How to Clear Printer Memory

A printer can stop printing suddenly for a variety of hardware reasons, such as a paper jam, but if the hardware itself appears in good condition and yet won't work, you probably have a print job stuck in memory. Most stuck jobs occur in your computer's memory and can be fixed with a command in Windows or a reboot of the computer. If clearing the printer memory on your PC alone doesn't help, resetting the printer will remove any lingering data.

Pressing Start Button on Copy Machine
Close-up of a finger pressing a button on a printer
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How Printer Memory Works

In order to keep print jobs separate even when you send multiple documents to a printer, your computer contains a print queue. This queue, which works across all user accounts on the computer, keeps a list of requested print jobs with all the necessary data stored in temporary memory known as a print spool. As a printer finishes one job, the computer sends the next job from the spool. Most home inkjet printers print directly from the spooled data, so clearing a stuck document often requires clearing the queue on the computer, rather than memory in the printer itself. Some high-end printers, such as networked laser printers, also have temporary memory built into the machine.

Canceling Print Jobs

To clear the print queue on Windows 7 or Windows 8, open the Devices and Printers control panel and right-click the printer that needs clearing. Click "See What's Printing." Open the "Printer" menu, pick "Cancel All Documents" and choose "Yes." The list should clear within a few seconds. If one or more print jobs remain on the list, reboot your computer to clear out the memory. Every computer has its own list for a networked printer, so you might need to perform this operation on multiple computers if canceling the jobs on one PC doesn't solve the problem.

Resetting the Printer

If your printer still won't work after clearing the jobs on your computer, you might also need to reset the printer to clear its active memory. Turn off the printer and unplug it from the electrical outlet. Leave the printer unplugged for a minute before reconnecting the power to make sure the memory completely loses power. After plugging the printer in and turning it on, wait until the printer finishes its startup sequence before sending a new print job.

Clearing Printer Settings From Memory

Some printers save setup information to long-term memory that lasts even if you unplug the machine. This includes information such as network settings and paper settings. Clearing this memory, also called a cold reset, reverts your printer's settings to the manufacturer defaults. This can solve stubborn printer problems, but isn't necessary for dealing with stuck print jobs. The process to clear permanent memory varies by brand and model. For example, on many HP LaserJet printers, you need to hold the "Go" button while rebooting the machine.