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Practical Computer Advice
from Martin Kadansky

Volume 16 Issue 9

September 2022

How to Stop a Runaway Printer

The Problem


Has this ever happened to you? You intended to print 2 copies of that 5-page document. Instead, dozens of pages are coming out of your printer. Could you have chosen 20 or 200 copies by mistake? What are you going to do?


What you shouldn't do


First of all, don't do any of the following, regardless of whether you've got an inkjet or laser printer:


  • Don't panic.
  • Don't unplug any wires.
  • Don't turn off your printer. That's likely to cause a paper jam, and it also won't stop the flow of printer data from your computer.
  • Don't turn off your computer. That won't stop your printer, and your computer will probably start that unwanted printout over again from the beginning soon after you turn it back on.


What you should do instead


Step 1: There are three things that you'll need to know in order to get control of your printer.


  • On your printer, you'll need to know where its paper supply is located. Is it in a tray in plain sight in the front? Is it in a vertical stack at the back? Do you have to pull out a drawer? Open a door?
  • If you have more than one printer, you'll need to know the name of the one that's having the problem.
  • On your computer, you'll need to know how to find the printer queue (which will have the same name as your printer), how to delete an individual item in the queue, and possibly also how to pause and resume the queue as a whole. If you're not sure how to do this, ask someone you know and trust, or see "Where to go from here" below for some suggested Google searches.


I also suggest writing this information down in advance and taping it to your printer so you'll have it when you need it.


Step 2: You'll initially stop your runaway printer by removing its paper supply.


  • On your printer, gently take out the unused pages from the printer's paper supply, but don't fight it over the page that it's currently pulling in. It's important to avoid having that page tear into pieces inside the printer.
  • If your printer has a second paper input tray, gently take out its paper, too.
  • Wait for it to finish printing the current page.
  • Your printer will then stop printing and indicate that it has run out of paper. You might also see a similar message on your computer screen.
  • Don't push any buttons on the printer's front panel.
  • Don't reload the paper just yet.


Step 3: Next, you'll temporarily stop the flow of printer data from your computer to your printer.


  • On your computer, open your printer queue. This is a special window that shows each of the items that your computer is sending to your printer.
  • Most likely you'll only see one item in the queue. If that's the case, "Delete" or "Cancel" it, and then skip to the next section. This gets rid of the instructions that tell your printer how to print your document, but it doesn't delete your actual document.
  • However, if the queue has two or more items, you'll first need to find the item in the queue that's currently printing (most often it's the one at the top of the list) and "Delete" or "Cancel" it.
  • Then you'll need to decide whether to delete the other items in the queue as well, or leave them so they'll be printed later.
  • If you leave any items in the queue, you'll also need to "Stop" or "Pause" the entire queue.


Step 4: Now you'll stop your printer from finishing that runaway print request, and then get it ready to start printing again.


  • Turn off your printer. That will probably clear its internal cache of pages to print next. (Your printer may have a "Stop" or "Cancel" button that may do the same thing, but if it doesn't, turn it off.)
  • Reload the paper.
  • Turn your printer back on.
  • Wait until it's finished starting up.
  • It should then be idle, i.e., not printing anything at this point.


Step 5: Next, you'll turn the flow of printer data from your computer to your printer back on, if you turned it off above.


  • If your printer queue only listed one item earlier and you simply deleted it (without pausing the entire queue), then you can skip this section.
  • If you stopped or paused the entire printer queue above, you will need to "Start" or "Resume" or "un-Pause" it again.
  • If the queue has other items listed, the next one should start printing.


Step 6: And now, here's the final step.


  • If you still need a printout of that original document, you'll need to print it again.


Where to go from here


Where "X" is either "Windows" or "Macintosh":


How to contact me:
phone: (617) 484-6657

On a regular basis I write about real issues faced by typical computer users. To subscribe to this newsletter, please send an email to martin@kadansky.com and I'll add you to the list, or visit http://www.kadansky.com/newsletter

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I love helping people learn how to use their computers better! Like a "computer driving instructor," I work 1-on-1 with small business owners and individuals to help them find a more productive and successful relationship with their computers and other high-tech gadgets.

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