General Maintenance and Upkeep: How to Clean Printer Rollers

general maintenance how to clean printer rollers

The modern world runs off words and numbers, whether displayed on a screen or printed on paper. At the workplace and home, we rely on printers to make physical representations of our digital files. As with any tool, the printer requires careful observation and regular upkeep to maintain maximum efficiency. 

When a printer is used regularly, it collects dirt and grime on the printer rollers which feed the paper through your printer. When your printer rollers acquire ink and toner smudges, they can leave streaks, blotches and smears on your print-outs, lines where there shouldn’t be any and cause paper jams.

Cleaning your printer rollers is an easy task to accomplish that requires minimal supplies. If your printer has been fouling up your print-outs and copies, getting rid of the build-up of ink on them can have your printer working like new. 

You may have recently thought to yourself, “Why is my printer not printing?” The answer could be that your rollers may be due for a good cleaning. 

printer control panel focus

How Does a Laser Printer Work?

Laser printers are fascinating devices. They have similar technology to photocopiers, which use light to permanently fuse words and images to a piece of paper. In this same way, laser printers use lasers and, fascinatingly, negative and positive charges.

At the heart of a laser printer is a photoreceptor drum which houses a corona wire. When this wire heats up, which it does during a laser printing job, it positively charges the drum. A laser, using a mirror, etches the page’s transmitted contents onto the positively-charged surface, leaving behind a negative charge. Slowly, an image of the page is inscribed in a negative charge. 

The drum is coated in toner which is only attracted to the negative charge because it is positively charged. (Much like magnets–with negative and positive charges–opposites attract.) The ink, or toner, sticks to the negative charge, creating a likeness of the page on the drum. 

A piece of paper is fed from a feeding tray and also gets a negative charge from a corona wire. As it passes near the drum, the positively-charged image is transferred onto the negatively-charged page. 

What Are Printer Rollers?

These mechanical devices are part of the paper-feeding system of printers, copiers and the like. They are round and threaded through their axis on a horizontal rod which revolves. Using a specific amount of pressure, these devices are designed to pick up one piece of paper in a stack and feed it through a printer.

printer rollers isolated

In this process, errors include misfeeds–when no paper is fed into the machine at all–and multi-feeds, when the rollers pick up multiple sheets from the stack and feed them into the machine all at once.

An astute modification presented by Phil Billings with his separation roller includes a set of rollers on the bottom of the paper. One is fixed and the other has a slight give or “slip.” With both rollers working simultaneously, the fixed roller drives the top paper through the machine while the slip holds the remaining documents steady below.

Sometimes the obstacle is created by too much pressure from the roller, too little or dirty rollers. When dust and toner build up on these rotating rollers’ surface, it’s a sign your printer rollers need dusting.

Signs Your Printer Rollers Need Cleaning

There are some telltale signs your printer rollers are due for a tune-up. Even with the optimal design of a printer roller in modern printers, sometimes it breaks down. 

If you’re always let down by your printer’s performance or print quality, it may not take a lot of effort to find a solution. Some clues that you need to schedule some time for printer maintenance are:

  • Smears
  • Blurring characters
  • Lines
  • Streaks
  • Paper jams
  • Improper feed time
  • Skipped content
  • Squeaking noises

clues schedule printer maintenance graphic

Luckily, the things you need to clean your printer rollers are common and few. To clean your printer rollers, you’ll need Isopropyl alcohol, a clean lint-free cloth and gloves. 

Gloves are optional, but toner and ink stain easily. No matter if it’s HP printer ink, Brother printer ink or Dell printer ink, it can take several rounds of washing your hands to get rid of the stains. 

Locating the Printer Rollers

Finding these devices in your printer is relatively easy. You can commonly find inkjet printers’ rollers near the bottom of the printer. Remove the paper tray from the machine, and you should see the rollers sitting at the top of the chamber.

If the rollers don’t turn freely, you need to use the paper feed option to clean them. Most printers’ rollers rotate unfettered. 

You may need to open an access panel with some laser printers and remove the toner to get at the rollers. If your printer has rollers that must be removed before cleaning, squeeze the plastic clips on either end to release. If you’re unsure if you’re supposed to remove the rollers or not, consult an available user’s manual.

Steps of Cleaning Printer Rollers

Now that you’ve found the rollers, you can begin to clean them. No matter how ingenious the laser printing process may be–from printer rollers to a color laser printer using roller transfer–every printer component should have regular upkeep to ensure optimal performance.

Safety should always be a primary concern. As a precaution, unplug the printer before you start working on it. Once you’ve ensured your safety, all you need to do is dampen the lint-free cloth with the alcohol and wipe the rollers down to rid them of dust and ink. This only becomes tricky if you have to reach into the machine.

safety concern graphic

An alternate tip that may prove useful to those who don’t like rummaging around in the printer’s depths is inventive and undemanding. Wet a piece of paper with Isopropyl alcohol, making sure to retain a dry edge of about an inch all around so the rollers have something to grab onto. 

This works like a homemade roller sheet. Run it through your machine a few times to clean off any dust and clumps of ink and toner. Finish by wiping down the rollers with a cloth or paper towel. You can use the cleaning sheets more than once, especially if you use a diluted alcohol-water mixture applied by sprayer or sponge.

What Types of Printer Rollers Are There?

Printer rollers are not the only types of rollers in your printer. The machine uses a transfer roller for the transferral of the image to the physical sheet of paper. It’s slightly more complicated than that, using light if it’s a photocopier or a laser if it’s a laser printer. 

Printer rollers usually refer to the paper-feed system of a printer. These devices feed the paper from the paper tray and roll the newly printed paper out into the receiving tray. 

With transfer rollers, ink is applied to the transfer roll, which then, working on a belt, rolls the image onto the paper. Symptoms of a bad transfer roller are similar to those of dirty paper-feeding rollers. There may be streaking, smudging, paper jams and even an odor of burning chemicals, which does not happen with the paper-feeding printer rollers.

repairing printer toner roll

Replacing and handling transfer rollers are messier than dealing with the pickup rollers. When handling your printer’s transfer rollers, you should wear gloves and be careful not to touch the element with your fingertips because oils from your skin can be detrimental to its efficacy.

Maintenance for Other Rollers

As is evident, the transfer roller is a bit more complicated than the other rollers in your laser or color printer and requires special care for premium upkeep. Transfer rollers are messy, to say the least. The oils from your fingertips are just as detrimental to the roller, so always wear gloves. 

You can use a can of compressed air instead of a lint-free cloth to clean your transfer roller. Holding it delicately by an end, use short bursts of compressed air to remove any clumps or built-up toner and dust deposits. Wipe the clumps free. 

This is not universally the case. You should not use compressed air or cloth for laser color printers with transfer belts. The best rule is to consult your owner’s manual for maintenance directions on these models since a misstep could result in a faulty transfer roller.

Replacement Options for Printer Rollers

At some point, the toner and ink build-up overwhelms the rollers, resulting in low print quality or paper jams. When that happens, it may be time to toss your printer or just replace your printer rollers. 

replacing print rollers graphic

If you’ve tried all the other tricks and nothing seems to work, swapping out your printer rollers may be a way to make the printer last longer and hold onto the value of the machine with a simple swap. 

There’s a different process to swapping out the pickup rollers, the transfer roller and the separation roller (if there is one). There are actually two pickup rollers, except one of them is also known as the take up roller. The separation roller helps the machine separate the individual pieces of paper so there are no multi-feeds. 

Replacing Pickup Roller for Tray 1

This pickup roller is what initially feeds the pieces of paper into the printer. To replace this printer roller, you should:

  • Remove accessory cover, located in front
  • The pickup roller is located in the center of the tray
  • Press the tabs on the sides of the roller at the same time to release it
  • Slide the new roller onto the rod until you hear a click
  • Put the front plate back on the printer

repairing printer with screwdriver

Replacing Take Up Roller for Tray 2

This roller can be called a pickup or a take up roller interchangeably and is located behind tray 2. To clean it, you should:

  • Remove tray 2 after you encounter it
  • Release it by pulling the two tabs on either side of the roller
  • Slide the old one off and the new roller on
  • Rotate it until it clicks

Replacing Separation Roller

  • Expose the separation roller by removing the tray and opening the access door
  • Remove the roller by squeezing the tabs at the ends and pulling gently to the left
  • Replace by sliding old roller off and a new one on
  • Lock into place by rotation
  • Close access door and then replace tray 2

Replacing Transfer Roller

It is crucial to use gloves during the replacement of your transfer roller. This is a more involved process than other cleaning procedures on your printer’s rollers. With a glove on, you should:

  • Consult your owner’s manual to direct your actions
  • Have a can of compressed air and a clean, lint-free cloth
  • Direct short bursts at the clumps of toner and dust
  • Wipe clean with a lint-free cloth

Do not use liquids on this component of your laser printer. It is always best to consult the manufacturer’s instructions you received when you purchased your printer. 

After you have replaced the faulty rollers, plug the printer back in and make sure everything has been closed and latched. Turn it on and consult the display, which should alert you to new components and diagnostic tests.

pulling paper from printer

The Final Word

You may use printing technology every day, but when a printer is broken down into its base components, it’s a pretty nifty device. 

Essentially, a laser printer understands the images and words of whatever you want to print through its circuitry and etches, using negative and positive charges. Even the separation roller uses an intriguing blend of fixed and moving parts.

Like all tools, printers need necessary upkeep to remain in perfect working order. If your printer has been exhibiting any of the symptoms of dirty rollers, it’s time to break out the Isopropyl alcohol and get to work. With only a few resources, an owner’s manual and a little time and effort, you can help extend your printer’s efficacy and longevity. 

Once you’re finished cleaning your rollers, buy premium ink for your printer at Inkjet Superstore. Call us at (888) 745-4316 with questions, or browse our extensive online inventory of ink and toner supplies.


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