When your Epson printer is banding
And regular cleaning cycles aren't fixing it

If you have muck on the bottom of the print head, it would move around every time the head is parked or run over the cleaning wiper, but not necessarily wiped off.

I use those moistened window cleaner wipes that come in a container like baby wipes. They are the closest thing I've seen to truly lint-free. I get them at the local Dollar Store. Tear a wipe in half and roll it the long way and flatten it. Tell your printer you are going to change the ink cartridge so it unseats the print head. Unplug the printer. Set the rolled up wipe into the channel below the print head, and slowly slide the print head over it. Be patient, you may have to reroll and flatten to get it to go under. Try another one if it gets too wrinkled.

Once it is under, lift both ends of the wipe and gently "shoeshine" it but only about 1/4 to 3/8 inch back and forth. Any more and you risk cross-contamination from color to color.

Toss the wipe, repeat. If it is really dirty, you may go through a dozen or more wipes (2 dozen torn in half) before they come away mostly clean.

Put a fresh one under the head and leave it for a moment. This is to prevent it from drying out while you take this opportunity to use more wipes to clean the park pad, especially the rubber seal around it. Don't rub hard, and keep switching to a clean section and clean wipes. Put a few drops of Windex with Ammonia (no orange or green stuff) into the park pads, don't overflow. Soak it back out with a window wipe, then put a few drops in again.

DON'T USE COTTON BALLS OR COTTON SWABS!!! The "sponge" in the park pad is a hard foam plastic that will snag the cotton threads and make any problems you have now pale by comparison.

Pull the wipe out from under the head, plug the printer back in and let it complete it's head cleaning. Do a nozzle check, and a few more head cleanings with nozzle checks between each. Never do more than 3 cleanings in a row without doing either a nozzle check or printing something. Epson says the printer intensifies each cleaning cycle, and that it doesn't stop intensifying at 3, and is likely to damage the print head.

Print some pages of squares of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. Nozzle check.

If you still have some stubborn nozzles, you may need to "soak". Please be aware that there is ammonia in Windex and ammonia is corrosive. Leaving it on or in the heads for long periods of time may not be good for the heads.

To soak: repeat steps to unseat the head vis-a-vis tell it to change or clean heads and then unplug. Carefully move the heads out of the way, put a few drops of Windex on the park pads. Now move the heads manually back into the parked position, as you do the park pads automatically come up. Leave the printer unplugged, let it sit for a few hours. Come back, plug in and turn on, run a cleaning cycle, and do a nozzle check.

I have not had an Epson yet that I could not get printing using these steps. Patience is a virtue, sometimes it takes a week of gentle cleanings, overnight soaks, and printing pages of color blocks. Remember, each cleaning goes into the waste ink "tank" (really a big felt pad) so better to print blocks of color than run excessive cleaning cycles.

Cleaning a clogged CIS aka bulk ink system:

If the tanks sat below the printer for even a short period of time, they can syphon ink back out of the cartridges, pulling in air and creating a foamy ink mixture. Which CIS? Are the cartridges sponged or spongeless? Try drawing ink out through the ink outlet on the cartridge.

1. Turn the printer on. As soon as the heads unseat, unplug.

2. Remove the cartridges and plug the ink outlets. MIS sells little aluminum rivets, you can probably just find some in the hardware store. -Not- pop rivets. Keep the cartridges at about the same height as they were in the printer, and keep them right side up.

3. Take a premoistened window wipe, rolled up and placed under the print head as described above. This not only keeps the heads from drying out, it will help soften any dried ink. Take a 2nd premoistened window wipe, tear in half and each half into the print heads where the black and color cartridges were.

4. Keep the cartridges at the same level that they were at in the printer. Tilt them about 45 degrees back so the ink outlet is a bit higher.

5. Working one color at a time, pull the stop rivet out and pull ink slowly out using a syringe with bottom fill adapter (also from MIS). Do NOT pull hard! If you do, the sides of the cartridge pull in and out and this may cause the other inks to bleed out past the rivet.

6. Observe: how hard must you pull? Is the ink coming out mainly as foam, or very little or no air?

a. If you find you can pull a little and then it gets really difficult, you may have a clog. Usually this happens in the hose, sometimes within the cartridge.

b. If a lot of foamy ink comes out, keep pulling ink out and sqirting it back into the bottle it came from until there is little or no air in the ink coming out. Note that there -MUST- be some air left in the cartridge for proper operation. This is why you must -NOT- turn the cartridge upside down while doing this. I add air reservoirs to my cartridges to ensure I always have this air bubble.

6a. If one or more of the hoses are clogged, get ready to take the entire thing to the sink. Don't make this an overnight job! Your print head only has those moist window wipes keeping the head from drying out. If you think this will take you very long, install the purge cartridges you mentioned and move the head back over the park pads. Don't turn it on yet, when you move the heads all the way to the right the park pads automatically come up against the print heads. Take this opportunity to put some of my cleaning solution into the park pad, enough so it is visibly wet but not overflowing.

NO drinking water, NO purified water. "Purified" just means anything alive has been killed, still has all the metals and minerals.

Take the CIS carefully to the sink. Disconnect the hose that seems clogged from both the cartridge (careful not to break the connector, aka hose barb) and the bottle/tank. With one end securely held in the drain or under water, carefully and gently use a syringe to push cleaning solution through the hose. Observe if it flows easily or with difficulty. If the hose does not appear to be clogged, the cartridge has the clog and will need to be replaced.

If the tanks sat above the printer for even a short period of time, they can force ink into the cartridges and out through the heads. This causes a build up of ink in the park pads and the vacuum hoses below. When ink clogs the vacuum hose, cleaning cycles no longer work. The vacuum hose has been known to pop off of the park pad, too.

How to tell if the vacuum pump is clogged or not working:
Refill your purge cartridges with cleaning solution. Put enough cleaning solution in the park pad so it looks visibly wet. Run a cleaning cycle. Add more solution. Another cleaning cycle. By now the park pad should look very light, as most of the ink will be washed out and the hard foam pad in there is actually white (at least in most 1520).

If the hose has popped off, the cleaning solution will probably immediately run out as it is added. This is more difficult to tell without looking for the hose where it is attached under the park pad, as if a lot of solution is added it will also run out on its own.

I strongly suggest patience, and do -not- use a syringe to inject anything directly into the print head.

I have rescued a -lot- of Epsons that have sat with empty or no cartridges. Patience is the key. My first Epson was a 1520 that had sat for ?? unused (the waste ink pad was almost dry) and I found it sitting outside at a thrift store. It took me 3 or 4 weeks as I was being very careful (they were going for about $250 for a working 1520 on eBay then). Even now I take commonly take 1 or 2 weeks on a badly clogged printer.

Forcing fluid into the head does little to speed up dissolving dried/clogged ink. Time does that. The alcohol and ammonia solution make a more aggressive cleaning solution than the anionic surfactants used by Epson and I surmise are in Cindy's purge cartridges.

BTW, I find that having some ink in the cleaning cartridges makes things -much- easier because then you can see nozzle checks and such. You can even take empty cartridges and inject cleaning solution into them, there is more than enough ink left to color it.

For more control over cleaning cycles and printing nozzle checks, try SSC Service Utility, a free Epson utility by some wonderful Russian programmers.

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Alien Steve
Polymorph Digital Graphics