How to unblock an Epson Printer

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Please Note:
Viva Ink & Toner cannot accept any responsibility or liability for any damaged caused (to you or your equipment) while using the cleaning methods suggested below. Whilst all of the following methods have been tried, tested and proven to work (in most cases). By reading this article and attempting your own repair, you are agreeing to follow these suggestions at your own risk.
Why do Epson printers experience clogged nozzles?
Epson use a permanent and fixed print-head that remains inaccessible and hard to reach (without a major strip down). Print-heads of this type do allow Epson to use high quality print-heads that remain reliant upon the insertion of separate ink tanks to feed/supply the ink to the heads. The ink tanks are then usually cheaper to manufacture and supply, other manufacturers like HP, Lexmark, Canon and many more do supply a new (but cheaper quality) print-head with and attached to the ink tank. In other words when you change the tank you change the head “but” the cartridges are often much more expensive.
For those people who fear the loss of a printers warranty they will often stick with original Epson cartridges (at great expense), however, others will happily use compatible cartridges or even refill their own. Epson “allude” and in some cases actually claim that compatible, refilled and remanufactured cartridges remain inferior in quality resulting in poor performance and yield. Epson also claim that in extreme case they can and will cause damage to your printer. In our experience this is simply not true, both original and non OEM cartridges will experience blocked nozzles at some point during the life cycle of the printer.
So why do nozzles clog?
As a regular user of an Epson R360 printer I have found that every time I change an ink tank I experience banding or gaps in the print. At first (some years ago) I would “clean the heads” repeatedly, often failing to achieve any improvement. It is essential at this point to remember:
“Please don't blame the cartridge”
The cartridge is simply an ink tank that is designed to deliver the liquid to the print-head. Whilst we accept there is a copper chip on the front of each tank that lets the printer know a cartridge has been fitted, it does not affect the flow of the liquid in the tank. If your heads are blocked or air is trapped (after changing an ink tank), it is not the cartridge that causes the issue!
Blockages, banding, print gaps, faint colours and “blank sheets of paper being produced” can happen at any time. However, in most cases it will follow a cartridge change or if the printer has been left idle for a long period of time. It is less likely to occur if you use your printer every day and maintain the heads whenever a new cartridge has been fitted. As a matter of routine I will perform a simple head clean on my Epson R360 (once) after a new cartridge has been inserted. It is now 6 years old and working like new!
So what is happening?
Many people will ignore low ink reminders and run their printer until the black ink runs out or the colour prints are of a poor quality (missing colours etc). When this happens it is quite clear that the ink has been used, the tank is empty and the “nozzles” are now full of air. The copper chip can only “guess” the ink levels because nothing in the tank indicates true levels. In many cases the printer simply “counts” how many pages have been printed and then it will assume the tanks are empty. Sometimes it can get it wrong and the tank is simply printing fresh-air.
In order to “clear” the air trap/blockage (that prevents new ink from flowing), your Epson printer will need to prime the new ink tank that is added to the machine. The idea being to pull and suck enough ink through the pipes, tubes and print-head to effectively remove any trapped air (it will also use up some of your expensive ink). Regrettably this “priming” can sometimes leave excessive and residual ink on internal pads. Wipers that are specifically designed to clear waste ink droplets from the head then smear the ink across the full width of the print-head, this in turn then dries and blocks some or all of the nozzles. In other words, more head cleans often equal more ink smeared across the print-head and inevitably more blocked nozzles.
So how do we fix this problem?
Well it is clearly evident that all of that dried ink must be removed from print-head, “easy” if you can get at it, “but” as previously stated Epson use a permanent, fixed and inaccessible print head. Please note some other Printer manufacturers do use separate head assemblies (i.e. Canon) that can be removed.  Detachable print-heads can be wiped with a cloth, soaked, cleaned and primed “out” of the printer and returned to it like new!
So,before you launch in to “cleaning cycles” and the wholesale dismantling of your printer, a quick and surprising fix can be found in the Epson printing software itself. While trying to print a text or a colour document/picture, o pen preferences  and set the  printing option  to  “best photo”  (even if you are just printing text). This will force the print head to use the full range of nozzles and in doing so it will expel any trapped air. Repeat this several times before returning the settings to  “normal”  mode (i.e. print at least 10 pages).
Manually clean Epson print-heads:
Whilst there are a number of slightly different approaches to cleaning your print-heads, we do suggest that you try the following methods in the order listed. You can purchase dedicated  Cartridge Flush  and other cleaning solutions, however it is possible to mix your own cleaner using distilled water (if you have it) and a window cleaning solution (50/50 mix).
Method (1) Saturate Head assembly sponge.
With the Epson print-head in its resting or 'off' position, the heads sit on a single (or sometimes double sponge). By saturating those sponges with the cleaning fluid, any excess or dried ink on the print-head will soften and mix with the water before being sucked into the sponge, away from the head and in to the waste tank/internal waste  pads.

To move the print-head assembly to the centre position or cartridge change position you can follow the Epson software called “replace ink cartridge”. With the head assembly “parked” in the middle of the printer use a syringe or eye dropper to soak the sponges on the right hand station. Once filled, allow the head assembly to return to its “park” position and wait for at least 30 mins before running a head cleaning cycle. You may wish to repeat this procedure two or three times. It can also help if the printer is returned to its parked position (after soaking the sponges) over night.
Method (2) Add cleaning fluid or head cleaner directly to the ink ports. 
Using the Epson software, remove all of the ink cartridges from your printer. Viewing the print–head assembly from above you can now see the small cone shaped ink spikes or ink ports that pierce the ink tanks. Those spikes take the ink from the cartridge directly to the print-head itself. Using a syringe (with a blunt needle), put a few drops of the cleaning solution in the cone that is blocked. The spike colour is determined by the colour of cartridge that sits upon it.  Try to print several pages of dense print or graphics on the “best photo setting”.
Method (3) Clean print-head with tissue.
Turn the printer “off”, fold a paper towel or toilet tissue to create a strip approximately 25mm wide, length is not an issue but it should be kept less than 400mm in length in order to fit in the printer (long and skinny). Open the cover of your Epson printer to view the ink carriage. You will note that it is parked to the right hand side; most Epson printers use a mechanical lock to hold the carriage in this position.

Turn the printer on and when the lock is released, the carriage will move to the left, when it is clear of the “park” station, unplug the power lead. The carriage will stop but it will now move freely by hand (the lock has been disabled).

Move the print-head assembly slowly from right to left and over the paper towel/tissue. Slowly feeding the tissue under the print-head assembly “DO NOT FORCE THE TISSUE UNDER” if the tissue is too thick then reduce the thickness until it slides under the head assembly. The tissue should sit in the bottom track of the printer in-between the feed rollers. Once through, the tissue should protrude on either side of the carriage.

With the heads resting on the tissue, apply drops of cleaning solution to the tissue on the left and right of the carriage, the tissue will immediately soak up the fluid  and expand the tissue so that it touches the face of the print head.  Let the print-head sit on the damp tissue for at least 15 minutes. This will soften any dried ink and it will begin to draw liquid ink through the head and on to the tissue.

After about 15 minutes, slide the head assembly back to its park position while holding the damp tissue. 
The tissue will become “black” because it has drawn ink from all cartridges on to the tissue; it has also removed air bubbles and any dried ink that may be present. Repeat the above procedure until you can see evidence of the three primary colours and black (CMYK). You may have to use several strips of tissue.

Please ensure that “all” tissue has been removed and the carriage can move freely before plugging the power lead in and turning the printer back 'on'.

Having removed excess dried ink from the print-head the blocked and clogged nozzles should be clear and a “standard” head cleaning cycle can now be used. However, it may take two or three cleans before the ink flows correctly (given the tissues has drawn ink out of the nozzles). You may also have to replace the ink tanks to ensure that ink is now flowing correctly.
Method (4)
The above method (3) is completed while the ink cartridges remain in place, the advantage here being that the ink is drawn to the tissue through the nozzles. However if the dried ink is particularly thick it may be necessary to soak the head assembly overnight.
Follow the Epson instructions for “removing” all ink cartridges. Power the machine off and then turn the printer on again, when the lock is released, unplug the power lead. The carriage will stop but it will now move freely by hand (the lock has been disabled).

Add tissue/paper as described in Method (3), add cleaning solution and leave the print head to soak for at least 12 hours. Ensure the tissue remains damp and moist while the head is allowed to soak. Remove the tissue (after 12 hours). “IMPORTANT” power the machine on before the cartridges are inserted. The ink light indicator will flash indicating missing cartridges. Re-insert the cartridges as instructed, this will then “prime” all ink tanks. Perform basic head clean cycles and test. Please note it may take two or three cycles to before the ink flows correctly, the tissues will have sucked “all” ink from the print-head and feed pipes.
There are several ways to help prevent clogged nozzles in Epson print-heads. Many people argue that you should not perform more than “three head” cleans because this process can contaminate and clog the print-heads (if used more than three times). Excessive amounts of ink can be smeared over the print-head and make the problem worse.

After three cleaning cycles if a satisfactory nozzle check pattern is not achieved, print at least 10 full pages of large coloured (and black text) on the “best photo setting”. If the head still fails to clear, go to Method (1) detailed above.
Epson printers do a "mini-cleaning cycle" whenever the printer is turned on. This process ensures that the ink flows through the print-head after it has been unused for a period of time. If you don’t turn the printer off, the cleaning cycle is not performed.

Try to print something (preferably a full colour page) on a weekly basis. This will prevent the ink from drying out. Powering “on” and then “off” again on a regular basis will have a similar effect.
Epson will always recommend that you use “their” cartridges (obviously) however this alone will not prevent clogged nozzles, it is also a very expensive option. We therefore recommend that you use a good supply of quality compatible cartridges and “stick with that brand”. Mixing suppliers can create issues with the “chip” and it is very difficult to identify which cartridge has contributed to a blocked nozzle when they are mixed.

Got a Success story or want to offer feedback on this article?
Please email Ray at Vivaink @ yahoo .com
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