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How long can you store a printer toner cartridge before using it?

Being the proactive person you are, you've purchase a spare toner cartridge so you don't run out of dry ink toner on your next big print job.  You might use the toner cartridge in the next few months or a year from now.  It all depends on how much you print.  So this leads to the question, "how long before a toner cartridge expires"?  

We've seen manufactures state that a toner cartridge should be used within 12 to 24 months after purchase.  Does this mean you should throw out an expired toner cartridge after it's shelf life?  Not necessarily if the cartridge is stored properly.

Dry ink toner can be stored for extended periods of time under the right conditions.  Toner is made up of a fine dry powder, which is sometimes referred to as dry ink.  Unlike inkjet cartridges which contain liquid that can evaporate changing the mixture, all the compounds of toner are dry.  With that said, toner is not immune to environmental changes or it would last forever.

Choosing the best place to store your toner cartridges.  

Here are some things to consider when picking a location:

  • Toner cartridges should be stored in a cool, dark place away from excessive heat, high humidity, and avoid direct sunlight.
  • Do not store toner in an area that exceeds 90 degree Fahrenheit.  Ideally, you'll want to pick a location that is consistently between 60 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. 
  • Keep your toner cartridges away from excess humidity and liquids.  Pick a location which is 50% relative humidity or lower.  Stay away from storing them in basements.  Remember that dry ink will absorb water, so keep your toner cartridges dry and stored in their original packaging.
  • Do not store your toner cartridges in direct sunlight.  It might be the ideal temperature in your room, but the cartridge will naturally heat up if allowed to sit in the sun or near a heat source.  
  • Do not remove the toner cartridge seals until you are ready to use the cartridge.
  • Store your cartridges in a clean environment.  Dirt and other debris can contaminate the toner causing print quality issues. 
  • Store all your cartridges horizontally and not vertically.  Some of our toner cartridges contain internal gears or channels built into the cartridge body which dispense the toner out of a port in the cartridge.  Storing them vertically for long periods of time causes the toner to compress at one end of the cartridge.  This results in the cartridge locking up and not allowing the toner to evenly flow within the cartridge.  Sometimes your printer may give you an out of toner message even though you installed a new cartridge.  If your cartridge does lock up, you'll need to shake the cartridge vigorously to evenly distribute the toner inside the cartridge before installing it into your printer.
  • Do not leave toner cartridges in cars or any vehicles.  The extreme change in heat will cause the dry ink toner to solidify rendering it unusable.

So what happens if I store a toner cartridge above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, in direct sunlight, or above 50% relative humidity?  

Laser printers by design heat toner powder in order for it to bond to the paper.  If a toner cartridge were exposed to excessive heat or direct sunlight, the dry ink would clump together forming small pebbles of toner.  If this were to happen, it would sound like someone put rocks inside your toner cartridge when you shook it.  You should never install a printer cartridge that makes this sound as it has gone bad!  It's very difficult to hear the toner powder moving around a cartridge when it's been stored properly.

In the same sense, toner powder will clump together when exposed to high humidity or moisture.  Once the water dries, you'll experience the same clumping problem as described above. 

With all that said, never install a toner cartridge that you suspect hasn't been stored properly.  You run the risk of having poor quality prints or seriously damage your laser printer.

In conclusion, storing your toner cartridge in the proper environmental conditions, including sealed in their original boxes, will maximize their shelf life.  Always buy from a trusted source and be cautious of buying second hand when you have no idea how the cartridge was stored.  Keeping these storage tips in mind will allow you to continue to be proactive while not wasting money by throwing out toner cartridges which haven't been stored properly.