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Do printer cartridges expire?

Do printer cartridges expire?

Major cartridge manufacturers have been including an expiration date on their cartridges for years now and to the average printer consumer, the reason behind those dates has always been somewhat of a mystery.  In this article, we explain why some cartridges include an expiration date, and more importantly, show you how to extend your cartridge life so you can keep on printing.

Let’s start by breaking down the shelf life of a printer cartridge:

Cartridge shelf life is the estimated length of time a cartridge will last in its sealed package.  This time frame can vary depending on what sort of cartridge you are using.  The shelf life for an original printer cartridge is 24 months and the shelf life for a compatible cartridge is 36 months.  Over time, ink dries out and settles inside the cartridge, which can cause your printer to clog.  To prevent clogging, we recommend printing once every couple of weeks so your cartridges remain primed.  Due to the plastic nature of toner powder, toner cartridges will not dry out the same way an ink cartridge would, but internal cartridge components can wear out over an extended period.

Why does my cartridge have an expiration date on it?

Printer manufacturers include expiration dates so consumers are encouraged to use their ink before it becomes susceptible to clogs or print quality issues.  Dates are commonly found on the side of the printer cartridge or on the side of the cartridge box.  Like food expiration dates, cartridge expiration dates should be taken with a grain of salt.  Many factors, not just the expiration date, contribute to the eventual deterioration of a printer cartridge, including how it’s stored, the temperature of the storage environment and whether it’s in a sealed package or not.

How to store your cartridges…

Printer cartridges should be stored in an upright position at all times.  If a cartridge is stored on its side or upside down, the ink inside the cartridge will shift to one side and potentially cause print quality issues once installed in your printer.

Where to store your cartridges…

Cartridges should be stored in a dark, dry place at room temperature.  If a cartridge is exposed to extreme heat or cold, print quality will deteriorate, and in some cases, the cartridge may be unusable.  Heat can cause ink to bubble up and leak.  Cold conditions can cause ink to separate.  However, once a cold cartridge has readjusted to room temperature it should still print.

Keep your cartridges sealed…

An open cartridge that’s sitting out next to your printer will eventually dry out.  For best results, only open a printer cartridge when you are ready to use it.  All printer cartridges are stored in a vacuum-packed bag and most include tape over crucial components, like the vent hole, to keep them in factory condition.  Proper packaging also prevents nozzles from crusting over, keeping the print head moist.  If you do happen to have an open cartridge lying about, there are a few precautions you can take to keep it in usable condition.  Place the cartridge nozzle side up in a plastic airtight tub.  If your cartridge came with protective tape or a clip reapply both before storing. Place a damp cloth or paper towel in the tub, next to the cartridge. Keep the cartridge stored in a cool, dark place and periodically check the damp paper towel to insure that it is still wet.

Can I still use the cartridge after the expiration date?

If your cartridge is stored properly in the correct environment, you might still be able to use it after the expiration date.  Granted, a sealed ink cartridge won’t last forever, but most are designed to last for at least two years after the purchase date.  Even after two years you may still get some use out of the cartridge, so it may be worth trying even after the fact.  There is always a chance that an expired cartridge might clog your printhead however.  This can potentially be a pricey fix, so keep that in mind before installation.

A note on remanufactured cartridge expiration dates…

A remanufactured printer cartridge is a previously used original cartridge that has been refurbished, refilled with ink and optimized for reuse in your printer.  Expiration dates on remanufactured cartridges are usually much older than recently purchased original cartridges since remanufactured cartridges have already been through one cycle of use.  It is common for remanufactured cartridges to be older due to the time it takes for a remanufactured cartridge to come back into circulation, which can confuse consumers when they see an old expiration date on the side of their cartridge.  Just because your remanufactured HP® 63 cartridge has an expiration date of May 2010, for example, doesn’t mean you were sold an old or defective cartridge.  That expiration date is referring to the expiration date of the original cartridge, not the remanufactured one.  In order to be refurbished, an original cartridge has to be used and then recycled by the consumer, refurbished and then sold to a new consumer.  All of this takes a considerable amount of time, making the expiry date on the side of the cartridge obsolete.  Any remanufactured cartridge you’ve purchased should be good to go for up to two years from the date of purchase.  If you like, you can write a new expiration date on the side of the cartridge to keep track of the expected cartridge life.

I have an older cartridge, how can I make it last longer?

If you have just installed an older cartridge and are getting poor print results, there are a couple of troubleshooting steps worth trying to prolong the life of your cartridge.

Run a printhead cleaning

A printhead cleaning is a quick and easy troubleshooting solution.  Most printers include a built in cleaning function, and all it usually takes is just a couple of clicks on your printer’s display to get it up and running.  Consult your printer’s user guide to run the appropriate cleaning function on your machine. You can usually find a free copy of your printer manual on the printer manufacturer’s website.  As an example, we will review the cleaning process for the HP OfficeJet Pro 8710 here:

  1. Touch the set up button the printer’s display screen
  2. Touch “Printer Maintenance”
  3. Then select, “Clean Printhead”.

The printhead cleaning process takes a couple of minutes.  Once it is complete try printing a test page to see if print quality has improved.  If needed, try running the cleaning function again.  We recommend running the printhead cleaning no more than 2-3 times.  You do not want to run it any more than that as it does use up a good amount of ink and can eventually deplete your cartridges.  If quality does not improve, you may need to purchase a new cartridge.

The paper towel method

Different ink cartridges can be primed in different ways. For cartridges with integrated print heads, such as the HP® 62, we suggest trying the paper towel method:

First, grab a damp paper towel and a dry paper towel, folding both into quarters.  Take your cartridge and blot it onto the damp paper towel a couple of times with the printhead side down. The printhead is gold or copper strip located on the end of the cartridge and ink should appear on the paper towel as you blot.  Be careful not to mistake the print head with the gold or copper contacts or dots, which are where the printer interacts with the cartridge.

After blotting the printhead with the damp paper towel, hold the cartridge against a dry paper towel for about thirty seconds to a minute. This will wick out the dried ink that may be clogging the head.

Once completed, you’re ready to slide the cartridge back into your printer and run a test print. If you still aren’t getting good results, try this process again.

Cartridge expiration dates are an easy way to track cartridge life but routine printer maintenance is the best way to keep you printing longer.  As long as you print once every couple of weeks and run the occasional printhead cleaning, you should be in good shape.  If you have any questions about the expiration date on your specific cartridge series, drop us a line in the comments, we would be happy to help!

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