Do Ballpoint Pen Refills Expire?

If you have a drawer full of old pen refills that you bought and then forgot about, you might be wondering, do pen refills expire? Few things last indefinitely, but how long should these keep for and how can you tell if they are still okay?

Most pen refills will eventually expire, although the speed depends on the type of refill and the storage conditions. Many inks will have a “best before” date printed on them, but in general, ink will last for at least a few years before it dries up unless you store it wrong.

In this article, we’re going to learn a bit more about pen refills, how to store them, and how long they should last.

Do Pen Refills Expire?

Schmidt Easyflow 9000 Blue Refill
A Schmidt Easyflow 9000M, a popular pen refill

Pen refills certainly can expire, and many are given a date to tell you when they should be used up by because of this issue. Eventually, the ink will start to dry out, and the consistency may change, causing it to turn lumpy or to separate. The dyes in the ink may fade, or the oils may come out of it.

Any of these things will stop the refill from working as it should. They will gradually occur as time passes, but the issues can also be stored by improper storage, including:

  • Being stored in direct sunlight
  • Being stored somewhere hot
  • Being frozen
  • The cartridge getting dented or misshapen before or during storage
  • Being exposed to air (e.g. if the refill’s seal has been broken)

It’s important to think about where you store your cartridges. Keep them cool and out of direct light; this should help them to last for longer. However, they will still expire eventually, and you may find that your cartridge has gone off by the time you put it into your pen.

How Long Do Refills Last?

The longevity of a refill will depend on a number of factors, including:

  • The brand
  • How good the packaging is
  • The storage conditions
  • The type of ink being stored

High-quality brands will often last for longer than low-quality ones, and some kinds of inks store better than others. For example, a ballpoint refill might last for around 4 years, while a marker refill might only last for 2. Large refills tend to store better than small ones, so bear this in mind when purchasing.

Can You Revitalize A Refill?

In general, once a pen refill has gone bad, it will not work again and it needs to be discarded. However, you can sometimes refresh the ink temporarily by warming it up.

Many people recommend applying a blast from a hairdryer to the refill, as this may encourage the ink to liquefy if it has solidified. Sometimes, shaking the refill will also help to undo problems with separation.

Can A Refill Go Bad Inside A Pen?

Remember that just putting a refill into your pen does not stop the ink from deteriorating. If you accidentally leave the cap off, put the pen somewhere hot, or just leave it for a long time, you may find that the ink has been affected when you next use it.

This might result in the pen not working at all, the ink skipping, or a change in the color or consistency. You may find that your lettering comes out scratchy and no longer looks attractive. In some cases, ink that has gone off may block the inside of the pen and the nib will need to be cleaned before it will work again.

Always make sure that you put the cap back on a pen (or twist/click it to retract the nib) so that the ink isn’t exposed to the air. If you aren’t going to use a pen for a long time, consider removing the current refill so the dried ink cannot block the nib.


Pen refills certainly can expire, and most will eventually do so if they are left for long enough. Some may only last for 2 years or so, while others will last a lot longer. Use the date as a guide for whether a refill is likely to work, but test it too, as many will last longer than the packaging suggests.

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