The Dirty Little Secret Of Inkjet Printers

inkjetthumb.jpgInkjet printers are great, aren't they? ... or are they? I reveal The Dirty Little Secret of Inkjet Printers.

The Printer

inkjet1.jpgThis is the printer I examined - I've tried to obscure the brand name to protect the not-so-innocent (actually, I don't want to focus on brand too much, as what we're going to see here applies to inkjet printers generally)

inkjet2.jpgHere's the same printer, stripped of its outer casing - there's a little, innocent-looking hole underneath the print head path, indicated by the red arrow

Here's the printer with the platen removed - and suddenly that hole (indicated again by the red arrow) doesn't look quite so innocent.

The other thing to note is that the entire base of the printer - the area outlined in green - is occupied by a layer of absorbent wadding - approximately 5cm (2 inches) thick.


A Huge Block Of Absorbent Stuff!

Why does a printer need a huge block of absorbent stuff in the base?

Well, look a bit closer at that hole...


... and here comes the really juicy part of the story...

There's something in there... something... nasty! ... it's...

... ink - lots and lots of ink!

Dishing The Dirt

Still photographs just can't do justice to the full horror and shame of it (I tried) - but it's all captured in the video at the top of the page...

All inkjets?

I've seen doubts expressed as to whether it's really true that all inkjets do this - and that's a fair question...

I've dismantled quite a few dead inkjet printers (for the motors and other useful components) - and they've all been like this to some degree.

The printer depicted here is - I will freely admit - a particularly bad example of the phenomenon - but perhaps only because in this case, the specific cause of failure was a full waste ink reservoir.

What is undeniably true:

  • All inkjet printers perform self-cleaning
  • They do this without being prompted, and probably more than most people realise
  • The only way they can do it is to squirt ink through the print heads
  • That ink has to go somewhere...

So... what's the solution?

Well... I can't really declare that there is one. All human activity seems to involve waste in some way or other - maybe that's just something we have to grit our teeth and bear.

Laser printers are one alternative - and it's true that they are usually much cheaper to run - calculated per-page across the whole life of the machine. But laser printers don't tend to be all that good at printing photos.

No solution is perfect, but here's one that's maybe not so bad:

  • Use a mono laser printer for text documents
  • Get your photos printed at the photo store - they'll probably do a better job of it anyway - the photos will be more durable and I think even this is competitively priced with the many hidden costs of printing your own
  • Distribute your photos electronically - upload them to a photo hosting site, or make a DVD slideshow
  • Think twice before printing anything - there are some things you probably don't need hard copies of at all - if you want to keep a copy for your files, why not print it to PDF with one of the many free utilities - such as PrimoPDF - available for this? (some applications and operating systems support PDF output natively - so you might not even need to install anything)
  • If you do need a low-cost colour printer for home use, an inkjet might still be a reasonable choice - just try to pick one for which refillable ink cartridges are easily available - this can cut the cost of printing by a factor of ten or more.


Before, during or after the video(s) embedded in this page, the player may display advertisements or links to additional videos - these are not affiliated to Atomic Shrimp and the selection is something over which I have no control.


1. On Friday, November 20, 2009, 15:54 by tubist

Well, the dirty little secret of an old inkject came dripping out of the base when we turned it on it's side, and stained the carpet in our office. We tried the suggested methods of cleaning, but it just seemed to get bigger. We ended up cutting a pa

2. On Monday, September 13, 2010, 14:49 by Carol

I'm not sure that one manufacturer (beginning with H and ending with P) uses this method. Their dirty little secret is that they make you buy a whole new print head every time you change the cartridge. I'm certainly not advocating buying that brand,

3. On Tuesday, October 26, 2010, 07:03 by Elderlybloke

My printer (Brand beginning with H and ending with P) does not cost much to run as I use compatible cartridges Very good results , no gooey mess in over 3 years?;

4. On Saturday, January 22, 2011, 16:23 by Peony

Many Laser printers do something similar. I found this out the hard way when the 'waste toner bag' exploded in one i was using and sprayed a toxic cloud of black dust around both the inside of the printer and the area surrounding it. The printer probab

5. On Friday, May 27, 2011, 12:30 by MelanieS

Your video is exactly what happened to me last night when I took apart my inkjet printer for the same reason! What a mess! And yes, what a dirty little secret. I'm actually quite appalled by the waste and consumerism aspect of this. Will look into

6. On Wednesday, November 16, 2011, 14:59 by OldPrinterRepairGuy

I agree. Many a time I have had to clean out that gooey mass so that it wouldn't clog the jet ports on the print head. I love rubber gloves.Part of the problem is that most brands of inkjet printer will run through a cleaning cycle (Read:spraying ink d

7. On Monday, August 26, 2013, 10:40 by Bill

Colour does print with black prints. Why; if the ink drys out in the head, the head is dead and the printer as unless it is HP the only printer that the head is part of the cartridge. Law suit for monopoly against HP for over 15 years and it never on

8. On Tuesday, August 27, 2013, 02:46 by dan

funny i saw your video printer crashed and when i took out the cartriges and looked in i saw all the gooey ink and wondered what happend.cleaned it out and now things are fine! thanks

9. On Sunday, December 14, 2014, 19:18 by KatDev Devt

My mpf colour inkjet puts the ink in a box you can pull out. I spend over

10. On Sunday, June 7, 2015, 03:41 by Lon

Some printers tell you they are out of ink when if fact they are still half full. The circuits on the ink cartage is unable to tell when you are out so they just estimate and then shut down. You can buy a device called a circuit reset-er which enables you to reset the chip. Its likely you go thru one or two more cycles. I have seen them for as little as $6.00 and they work well.

11. On Sunday, August 23, 2015, 12:06 by a user

did you know you can refill your own cartridges the ink you buy I delute it with alcohol I have done this for years you will still get good results go about 25 to 50% it will help your printer out too this makes ink cheaer wet I have also used water it works great too anddon;t hert the printer

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