How to Clean PLA, ABS & PETG 3D Printed Objects – Easy to Follow


When it comes to 3D printed objects and cleaning them, it can be quite troublesome if you don’t have the right techniques. If you want to learn how to properly clean your 3D printed objects, then this article is for you.

To clean PLA, ABS & PETG, you want to use a combination of removing support materials with your hands or a tool, along with cutting off small blemishes like leftover material and blobs on the print. You can then sand the prints down with low grit sandpaper, up to higher grit sandpaper, then polish.

Keep reading through this article for some useful tips and guidance on how to clean your 3D printed objects, whether it’s PLA, ABS, or PETG. You’ll also learn about the right tools to clean up your 3D printed objects.

How to Clean PLA, ABS & PETG 3D Prints

You have just completed 3D printing one of your favorite models, and before you start using it, you see a need to smoothen and make it look cleaner. It can be tricky, but very easy.

Follow the steps outlined below to clean up 3D printed parts of the 3 most commonly used filament types.

How to Clean PLA & PETG 3D Prints

PLA is the most commonly used filament and cleaning it is a pretty simple job when you have the right tools and products.

You’ll want the following:

  • Flush Cutter
  • Needle-Nosed Pliers
  • A Needle File
  • A Soldering Iron (optional)
  • A Heat Gun
  • Sandpaper
  • Clear Spray or Polish

Once you have the right set of tools, we want to ensure our safety by getting some good protective equipment such as safety glasses, and a good pair of cut-resistant gloves like the NoCry Cut Resistant High Performance Gloves from Amazon. This protects our eyes from flinging parts, as well as our hands and fingers.

In terms of safety glasses or goggles, you can go with a simple one like the 3M Safety Glasses with Clear Frame from Amazon, which is made out of Polycarbonate plastic.

Once you have your glasses and gloves on, pick up your 3D printed part from the printer bed and examine if there is stringy filament and other supports used during the actual printing on it.

Most of the time, you can clear supports and stringy material with your hands, making sure to be gentle with the model. When you have good support settings, such as creating a gap between the top and bottom of the support and the model, supports should be easy to remove.

In terms of stringing, you can use good retraction settings, lower temperature settings, along with a filament that doesn’t string too much, PLA being one of them. PETG is known to be quite stringy if you don’t optimize your retraction settings.

You can follow How to Get the Best Retraction Length & Speed Settings to get some great retraction settings for your 3D printer.

For those supports or rafts/brims that are hard to remove, you can bring in your flush cutters to remove them, as well as needle-nosed pliers. Again, you want to be gentle with your model so you don’t remove any important features that are connected.

When you are cutting, it’s a good idea to cut away from yourself rather than towards yourself, as doing that can cause injury. After removing the bigger pieces, we can bring in our needle file or low-grit sandpaper to get rid of the smaller bumps and blobs on the print.

The Miady 120-3,000 Assorted Grit Sandpaper from Amazon is perfect for dry and wet sanding of 3D prints.

The sandpaper is great for surfaces which are larger and flat, while the needle file is great for those harder to reach areas, corners, and between smaller parts of the model.

The KALIM 10 PCs Mini Diamond Needle File Set from Amazon is perfect for this purpose.

Always be gentle while doing these parts and check the model often so you can see where your attention should be focused.

Doing this for the first time can be quite time-consuming, but after some more practice and experience, you can clean up your PLA models pretty quickly.

The heat gun is a great solution for getting rid of those stringy parts, as well as even smoothing over PLA & PETG in some cases to make the exterior shiny, though not completely necessary.

Some people make use of a soldering iron as well to smooth other parts of their print with more precision. With the right flat attachment, you can get some pretty great results.

The Vastar Soldering Iron Kit – Full Set from Amazon is a good solution which comes relatively cheap.

Check out the video below for a nice illustration on how it’s done. It’s great for getting those hard to reach spots on your 3D prints.

In terms of the heat gun, it takes a certain technique of waving over the PLA print rather than holding the hot air on the part. Doing this can make the PLA softer and deform.

After you’ve done these steps, you should have a model that is free of supports, blobs, and most other imperfections.

This is where we can start to clean up the model and make it look more professional. Get your sandpaper and start to sand around the model, starting off with a grit around 100-150. Sanding in a circular motion usually works best.

When it comes to sanding you want to start with lower grits which are rougher, then progress onto higher grits which are finer and allows for a smooth finish. If you want to really go the full mile, you can go from 100 grit to 3,000 grit for a glass-smooth finish.

You can even wet sand the 3D print for better results.

Now that we have a really smooth part, you can choose to apply polish or a clear spray solution to finalize the model.

A great spray coating that some 3D printer users have tried successfully is the Rust-Oleum Clear Painter’s Touch 2X Ultra Cover Can from Amazon. It works great as a clear gloss surface on your resin 3D prints to give it that extra shine.

Another product that can work well to give an extra gloss or polished look on your resin 3D prints is some Thirteen Chef’s Mineral Oil from Amazon, also made in the USA.

You can pour some of this oil onto a soft and dry cotton cloth, then rub it onto your 3D printed part in small circles until all the polish is rubbed into the surface.

Here’s a great video you can follow that teaches you how to clean up 3D prints.

Most other 3D printed materials are usually cleaned up using similar methods like Nylon, HIPS, and others.

How to Clean ABS 3D Prints

We can use pretty similar techniques to clean up our ABS 3D prints as the methods above, but there is a popular smoothing technique that works really well with ABS in particular, called ABS smoothing.

Once we’ve cleaned up our supports and other blemishes and imperfections from our print using the flush cutters and needle file, we can prepare to vapor smooth the ABS print. It saves us having to do the sanding and polishing like with PLA and PETG prints.

One of the best videos on how to do this is by Josef Prusa, which you can watch below.

You can easily buy acetone from a local store or you can find one online like the Pronto 100% Pure Acetone 16 FL. OZ. bottle on Amazon.

When you do acetone vapor smoothing on your ABS prints, you want to make sure you are doing it in a well-ventilated area because it is quite a harsh chemical.

All you need to do is pour some acetone into a container and have your ABS prints elevated above, in an enclosed box like a larger storage container. You want to make sure it is not airtight so there isn’t too much of a pressure build up.

The ABS print shouldn’t have direct contact with the acetone, rather smoothed by the vapors.

A good time for you to leave the ABS print to be smoothed is anywhere from 15-20 minutes. The print will be pretty soft after being smoothed so try not to touch the object, and leave it to dry with the cover off.

How to Clean Up 3D Printed Miniatures

One of the first steps for cleaning up 3D printed miniatures is to remove those supports. When it comes to these minis, supports are vital to creating those detailed prints since there are usually plenty of overhangs on the model’s design.

Before you even start printing your miniature, it’s a good idea to have a good wall thickness so when you are doing your sanding, you don’t sand too deep to the infill.

Being able to use the right techniques to remove supports is important.

You can follow the video below by 3D Printed Tabletop on how to remove tough supports on your miniatures.

I’d recommend getting yourself some Viseman 6″ Mini Needle Nose Pliers from Amazon for cleaning your 3D prints up. These are great at getting into those harder to reach areas, and have a nice grip for more comfort and efficiency.

Another product that I’d recommend getting for miniatures is a Xacto knife which is a handle that holes a sharp blade at the end of it.

The specific one that I would go for is the DIYSELF 20Pcs Xacto Knife with Cutting Mat from Amazon. It has thousands of positive reviews from users that love the product, and has really great value for the price.

Again, I’d recommend getting cut-resistant gloves while using this.

After getting rid of the larger parts, you want to dry sand using a low grit sandpaper, usually ranging anywhere from 60-220. After you have smoothed over and gotten rid of the main imperfections, you can start to wet sand from 120 grit up to 400.

The Miady 120-3,000 Assorted Grit Sandpaper would work really great for sanding miniature 3D prints.

Some users use a sandable primer+filler combination spray that can fill in those layer lines, to be sanded down again for a very smooth surface. The Rust-Oleum 2-in-1 Filler & Sandable Primer is a great choice that you can get from Amazon.

 

Z-Poxy is a product well-known in the miniature 3D printing niche that works pretty nicely to help provide a cleaner look to models. You can find the Pacer Technology (Zap) Z-Poxy Resin on Amazon.

It does a great job with filling in the gaps between layers to create a smoother and cleaner model. Some people would advise to mix the two-part epoxy with a few drops of isopropyl alcohol to thin out the solution.

When you apply the solution, it should be pretty thin and spread out on your model nicely. After the solution dries on your miniature, it thins out even more as it cures. It can be mixed in a small container and you need to work before it cures.

Once the mixture is together, it starts curing, but to fully cure it can take a few hours.

If you want a simpler solution, you can go for the popular XTC-3D Smooth-On 3D Print Coating from Amazon.

 

Best Tools to Clean Up 3D Printed Objects

One of the best sets of tools that you can use to clean up 3D printed objects is the HAWKUNG 35 Pieces 3D Printer Accessories Tool Kit on Amazon. It consists of:

  • 1 Remover Scraper
  • 1 Pair of Pliers
  • 2 Tweezers
  • 3 Cleaning Brushes
  • 12 Clean Up Knives
  • 15 Cleaning Needles
  • Tube Cutter

You can clean up 3D printed objects very nicely with a combination of the pliers, tweezers, cleaning brushes and clean up knives. A lot of the print imperfections such as stringing, nubs from supports, and blobs can be cleaned up efficiently with these tools.

 

In addition to this, you can also get yourself an AFA Deburring Tool with Removal Blades from Amazon. This tool has a sturdy aluminum handle and a wide body style that is designed specifically for a strong grip.

Not only can you clean up your 3D prints with it, but it has a wide range of applications from removing burrs from several types of material such as plastic, metal, wood, and aluminum.

The blades that it comes with are highly durable, said to have a lifetime 80% longer than regular blades out there. It can even remove burrs from nylon and ABS 3D prints which are known to be tough plastics.

Investing into a solid diagonal cutter is a good idea when you get into 3D printing. The stock items that comes with your printer can get the job done, but they aren’t the highest quality.

The IRWIN Vise-Grip Diagonal Cutting Pliers from Amazon can quickly get rid of supports and other unwanted parts. Many of these tools have similar uses, so it’s up to you which you go for, though having a combination can be useful for the best quality prints.

If you want to move up levels for getting the best clean 3D prints, a popular tool that is used by experts is the Dremel 8220 12-Volt Max Cordless Rotary Tool Kit from Amazon. It is a great solution for cutting, carving, polishing, sanding, and even engraving your 3D prints.

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