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If you are new to recycling -- in particular to the use of recycled ink jet cartridges -- we think it might be helpful for you to understand how your cartridges work and to learn more about what you should expect from your recycled ink jet cartridges. You already know recycling is good for the environment and that you can save up to 50% off the price of your cartridges by recycling. But just how long will your recycled cartridges last? To answer that question, let's first look at how they work.

The printhead and circuitry which perform most of the work of the ink jet printer are contained on the small ink jet cartridge itself. Today, there can be anywhere from 48 to 320 nozzles or "jets" on the printhead located at the bottom on your cartridge.

Each nozzle or jet is smaller in size than a human hair and each is connected electronically to a heater or resistor which heats and cools the ink inside the cartridge. When the ink is heated, a bubble forms. When the heat source is removed, the bubble "bursts" sending dots of ink on the page through the nozzles or jets. These dots form the print characters on the page at the rate of up to 6000 drops per second. The heating and cooling process is happening at very high rates of speed, too.

It was once believed that the heaters in the cartridge would only last for one use of the cartridge. But we've learned that the heaters will continue to do their work and the jets will continue to fire for more than one use of the cartridge in most ink jet cartridges. In fact, the heaters or resistors on most ink jet cartridges will continue to fire until they either burn out completely or weaken significantly. On the average, that happens from the third to fifth time the cartridge is used.

How many times a cartridge can be recycled varies from cartridge to cartridge. From 5 to 10% of most common cartridges can't be recycled even once. Some cartridge styles, including most td-color cartridges, have higher "unserviceable" rates. At the same time, some cartridges can be recycled more than five times. The only thing that is predictable is that all ink jet cartridges will eventually wear out -- and it probably won't happen at the same time your cartridge runs out of ink. Once you decide to start recycling your ink jet cartridges, keep in mind you'll eventually have to buy new cartridges. Ink jet recycling doesn't mean you'll never buy another new cartridge. It just means you can save money for several cycles until your cartridge needs replacing. Each time you do recycle, you'll see those savings mount.

So what are the signs that your cartridge is getting worn out? If a jet in your cartridge is "burned out," you will see horizontal bands or white streaks in your print. Print characters may appear incomplete and fill on graphics will show areas with no ink.

A word of caution, these white streaks can also be caused by other problems, so don't assume your cartridge is gone when you see them. Some of the things that can cause the white streaks are fixable.

Another sign that your cartridge may be nearing its useful life is the appearance of dramatically lighter than normal print. This can mean the heaters are weakened and putting less ink on the page. Again, this can be caused by other "fixable" problems. Here are some common fixes that can often resolve a print problem in an ink jet cartridge:

  1. Run a little warm tap water over the printhead. This can dissolve any ink which may have dried in the cartridge. This is especially helpful if the cartridge has been removed and exposed to air for any length of time.
  2. "Dirty resistors" or heaters can often be cured by cleaning the contacts on the cartridge and in the printer carriage. This can be done with water or alcohol. After cleaning, snap the cartridge in and out a few times to be sure you have a good connection between contacts in the cartridge and the printer.
  3. "Smeary" print can be caused by a build-up of ink on the wiper blade found in most HP DeskJet models. If this is your problem, clean the wiper blade according to printer manual instructions.

If these tricks don't work, contact your dealer to have your cartridge tested. Save a print sample to help diagnose the problem. The dealer may have cleaning methods and other procedures which may solve the problem. Once the dealer has fully tested the cartridge, you'll either have the problem fixed or you'll learn the cartridge has reached its useful life. Then it's time to buy a new cartridge and start recycling again.

Since we know all ink jet cartridges will fail eventually -- your dealer can't be expected to replace your cartridge when it wears out anymore than you would expect your car dealer to replace your car when it wears out. But most dealers will allow you to recycle another cartridge at no cost if your cartridge fails before it is less than 75% used. The warranties on most ink jet cartridges do have a time limit -- both new and recycled --because ink jets can be harmed when removed from the printer for extended time. So contact your dealer as soon as you suspect your cartridge may have a problem.

Although, ink jet cartridges won't last forever -- we know from successful testing and use throughout the world that recycled ink jet cartridges work and they can save you money.

So don't throw those cartridges in the trash -- it's like throwing money away!