When it comes to 3D printing you might be wondering whether PLA, ABS & PETG are actually safe for food use, whether for storage, use as utensils, and more.
I decided to look into the answer to bring you some more clarity and information about food-safe 3D printing, so you can put it to use someday.
PLA & PETG 3D prints can be safe to for food for one-time applications, only when the proper precautions are taken. You need to use a stainless steel nozzle with no lead, and ensure the filament you use doesn’t have toxic additives. Natural PETG that is FDA approved is one of the safer options.
There are some pretty key details to know if you want to use 3D printed objects along with food, so keep reading through the rest of the article to learn more.
Which 3D Printed Materials Are Food-Safe?
When using 3D printing to create eating utensils like plates, forks, cups, etc. The safety of these objects depends on the type of materials used in printing.
There are a wide variety of materials that can are used for 3D printing, but most of them aren’t safe for use. Many factors like their chemical compositions and structure render them unsafe for use, especially if there are many additives.
As we know, 3D printers mainly use thermoplastic filaments as their main material for creating objects. They are not all built the same though, so let’s get into which specific materials we can work with.
Is 3D Printed PLA Food Safe?
PLA filament is very popular with 3D printer users due to their ease-of-use and biodegradable nature. They are manufactured from scratch with 100% organic materials like corn starch.
Since the chemical composition of the material is non-toxic, it gives them properties which correlate to being food safe. They don’t last forever, and break down under the right environmental conditions.
The thing you have to watch out for though, is the way the filament is manufactured in the first place, where colors and other properties can be added to alter the functionality of the plastic.
Some PLA filaments are often infused with chemical additives to give them certain properties such as color, and strength such as PLA+ or soft PLA.
These additives can be toxic and also easily migrate into the food and give rise to negative health implications in some cases.
PLA manufacturers like Filaments.ca often use food safe colors and pigments to make pure PLA filaments. The resulting filaments are food safe and non-toxic, they can be used for food applications without compromising the user’s safety.
A quick search of Filaments.ca for food-safe filament shows plenty of great options for food-safe PLA that you can definitely make use of.
What makes their filament safe is there strict process for adding the right materials to their filament.
- Food contact safe raw materials
- Food contact safe color pigments
- Food contact safe additives
- Good and clean manufacturing practices
- Pathogen & contaminate free guarantee
- Micro-biological analysis of filament surface
- Designated warehouse storage
- Conformance certificate
They have a high grade biopolymer from Ingeo™ which is truly food-safe and developed specifically for 3D printing. It can also be annealed to promote crystallization which improves the heat deflection temperature of the printed part.
You can get it to a point where it’s actually dishwasher safe.
On top of all this, their filament is said to be stronger than standard PLA.
Further post-printing treatments like sealing the print with epoxy can also increase the food safety. Sealing effectively closes all the gaps and crevices in the print that can house bacteria.
It also has the added advantage of making the parts waterproof and chemically resistant.
Is 3D Printed ABS Food Safe?
ABS filaments are another type of popular filament used by FDM printers. They are moderately superior to PLA filaments when considering factors like strength, durability, and ductility.
But when it comes to food applications, ABS filaments should not be used. They contain a variety of toxic chemicals that could make their way into the food and cause problems. As such, they should not be used for food contact objects under any circumstances.
Standard ABS in traditional manufacturing situations is safe to use according to the FDA, but when you are talking about the additive manufacturing process of 3D printing, as well as the additives in the filament, it’s not so safe for food.
As searched for at Filament.ca, there is no Food-Safe ABS anywhere to be found so far, so I’d probably stay away from ABS when it comes to food safety.
Is 3D Printed PETG Food Safe?
PET is a material that enjoys widespread use in the consumer industry for applications like plastic bottles and food packaging. The PETG variant is widely used in 3D printing because of its high strength and high flexibility
PETG filaments are safe for use with foods as long as they do not contain any harmful additives. The clear nature of PETG objects usually signifies freedom from impurities. They also hold up relatively well at high temperatures.
This makes them one of the best filaments for printing food-safe items.
Filament.ca, as previously mentioned, also has a great selection of food-safe PETG, one of which you’ll love is their True Food Safe PETG – Black Liquorice 1.75mm Filament.
It goes through their same strict process to bring you a great filament which you can class as food-safe.
These types of filament can be pretty hard to find, and one customer who printed an item on their Ender 3 said it doesn’t leave any sort of aftertaste when using water.
Sealing PETG prints with epoxy is a very good idea. It improves and preserves the surface finish while making them waterproof and chemically resistant. It also improves the food safety and increase the temperature resistance of the print.
I have a section at the end of this article which goes over which epoxy that people use to create that lovely sealed surface for their food-safe 3D prints.
Finally, you should know that it’s not only the printing material used that impacts food safety.
The type of printing nozzle you use can also have a significant effect. Nozzles made out of materials like brass can contain trace amounts of lead. In all honesty, the levels of lead would be extremely low so I’m not sure how much of an impact it would really have.
If you use a brass nozzle, try to get confirmation from the manufacturer that their brass alloy is 100% lead-free. Even better, you can have a separate nozzle made out of a safe material like Stainless Steel for printing food-safe prints.
What Are Some FDA Approved 3D Printer Filament Brands?
As we have seen above, you cannot just print with any filament and use it for food applications. Before printing, always check the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) that comes with the filament.
Luckily certain filaments are made especially for food-safe applications.
These filaments usually have to be approved by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) in the USA. The FDA tests the filaments to make sure there are non-toxic materials in the filaments.
The FDA also keeps a list of the materials that are safe to use when manufacturing food-safe 3D filaments, though there may be a difference between the standard material, and the 3D printing version.
Below is a nice list of a few food-safe filaments that FormLabs put together:
- PLA: Filament.ca True Food Safe, Innofil3D (except red, orange, pink, apricot skin, grey, and magenta), Copper3D PLActive Antibacterial, Makergeeks, Purement Antibacterial.
- ABS: Innofil3D (except red, orange, and pink), Adwire Pro.
- PETG: Filament.ca True Food Safe, Extrudr MF, HDGlass, YOYI filament.
Is PLA, ABS & PETG Microwave and Dishwasher Safe?
In order to be microwave and dishwasher safe, you need a filament that has a high heat resistance. Most filament like PLA, ABS & PETG are not microwave or dishwasher safe because they don’t have the right structural properties. Epoxy coating can make filaments dishwasher safe.
You can get some high quality Polypropylene from Amazon. I’d recommend going with the FormFutura Centaur Polypropylene 1.75mm Natural Filament, great for food-contact, while being dishwasher and microwave safe.
It also has a high chemical resistance and excellent interlayer adhesion, tackling adhesion issues with lower quality brands. You can even get watertight 3D prints with just one single wall in your settings.
Verbatim Polypropylene is another good choice that you can go with from iMakr.
Home appliances like the microwave oven and the dishwasher usually operate at high temperatures that are generally deemed unsafe for most 3D prints made out of thermoplastic materials.
At high temperatures, these objects begin to undergo structural deformation. They can warp, twist, and undergo significant structural damage.
This can be solved with post-processing treatments like annealing and epoxy coating.
Even worse, the heat inside these appliances can cause some of the more thermally unstable objects to break down into their chemical components. These chemicals can be very harmful to humans when released into foods.
So, it is very advisable to avoid using these filaments with microwave ovens and dishwashers unless you are going through a process to make it work.
One user did mention how they tested transparent PLA in the microwave, along with a glass of water and even though the water boiled, the PLA stayed at 26.6°C, so the color additives and other things can have a massive impact on that.
You generally don’t want to have ABS plastic at high temperatures because they produce toxic gasses like styrene.
Many people have coated their 3D prints in a food-safe epoxy and their 3D prints survived being put through the dishwasher. I’d recommend going with a lower heat setting.
Someone who wondered whether they could dry their spool of TPU tried putting it in the microwave and actually ended up melting the filament.
Another person did mention how they first loosened their roll of filament and set their microwave to the defrost setting to heat in two sets of 3 minutes. It may have worked for some people, but personally, I wouldn’t recommend it.
You’re better off drying your filament in an oven, making sure the oven has been calibrated for the proper temperature.
Check out my article on the 4 Best Filament Dryers For 3D Printing for a seamless print-drying experience without the melting or worrying!
Are 3D Printed Cookie Cutters Safe?
3D printing common cutting tools like cookie cutters and knives are generally considered safe. These types of utensils do not come in contact with the food for long periods.
This means the toxic particles do not have enough time to migrate from the object to the food. This makes them safe for use.
For these types of utensils with the low food contact time, even non-food grade filaments can be used in printing them. Nevertheless, they still have to be cleaned thoroughly to avoid the buildup of germs on their surfaces.
As mentioned above, you can specifically use some of the certified food-safe materials or even polypropylene filament to ensure you have a safe food experience.
It is advisable to clean them with warm water and antibacterial soap after use.
Try not to use a harsh scrubbing sponge which can create small scratches where bacteria can build up.
Using an epoxy to seal the material and create a coating around it is a great method to improve the safety of 3D printed items for cookie cutters.
Can You Drink From a 3D Printed Cup or Mug Safely?
You can drink from a 3D printed cup or mug if you create it out of the right material. I would recommend creating a polypropylene filament or even a custom order for a ceramic 3D printed cup. Use a food-safe epoxy resin for extra safety.A 3D printed cup made out of PLA or ABS wouldn’t be advised.
It is not advisable to drink from a 3D printed cup or mug unless you take the proper precautions. 3D printed cups and mugs have many safety issues surrounding them, let’s take a look at some of these issues.
One is the issue of accumulated bacteria. 3D printed cups and mugs, especially those printed with technologies like FDM, usually have grooves or recesses in their structure.
This happens because of the layered printing structure. If the cups aren’t cleaned properly, these layers can accumulate bacteria which can lead to food poisoning.
Another reason is the food safety of print materials. Most filaments and resins used in 3D printing aren’t food safe, so unless you have found the right filament, you should probably avoid making such products.
Materials like these can contain toxic elements that can easily migrate from the cup to the beverage.
Lastly, most thermoplastic filaments do not fair well at high temperatures. Drinking hot beverages with cups made out of these materials can deform or even melt them, especially PLA.
However, this doesn’t mean that 3D printed mugs can’t still be used. With proper heat and sealing treatments, they can still be used safely to eat or drink anything. Using a good food-safe epoxy coating can put you in the right direction.
Best 3D Printed Safe Food Coatings
Food safe coatings can be used in treating 3D prints that are intended for use with food items. What coating your 3D prints does is seal the cracks and grooves on the print, making it waterproof, and also reduces the chance of particle migration from the print to the food.
The most commonly used food coatings are resin epoxies. The prints are dipped in the epoxies until they are fully coated and they are allowed to cure for some time.
The resulting product is smooth, glossy, free of cracks, and suitably sealed against particle migration.
However, you should know that epoxy coatings are known to break down over time when exposed to harsh conditions like heat or wear. Also, they can be very toxic if not allowed to cure properly.
There are quite a number of FDA approved food safe epoxy resins on the market. The key to selecting a good epoxy resin is to determine the sort of final properties you want on the finished product.
Do you just want a waterproof seal or do you want additional heat resistance? These are some of the questions you should ask before purchasing an epoxy resin. Here are some of the options available on the market.
The standard instructions to use an epoxy correctly is to:
- First measure equal amounts of the resin and the hardener
- Then mix the these two products thoroughly
- Afterwards, you want to slowly pour the resin on your object to cover it
- Then occassionally remove excess resin so it can set faster
- Wait for the print to fully cure before using it
One of the cheaper FDA approved and food-safe resins you can use is the Alumilite Amazing Clear Cast Resin Coating from Amazon. It comes in this box packaging, delivering two bottles of “A” side and “B” side resin.
A few people have had reviews showing that it worked well for their 3D prints, one being a miniature 3D printed house for the aesthetics rather than the food-safe aspect.
Another budget option that is recognized as food safe is the Janchun Crystal Clear Epoxy Resin Kit from Amazon.
If you are looking for a food-safe resin set that has more features such as being self-leveling, easy to clean, scratch & water-resistant, as well as UV resistant, then you can’t go wrong with the FGCI Superclear Epoxy Crystal Clear Food-Safe Resin from Amazon.
In order for a product to be considered food-safe, the end product must be tested. Through their own testing, they found that once the epoxy has cured, it becomes safe under FDA code, which states:
“Resinous and polymeric coatings may be safely used as the food-contact surface of articles intended for use in producing, manufacturing, packing, processing, preparing, treating, packaging, transporting, or holding food” and can be used as a “functional barrier between the food and the substrate” and “intended for repeated food-contact and use.”
It’s also made in the USA by real professionals who have created a easy-to-use formula.
The Epoxy resin set I would recommend, known for its great chemical resistance and high impact durability is the MAX CLR Epoxy Resin from Amazon. It’s an excellent FDA-compliant epoxy that is easy to use and gives the final product a clear glossy finish.
Many people have used it for coffee mugs, bowls, and other products, though they are usually done on wood products. They should work really well on your 3D printed products to give them a food-safe coating.
Hopefully this set you on the right path to figuring out how food safety works in 3D printing, and getting the right products in motion to get there!