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How to fix a dry inkjet printer cartridge

Found your printer refuses to print due to a dried up cartridge? Here's a few ways you can try to fix it

There’s nothing more frustrating than printer problems. Whether you’re trying to print a ticket for a big event, a boarding pass for your flight today or even just a photo to post to the relatives, printers always seem to go wrong at exactly the wrong moment – especially ones that only get used very occasionally.

There could be a number of reasons why your inkjet printer refuses to print or just puts out completely blank pages. One common reason, though, is that the ink cartridges in your printer have dried out, thereby becoming clogged and unusable. 

Web admin screenshot showing ink level information, Maxify MB5350

This often happens if you’ve not used your printer for a long time, as the stationary ink has time to dry out in the nozzle. It’s important to use your printer semi-regularly to try and avoid this. The other reason could be the cartridges have expired. Yes, printer cartridges have expiration dates, after which they can cease to function.

Finally, if you’ve ever refilled a cartridge, rather than buying completely new ones, this can introduce problems of its own. If you’re not careful, air can get in the cartridge, which speeds up the drying process. There are a few ways you can try and resurrect the cartridge, however.

Common fixes 

Your first port of call when trying to fix a dried out printer cartridge is to use your printer’s head cleaning function. You can do this in your printer’s software but the process will be different depending on the manufacturer. Right-click on the printer icon in the Windows notification area (bottom-right of your screen). You should get a menu, you’re looking for Settings, Utility, Toolbox or Properties. Then find the maintenance or troubleshooting tab and look for head cleaning or clean print heads. It’s often possible to do this directly from the printer’s onscreen menu, or by pressing and holding certain buttons, but you’ll need to Google your model number and ‘print head cleaning’ to find these details.

It usually consists of first printing a nozzle test pattern, but if your cartridges are completely blocked this will likely result in a blank page. After that, you’re given the option of running a print head clean. Run this a few times and see if that fixes the issue. If some of the colours are fine, then you should be able to identify the culprit from the other colours.

Epson's print interface, Epson XP-422

^Usually found under the ‘Maintenance’ tab of your printer’s software

If that doesn’t work, the other approach is a bit more practical. Open up your printer and remove the faulty ink cartridge or cartridges. Now fill a bowl with warm water and place the ink cartridge so that the nozzles are submerged. Grab a cloth or cotton bud and wipe it across the nozzles and stop when you see ink begin to flow out into the water. Now give the entire assembly a good dry and leave it for 10 minutes or so. Replace the cartridge in your printer and try printing another page. If it still doesn’t work, it could be time to cut your losses and buy a new cartridge. Just make sure to take better care of the next one by printing more frequently.

Maintenance Tip

Canon Pixma Pro-10

If you know you’re not going to be printing semi-regularly, it’s best to remove the cartridges from your printer. If the cartridge came with a protective cover over its nozzle, keep hold of these so you can place them back on, otherwise you can wrap the cartridge in clingfilm instead. Then put the cartridge in a sealed bag or tupperware box until the next time you need it. This will help make sure it’s not dried out when the time comes. If it’s completely broken then consider our Printer Best Buys.