Why Does Printer Ink Go Bad So Quickly?

Are there any office appliances more frustrating than the infamous color ink cartridge? Most modern offices have at least one color printer. In all likelihood, your office only uses the black-and-white functionality 99% of the time, but the colors are nice to have. Or, they would be. Except that, the 1% of the time you actually need the color printer functionality, the printer informs you that the cartridges are out of ink.

How is it possible that color ink cartridges go bad? You know for a fact that no one uses them, so how could they "run out" of ink? Well, it turns out, the reason why they've stopped working is because no one uses them. Here's why color ink cartridges seem to go bad, and how you can prevent it from happening.

How They Go Bad

The liquid ink used in inkjet cartridges is very environmentally sensitive. When it's exposed to open air (the way it is when its cartridge is installed in a printer), the ink dries rapidly. When you actively use the color cartridges in your inkjet printer, the ink doesn't get the chance to dry. Left alone and unused while installed in a printer, ink can begin to dry in as few as 3-4 weeks.

It may take some time for a cartridge's ink supply to dry out completely, but unfortunately, drying can render ink cartridges unusable well before that happens. Crusty, dry ink seals off the passage between the cartridge and the nozzle inkjets use to direct and dispense ink during printing. When ink can't pass through the nozzle, the printer can't shoot it onto the page. The cartridge isn't actually out of ink, but your printer can't use it, so it displays its "cartridge out of ink" error message.

How to Prevent It

Printer Ink can go a lot longer without drying out if it isn't exposed to open air. Keep any ink cartridges that aren't in active use in sealed containers like their original packaging or ziplock bags. Store them somewhere that's dark, dry, and not too hot or cold. Store the cartridges horizontally, not vertically, to keep the ink from collecting on one side. Try to keep dust from collecting on (and in) the cartridges. Expensive toner tends to last longer than cheap toner, though there are exceptions. No matter how high-quality your toner cartridges are, they tend not to store well after a year.

After you've installed a cartridge, the best way to keep it from drying out is to actually use it. Print something in color about once a week, even if it's just a simple test page. If you don't plan on using your color printer very often, you can just store your cartridges in controlled environments, and only install them when you need them.

How to Fix It

None of these methods are surefire ways to preserve dry cartridges, but they may at least help extend their lifespan. First, if you're having problems completing a print, ask your printer to run the print-head cleaning function.

If that doesn't work, remove the cartridge from the printer and place it in a bowl of warm water. There's a risk of staining with this method, so use a bowl you don't use for eating. Immerse the cartridge in the water. Use a cotton swab to rub the area that connects to the nozzle directly to break up dried ink. Wipe the nozzle and cartridge dry, and try the print again. If this doesn't work the first time, try it one more time. If the cartridge still won't work after two attempts, replace it.


If your company doesn't use the color printer very often and you don't want to worry about safely storing cartridges, you should consider investing in a laser printer. Laser printers are more expensive than most inkjets, but they use a powder-based ink that never dries out, so you won't have to worry about cartridges going bad.

You could also contact Coordinated Business Systems to ask questions about your printer or have a printer consultation. Our experts can tell you why your printer isn't working as effectively as it should and help you figure out how to solve the problem. We could also set you up with a brand new inkjet or laser printer and teach you how to use it as effectively as possible. Ink cartridges can be annoying, but remember: you always have options.