How to clean HP printhead

How To Clean HP 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 your HP printhead can prevent all sorts of quality related issues and help keep your printer running smoothly.

How To Clean HP Printhead

To clean the HP printhead, start by printing a diagnostic test page. Then, run the self-cleaning function by initiating the automated cleaning tool. 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 HP Printer ‘printhead’ is the component that receives an image and then transfers the correct amount of ink to a page. Depending on your printer model, they will either be located directly on the bottom of the ink cartridges or on the bottom of the unit that houses the ink cartridges.

If your print quality has recently declined, I highly recommend you start with cleaning method 1 below and only proceed to method 2 as needed.

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

Method 1: HP Printhead Automated Cleaning Tool

The HP Printer automated cleaning tool allow you to clean the printhead directly from your printer, without the need to physically open and handle the device yourself.

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

How To Print A Diagnostic Page On HP Printer

Let’s kick things off by first printing a diagnostics page so that we can better understand the extent of the issue.

To print a diagnostic page:

  1. First, on the printers front panel, press the Setup button (Wrench icon).
  2. Next, press Tools.
  3. Finally, press Print Quality Report.
HP printer - print a diagnostics page

Diagnostic page will start printing and produce a print out that you can use to identify exactly which ink color(s) has quality issues.

There are many different HP Printer models, and therefore these steps may vary slightly between models.

If you are having trouble figuring out how to print a test page, try entering your model number into the official HP Printer manual lookup for additional information.

How To Clean HP Printhead Using The Automated Cleaning Tool

To initiate the automated tool:

  1. First, on the printers front panel, once again press the Setup button (Wrench icon).
  2. Next, press Tools.
  3. Finally, press Clean Printhead (or Clean Cartridge).
Run automated HP Printer cleaning tool

It is important to note that you may need to run the tool multiple times depending on how clogged the printhead is. Some users have even reported needing to run it over 10 times!

While this self-cleaning method unfortunately result in the loss of a fair amount of ink, it is often highly effective.

In the event this process does not unclog the printhead, 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 automated cleaning tool again.

How To Align HP Printhead

HP print heads can also become misaligned over time. This is particularly true following a cleaning.

In most cases, your printer will still print but the output will appear slightly “off”. However, in more extreme cases, your printer may not print at all leading to your HP printer printing blank pages.

To align your HP printhead:

  1. First, open the Tools or Printer Maintenance menu,
  2. Next, select the option to Align cartridgesAlign printhead, or Print an Alignment Page.

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

Method 2: Manual HP Printhead Cleaning

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

If you find yourself in this situation, you will need to manually clean the HP print heads.

There are a number of different cleaning 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 HP Printhead For Cleaning

First, before we start, you will need to prepare the printer.

To do so, 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.

Block printer lid contact switch slot

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 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 them 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.

HP 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 HP Printheads

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

Determine where the printhead is located

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.

For most models, you should be able to simply unclip it. For others, you may need to first remove a few screws.

Ink cartridge housing unit

Cleaning HP Printhead

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 clean off!

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.

Clean HP printhead in 50-50 liquid of 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.

Once you have removed the ink cartridges, you will also notice exposed ink nozzles underneath.

HP 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 clean 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 clean and the print quality issues should be solved!

Long Term Printhead Maintenance

Manual HP 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.

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 HP 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 and clean.


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

To clean the HP printhead, start by printing a diagnostic test page. Then, run the self-cleaning function by initiating the automated cleaning tool. 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, your print quality does not improve, you can try entering your model number into the official HP Printer manual lookup for additional information.

You can also contact HP customer supporter and verify your HP warranty plan.

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

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