Sunday, October 8, 2017

The perils of refilling printer cartridges

In the past, I've indulged in a little bragging about how much money we saved by refilling the ink cartridges on our printer, rather than buying new ones. A great big bottle of black ink, I pointed out, cost less than a single black ink cartridge, and we were able to get so many refills out of it that it actually outlasted the printer. And it kept all those plastic cartridges out of the landfill, as well, making it an ecofrugal no-brainer.

Well, pride apparently goeth before a fall. Because as it turns out, this thrifty habit that we plumed ourselves on has actually backfired on us with our new printer—possibly costing us more money in the long run than we would have spent just buying new cartridges in the first place.

The problems first started last spring, when the printer suddenly started rejecting our refilled cartridges. We were puzzled, since we'd had it for over two years and had no problems refilling it until then, so we did some research and determined that apparently, this printer has an age limit on the cartridges it will accept. Since the original equipment cartridge was over two years old, the printer considered it unusable. So we decided to invest $14 in this chip resetter, which can basically trick the printer into thinking it has a brand-new cartridge. We tried this on the black ink cartridge and it worked, so we figured that was $14 well spent; it was still less than the cost of one new cartridge, and it should allow us to go on refilling our cartridges ad infinitum.

Thus, when the colored ink showed signs of running dry last month, we didn't hesitate to refill that too. This printer, as I mentioned back when we bought it, has three separate reservoirs for colored ink, so you can refill them individually as needed—but in this case, all three were low, so Brian did them all at once. The cyan and magenta inks posed no problem, but when he tried to refill the yellow ink, he saw through the little window in the ink reservoir that the refill ink he was using (from a set we'd bought years ago, back when we had the old HP printer) was reacting with the dregs of the Brother ink that was left in the cartridge, leaving behind a flaky precipitate. So he hastily emptied out the whole cartridge and rinsed it to remove all the precipitate before topping it back up again with the refill ink.

Well, okay, we figured, that was a bit of a nuisance, but at least we'd cleaned all the old ink out of the cartridge, so from here on out, we should have no further problems with the refills. Alas, what we completely forgot about was the ink already in the lines. This week, when I printed out a document in color for the first time since the refill, we found that we weren't getting any yellow ink. Brian tried running the cleaning cycle several times to no avail, so I did a quick search and found this video on cleaning the nozzles—and it was at that point that Brian realized all that precipitate he'd so carefully cleaned out of the cartridge itself had probably formed in the lines as well as soon as we started putting the yellow refill ink through them. In hindsight, he realized, he probably would have been better off just pulling out the yellow tank the minute he discovered the problem and buying a yellow refill from Brother.

But of course, it was too late to undo what we'd already done, so the best we could do was try to get those lines cleaned out. So we spent another $9 on this cleaning kit, complete with cleaning solution, a rubber tube to feed it into the nozzle, and a syringe to inject it. And today, Brian hauled the printer down to his workshop and got to work with the kit, trying to clear the lines. Since we'd been having a little trouble with the black ink as well, he tried it on that first, and it worked just as shown in the video, running right through the lines and pulling out the dried residue. However, on the clogged yellow line, it didn't go so smoothly. He had to apply more pressure to force the fluid into the lines, and when he tried to draw it back out, he wasn't able to clear them fully. So as of now, only the black ink is working. He plans to work on the yellow some more in the next few days, but he doesn't know whether he'll succeed in clearing it or not. If he can't, our only options will be to replace the printer or ditch the colored cartridges and use it only in black and white.

The moral of this story? If you plan to refill your printer cartridges, make sure you're using an ink that's compatible with your particular printer. If we'd sprung for a $26 Brother-specific refill kit at the time we bought the chip resetter, that would still have been cheaper than a new set of color cartridges, and a lot cheaper than having to replace the whole $100 printer.

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