I have a semi-nice printer that I use occasionally (say once every 1-4 weeks), with times where I won't touch it for a while then one day print a bunch of pictures or just documents. The use though is so infrequent that previous inkjet printers have had their ink dry up and become useless. There's not much return on investment there.

Is their any way to extend the life of an ink cartridge that's not used often? Please give details if you can.

7 Answers 7


All I can suggest is to print a test page on the weeks you don't use it to keep the nozzles clean.

The ink in the cartridge does not dry up, usually the nozzles get clogged with dried ink from non use.

Other than that go with a color laser printer.

Here is an article from HP on the subject.

EDIT HP article is no longer available, but there is an Internet archive of the original.

enter image description here

Also it has similar advice in this document (scroll down to step 3)

enter image description here


  • 5
    Well a test page requires me remembering to do it (not going to happen) and can also burn through ink with enough time. And a laser printer is way overkill for what I'm doing. Plus its horribly expensive to get a color laser printer. Sure I won't have to replace it for the next 5 years, but its hard to pay several hundred dollars up front for a good laser printer with good photo quality. And the cartridges themselves are really expensive too.
    – TheLQ
    Oct 10, 2010 at 23:56
  • TheLQ Aren't the cartridges much cheaper?
    – Pacerier
    May 17, 2012 at 23:00
  • 2
    In order to keep nozzles clear, you have to burn through ink, that's the whole point of the recharge cycle the printer performs. It clears semi-dry ink out of the nozzles. At $8000 a gallon, the manufacturer knows you will be using it one way or the other, either you use it usefully and put it on paper (even though its a test page) or you put it in the waste ink discharge tray. You have no choice. It's why the printers are so cheap now. Like gaming consoles, they don't make the money by selling the equipment, but the supplies. Dec 24, 2012 at 16:02
  • Color laser printers have a recalibration cycle for registration checks. They're just as efficient at wasting toner as ink jets are at getting you to buy ink. Color printing is highly overrated and has very low ROI. Dec 24, 2012 at 16:04
  • 2
    I've found HP to be much less ink-wasting than Epson, if that's any use.
    – user541686
    Dec 24, 2012 at 16:27

Additionally to Moab's answer, I suggest to not unplug the printer's power cable.
Most devices will do a self-test, wasting lots of ink, when the power was interrupted.
The cost of the power consumption in stand-by mode, is nothing compared to the cost of the ink that's wasted during avoidable self-tests.

I read this some time ago in the German "c't" magazine.

  • Well, my printer (HP Deskjet) does not do this, nor have I ever seen an inkjet do this. So there may be many models which do it, but "most" might not be true. Just try it...
    – sleske
    Oct 10, 2010 at 23:14
  • @sleske On the other hand, I've seen Hewlett-Packard printer/scanner which will print a page every time it's started and then ask user to scan it for "calibration purposes".
    – AndrejaKo
    Oct 10, 2010 at 23:17
  • 1
    @AndrejaKo: Ah, good to know. So apparently it depends on the model. Still, a bad habit for a printer to have :-/.
    – sleske
    Oct 11, 2010 at 8:46
  • This used to be a "Feature" on Epson inkjets, especially if you took it brand new out of the box and didn't let it complete its first calibration cycle before powering it down. Not so sure it's relevant anymore. Any time you turn the printer on and hear it running, you're listing to a peristaltic pump vacuuming ink out of the cartridges to dump it into the ink waste tray. Dec 24, 2012 at 16:13

Modern inkjets have become better about clogging. It will depend on the model, environment etc, but in general a modern inkjet can happily sit for a week or two without clogging (I also have a rarely-used printer).

In principle you could take out the cartridges/print heads when not in use and put them into a vacuum airtight bag/box or similar; that should prevent clogging. However, this is probably much more work than just printing a page every two to three weeks, so this seems the best way to go.

You can just set yourself a reminder to print a test page every start of the month or so. No need to even hook up a computer - most printers will print a test page if you hold the "paper feed" button when switching it on (or some similar combination, check manual).

Doing this once a month should generally be enough.

If you really encounter clogging:

Light clogging is usually easy to remove by wiping the nozzles with alcohol. I've used that to revive a printer that had sat unused for almost a year. Also see e.g.

How to revive an inkjet printer — partially clogged/dried up?

  • 1
    Putting the cartridges into a vacuum-sealed bag will most likely draw the ink out through the nozzles as the vacuum is formed. I forsee a bag full of ink!
    – Linker3000
    Oct 11, 2010 at 8:58
  • @Linker3000: Good point. I just meant something air-tight, so I guess "airtight" it the better word. Corrected.
    – sleske
    Oct 11, 2010 at 9:00
  • @Linker3000 How on Earth do you even get a vacuum-sealed bag in the first place?
    – Pacerier
    May 17, 2012 at 23:02
  • 1
    @Pacerier: In just about any household supply store? Vacuum-sealed bags are commonly used for keeping food fresh, just google for it.
    – sleske
    May 18, 2012 at 7:01
  • @sleske Ic, so you meant a near-vacuum sealed bag and not an actual one.
    – Pacerier
    May 18, 2012 at 8:19

I have found that Epson inkjet rinters need to be used often, or the heads dry up. They tend to have the best photo print quality. I've had two Epsons.

HP inkjet printers do not dry up nearly so easily. I think they produce the best crisp text and graphics. I have an HP DesignJet 450c large format printer, and I have had a couple of BubbleJet desktop models.

Canon inkjet printers produce very good text and photo quality, and my general purpose PiXMA iP4500 has never clogged up, even after not having been used for many weeks.

  • Hmm... I have a cannon MX320 that probably uses the same cartridge design. All though I'm nervous about simply doing nothing. Thanks for the tip though
    – TheLQ
    Oct 10, 2010 at 23:53
  • 1
    Your model seems to have two cartridges, rather than individual ones, which is a situation that leads to more ink waste. I'd just keep it plugged in (does not need to be switched on). Maybe you could make a scheduled task to print a test page every week, or remind you to print something with it, if it something that concerns you.
    – paradroid
    Oct 11, 2010 at 0:10

Most people really don't need color pictures and would be best served by putting an ax through the one they currently own, then driving a stake through it to remind themselves that $8000 a gallon is way too much to pay for ink.

Go out and purchase a good low-end monochrome laser printer.

Use the local picture printing kiosk for any color pictures you need. It's cheaper than filling the spent ink tray every time the printer starts up and clears its heads.

Basically, if you're stubbornly going to keep going the inkjet route and not use it to print at least ten pages a week, buy one that has the print head built into the cartridge and buy a new set of cartridges every time you intend on printing. Do not buy a printer with separate print heads if you do not intend on using it! The print heads sediment up, and since most people are not buying industrial strength ink printers with replaceable print heads, the only way of fixing it is to throw the printer away, extremely wasteful of money and resources when you find out your multifunction scanner/fax/printer is useless because of this.

And don't even begin to consider a color laser printer. The damn things are even worse about wasting toner on doing recalibrates and will send you to the poor house buying toner cartridges for just spinning over doing registry checks.

  • I guess nowadays (especially relative to 2 years ago when I asked this question) a printer isn't really necessary anymore in lots of homes
    – TheLQ
    Dec 24, 2012 at 17:25
  • Yep, most people email pictures and view them on computers. They've mostly dispensed with printing. The best printer I bought was an Epson 800 which lasted till a piece snapped some 8 years later. Nothing lasted after that. Despite frequent use, Epsons that use pigment inks will clog the pipe that goes into the waste tray, rendering the printer useless. So I converted to HP only to have two of those die. Realizing I'd spent $1200 minus ink cost trying to replace the 800, I ditched the whole process. Due to my profession, the sole remaining ink printer is a Designjet 130. Dec 24, 2012 at 18:21

Here is a solution/suggestion based on the type of printing you do. If your needs are "primarily" those of printing text, drawing, and other black & white material, you might get by with an older printer that uses/used ribbons—either the one time film style or the multi-use fabric type. These "older" printer ribbons almost never dry out if stored in cool dry areas. When you need something with colors then fire-up the newer ink monster to handle that project!

Having been in the office supply business for many years, I can tell you not all of those printers and ribbons are in land fills! Finding an old printer may pose a problem, but also, locating the ribbons is a worthwhile & money-saving effort!


I have found that printing a test page every 3 weeks completely keeps it from happening. I have been doing this for a year and haven't had the ink drying up issue nor have I ran out of ink, because I don't use it often. I know people think they won't remember but I have it scheduled on my google calendar for every 3 weeks so I am reminded. This will save you a ton of money on ink and the frustration of finding out when you need it. I also bought an Epson that allows me to only change the black cartridge when it runs out, which is mainly what I use. Alot of printers require you to buy all the ink cartridges when your black is used up, it's a total waste of money.

  • 1
    Hi Nancy, welcome to SU! How is this any different than the accepted answer from 3 years ago? Sep 7, 2013 at 22:36

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