Laser printer toner doesn’t dry out like inkjet ink does. But does it go bad? Does laser printer toner expire?

There is a use-by date on some toner cartridges. But in my experience, you don’t have to worry about it very much.

Does laser printer toner dry out?

does laser printer toner expire?

There’s a copyright date indicating when this box was printed, but no expiration date on this sealed HP cartridge.  The faint printing on the box is probably a lot number. It will work fine when I finally use it.

Unlike ink, there’s nothing inside a laser printer toner cartridge to dry out. Laser toner isn’t ink; it’s dry plastic particles that the laser printer’s fuser melts onto the paper. So while inkjet cartridges can dry out in a matter of months once you open them, laser printer cartridges have a much longer shelf life. The advertised shelf life is longer, but there’s a longer unadvertised shelf life.

Does laser printer toner go bad?

The toner itself in laser printer toner cartridges doesn’t go bad, or at least it won’t in your lifetime or mine. It’s plastic dust, after all, and plastic is very stable. There are components in the cartridge that can go bad much sooner than the toner itself does.

Anecdotally, I’ve had people tell me they can get about a year out of a toner cartridge after they open it.

Also anecdotally, I’ll tell you that I get longer than that out of a toner cartridge. My printer currently has a toner cartridge in it that I bought four years ago. It’s critically low but the print quality only started deteriorating last week. If I have to print any correspondence that someone aside from me will see, I’ll change it. But it’s still good enough for draft printing. This isn’t an isolated experience either; I got 2-3 years out of the cartridge I had before this one.

As long as the toner cartridge spends its life in a box, or in the printer, I don’t expect it to go bad. If you remove it from the packaging and leave it sitting out in the light, it probably will go bad at some point, because some of the parts of a toner cartridge don’t like light exposure. So don’t do that. But I don’t know anyone who does that anyway.

The cartridge itself has some rubber parts in it that degrade over time, but that generally takes 15 years or more. I don’t generally keep cartridges laying around that long.

Does laser printer toner expire?

I’m sure I’ve seen toner cartridges with an expiration date on them. None of the cartridges in my house right now have one, though. When a cartridge does have an expiration date on it, I ignore it and do fine. As I stated above, I’m printing on a 3 1/2-year-old toner cartridge right now. If there’s any toner left in the cartridge, I can still print. Quality drops off sometime after I use 90 percent of the toner in the cartridge, but that happens to me regardless of the age of the cartridge.

This is only my opinion, but I think either the people who tell me they get a year out of a toner cartridge print more than I do, or they are underestimating the amount of time they get out of a cartridge. I know when I bought the cartridge in the printer now because I have the e-mail from 4inkjets asking me for a review.

I bought the printer in July 2010 and the toner cartridge in it at the time wasn’t new. So I routinely have been getting 3-4 years out of these cartridges. This is why I really like laser printers for home use. I can buy a toner cartridge and just print for years without thinking about it.

And for the record, that’s been my experience regardless of brand of printer. I’ve owned laser printers made by Panasonic, Lexmark, Samsung, and HP. I keep them until they develop a problem or until supplies get too expensive for them. Then I recycle the printer and get a used one to replace it. My longest-lived printer, a Lexmark 4039, lasted 13 years. My current printer, an HP Laserjet 4100, probably is older now than the Lexmark was when I got rid of it, but I’ve had it more than 7 1/2 years and wouldn’t be surprised if I get another 8 from it.

So, while HP, Lexmark, and the like may tell you that laser printer toner expires, I ignore it. And I’ve seen no effect on either print quality or the longevity of my printers.

The only time you’ll have a problem with an old toner cartridge is when it’s closer to 15 years old. Even then, it won’t hurt the printer.  It just won’t print properly and may make a mess. If you have a cartridge that old, simply recycle it and get a new one.