There are no sponges in those cartridges - Your EPSON has a series of absorbing pads below the base of the printer along with a pump and a tube - Whenever you run a clean cycle it sucks out the ink out of your cartridges and it flows in the tube to your pads. Of course the more you run cycles the more you use up the pads. There is a counter in your printer which will give you an error message in theory before the pads become entirely soaked up so the more cleanings you do the faster you will get that error. Running too many consecutive clean cycles will also have the opposite effect and may further affect your heads - Do not run more than 2 or 3 consecutive cleaning cycles. Usually 1 to 2 is enough then shut off your printer and leave it overnight giving time for dried ink to soften - Trust me, this usually works. Also never run cleaning cycles for nothing - always run a nozzle test first and look for a missing line - if you are using EPSON's genuine carts, it is extremely rare that you would require cleaning cycles unless you are doing heavy printing in one session. I use refills myself because the inks are expensive it's almost CRIMINAL - Don't EVER attempt to refill your epson carts, those T048 type carts have a very complex design in them like a maze and they are pressure sealed - The filling holes are below the cart and they don't take a full load - chances of leaking and clogging is very common. I personally have gone to sellink.ca and purchased EASY TO REFILL compatible T048 carts, they come empty and can be filled from the TOP with rubber plugs and they come chipped so all you need to do is reset them and refill, they take a full load and are partially sponged too and so far they work excellent. For ink I buy the jettec inks for EPSON printers, whenever i refill I run 1 or 2 cleaning cycles and leave it overnight!
If you are getting poor prints and your nozzles are correct then your problem is with printer settings - I have an EPSON R200, I have read that the driver for R220 does not produce good results, that is rubbish, whenever I print I use photo enhance - vivid and notice that my printer usually prints LIGHTER than what I see on the screen so I manually adjust the viewing gamma levels to compensate using trial and error and many prints and I have figured to manually darken images before printing them - it's all about settings. Don't run cleaning cycles for no reason I have also modded my printer by routing the waste ink tube outside the printer into a container of ink. And if you keep running clean cycles you wll run quickly out of ink. 1st level of clean takes about 1%, second level about 3% and if you ask a 3rd time, it will perform tough cleaning, and take 7%. So far with my refills I have not had to apply cycles, so I can easily print over 400 CDs full colours!
As to CIS I don't recommend it unless you have large volume printing. Either get some easy to refill carts and refill ink which is very inexpensive or buy already filled carts. I recommend JETTEC EXTRA LIFE 30% and 100% more ink carts, those are GREAT and they last long, you can get those for around $20 US for the 6 carts. OR you can get the empty compatible carts at sellink.ca and buy the jettec INK bottles you can find usually at staples.