It can be quite frustrating to deal with printer clogs. The nozzle on your 3D printer ensures smooth and even extrusion of filament. If your filament is clogged or blocked, the quality of your prints will be greatly compromised. A clogged nozzle will result in the inconsistent flow of filament. This in turn will result in uneven layers and a poor quality print. Regular cleaning of the nozzle is necessary to prevent clogging and blocking. It is especially necessary when the printer nozzle is clogged or blocked. Below we discuss how to clean a 3D printer nozzle when PLA is the primary filament you use.
Is Your Printer Clogged? Here’s How to Tell
It is easy to confuse printer clogging for other printer defects. There are a few indicators that will tell you that you’re dealing with a clogged nozzle. Here’s what to look out for.
- Decrease in print quality
Have you noticed an overall decrease the quality of your prints? Inconsistent extrusion of filament or under extrusion can result in various side effects such as missing layers, uneven layers and much more. All of these result in poor print quality.
- Improper first layer
Does the nozzle fail to extrude filament for the first layer? Is the first player uneven? This is often the result of a clogged nozzle. When this happens, you can easily eliminate other printer issues that would affect 3D print quality such as bed leveling.
- Filament curling
If the filament is curling after extrusion, the nozzle is most likely clogged. You may notice thinner print lines as a result of this.
What Causes Clogging of 3D Printer Nozzles?
In order to be able to clean your 3D printer nozzle, it is important to understand what causes the clogging in the first place. Understanding this will also help you avoid clogging in the future. While clogging of 3D printer nozzles can be the result of various causes, some of the most common culprits are:
- Using dirty filament
It is important to store your 3D printer filament correctly. Poor storage can result in the collection of dust and dirt particles on the filament. These particles can get stuck to the filament. They are therefore carried along with the filament into the 3D printer. When the filament is fed through the nozzle, the filament melts while the dust particles burn within the nozzle. However, they do not burn completely. They become carbonized and stick to the inside walls of the nozzle. Continued use of dirty filament results in the buildup of carbonized material within the nozzle which in turn causes clogging.
- When you switch between materials
Many of the best 3D laser printer models are compatible with a wide range of materials. However, it is important to clean the nozzle when you transition from one material to another. Failing to do this will result in the clogging of the nozzle. For example, if you were using PLA filament and then want to switch to ABS filament, you must first clean the nozzle.
- Using the wrong temperature
It is important to use the right temperature for extrusion when 3D printing. If you use the wrong temperature, you could cause your nozzle to become clogged. If the temperature is too low, filament will not melt properly within the nozzle. This could lead to the buildup of material within the nozzle. If the temperature is too high, it can lead to heat extending further up the printer and melting the filament before it reaches the nozzle. The filament will therefore not feed through to the nozzle properly resulting in clogs.
- Using the wrong nozzle height setting
If the 3D nozzle is not set at the right height from the print bed, it can result in clogging. For example, if the nozzle is too close to the bed, it cannot deposit the first layer of filament properly. The molten filament will instead remain in the nozzle and result In clogging.
Cleaning a 3D Printer Nozzle
If your 3D printer is showing signs of clogging, don’t panic. There are various techniques that you can use to clean the nozzle and get your printer working once again. The methods you use will depend on the type of clogging you’re experiencing i.e. partial clogging or full clogging.
Cleaning a Nozzle with a Partial Clog
- Using a cleaning filament
An easy way to clean a partial clog is by making use of a dedicated cleaning filament. Cleaning filaments are effective for clearing away debris in nozzles. They are often made from nylon. They are designed for cleaning 3D printers and not for printing. Using cleaning filament is similar to 3D printing. Heat the 3D printer to a temperature slightly higher than what you used for your previous print job. Be careful not to set the temperature too high. When you have attained the desired temperature, feed the cleaning filament through the nozzle. You will notice that the cleaning filament is extruded with the original filament. Keep extruding until only the cleaning filament is extruded.
- Wire brushing the 3D nozzle
This involves using a brass wire brush to scrub residue from the nozzle. Heat the nozzle slightly to make it easier for the wire brush to remove the debris. A wire brush is effective for getting rid of debris on the external surface of the nozzle that could cause problems.
Be sure to clean the nozzle with an alcohol wipe or a damp cloth after heating the nozzle to remove as much material clinging to the nozzle as possible. You can then apply the wire brush to the nozzle.
Cleaning a Full Clog
Use a needle to break up debris within the nozzle. Heat up the nozzle to a temperature to extrude the filament. Use the needle to poke upward into the nozzle and break up debris.
- Cold pull
Heat the printer to about 200 degrees centigrade. Push filament through the print head and allow the nozzle to cool. This allows the filament within the nozzle to cool and solidify. Reheat the printer to a lower temperature (about 100 degrees centigrade) and pull the filament back up and out of the printer. The filament will come out with debris from within the nozzle. The filament end should be shaped like the inside of the nozzle.
- Atomic pull
This is similar to the cold pull method. Start by heating the nozzle to 220 degrees centigrade. Feed filament through the hot end and then lower the temperature to 90 degrees. Tug on the filament to pull it out of the nozzle.
- Ethyl acetate
PLA can be dissolved in ethyl acetate. Submerge the nozzle in the solvent for a few hours. Remove the nozzle and brush the remaining particles off.
Use the methods above to clean your 3D printer.