Learning how to do proper 3D printer maintenance is a way to improve the durability of your 3D printer and the print quality of your models. Many people don’t know the proper steps to maintain their 3D printers, so I decided to write this article.
Keep on reading for more information about doing 3D printer maintenance, whether an Ender 3, similar filament machine or a resin 3D printer.
What 3D Printer Parts Need Maintenance?
Here is a list of parts on a 3D printer that requires maintenance:
- The frame of the 3D printer
- Fasteners (bolts, nuts, and screws)
- Extruder & gears
- Hot end
- Print bed
- Wire connections
- Cooling fan
- PTFE tube
- POM Wheels (rollers)
- The printer’s firmware
There are a few replacement parts you can get from Amazon that you’ll want to have on hand for your 3D printer:
How to Do 3D Printer Maintenance – Checklist & Schedule
Here are some typical maintenance steps for 3D printers:
- Screw in loose screws, nuts & bolts
- Lubricate 3D printer parts
- Tighten any loose belts
- Clean up dust and debris from bed & surfaces
- Check PTFE tube for damage
- Check for loose wire connections
- Inspect extruder arm for cracks
- Clean out nozzle with cleaning filament or needle
- Download firmware updates
Screw-in Loose Screws, Nuts & Bolts
A key part of 3D printer maintenance is screwing in any loose bolts and nuts around your 3D printer. 3D printers are full of vibrations during movements, which can lead to some of those fasteners coming loose.
Many users have assembled their 3D printers a while ago, making sure to tighten these screws but checking on them years later to find some of them loose.
One user even narrowly escaped an issue with burnt plastic within his electronics enclosure due to the terminal screws being loose. This meant that the wires could come out easily if they were barely moved.
It’s important to make sure your screw terminals, as well as other screws, nuts and bolts are securely tightened up. Some people recommend to use Loctite Epoxy Five Minute Instant Mix on the terminal screws since you don’t want these to move.
I would check these every 3-6 months just to make sure. There are other screws such as on the motor pulleys, the grub screws on the stepper motor pulley and the eccentric nuts that tighten or loosen the POM wheels (V-rollers) that move the 3D printer.
Some screws don’t need to be tightened too much such as grub screws since they are a weaker and less durable screw, so they can strip easier.
Check out the video below by Teaching Tech to get a nice visual of tightening up things.
Lubricate 3D Printer Parts
Another important maintenance step for 3D printers is to lubrication. You want to keep your 3D printer’s movements running smoothly since the lubricants on the 3D printer can dry out over time, or be pushed out of the bearings by normal use.
You can lubricate the following 3D printer parts:
- Lead screw
- POM wheels
- Linear rods
Lubricating Your Lead Screw
To lubricate your lead screw, simply apply a small amount Super Lube Synthetic Grease directly on the lead screw near the brass nut, then run the lead screw through so it spreads around within the brass nut.
It’s better to do this while the lead screw is off the 3D printer to give it a proper clean and application.
The main thing that needs lubrication is the brass nut. After that, you want to clean up any excess grease so it doesn’t pick up dust or debris build up. Make sure not to over lubricate it.
If you experience binding issues with the brass nut in the future, clean up the grease and re-apply it.
One user who lubricated his lead screw said he noticed a huge difference in the print quality. It lasts longer than other lubricants and can be used for many things around the house.
Another user said he was getting weird noises from his Ender 5’s Z-axis rod. After cleaning it and reapplying an oil-based lube, the noise would go away for a week but slowly return. He then shifted to Super Lube 21030 and the noise has been gone for over a month.
Lubricating POM Wheels, Linear Rods & Bearings
One user said there was an immediate reduction in noise, as well as smoothness of operation. Another user said they used it successfully on their 3D printer’s linear bearings.
Tighten Any Loose Belts
Over time, your belts can start to lose tension which leads to print imperfections such as Z-banding.
It’s a good idea to check your belt tension regularly so it stays tight enough to produce the best quality 3D prints. Make sure your belts aren’t too loose or too tight since either one of these can cause issues.
Some users have actually had their belts snap due to having them too tight.
The best way to tension your 3D printer’s belts is to use a belt tensioner wheel on the end of your X and Y axis. If you have an Ender 3, it won’t have that tensioner upgrade.
It’s compatible with 3D printers like the Ender 3, Creality CR-10, and even the Ender 5 Plus, fitting both the X and Y axis. Many users who purchased the tensioner said it’s easy to install and works great to keep up with belt tension.
Check out the user below on his belt tension. In the video, it looks like his belt tension is a little too tight. To ensure ideal tension, one user suggested using a tuner app to measure the belt’s frequency when you twang it, at 90Hz.
When you pluck the belt, some people say it should sound like a plucked guitar string. Another measure is to have the belt spring back up when you press down, but not be so tough to push down.
Clean Up Dust And Debris From Bed & Surfaces
3D printers can gather up dust and debris over time, especially if you live in an area that doesn’t have the best ventilation. Some first layer adhesion issues can happen due to this build up of dust, so it’s a good idea to clean up your 3D printer bed and surfaces every now and again.
Some parts on your 3D printer that you’ll want to wipe down are:
- 3D printer frame
- Surfaces such as control box and electronics enclosure
- POM wheels & V-roller
- Inside fan ducts
- Main board
Using a simple combination of paper towels or a microfiber cloth mixed with isopropyl alcohol (Amazon) usually cleans very well. You can also use a bristled vacuum cleaner to help clean your 3D printer fans and a Q-tip for smaller areas that are hard to reach.
Make sure to hold your fan blades so they don’t move during cleaning. Also, don’t clean your 3D printer’s mainboard with a vacuum cleaner, it just needs a gentle wipe if it’s dusty.
Here’s the same Teaching Tech video, with a timestamp that goes over cleaning up dust and debris.
Many people suggest that you actually use a 3D printer enclosure to prevent dust from building up and affecting your 3D printer. I’d recommend going with the Comgrow Fireproof & Dustproof Enclosure for this.
Check PTFE Tube For Damage
During your maintenance routine, it’s a good idea to check the PTFE tube. Although the PTFE tube is a durable material, the connection has those metal teeth that dig into it to keep the tube in place.
Over time, with a lot of movements and heat, your PTFE tube can start to deteriorate, especially if you use high temperature filaments.
It’s recommended to check your PTFE tube monthly with heavy printing use, and quarterly for medium/light use. It should have a nice tight fit and not be damaged.
Here’s an example of a PTFE tube that isn’t fitting tightly since the tube moves with retraction moves. You might have to just replace the couplings which is the metal part that hold the PTFE tube in place.
You can start to get symptoms such as more clogs or under extrusion based on a damaged PTFE tube. If you do find that your PTFE tube is damaged, sometimes you can use a pair of tube cutters to make a cut at the end and re-attach it.
Make sure to do this at a 90-degree angle so it’s flush with the nozzle. Small gaps between the PTFE tube and nozzle can cause clogs.
If the PTFE tube is too short to do this, you’ll have to replace it with something like the Capricorn PTFE Tube with Tube Cutter & Couplers from Amazon.
Many users who get their 3D printers replace their tubing with this straight away, mostly because it has a higher heat resistance and is more durable. Stock PTFE tube isn’t always the best quality and can get damaged quicker.
Below is an example of a damaged PTFE tube.
You can also check out this video section for how to maintain and change your PTFE tubes, with a timestamp.
Check For Loose Wire Connections
Another important tip for keeping your 3D printer in good shape is to check your cables every so often, especially the ones that go to the heated bed and hotend.
During printing, these cables are always moving, so if there are no strain reliefs, they can start to loosen, though not common.
Making sure that your wires are well-connected is very important for the safety of you, your 3D printer, and your environment.
One user even experienced burning from the mainboard due to tinned wires in the screw terminals, which apparently isn’t the proper way to do things. They mentioned that this is common in Creality Ender 3 machines, though I haven’t heard about this commonly.
Users discussed that the method of tinning the wires at the screw terminals can cause issues because over time, if the tinning isn’t done perfectly, it reduces the contact area, leading to increased connection resistance.
This leads to an increase in heat, which can result in a melting of the material. It is clamped by a screw and that can come loose over time, so make sure to tighten up these screws.
The correct way to do the wires for the terminals would be to use ferrules which is like a connector that the wiring goes into before going into the screw terminal.
You can get this Adjustable Ratcheting Ferrule Kit with 800 Connector Terminals from Amazon.
Users suggested that even snipping, stripping, twisting, then screwing in would be better than having tinned wires.
Bryan Vines from BV3D made a great video showing users how to get this done.
Major things you should look out for in wire maintenance are:
- Loose wire connections
- Burnt connectors
- Burnt wires
- Exposed wires
Check out the video below to see the visual process of inspecting the wiring with a timestamp.
Inspect Extruder Arm For Cracks
This one has happened to many users who 3D print with the Ender 3 and similar 3D printers that use a plastic extruder. Over time, the pressure from all the movement and 3D printing can actually crack the extruder, especially if the spring tension is high.
I’d recommend that you check your extruder arm for cracks, since this can lead to under extrusion and print failures. Most people say that you should change your plastic extruder for a metal one.
Some people’s plastic extruder arm has lasted them for over a year, while others have had theirs crack in just a few months.
You can replace it for the HICTOP All Metal Extruder Drive Feed from Amazon. It’s compatible with the Ender 3, CR-10 and a few other similar 3D printers.
Check out the video by CHEP who goes into more detail on this issue and the replacement process.
Clean Out Nozzle with cleaning Filament or Needle
A cold pull is a way of fully cleaning out a nozzle that has debris trapped inside. You basically heat up filament, extrude it through your nozzle, let it cool down, then pull out the filament.
The idea is that while the filament cools down, the debris inside sticks to it, which then comes out when you pull the filament out.
There is a specialized cleaning filament like the eSUN Cleaning Filament from Amazon, which works really well. It’s great if you want to change between materials and colors, especially going from a high temperature material to a lower temperature one like PETG to PLA.
The correct method is the following:
- Heat up your nozzle hotter than the temperature of your previous filament
- Set the nozzle to cool down to about 100°C
- Manually push through a few inches of the cleaning filament
- Once the nozzle has cooled down to the temperature, cold pull the cleaning filament
You can try different cold pull temperatures since they can work better. One user said they got bad results with PLA using 85°C, better results with 95°C and even better with 105°C.
He found that the best cold pull temperatures were between 85-110°C, and using a mixture of temperatures worked best. See what works best for your material and setup since not all 3D printers are the same.
Check out the video below to see a visual example of the cold pull process.
You can also clean your nozzle using a nozzle cleaning needle.
To do this you simply:
- Heat up your nozzle to printing temperature
- Raise up your Z-axis to around 150mm
- Take your nozzle cleaning needle and poke in and out the hole a few times
You can get the Mika3D 3D Printer Nozzle Cleaning Tool Kit from Amazon for a good price. It contains 27 pieces altogether, including 24 needles (0.35mm & 0.4mm), two tweezers and a plastic storage bottle.
The needles are flexible and won’t break or twist easily. They also have a 100% satisfaction guarantee and 12-hour response times if you run into any issues.
Check the video below to see the process.
Download Firmware Updates
It’s important to check your printer’s firmware updates occasionally. With these updates, bugs can be fixed, performance can be improved, and new features can be added.
The process isn’t too difficult, especially if you have a newer 3D printer like the Ender 3 V2. It takes a few more steps on something like the Ender 3 since it doesn’t have modern capabilities.
Resin 3D Printer Maintenance
Resin 3D printers are mostly plug and play, but there can be some maintenance involved, especially as a beginner.
Resin 3D printing requires maintenance for things such as:
- FEP film
- LCD screen
- Build plate
One of the main consumables with resin 3D printers is the FEP film. A lot of the time, these can last you several months or even over a year with light use if you use it correctly, but if not, they can break easily.
It’s always a good idea to have a set of FEP films that you have on hand to replace any pierced FEP films.
I’d recommend something like the Creality FEP Film from Amazon, with measurements of 200 x 140 x 0.15mm.
These can break if you have a print failure where cured resin is still on the FEP film, then you start a 3D print and it pierces the film. They can also get damaged through using a scraper on the film to clean up cured resin.
With proper care, they should last a good amount of time. If you often change out resin and clean out the resin vat, there’s a higher likelihood that it accidentally gets pierced, especially if you set it down on a non-flat surface.
You can improve the life of FEP films by using rafts so everything comes off, instead of small bits of cured resin being left on the film.
Proper bed leveling also helps.
Check out this video from Uncle Jessy trying to fix a pierced FEP film with tape.
The LCD screen on a resin 3D printer is a consumable but a lot less often. A good monochrome LCD screen can last 2,500-3,000 hours of printing.
On the other hand, they can get damaged, usually through resin getting cured on the screen from a resin leak and scraping off an important layer of it.
If you do get cured resin on the LCD screen, you should use isopropyl alcohol and a plastic razor rather than a metal one to remove it.
Depending on what type of 3D printer you have, you can get a new screen starting at around $40 for an Elegoo Mars LCD Screen, up to $200 or so for newer, larger models.
The leadscrew doesn’t need much maintenance but you can apply some grease on it every 6 months. On the resin 3D printers I’ve had, they usually come packed with grease at the top, so when the build plate is at the top, it re-greases.
If you don’t have this, you can add grease to the leadscrew for better lubrication and smoother movements.
You can go with the Super Lube Synthetic Grease from Amazon to do this.
Resin 3D printers are usually good at staying level, so you shouldn’t have to level it very much. In terms of maintenance, the build plate can get scratched after many uses of the metal scraper on it, but this can even improve bed adhesion.
You shouldn’t have to replace the build plate on your resin 3D printer.
You don’t need to empty and clean your vat after each 3D print, unless you are changing resin colors for example.
You only need to clean out the resin vat if you are changing colors or there is a print failure, in which case you need to clean out the cured resin by filtering out the normal resin and cleaning that out.
If you don’t properly clean it out, you can pierce your FEP film or in the worst case, crack your LCD screen.
Another thing to keep in mind is, if you get resin on your skin, make sure not to clean it with alcohol. That can dilute the resin and absorb into your skin even more. Clean the excess liquid resin with a paper towel, then wash your skin with water and cool water.
Check out the video below for a useful video on resin 3D printer maintenance.
How to Clean Dust From a 3D Printer
To clean dust from a 3D printer, take a microfiber cloth or paper towels with some isopropyl alcohol and wipe down the surfaces of your 3D printer. You can also open up your electronics enclosure to check for dust and wipe that down, as well as take apart your fans and give them a gentle wipe.