin metal strip, your printheads are located on the ink cartridges.

If however, you see a small sponge this is not a printhead and these ink cartridges should not be cleaned!

For folks that see this sponge component on the bottom of their ink cartridges, this means that the printhead is located on the bottom of the ink cartridge housing unit. Go ahead and remove it to confirm.

Depending on your specific Canon Printer model you should be able to simply unclip it. For others, you may need to first remove a few screws.

Printhead on the bottom of an ink cartridge housing unit

Canon Printhead Cleaning

For this phase, I recommend you throw on a pair of latex gloves to avoid getting ink on your hands. Ink can be extremely challenging to remove!

Depending on where your print heads are located, place either the ink cartridges or the ink cartridge housing unit into the shallow 50-50 liquid mixture. Be sure the printhead portion is facing down and is just barely submerged.

Cleaning the printhead in distilled water and isopropyl alcohol

After a few minutes, remove the printhead from the liquid and pat it dry with a paper towel.

If you are dealing with a more stubborn blockage, consider soaking the printhead in the liquid overnight.

For many Canon Printer models, once you have removed the ink cartridges, you will also notice exposed ink nozzles underneath.

Printer ink nozzles

It is extremely common for the ink nozzles to also become backed up and clogged!

It is therefore a good idea to clean these as well while you have the access. Using the same 50-50 liquid mixture, slowly allow 5-10 drops to drip directly on top of each of the nozzles.

This is where that paper towel you previously set in place underneath the ink cartridge holder will come into play!

With a Q-tip in hand, carefully scrub and dry the outer nozzle surroundings.

For more extreme nozzle blockages, you will need to purchase a syringe and some custom tubing to more thoroughly flush them out.

Lastly, make sure all components are completely dry before reinstalling them it back into the printer.

Once you are all wrapped up, go ahead and try to print. The print heads should now be polished and the print quality issues should be solved!

Long Term Printhead Maintenance

Manual Canon printhead cleaning can prove to be a bit time consuming. It is therefore always a good idea to perform regular maintenance on your printer in an effort to prevent any future quality issues, such as smeared ink or printing blank pages.

Here are a few steps you can take to help prevent a future blockage:

  1. When your printer sits around without being used for a long period of time, it increases the chances of the ink drying. You should aim to print at least a page every week or so to keep the print heads clear.
  2. If there is ever a stretch of time where you are fairly certain you will not be using your printer, go ahead and remove the ink cartridges. This will prevent longer term ink leakage. You can keep the ink cartridges in a sealed plastic bag for long periods of time without issue.
  3. Additionally, when you are not actively using the printer, turn it off! When the printer is left on, it can warm up the ink cartridges causing the ink to leak out and later dry.
  4. Finally, remember that you can and should run the Canon printhead automated cleaning tool BEFORE your run into a quality issue. By running the self-cleaning function regularly, you can help keep the print heads clear.


Attempting to print, only to discover your Canon Printer either won’t print or has low print quality can be frustrating. Fortunately, cleaning your device is a relatively straight forward process.

To clean a Canon printhead, start by running the self-cleaning Canon Printer Utilities. Conduct a ‘Cleaning’ followed by running a ‘Deep Cleaning’. If printhead quality issues persist, perform a manual clean by soaking the printhead for 2 minutes in a 50-50 mixture of distilled water and isopropyl alcohol.

If for any reason, you print quality does not improve, you can try entering your model number into the official Canon Printer manual lookup for additional information.

You can also contact Canon Customer Service at 1 (800) 652-2666 and verify your Canon Printer warranty plan.

I hope your found these cleaning methods helpful! Feel free to share any feedback in the comments below.

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