Can an Ink Jet Cartridge Dry Out?

Question –  What if I don’t use my ink jet printer for long periods, how does that affect the print quality?

Ink Jet Cartridges

The simple answer – Not using your inkjet printer for long periods WILL cause your ink to dry out and render a cartridge useless. Most people are trying to save money any way they can. One item in a house hold that can get very expensive is ink for a printer. So many people figure to save on the cost of ink we’ll only print what we absolutely have to. This may very well mean not printing for one week to 3 months in some households. Here’s the problem with that.

Ink is liquid! What does a liquid do when exposed to air; it evaporates, no way around it. When you buy an ink jet cartridge, have you noticed that it’s usually packaged in a plastic box, then the cartridge itself is in a sealed bag and then the cartridges has a clip on it that you have to remove before printing. The manufactures are not doing all of that just so that you get great looking packaging, they do it to keep the ink from drying out. Even with all of the protective packaging you will notice many of the manufactures will have an expiration date on the box, this tells you that the ink in the cartridge is in all likely hood past its prime.

So once you remove the cartridge from its protective packaging guess what, it’s totally exposed to air! At the bottom of the cartridge there are anywhere from 500 to 1200 microscopic nozzles or holes that allows the ink to flow from the cartridge onto the paper. The ink that is in these nozzles is the first thing to dry out. If you leave your printer idle for 2 to 3 weeks, sometimes even less than that depending on the dryness in your house there is a good chance you have dried ink in those nozzles. What that means to you is when you go to print and some of these nozzles are clogged with dry ink, you get that print that has those unwanted lines through all of your text.

Of course the first thing a customer will do is blame the ink jet cartridge, especially if it’s a remanufactured product. But it’s like the old saying goes, use it or lose it. So what’s a consumer to do? The best action you can take is to print something at least once a week. It does not have to be a long 20 page document, just one page will do the trick but make sure it has black and color so that all of the nozzles in all of the print heads are used. A good idea is to have a photo or similar file front & center on your desktop where you will see it each time you’re on your PC to remind you to print something. By doing this it will help to minimize ink drying in the print head.

Some people will say that’s wasting the ink. I guess you could look at it that way but if you don’t do it and let that printer sit to long you may not get to use any of the ink that you paid for. So the choice really comes down to you, use a little each week and have the printer work when you really need it, or never print in an effort to save the ink and when you really need to print it doesn’t work. In that case, you’ll have to go down to the store and buy new cartridges anyway.

The only alternative to this problem is to go with a laser printer, the toner these machines use is a powder so it can’t dry out, it’s already dry. You can let these printers sit around for months & months and it will still print when you need it to. You can buy a monochrome laser for pretty cheap now but the color laser is still kind of pricey. The real problem with the color lasers is when you go to load the machine again; many times the toners will cost more than the machine. Make sure to research before you buy.

Here at Ink & Toner Solutions we offer a free printer guide that you fill out so when you go to buy your next printer, you have all of the facts you need to make the right decision. If you are local you can pick up your free guide in our downtown Northampton, MA store or you can download it here.  

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20 thoughts on “Can an Ink Jet Cartridge Dry Out?

  1. I have a Lexmark x2600 it's not very expensive but it's want I could afford for my daughters school work. Anyway she's been doing her homework and printing it out at school to save on ink. Today I went to print out something and nothing is what I got I think the ink as dried on us. Alcohol has done no good and I believe I save nothing because I'll have to go buy more cartridges ouch!

    • Hello Dianne,

      Try following this video guide (http://youtu.be/qrKU7lCDCNA)to see if that helps. Usually the print head nozzles will get clogged with dried ink, but in some ways that’s good, as it prevents the ink from evaporating too much. We use this procedure to clean VERY clogged print heads. We know it works in most cases. Best of luck!

    • If it’s just for a week, I would recommend leaving them installed. You can do this however as long as you make an airtight seal around the ink nozzles/dispensing point to prevent drying in the open air. If they are in the printer, at least there is less free airflow to dry them out.

  2. i have just unclogged 2 cartridges using the hot water method. soak just the print head in hot water until ink appears in water. One cartridge took 4. or 5 soaks before it unclogged

  3. Ink will dry out and clog when the coloring stability level or the viscosity level are passed – in any of those it gets too thick. Although it happens naturally while the printer is idle ther are three things a recycle can do to prevent the problem
    1 – use a good ink – water to wine difference
    2- buy good original virgins – have a better shelflife because are bought and sold more often
    3- clean properly – residue of ink accelerate the destabilyzation process
    talk to us url.needempty.com for your empties

  4. The ink that is just sitting at the bottom will dry but the rest of the ink will not. All you have to do is run the cleaning program that should be somewhere on your computer or take it out and rub it down with alcohol or some other cleaner.

  5. We have found that if you MUST store your cartridges for a long time storing them in glad wrap or airtight seal able bags with as much air removed as possible does prolong the life. Also you will find a lot of new printers are coming out with ways to stop this happening by when the cartridges are not in use sealing off the cartridge. This is why you should always push teh off button on your printer when turning it off instead of pulling it out of the wall.

  6. Maybe not the cheapest alternative, but I had exactly the same issue. Decent quality Epson multi function that we very rarely printed on and the same problem of either fighting with it for an hour trying to clean up the existing cartridges or end up chucking a sometimes barely used one or two to put in yet another costly replacement. My chosen route was to shove the Epson on a shelf, semi out of the way, where it is still occasionally used for scanning only and I bought a Konica Minolta Magicolor 1600w colour laser, as no such issue with the toner. I think I paid about £80 or so and I have been very happy with the results since, no clogging, cleaning or the usual cursing any more……it just prints beautifully every time.

  7. I just wrote a long note and it got lost :(.

    The long and short of it are:

    The nozzles can often be cleaned of dried ink with a Q-tip moistened with warm water, then dried. The crusted ink on the nozzles actually protect the ink in the cartridge.

    Many inkjet printers and a cycle where it somehow mimics the effect of printing, keeping the cartridges from drying out. For this to work, it’s necessary to keep the printer plugged in all the time, which consumes very little energy.

    Hope this helps someone.

  8. While this is a very informative article and in no way incorrect, it fails to include two valuable aspects to this issue:
    1. As noted, what usually dries is the ink at the nozzle, not the ink contained in the cartridge. In fact, the ink drying at the nozzle protects the ink inside. The nozzles can often be cleaned by gently wiping them with a Q-tip moistened with warm water, then dried off. The worst which can happen is the cartridge is no longer useable, which it wasn’t anyhow.

    2. Many ink jet printers go through a cycle every so often where it keeps the ink from drying on the nozzles. I’m not sure what it does, but it simulated printing. For this to occur, you must leave the printer on all the time, which consumes very little energy.
    I had two cartridges which, although I’d had them for some time, I knew I hadn’t used up the contents, but I got nothing out of them. The guy at the office supply store told me about the above, with the disclaimer that it might not rehab my old cartridges, but I should leave my machine on in the future, to keep my new cartridges useable. I put the old cartridges in the machine, waited and day and it has worked fine ever since.

    Hope this is helpful.

    • Thanks for adding to this! Good points. Although we really discourage using a Q-tip because of the cotton strands that can remain stuck to the printhead and continue to block the nozzles, but a q-tip wrapped in a lint-free cloth or coffee filter is the perfect tool. Ammonia and alcohol are even better than warm water for really clogged nozzles, also.

      I’m curious which printer the office guy was talking about that would run through a cleaning cycle at regular intervals? I have yet to see an inkjet printer that does that, with that being my main reason for telling casual users to invest in a monochrome laserjet. All inkjets do a cleaning and prep cycle when they are powered on, some when they are shutting down also, but I’ve never seen one that just cleans itself intermittently if it stays powered on. Which is the exact reason I advise customers to turn them on and off every time they they power their computer on/off or print something useless at least once a month. It’s easy to remember it that way and ensures the nozzles are brushed often enough to preventing clogging.

  9. Pingback: Epson's-Mysterious-Disappearing-InkInk & Toner Solutions Blog

    • It will help somewhat for tank-type cartridges especially. Cartridges with built-in print heads may suffer from a bit of clogging and may require a head cleaning cycle or two if you reseal it, but with either type, keeping the air exposure to a minimum is what matters most.

  10. Thanks for the feedback Ned and you are right it is amazing how many times we hear this at our store and that is why I wrote the post to try and help people understand they are not saving money but rather losing it.
    SL

  11. The amount of people that think they’re saving money by not printing for weeks and then when they desperately need to print something they get a blank piece of paper because the ink at the print head has dried up is amazing.

    You’ve got to keep liquids flowing to keep them viable – do as the writer suggests and just print out one small document each week.

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