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Unclog Brother Inkjet Printhead Nozzles

Clogged nozzles - Brother printers

We have been recommending Brother Multifunction Printers for many years now, in fact, these are the printers we use in our office.  Unfortunately, like any other brand of inkjet printer, they are susceptible to clogged nozzles simply because of the technology they use to put ink on the printed page.  Fast drying liquid ink squirting through incredibly small printhead nozzles is simply a recipe for disaster.  This is why the life expectancy for just about any brand of inkjet printer is 2 years or less.  I can't remember the last time a customer told me they had to replace their inkjet printer because of a mechanical breakdown ... it's always clogged nozzles so the print has lines through it or print/graphics are blurred.  Paper feed problems?  Seldom because the life expectancy of an inkjet printer isn't long enough for the mechanical parts to wear out.  This is why I say, look at an inkjet printer as a 'disposable' item.  More details in my article 'Should I buy a High-End Inkjet Printer?'

Brother printers have a built-in, permanent printhead. While this allows Brother to use a very high quality printhead, anyone who has replaced the printhead after warranty found out real quick that a new printhead costs more than a new printer!

Whether you use original Brother cartridges or compatible Brother cartridges, there WILL come a day when a few or even many nozzles will be blocked and the cleaning cycles will not solve the problem. It is not whether it will happen, but most likely when.

It is important to understand the problem and why it happens.




You just put in a new cartridge and a few nozzles are missing. You run several cleanings, no improvement, or more times than not, the problem is worse ... even more nozzles are missing or the whole color is gone! Don't blame the cartridge, it is just a box of ink and unless the manufacturer has used the wrong ink (which is very unlikely these days) then you have just been introduced to the number 1 problem for inkjet printer owners.  It is certainly not a 'Brother Brand' problem, we're talking pretty much any brand of inkjet printer.  Epson brand printers are particularly notorious for clogged nozzles, much more so than Brother or Canon printers.

After 8 or 10 cleans, like a miracle, it starts to print properly ... or you put in another new cartridge (possibly breaking down and actually buying an expensive, original Brother cartridge) and low and behold there it is printing perfectly! Unfortunately the next morning the problem is even worse than it was! How can this be? Now I've got to run several cleanings every time I want to print and sometimes even this doesn't help. Now my ink cartridges last half as long. It's just got to be poor quality cartridges?!

And don't forget, 8 or 10 cleanings can use half the ink in the cartridge so you will definitely get fewer pages from a cartridge if you run many cleanings. Virtually all compatible cartridges contain at least as much ink as an original; in some cases more.

The above scenario can happen at any time, but it most often happens when changing a cartridge or if the printer has not been used for an extended period of time. If it takes you six months or more to go through a set of cartridges, your chances of the problem described above is several times more likely than those who use their printer daily.

Why does it Happen?:

Brother printers have become quite dependable on informing you when you must replace the cartridges.  Seldom will a cartridge actually run out of ink before the printer stops and won't printing again until a new cartridge has been put in.  So the days of running a cartridge dry, and in turn the printhead is pretty much gone.

If you've been using your printer on a regular basis then most often the problem can arise when you are replacing a cartridge.  If you do run a cartridge dry, then air can get in the nozzles which will block the siphoning action required for the ink to flow through the printhead.

To overcome this problem when a new cartridge is put in, your Brother printer will do a priming. As far as I can tell, the logic is, if the printer can suck enough ink through the printhead, then that should also remove any air in the nozzles. This usually works. Unfortunately it can sometimes suck out so much ink that the wipers start to smear the ink all over the printhead which in turn blocks the nozzles. The more cleanings you do, the more ink that gets smeared on the printheads and the worse it gets. You have now gone from a problem of air blocking the ink flow on a few nozzles to smeared ink blocking even more nozzles.

If you manage to get all nozzles printing after 6, 8, 10 or more cleanings your problems are probably not over. In fact, your problems are probably worse. That half cartridge of ink sucked out during the cleanings has to go somewhere. Unfortunately there is nowhere for the ink to go except dry on the printhead. Next day, after the ink has had plenty of time to dry, you're lucky if you've got any ink on the paper when you print. How can new ink get through that thick layer of dried ink? Well, it can't!

The only true solution is to remove all that dried ink from the printhead. 

So, before you blame the compatible cartridges for your Brother printer not printing properly, please realize that it is probably not the fault of the cartridge. It's just an inkjet printer and that's the nature of the beast!




There are several ways to help prevent clogged nozzles in Brother printheads.



I'm not sure why but when several cleanings, maybe 8 or 10?, doesn't clear up the missing nozzles the first impulse is to replace ALL the cartridges at once.  Well, this can cause a major problem.  When you pull out 2, 3 or 4 cartridges and replace them with new ones there is a chance that only 1 of those cartridges will register properly and the others won't so you'll get a printer error.  Epson printers are particularly bad for this; not so much Brother printers but it can still happen.  If you were lucky enough to not get a printer error when you replaced all those cartridges, then you run into the second problem ... when you put in a new inkjet cartridge the printer does a priming.  It sucks out lots of ink from the newly installed cartridge to ensure the ink is flowing properly.  Unfortunately when if you install more than one cartridge, chances are priming multiple cartridges at once will simply suck out so much ink from all those newly installed cartridges that the excess ink gets smeared over the printheads and clogs even more nozzles.  Chances are, the problem is even worse now.

Replacing the cartridge(s) will seldom solve the problem unless one of the cartridges is actually empty!  That's sort of like saying, my car won't start so lets fill up the gas tank even though it is half full.  What are the odds of that solving the 'dead battery' or 'flat tire' problem?  About the same as swapping out a set of cartridges because of clogged nozzles.  

BTW, if it was a problem because of the compatible ink cartridges' ink being wrong (as opposed to buying the overpriced manufacturer's cartridges), you would know within a couple pages of putting the cartridge in.  If the ink was the cause of the missing nozzles it wouldn't be just a couple clogged nozzles, all the nozzles for that colour would clog within minutes of use.  Thinking of running out and spending a small fortune on a set of the OEM, Original Brother Cartridges ... well, chances of that solving the clogged nozzle problem is probably not going to make any difference for anything except your bank account.


The printhead cleaning cycles on models of Brother printers has consistently gotten longer with each new model introduced to the market. These longer cleaning cycles suck out more ink in an attempt to clear the clog. Unfortunately, after two or three cleaning cycles, excess amounts of ink is being smeared over the printhead and can actually block more or all of the nozzles. The more you clean, the more ink, the more smearing.

If after two cleanings the nozzles aren't cleared, then print at least 10 full pages. If the nozzles don't clear themselves within these 10 pages, then further cleanings will not solve your problem. You will have to manually clean the printheads. See several methods below.


The Brother printers do a "mini-cleaning cycle" a couple times a week, as long as it is in standby  mode (power hasn't been turned off or printer unplugged from the power). This is to get the ink flowing through the printhead after it has been unused for a while. If you turn the printer off, then these mini-cleaning cycles to not take place.  Consequently, each cleaning will use ink so your ink levels will go down over time even if you don't use your Brother printer.


You should print several, full color pages AT LEAST ONCE OR TWICE A WEEK! This will help keep the ink from drying out on the printhead or in the nozzles. Seldom used inkjet printers (all brands) cause more problems than those which are used on a daily basis. If it takes you 4, 6 or more months to use a set of cartridges, then an inkjet printer is certainly not the printer for you. Seriously consider a laser printer if you only print black.  Unfortunately colour lasers are expensive to operate and don't offer the same photo quality prints.

Possible Solutions:

Methods to manually clean Brother printheads:

We suggest you perform the suggested methods of manually cleaning the Brother printheads in the order they are listed below. They are listed in order from the easiest to the more difficult. If the first method does not completely solve the problem, then go on to the next.



Distilled water or 'printhead cleaner' in sponge

What is the best Printhead Cleaner?

For years InkMagic International remanufactured thousands of inkjet cartridges every month.  These were the cartridges with printheads on them so there were no inexpensive compatible cartridges because of patents on the printheads.  We tried many commercial printhead cleaners available from the ink manufacturers but it was extremely expensive.  When you use gallons of printhead cleaner every month, cost becomes a major factor.  We tried many, many different products, trying to find a happy medium between price and effectiveness.  What we used in our remanufacturing facility was Windex Original.  Yep, plain ordinary window cleaner!  It worked as well as any high-priced commercial printhead cleaner.  Any time I reference 'printhead cleaner' I would use Windex Original.  I'm sure no-name printhead cleaner will work just as well, but hey, we don't want to cheap-out now do we? :-)

Move printhead assembly to center of printer:

Open up the top of the printer. You will see a sponge on the very left side where the printhead moves back and forth as it prints.  A flashlight my help you see the sponge as it is probably totally black.  You will need to know where this sponge is for the next step.

Before continuing on, be sure this sponge is not already saturated with ink.  If the sponge is saturated with ink, then that is part of the problem. The sponge is there to remove excess ink from the printhead during the cleaning cycle.  If it’s saturated then it is just putting more ink on the printhead, which in turn will perpetuate the problem. In theory this should only happen if you’ve run too many consecutive cleaning cycles.

If the sponge is saturated with ink then I suggest you take a dry paper towel and blot out the excess ink from the sponge.  Continue blotting the sponge until most of the ink has been ‘sucked’ out.  Then I would saturate the sponge with window cleaner and blot that out.  Repeat until all excess ink has been removed from the sponge.  If this sponge starts out clean, your chances of success increases dramatically.

 The goal here is to loosen and remove the dried ink that is on the printhead. The easiest way is to saturate the sponge mentioned above with window cleaner and then put the printhead over it for five or ten minutes. To do that, start a cleaning cycle. When the printhead moves to the left side, unplug the printer. You may need to look through the opening where the printed page comes out so you can see the printhead move from the right to the left of the printer.  With the printhead assembly now out of the 'Park' position and the printer unplugged, you will be able to move the printhead assembly back and forth freely. With a syringe or eyedropper, put as much Windex Original on the sponge as it will hold. Immediately move the printhead to the very left so that it is over the sponge. Let it sit there for 5 or 10 minutes. This should give the window cleaner time to soften up any dried ink that is on the printhead. In the meantime, take a look at the very right side. You will see a little black wiper blade made of soft rubber. Dampen a small spot on a paper towel with the window cleaner and gently clean the wiper blade. Repeat until you get no more ink off of it.  Use the damp papertowel to clean up that whole 'park' area of ink.

Before you plug in the printer, you MUST RETURN THE PRINTHEAD TO THE VERY RIGHT, over the wiper blade. This is the 'Park' position which is where the printer expects the printhead to be when the printer is turned on. Plug the printer in and print a full colour page or two to get the ink flowing then do a print test.  Hopefully this will have solved your problem. If it isn't perfect then I would repeat this a couple times. If it is close, with only a couple missing nozzles then I would print a half dozen full colour photographs at the highest resolution. It's surprising how often printing lots gets the ink flowing once you've removed the dried ink from the printhead.


Clean printhead with paper towels

 Fold paper towel and dampen:

 Be certain the printer is turned 'off'. Tear a single sheet of paper towel in half. Fold the sheet in half several times until it is about 1/2 inch by whatever length the sheet started at. In other words, you want to fold it so it is long and skinny, not square. Start a cleaning cycle then unplug the printer when the printhead moves to the left, just like you did in the previous method of cleaning the nozzles. Open the cover of the Brother printer. Along the path which the printhead assembly travels when printing, you will see a rubber roller which moves the paper. (this is like the paper roller in a typewriter). Put the paper towel on top of this rubber roller and use tape on each end to secure it. Put a few drops of Windex Original or distilled water near the middle of the paper towel.

 Move printhead assembly over the paper towel and let it rest on top of the damp portion of the paper towel.

We suggest letting the printhead sit over the paper towel for at least 15 - 30 seconds (not minutes). This will soften the ink on the printhead. Move printhead assembly back to its resting position. You will probably notice that the paper towel now has one big black blob of ink on it. (There is so much excess ink on the printheads that all the colors are mixing to make black.) If you cannot clearly see individual colors, then dampen another spot on the paper towel and move the printhead back over the newly dampened spot on the paper towel. Continue repeating this until you see all the individual colors. You may have to use several pieces of folded paper towels.


Before turning the printer 'on', be certain to move the printhead back to its resting position (the extreme right side above the wiper blade) and remove the paper towel from inside the printer. Now that all excess ink has been removed from the printheads, your clogged nozzles should be cleared. It may take several pages of dense print to get the ink flowing properly as explained in the previous section.



A few nozzles still not printing?


Replace the ink cartridges:

 As a final resort, replace the ink cartridge. There is a good chance that you will have to call Brother for warranty repair, if the printer is still under warranty. For this reason we suggest that this time you purchase original Brother cartridges. Never return an Brother printer for warranty with compatible or refilled cartridges. Doing so will give Brother the perfect opportunity to blame the problem on the cartridge or ink. While our experience with Brother printers indicates that it is the inkjet technology in general, not the ink, which is to blame for most of their problems, you certainly won't get anyone at Brother to admit it.


I hope this article has been helpful and it gets your printer working again.



Written by: Dale R. Farrier -- President -- InkMagic International Ltd.


This article is protected by copyright laws. You are free to print and use the information contained in this article for your own use only. Reproduction or inclusion of this article on any website or publication is prohibited without written permission by the author.

InkMagic International Ltd. accepts no responsibility for the outcome of any methods this article suggests. While all suggestions listed above have been tried countless times with success, you follow these suggestions at your own risk.

If you have additional suggestions or wish to offer feedback, please feel free to send us correspondence at the email address listed below.



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