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How to clean your printer

Tips for improving the image quality of your laser or inkjet computer, and what you can and can't DIY.

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Last updated: 28 May 2020

Need to know

  • Most printers can self-clean, so try that first.
  • Cleaning a printer might void its warranty.
  • Be extra careful when cleaning a laser printer.

If you’re having problems with your printer’s image quality, a quick clean can often be the solution. 

Cleaning an inkjet printer is a relatively simple task, but laser printers can be more difficult to clean, easy to break, and sometimes they require safety precautions, especially if there's spilt toner.

Self-cleaning

Before you do anything, look up your printer's self-clean abilities in its product manual. It might fix an immediate problem such as streaks and gaps without the hassle.

If it's a more stubborn issue, manufacturers might tell you to replace any part that can't be cleaned using the built-in functions. But knowing how to clean them manually can save you money. You have little to lose by cleaning them yourself. 

Warranty concerns

Cleaning a printer yourself can potentially void its warranty, so read yours carefully before rolling your sleeves up. If it tells you to stick to the advice within the user manual, it might be best to replace parts when prompted, rather than risk voiding the warranty by cleaning them yourself.

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How to clean an inkjet printer

You'll need:

  • A clean cloth
  • Cotton swabs 
  • Your printer's product manual

To be safe, turn your printer off and disconnect it from the power. Note: you might need to plug it back in when cleaning the rollers.

Paper rollers

Dirty rollers leave marks when they pull paper from the tray into the printer and they might slip or not feed the paper properly. However, cleaning rollers wears them out, so only do it when necessary. 

Locate your rollers and see if you can turn them manually. If you can, gently scrub any gunk or dust away with a clean cloth. If needed, dampen the cloth lightly with some water then dry the rollers thoroughly after you're done.

If you can't turn them by hand, use the paper feed button to make the printer rotate them for you. This requires your printer to be plugged into mains power, so avoid using water. Disconnect it again before moving on to other internals.

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Printer heads 

Printer heads are the nozzles that spray ink. On most modern inkjet printers, they're part of the disposable/refillable ink cartridges.  

If your printer's self-clean function can't fix the heads, the user manual might tell you to buy a new cartridge. If this is the case, you may as well try cleaning them yourself first. Remove the problem ink cartridges from the printer and gently wipe the heads with a cotton swab, then place them back in and try the self-clean function again. 

Ribbon 

The ribbon, which looks like its name implies, sits behind and is attached to the ink cartridge tray.

If it has wet ink on it, use a cotton swab to very gently wipe it dry. Be careful not to dislodge it – it can be a pain to reattach.

Stabiliser bar

The ink cartridge tray runs along the stabiliser bar. It generally doesn't need cleaning, but applying a little printer oil or grease can make your printer quieter. Check your printer's manual or contact its manufacturer to see what kind of lubricant to use, if any.

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How to clean a laser printer

Never use alcohol or any flammable liquid when cleaning a laser printer. The internals get extremely hot, so anything that can catch fire is a risk.

Toner spills

Most consumer laser printers have sealed toner cartridges, but you might still find a little loose toner, especially when changing cartridges. Some older machines, particularly larger copier printers, have refillable toner containers and require extreme care. 

Printer toner isn't ink. It's made of extremely fine, dry particles of a plastic-like substance that can easily fall off a normal cloth or be inhaled

If you have a bad toner spill, contact a professional. Printer toner isn't ink. It's made of extremely fine, dry particles of a plastic-like substance that can easily fall off a normal cloth or be inhaled. 

But if you're adamant about going it alone, wear gloves and a sealed face mask when dealing with loose toner. 

You'll need:

  • A well-sealed dust mask – not a surgical mask
  • Rubber gloves
  • Activated toner cloth  
  • A toner vacuum (optional) – not a regular vacuum 

Activated toner cloths are very helpful for bad toner spills because they have a static charge that attracts and holds toner particles. Toner vacuums are also useful – don't use a regular vacuum because they don't have the appropriate filter and will spread toner into the air.

Normal cleaning for laser printers

You'll need:

  • A soft, dry, clean cloth (or activated toner cloth if there's a lot of toner)
  • Cotton swabs
  • Warm water (for the rollers only)
  • Your printer's product manual

Cooling off period

Make sure you unplug your printer from power and let it cool down to avoid burning yourself or risking an electric shock.

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Removing the toner.

Toner cartridge

Remove the toner cartridge according to your printer's instructions and gently wipe it clean using a dry cloth or activated toner cloth. Avoid tilting or shaking it. 

Once done, set it on top of a sheet of paper on a flat surface. 

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Cleaning the drum.

Cleaning the drum

Drum units are extremely delicate and the cleaning process varies depending on make and model. We advise you to check your printer's product manual and carefully follow its cleaning instructions. 

But if the drum is built into the toner cartridge, as with some HP laser printers, the product manual might advise you to replace the entire cartridge instead of cleaning the drum. So if you're going to replace it anyway, you have nothing to lose by trying to clean it, as long as you can get at the drum without taking apart the toner cartridge.

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Do not touch the drum roller.

Your laser printer might have a way of testing if the drum needs cleaning and where. On Brother laser printers this is called a Drum Dot Check Sheet. The toner cartridge needs to be installed for this test. If the drum does need cleaning, unplug the printer from power after the test and wait for it to cool again before continuing.

When cleaning a drum unit, use a cotton swab unless directed otherwise by the product manual. Any scratch to the delicate surface causes permanent damage, so avoid the harsh fibres of paper towel or tissues. And never touch the drum surface with your skin.

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Cleaning the laser rollers.

Inside your laser printer

With your dry, clean cloth or toner cloth, wipe clean the areas you can reach. For nooks and crannies, a soft, long-haired brush can dislodge toner and dust. Be careful not to damage anything. Always have the printer turned off and unplugged and use extreme care.

Corona wires

Corona wires attract toner by creating a static charge. On newer household printers, they can sometimes be cleaned using a built-in sliding mechanism.  But you might not be able to get at them at all. 

Rollers

Usually, all you need is a clean cloth to wipe the rollers. If that doesn't work, lightly dampen the cloth with warm water. (It must not drip water if you squeeze it.)

Always have the printer turned off and unplugged and use extreme care

If you can't turn the rollers manually, you can occasionally remove them by disengaging clips on either side. 

If you use a moist cloth, dry thoroughly once you're done.

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