Keeping Ink Cartridges from Drying Out

Allan from Auburn, WA writes:

I don’t use my printer all that often, less than a half dozen times a month if that. I was wondering if it’s better to leave it turned off since it sits idle so much and then just turn it on when I need to use it. Or would I be better off printing something, even a test page of some sorts, at least once a week to keep the ink from drying up?

Hello Allan,

Any inkjet printer is not happy being idle for long periods of time. That will cause the cartridge to dry out. It can happen in as short as 3-4 weeks. It is not a bad idea to print out something once a week, but if you have a color printer, you would want to make sure it is also printing something with color. It is not a bad idea to turn the printer off and on occasionally, as most printers will run a cleaning and prep cycle that could keep the ink from drying out. A suggestion on that would be every time you do restart your computer, go ahead and restart your printer.

An alternative if you use your printer infrequently is to look for a laser printer. They are more expensive, but their ink will not dry out. Inkjet cartridges are liquid, and when exposed to air does what any liquid does. A laser printer uses powder, not liquid, so it won’t dry out no matter how long you leave it idle. As stated, though, they are much more expensive.



18 thoughts on “Keeping Ink Cartridges from Drying Out

  1. I was under the impression that leaving the printer on caused the ink cartridges to dry out. It seems that I read that on here! I have an office printer, never use it for photos, only rarely print anything and I leave it off unless I’m needing it. So now I’m confused about whether or not it should be left on or kept off.

    1. On or off, the ink cartridges are still exposed to oxygen once opened, which is really what causes them to dry out. However, most modern printers will go into a standby mode which will also keep the cartridges as air tight as possible. You can turn it off and it will do the same thing. What you should avoid, though, is unplugging the printer without first powering it off, as that may leave the print cartridges exposed to more air and also damage the printheads themselves. I looked on HP’s website, and their recommendation is as follows:
      “Our recommendation would be that you leave your printer powered on in normal usage conditions, and power it down if you will not use it for an extended period of time, on the order of a month or more.”

  2. Why would you leave any appliance on when not in use…if I haven’t printed in awhile I’ll take my black cartridge out…shake it well…replace it. Sure saves frustration.

    1. You sure are lucky if this work but I’m sceptical.
      Ink is not only on the cartridge but on printing edge also which you can’t remove or maintain that easily. this is why i believe the best way to keep your ink from drying is to regularly make it flow.
      Preparing a CMYK document to be printed regularly is nice.
      I had an Espon printer but the head dried.
      Changed toward HP one. Then HP made cartridge with printing head included on the cartridge. I paid like 40 € for a cartridge claimed to be usable for about 500 pages + about 40/50 for the Color cartridge for the same amount of pages. Which makes 80/90 € for these 500 pages. I could sometime remove the cartridge and clean it carefully if it dried.
      I bought a newer and way better HP printer and the printing head is no more on the cartridge but no more printing heads on the cartridge. Back to the classics the head is into the printer. This way I need to regularly print that mentioned CMYK document.
      I pay about 20 € each separated cartridge but I can print 1500/2000 pages with them…
      I guarantee that one will prefer paying regularly a page that cost less than a dollar (and actually way less) that having troubles with his printer. There are printer that cost 40 €, mine is worth 200/300 € so be sure I don’t want it to fail for that.
      Kind Regards.

      1. I would love to be able to edit my one post. Sorry for the mistakes. I’m used to send my answer and fix the errors then after.

  3. i will be leaving for AZ for 5 months and i just purchase new cartridges. I will not be taking this printer with me. any suggestions on what i should do. suggestion was to put them in the refridgerator.

  4. Lucy, that is the question I had! Guess we just have to buy new cartridges when we get back if it doesn’t work when we get back! And I barely bought new ones and put them in!

  5. Personally, I just take my printer apart and soak the cartridges, printhead, and ink absorbers in hot water (about 20 degrees below boiling) for 10 minutes or so, then rinse them under hot (but much less hot, more like 150°) water until the water runs dry. Then I dry them off with a paper towel, let it all sit in the sun for an hour or 2, and put everything back together. This is even better in cartridges with integrated printheads like some older HP deskjets have, so you have to wash less stuff.

    Yes, this can ruin your everything if you’re not careful. But I’ve done it hundreds of times to multiple printers and that’s only happened once, which sure beats having to buy new ink, printhead, and pads once a month, which combined are about twice the cost of a new printer, so if it doesn’t work you don’t lose any more money buying a new printer than you would’ve had to spend on parts anyway.

    1. Another thing you can/should do every once in a while is lubricate the print head assembly’s track. This is the shiny steel rod that the assembly’s mounted on, *not* the plastic ribbon. Avoid even touching any of the ribbons if you can.

      Just smear the rod really thinly on all sides (like, so thin its slippery but you can’t even see it) with petroleum jelly, moving the printhead assembly back and forth a few times afterward to lubricate the inside and catch any excess lube, which you can scrape off with a flathead screwdriver. If your printer is making an annoying grinding sound, this should at least make it quieter. Yes, there’s actual printer grease for this, but its expensive and petroleum jelly works just as well.

    2. Tried that. First time it worked well. Second time, it causes short circuit and the printer shut down and wouldn’t turn on at all. I left it for a few months and got the printing jobs done at stores. Finally decided to get it repaired, but it turned on okay and displayed cartridge error on my HP. Bought 2 new ones – expensive but no other choice. At least I didn’t have to get the printer repaired. Now I’m just going to print once a week and will get them refilled when they run out.

  6. I find the best way to make them last longer is getting a sandwich bag. Put one or both in the bag. Slightly twist the bag like a loaf of bread. Leave just enough air way to basically sucking the rest of the oxygen out of the bag and then tighten with a bread tie. This appears to work for me. I would say had my last ink cartridge for 6 months and typically run 2-3 print jobs a month. Hope this helps

  7. The Baggie works, then put it in the freezer. Take it out, let it get to room temperature, pop it back in, good to go!

  8. I place a small strip of clear packaging tape over the print heads and put the cartridges in small ziploc bag, then set that in a nearby drawer. I only print a few things per year, and I’ve had this same set of black and color cartridges going for at least a few years now. Just make sure the strips are wide enough to mask any gaps. The plan is to seal it ‘air tight’. I came here looking for an alternative since I just used them and can’t find my tape roll. But I think my idea beats any of these others, so I’m of to the store for more tape. Good luck all.

    1. This works well. The only thing I do differently is put a small strip of cling film on the packaging tape that aligns with the ink slot. This prevents any adhesive from clogging the cartridge. I rarely have to print anything at home and using this method I’ve been on the same cartridges for close to 2 years now.

      1. Thanks for the description, I had the same idea and was specifically searching to see if anyone else does something similar and how it works. I think I might buy a laser printer but keep my inkjet cartridges taped and in the freezer for those few color prints I do super sporadically.

  9. What a scam! As if the highway robbery cost of ink isn’t enough. I bought all new XL cartridges about 3 months ago. I have literally printed 3 times since then and they are all low. I’d be better of going to Kinko’s and getting my printing done. It cost me $15 for each print job. I will try the tape trick.

    1. feel the same way about the cost of cartridges and I too bought the XL’s but what a waste. I had to take them out clean them with alcohol, and then do this and that…to make one copy!!! Will try baggie and freezer.

  10. For infrequently used printer cartridges. Remove new cartridge from foil wrapper by carefully cutting off end with a scissors. Save wrapper, discard cardboard piece. When removing tape from cartridge save the tape and flap that protects circuitry. When finished printing remove cartridge (s) and replace the tape, then carefully put a strip of clear shipping tape over the original tape. Keep it off of the circuitry. Put the taped cartridge back in the foil package, fold over and reseal with more shipping tape. Put resealed package in a zip lock bag. Suck out any remaining air by leaving a small opening at one end, suck out air and seal quickly. Store in desk drawer for next use.

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