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How to Remove a Canon Printhead (Step by Step With Photos!) & How to Clean a Clogged Printhead

This article will guide you step by step through the process. with nice photos and diagrams, of removing the printhead from a Canon printer. This article specifically uses the Canon Pixma Pro 9000 MK II, however most modern Canon printers all have similar designs and the steps will be very similar.

I’ve printed tens of thousands of pages using the printers and ink mentioned in this article and have gained a great understanding of the real world use, cost, and maintenance of these printers and the liquid gold they call ink.

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How to Remove the Printhead from Canon Printers

(Step by Step instructions with Photos!)

  1. Open the top cover of the printer to get to the ink cartridges
  2. Wait for the ink cartridges assembly to come to the middle/front
  3. Unplug the printer (now the cartridge assembly wont auto-return while the lever is up)
  4. Lift up the gray lever on the right side of the ink cartridge assembly
  5. Remove all ink cartridges
  6. Lift the black plastic printhead up and out (Note: at first, this confused me. The printhead itself is a smaller piece inside of the whole assembly that slides on the rail inside the printer. Grab from inside where the cartridges were sitting and the printhead piece only will come out easily.)

Diagram of Locking Lever / Printer with Removed Printhead

Diagram of Printhead Before Cleaning with Removed Rubber Gaskets

To Remove Clogged Ink from the Printhead:

Take these steps ONLY after attempting many cleaning cycles and nozzle checks. You may also want to try a “flushing” cartridge, which is an ink tank filled with a cleaning fluid. The author of this article takes no responsibility for any damage caused by attempting these steps, and this will most likely void any warranty. If your printer is under warranty, I would first suggest calling for a replacement (note–do not admit to customer support that you have been using unbranded inks, and be sure to state that you ran cleaning cycle maintenance regularly).

#1 Soak with cleaning solution

  1. Place a folded up soft paper towel in the bottom of a small dish or tray that will fit the printhead (I found a rectangle tupperware container to work well for this–the same ones you get some brands of deli meat in)
  2. Mix a cleaning solution of about 20% ammonia with distilled water. (Be careful not to breathe in pure ammonia as it can harm your sinuses). Mixtures vary depending on who you ask. Some mixtures call for about 10% ammonia, a dash of isopropyl alcohol, and distilled water. The distilled water has been treated to remove any trace minerals that might be found in tap water, and the ammonia and alcohol will work at dissolving the ink. (Note that some sources caution that the alcohol can damage any rubber pieces, such as the rubber gaskets of the printhead).
  3. Put the cleaning mixture in the microwave for about 15-20 seconds so that it is very warm (but not scalding hot). This helps break up dried ink faster.
  4. Then use your mixed cleaning solution to fill your plastic container a small amount. Fill up to the base of the printhead, so that it just rests in a bit of fluid and the paper towel pad is soaked.
  5. Place the printhead on the paper towel pad.  You can gently dab at it a bit to get things started.
  6. Also take an eye dropper or syringe to put some of the warm cleaning solution directly into the top of the printhead, at the ink inlets, where the cartridges rest. There will be one “hole” for each of the color cartridges, just place a few drops in each.
  7. Let soak for at least 1-2 hours. You will likely need to replace the cleaning solution and paper towel pad a few times during this process, until you stop noticing ink coming out on the pad.
  8. Let the printhead dry for plenty of time. A few hours under a fan is enough.
    • (Note: if you were extremely careful not to get any moisture or liquid on any of the electronic components, you may skip the drying time and that might help get the ink flowing easier. However if there is moisture remaining and you try to put the printhead back in the printer, it can fry the  printer!)
  9. Re-insert the printhead and cartridges and run a few cleaning cycles and prints. Allow the ink time to re-saturate the printhead and rest as well if needed. It may take a day or two and a good amount of cleaning cycles to restore proper ink flow.
    • It is recommended to run a maximum of 2 cleaning cycles and 1 deep cleaning cycle at a time. If ink flow is not restored, allow the printhead to rest for a while with ink cartridges installed.
  10. If this still does not work, try repeating the cleaning mixture soak for a longer time.
  11. *Be sure to always be gentle with the printhead — dont rub any parts of it to vigorously as this can damage the tiny delicate nozzles. Also be sure not to touch the gold contacts on the back.

#2 Water Pressure

This is not the ideal way to clean a clog, but could be an option if nothing else is possible or has worked. This method could potentially damage the fine nozzles of a print head due to water pressure. Ideally its best to use distilled water as well, but at this point you may be looking for any other options and tap water shouldn’t cause any further issues.

  1. (First be sure to try an alternate ink cartridge as sometimes the ink cartridge itself can be dried out)
  2. Carefully wipe down any excess ink from inside the printer and on the printhead
  3. Gently remove the rubber gaskets from inside the printhead, there will be 1 for each ink color and they are located where the ink cartridge’s opening at the bottom would be. Be sure to set these aside and do not lose them – you MUST replace them correctly after, so note the correct orientation before removing them.
  4. Put the printhead under a strong faucet, or even use a garden hose with a sprayer attached for tough clogs. Warm water (not scalding hot) will help in dissolving dried ink.
  5. Focus the spray only on the area where the above mentioned rubber gaskets were located. This should force pressure through the area where the ink travels and most likely has clogged and dried. You should see colored water coming from this – keep spraying until only clear water comes out the other end for a long time.
    • Note: try to avoid getting water on the electrical contacts that are generally located on the back.
  6. If available, rinse the bottom of the printhead with distilled water and then repateadly pour distilled water into the ink inlets and allow it to drain through. This will help wash away the tap water.
  7. Allow the printhead to dry completely — a few hours under a fan should be plenty after wiping it down
  8. Replace the rubber gaskets in the correct orientation.
  9. Replace the printhead in the printer and pull down the locking lever, then replace all the ink cartridges
  10. Run several cleaning cycles and nozzle checks through the printer’s software. Some have reported you may need to run up to 20 cleaning cycles, however be sure to not run these all at once. Run a few at a time every few hours over a couple days, all the while doing a nozzle check printouts to see if progress is being made.

Note that it is possible for this to not fix the problem. If it doesn’t, it is likely one of two things: the clog is extremely bad and you should use higher pressure water for a longer period of time, or the printhead has been burnt out and is unfixable. A printhead can be burnt out if the printer has been clogged and then you tried to print with it too much after no ink was flowing through. This will cause the heat to fuse the tiny nozzles which is permanent damage.

Another option would be to get a pump-pressure sprayer (the kind you use to spray weed killer and the like on your lawn). Fill that with warm distilled water and 20% ammonia if you have it. Then find a way to make an adapter so that the hose fits around the ink inlets fairly tightly. Then slowly push the warm distilled water / cleaning solution through the ink inlets.

Still Not Printing?

If you do end up having a broken or fried printhead, your best bet is usually to purchase an entirely new printer because repairs will end up costing as much as a brand new printer. Below you can find the current deals at Amazon for the Canon printers. I am a big fan of the Canon Pixma Pro 9000 MK II since it is often on sale at prices that make any other comparable printer seem far too expensive.

Replacement Printers

Canon Pixma Pro 9000 MK II

Best Choice for Large Size & Photo Printing

Canon Pixma Pro 9000 MK II – Best choice and value, with the highest reviews if you need a wide format printer (13″ wide print size) or if you just want a fast, extremely detailed photo printer. It also easily and noticeably beats my other inkjet printers in terms of text quality and text print speed, so it often gets used for printing text too.

Click here to check the current amazon.com prices for the Canon Pixma Pro 9000 MK II Printer

 

 

Canon Pixma 420 All In One

Best Choice for 8.5×11″ Photos and General Home & Office

Canon Pixma MX420 Wireless All In One – A great value with all the most up to date features at the lowest price you’ll find on any comparable printer. Wi-Fi Connectivity, Scanner, built in LCD screen, and borderless 8.5×11″ prints are all higher end features on a low to medium cost printer.

Click here to check the current amazon.com prices for the Canon Pixma MX420 Printer

 

Canon Pixma MG3120

Best Choice for General Home & Office Use (On a Budget)

Canon Pixma MG3120 Wireless All In One – If you don’t need the extra bells and whistles like the LCD screen from the above Pixma MX420, you can save about $30 or $40 by switching to this model. Most users will not notice the difference, especially for occasional home use. The MG3120 still offers wireless connectivity, and is an “All-In-One” model that you can use to quickly make a copy or to scan old photos or documents for digital storage.

Click here to check the current amazon.com prices for the Canon Pixma MG3120 Printer

 

Ink Tips

After printing tens of thousands of pages, ranging from professional photo and art prints, to advertisements, to office documents, I recommend generic inks for the best value. If you end up needing to run cleaning cycles with official Canon brand inks, you could easily eat up $20-$40 worth of ink in a day without even doing any printing! If money is no issue, by all means Canon inks will give you peace of mind and may clog slightly less with slightly more accurate color, however you’ll be paying 80 to 90%+ more for ink.

Generic ink works fine as long as you remember to run a cleaning cycle every few days, or print out a full color image every few days – and keep in mind that even Canon brand ink will clog, so you would need to do cleaning cycles any way. Also, remember–these days, almost all printers are best thought of as throw-aways that last only a couple years, since they usually include ink valued as much as the printer. Don’t be afraid to just buy another printer if it is out of warranty.

Sources to Purchase Cheap Generic Ink

Below are links to where I purchase my generic Canon CLI-8 Ink Cartridges (these are what most modern Canon printers use) from at Amazon. At only $1-4 each (depending on the color) for each generic cartridge — compared to $10-15 for Canon brand cartridges, there really seems to be no question that generic ink cartridges are the way to go. On rare occasion, expect to run into a cartridge that may not work perfectly, but the savings easily make it worth a minute or two of time and a quick toss to the garbage.

Canon CLI-8B Black 3 Pack (Less than $1.50 Each!)

Canon CLI-8 (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow) 3 Color Pack (Under $4.00)

Canon CLI-8 Cartridges 10 Pack (C, M, Y, B, PB) - Around $10 (Less than $1.00 Per Cartridge!)

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7 Comments

  1. Thanks so much for all of this information, I appreciate it. Its drying time now, so we’ll see how this goes. Thanks again.

  2. This was sooo much help thank you so much I fixed my printer and now it works better than before! Thank goodness I didnt have to buy a new one!!!

  3. This was a wonderful source of information. Thank you. I found there was ink dried on the cartridge and soaked it as recommended…. didn’t have ammonia so I used just the distilled water. It is drying now. will wait till tomorrow to put back in the printer. I am sure all will be great!

  4. Thanks, man. Great instructions. I now have very clean nozzles.

    One however – the RED – is not printing at all; not streaky, not intermittent, just doesn’t let any ink out.
    It caused the most problems, and was subsequently the last one to be completely clean – ie. I had to repeatedly soak that particular nozzle with solution to get ink through.
    I can see red ink on a tissue if I take the head out, the cartridge is full, the nozzle is thoroughly clean – ie. I can see fluid “welling up” through it when I place the head on soaked tissue. It just won’t print when the printer says to…

    Any ideas ? You say if repairs are needed a new printer is a better option… So is there no point at all in even checking with a technician ? Everything else about the machine is fine.

  5. This fix worked perfectly! Thank You! We had the Cyan printing in lines even after several cleanings and deep cleanings. We used the Amonia, Distilled Water and a splash of Alcohol. I microwaved it for 40 seconds,put some in the bottom of the dish and changed the mixture and paper towel 3 times during the process. I also took a syringe and filled the little areas where the ink goes through with the mixture,focusing the stream of mixture on the little nozzels and I did this about 8 times. Eventually there was no color left in them and they were all clear. I also left that area full of the mixture to soak.
    I was surprised how much more of the Cyan came out than the other colors. It was clearly blocked somewhere inside.
    Anyway, THANK YOU!!! You saved us a lot of money and frustration!

  6. its amazing how much help you can get on the internet.
    If it hadn’t been for you i would have bought a new printer.
    so saved lots of money
    thank you

  7. Where is the printerhead unlocking mechinisism for the Canon MG6320 printer?

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