Does printer ink expire?

The short answer: Yes.

Printer ink cartridges will eventually dry out and become useless.

But how long does that take? How long does printer ink last?

There’s no short answer here. Ink cartridges can last two or three years (or more) if properly packaged and stored. But many major ink cartridge makers don’t put expiration dates on their cartridges. So how do you know when your ink cartridge was produced and how long it will last?



Ink Cartridge Expiration Date vs. Ink Warranty Ends Date

Does Printer Ink Expire - Ink Cartridge Expiration Date

Does printer ink expire? New ink and toner cartridges will sometimes come with two dates on the box (or stamped on the cartridges themselves). These dates are:

  • Ink Cartridge Expiration Date
  • Ink Cartridge Warranty Date

While you may not find ink cartridge expiration date on the cartridge itself (not all manufacturers include expiration dates, this is especially true for third party manufacturers or refurbished cartridges.), you’ll probably find a date when the ink cartridge warranty ends. Warranties vary by manufacturer, but are generally one year from the date of purchase.

After this date, the manufacturer will no longer cover the ink cartridge for damages or defects.

That ink cartridge may still work fine after the warranty ends, but usually, the manufacturer makes no guarantees, and you use it at your own risk at this point. Does printer ink expire? Sometimes, but it’s usually long past the end of the warranty coverage. 


Does Printer Ink Expire? HP Ink Expiration Date

Deciphering the DaVinci code stamped on HP ink cartridges can be a challenge, but power users have broken it down as follows: 

  • The first four digits indicate the country of origin 
  • The next six digits indicate the ‘install by’ date 
  • The third set of digits is the manufacturing date
  • The last four digits…who knows? Internal tracking?

In general, HP ink cartridges have two dates listed. The “date of manufacture” and the “warranty end” date, which is two years after the date of manufacture.


HP Cartridge Expiration Date

HP ink cartridge expiration date location: This HP ink cartridge has the expiration date stamped on the cartridge itself


Some cartridges come with an “install by” date, which is typically 18 months after the date of manufacture and six months before the warranty ends. Instead of wondering, “does printer ink expire?” a better question might be, “when does the warranty date end?”


HP Toner Expiration Date

According to HP’s Knowledge Base, “there is no expiration date for the use of HP toner cartridges”. While original HP toner cartridges come with a date of manufacture on the packaging, it is not a “use by” or “install by” date – it’s just a date of manufacture and nothing more.

So, HP toners do not have any expiration date. As simple as that.


Does Printer Ink Expire - HP 951XL country and date of manufacture

This HP951XL cartridge shows the country and date of manufacture on the outside packaging.


HP Ink Warranty

HP ink cartridges are guaranteed free from defects in materials and workmanship during the period of the warranty.

The warranty coverage lasts until the “Warranty Ends” date is reached or the ink is depleted, whichever happens first. The Warranty Ends date is found on the cartridge itself and follows a YYYY/MM/DD format.

Make sure you’re using the right HP ink cartridge in the right HP printer or your warranty will be voided!


Canon Ink Expiration Date

Canon claims its ink does not expire

Coding on the Canon packaging remains mysterious, with date of manufacture unknown. The company claims that as long as the seals on its ink tanks are unbroken, the ink will not dry out and is good to use.


Epson Ink Expiration Date

Epson ink cartridges come with a “Best If Used By” date. This date appears to be approximately two years after the date of manufacture. 

Epson recommends replacing your installed ink cartridges after six months, whether they’re empty or not, to ensure high quality prints. 


Does Printer Ink Expire? - Epson Ink Expiration Date

Epson recommends replacing ink cartridges every six months to ensure quality prints (Image source: The Spectraflow).


Work Within Your Warranty

Generally, the lack of a manufacturer’s warranty or close ink cartridge expiration dates can be a major factor for some, especially office managers who buy ink in bulk (see below). 

Overall, buying ink cartridges for your printer is like buying batteries for your TV remote. You want to buy the freshest possible so you get the longest life out of them. 

So make sure that warranty ends date is years away before you buy!


How Long Do Ink Cartridges Last Opened?


If you listen to Epson, opened ink cartridges should be replaced every six months. After that, the ink begins to degrade and image quality suffers. (We’re sure Epson would like you to change your ink cartridges daily!) HP also recommends installing ink cartridges once they’re removed from their original packaging. 

If you must store ink opened outside of your printer, place them nozzles up in an airtight plastic container. If your ink cartridge came with a twist-off orange cap, screw the cap back on. Place a damp rag in the tank to keep humidity levels high, and don’t allow anything to touch the exposed printhead.


How Long Does Printer Ink Last Unopened?


We already know that if you started to use the ink you need to keep it working, but how long do ink cartridges last if not used? Does printer ink expire if unopened?

Shelf life of printer ink in most cases is approximately two years. After that time there may be problems with the cartridge. The sponge designed to deliver ink to the printheads can dry out. The ink can begin to separate and turn to sludge. After two years, even ink cartridges that are stored properly can get dicey.

That being said, manufacturers like Canon have no printer ink expiration dates on their products, and claim that as long as the airtight seals are not damaged, their cartridges are safe to use even after several years in storage. 


Expired Ink Cartridges: Old Ink Doesn’t Explode


What happens with expired ink cartridges after they expire? They violently explode, leaving terrible, burning wreckage throughout your office space!

Does Printer Ink Expire - Ink Cartridge Expired Message

The dreaded “Ink Cartridge Expired” message …ugh!


No. That’s a joke.

The truth is nothing happens when your printer cartridges reach their expiration date. Nothing at all.

The ink and toner inside is still good, and probably will be for a while. Manufacturers put an expiration date on products to ensure integrity and quality. However, these items may continue to perform quite well for 12-36 months beyond dates displayed on the package.


How to Make Ink Cartridges Last Longer?


Making ink cartridges last longer is simple. If your cartridges are unopened, store them properly to get the longest life out of your ink: 

  • Stand them upright
  • Keep in original, airtight packaging 
  • Store at room temperature in a dry place, out of direct sunlight   

If your cartridges are already installed in your printer, the best way to prevent your ink from drying out is to use your printer. Print a page in color once a week to prevent installed ink from drying up and clogging your printheads. 

All this will help to make printer ink last longer (maybe even beyond the ink expiration date if any).


What About Toner? Does Toner Expire?


So, we already know that ink cartridges can expire, but what about toner cartridges?

Does toner expire? How long does toner last?

In theory, toner can last forever. It’s powdered plastic sealed inside an airtight plastic cartridge. 

There’s no fear of toner “drying out” like ink cartridges.


Does Printer Ink Expire - Toner

Toner is made of powdered plastic, which makes its expiration technically close to impossible.


But in the real world, toner cartridges don’t last forever and expired toner is a real thing. The cartridge components wear out over time. (Though it may take a decade or more.) If boxes of stored toner are damaged, the airtight seals can break, allowing air and moisture into the cartridge. Air will reduce the potency of the toner ingredients, while moisture causes toner to clump. (And cleaning up leaky toner is a drag.) Both spell doom for your future printing projects. 

The bottom line is store your toner cartridges properly and they’ll last a long time…maybe longer than your printer!


How to Store Printer Cartridges 


Printer cartridges, both toner, and ink, should be stored in a cool, dry space. Temperature should be “Goldilocks” stable — not too hot, not too cold — and dark is better.

Don’t keep cartridges in direct sunlight or dusty conditions. Never storage your cartridges in a vehicle for any length of time.

Fumes from cleaning chemicals can also affect toner and ink, so store your cartridges well away from cleaning supplies. 

Here’s the big takeaway on ink and toner cartridge storage:

  • Store ink cartridges standing up
  • Store toner cartridge lying flat


How to Store Ink Cartridges

Ink cartridges are ripe with precious liquid ink. If you lay ink cartridges on their sides, the contents of the ink can settle over time. As a result, the ink turns syrupy, which can clog your printheads. If ink cartridges are not properly sealed, air can get inside. This can also turn ink to sludge.


How to Store Ink Cartridges When Not in Use?

The best way to store ink cartridges when not in use is to keep them in their original, airtight packaging and store them upright. Standing them upright prevents the ink inside the cartridge from settling.

Ink cartridges when not in use should be kept at moderate, “room temperature,” out of direct sunlight.


How to Store Toner Cartridges

Similarly, unsealed toner cartridges are also prone to moisture damage. Once the powdered toner gets wet, it clumps and clogs your printer.

Also, do not store toner cartridges anywhere near corrosive gas. Store toner cartridges flat to ensure the even distribution of the powdered toner inside. 


Buying In Bulk

Does Printer Ink Expire - Buying Printer Ink In Bulk

Everybody likes a bargain, especially on pricey ink and toner cartridges. Smart shoppers can find great deals on brand name ink and toner if they poke around the Internet.

But a good deal isn’t a license to overbuy. You don’t want to be the office manager who has to explain $1,000 of expired ink cartridges in the storage closet! Use your head — math is your friend!


Determining Ink Usage

Determining the ink and toner usage in your office isn’t difficult. The hardest part is getting the numbers right. Most printers have counters that tell the number of pages printed over a period of time. For example, our Canon MX922 cranked out 94 pages this month! 

Similarly, printer cartridges have anticipated page yields. The PGI-250 PGBk black ink cartridge for our Canon has a projected yield of 300 pages. At this rate, a black ink cartridge will last about three months, meaning we’ll use approximately four Canon PGI-250 PGBk ink cartridges per year.


How Much Ink To Buy

Although Canon claims their ink cartridges have no expiration date, we still wouldn’t buy more than three or four at a time, based on our usage rate. It doesn’t make sense to have old ink cartridges sitting on your office shelf and waiting to expire or dry out. 

Ink technology and formulas are always changing. Who’s to say there won’t be a new ink for your printer next year that works better, lasts longer, or is more environmentally friendly? If you’re sitting on three years worth of surplus ink cartridges, you’ll never know. 

However, some high-traffic offices print hundreds if not thousands of pages per month. Here it makes sense to buy in bulk, but the same formula applies. Buy what you need, but try not to keep ink and toner in your supply closet for more than a year. If there are any problems with your ink cartridges during the first year, your OEM warranty will still be in effect.


Sell Unused Ink Cartridges

Business owners may need to think twice about ordering cartridges in advance. Businesses that don’t do high volume printing might be better off making OEM ink cartridge purchases as needed.

But what to do with unused printer ink cartridges if you made a mistake and ended up with surplus amounts of them? Don’t freak out! You can sell unused inkjet cartridges for cashback!


Old Ink Blues


Does printer ink dry out?

Yes, it does!

Letting your ink dry up isn’t the worst thing in the world, but it is a costly waste that can be avoided. If your printer ink dried out, don’t panic but think for the moment about its cost. Plain black printer ink on average costs $3330.14 per gallon! And you thought that fancy perfume you bought for your birthday was expensive! 


Does Printer Ink Expire Or Dry Out If Not Used?

Can printer ink dry out if not used?

Yes, it can. So will the ink in your fountain pen. This is especially true for uncapped pens and open ink cartridges. 

Once an ink cartridge is opened and installed in your printer, the ink will begin to slowly dry. There is nothing you can do about it except print a page in color once a week to keep your ink flowing. Use the ink before the ink is dry! 


Does Printer Ink Expire? How to Fix Dry Ink Cartridge?

How to fix an ink cartridge that is dried out?

If your ink cartridge dried out and is clogged, there are a couple methods that might get it working again. 

First, fill a sink with very hot water and dip just the end of the dry ink cartridge where the ink comes out into the water. It can take anywhere from a few seconds to twenty minutes, but eventually, dried ink will begin to ooze from your cartridge. When this happens, remove it from the water, dry it off, re-install, and see if it worked.

If not, you can try sucking the clog out with a household vacuum, or adding a couple drops of bleach or dish detergent to your hot water. 

Does Printer Ink Expire - Routine Printer Maintenance

Routine printer maintenance can prevent costly repairs down the road.


New Ink Cartridge Not Working: Has It Been Dried Out?

Probably not. It was probably stored improperly (i.e. upside down) and the ink has settled in the wrong end of the cartridge. If printer ink not coming out and your printer isn’t printing anything this can be because it wasn’t stored right. Take the cartridge out and let it sit upright in the proper position for a few minutes. You can also set the cartridge printhead on a damp paper towel for a few minutes to get that ink flowing. 

Printer cartridges can dry up due to infrequent use, or because they have expired. Installing a new cartridge should solve your printer problems, not make them worse. 


Does Printer Ink Expire? How to Keep Printer Ink from Drying Out

Printer ink drying out? Don’t worry. You can save it.

You can keep the ink from clogging the nozzles by doing the following. 

  • Wrap the cartridge in a damp paper towel
  • Place the wrapped cartridge into a plastic bag, removing as much air as possible. 
  • Place bagged cartridge in the fridge. 
  • Store with print heads facing up. 

The low temperature will keep the printhead moist and prevent ink clogs. Check the paper towel once a week to make sure it’s still moist. Let the ink cartridge come up to room temperature first before re-installing. Running a cleaning cycle on your printer is probably a good idea too. 


Does Printer Ink Expire? How Long Does It Take for Ink to Dry Out?

The answer varies greatly. Ink cartridges are exposed to oxygen once they’re open, which is what causes ink to dry out. If your printer is stored in a warm, dry room, and not used very frequently, your ink will dry up anywhere from one to six months


Does Printer Ink Expire - Dry Ink

When stored in a cool and dry place and when used infrequently, ink is a lot more likely to dry out over time.


HP’s website recommends: “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.”


Clogged Printheads

Old ink can dry up and clog your printheads. You’re going to need to clean your printheads, which can be a bit of a maintenance chore. (Learn how to get printer ink off your hands and clothes here.)

Most printers will have an automatic cleaning cycle. Check your owner’s manual for your specific model. Most manufacturers recommending running a cleaning cycle on your printer at least once a month

Ink is like a muscle, be it biceps or brains. If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it! Try printing a page or two a week to keep your printer active and your cartridges alive.


Wide World Of Ink

In a perfect world, you would use ink cartridges within 6 months and toner cartridges within 2 years of the date of purchase. You’d never need to use the manufacturer’s warranty, because nothing would ever break or go wrong. It’s a perfect world! Your prints are crisp and vibrant! Your cost-per-page is low!

But the world isn’t perfect. Ink expires and ink dries out but at different rates depending on use and storage. This has been true since the invention of ink

Our forefathers were completely annoyed when their inkwells were empty or their ball point pens dried up. Even cavemen screamed with primal rage when they ran out of ink for their drawings. Today, we honor that heritage by yelling at our office machines when they run out of ink and toner. 


Finding Printer Zen

If you install a new cartridge in your inkjet printer, print a page, and don’t print another page for a year, your ink cartridge will probably dry out. (And your printer will be sad and lonely!) On the other hand, if you kept that same ink cartridge on a shelf, sealed in its original packaging, it should work great when you installed it a year later…even two years later! 

It’s not just the expiration date that affects the quality of the toner. How you store your cartridges also impacts their lifespan. 

Keep your printer chugging. A working printer is a happy printer!