Is PLA Really Safe? Animals, Food, Plants & More
PLA is the most popular 3D printing material, but people wonder whether PLA is really safe or not. This article will go through whether PLA is safe in various environments and activities.
Keep on reading to learn about the safety of PLA for animals such as dogs, birds, fish, reptiles, as well as for food, breathing, printing indoors and more.
Is PLA Safe for Animals?
PLA can be safe for animals depending on what the model is. The material itself is known to be safe but with 3D printing, many additives are mixed in with PLA, creating an object that might not be safe for animals. Small objects can be chewed or bitten which would potentially shatter the PLA and cause injury.
Pure PLA which doesn’t have any additives, dyes, pigments, or other chemicals aren’t known to cause harm to animals’ health in a general fashion. Safety issues can arise based on whether the object gets chewed or bitten by an animal since PLA can be sharp and shatter easily.
Another thing to keep in mind is that PLA has a porous structure which allows bacteria to grow inside it. When PLA is mixed with food items, it can potentially lead to health issues from the bacteria.
If you want to create a food bowl for your pet for example, you’ll want to seal the PLA model with a food-safe sealant which protects it from bacteria festering and making it cleanable.
The usual manufacturing method of plastic injection molding is usually a better choice when using objects for pets and animals.
Is PLA Safe for Dogs?
PLA 3D prints are not safe for dogs because if it gets chewed, it will most likely fragment into small parts which are sharp and can hurt a dog. Since 3D prints are created in several layers, sharp teeth can easily tear apart these layers. The mechanical properties of PLA means that it’s likely to shatter.
In terms of toxicity, there’s not as much of a safety concern, but still some to think about.
The micro pockets in the PLA print structure and the addition of harmful metals coming from the hotend can potentially lead to issues.
Some users have had success by 3D print objects that can fit into their dogs mouth such as a large ball. Others say that printing a toy with 100% infill would work, but people disagree saying that PLA 3D prints with 100% infill can still shear and it should be avoided.
Is PLA Safe for Cats?
PLA is not safe for cats if they chew or ingest them. Some users mentioned that cats can be attracted to PLA since it has a sweet smell, maybe due to being a corn-based product or just the look of it. There are unique cat toy designs that people make from PLA, usually in the shape of a ball so they can’t eat it.
Check out the Cat Toy on Thingiverse. Many people have made these and said their cats love playing with it. I’d recommend sealing the model to reduce the level of bacteria on it.
Is PLA Safe for Birds?
PLA is safe for birds to eat from it or live under a shelter printed using PLA filament. The main thing to keep in mind is with the actual printing process because when PLA melts, it’s known to emit some fumes and VOCs. Some birds such as a cockatiel can actually be killed from PTFE, which 3D printers use.
The PTFE tube on a 3D printer actually can start to break down at temperatures even at around 200°C and affect birds, so you do need to be very careful about 3D printing around birds.
Unless you have a separate room with really good ventilation that doesn’t transfer air to the room your bird is in, I’d advise against 3D printing in your home.
Is PLA Safe for Fish?
PLA is known to be safe for fish as many people use PLA 3D printed objects as decorations in their aquarium or areas for fish to eat from. The thing to keep in mind is the potentially harmful material from the hotend mixing with the PLA print such as lead or trace metals. It’s recommended to use pure PLA.
You want to avoid PLA with additives such as flexible PLA, glow-in-the-dark, wood-fill or any other types of PLA or composite filaments. Many people recommend to apply a nice waterproof coat to your PLA to improve its durability.
Also, applying some waterproofing coatings and paints can protect PLA print from water and help it stay with fish for longer.
One user said he has an eSUN PLA+ Cubone Skull in his Betta fish tank of around 5 gallons for more than a year now without facing any issues. The fish task has a charcoal and bio filter combo.
Another user said they have a friend who is known as the aquarium guy and he has a few PLA 3D printed parts in his salt water tank that he’s had for two years without any degradation.
The most that might happen if your part does start breaking down is some carbon dosing which he says isn’t too harmful for your fish. You can simply remove the part and reprint it. The guy also has ABS and Nylon 3D prints in there as well.
Check out my article Is 3D Printed PLA, ABS & PETG Safe for Fish or Aquariums?
Is PLA Safe for Hamsters?
PLA is known to be safe for hamsters unless they chew up the PLA model. One user has designed and 3D print various hamster-related PLA objects and has been using them without issue for a long time. He mentioned his hamsters did try to chew them at first but didn’t like the taste and stopped. Wooden houses are safer.
You do need to be careful since fragments of PLA could be ingested if they do chew the model, and could cause issues in their digestive tracts or intestines. The filament itself isn’t toxic but it’s better to take precautions since hamsters have a habit of chewing things they see.
Ideally, you want to use PLA without additives, dyes, or chemicals. He mentioned to avoid ABS since it produces toxic fumes when printing and recommends PLA or PETG.
Check out some of the designs from the user below:
Is PLA Safe for Reptiles?
PLA is safe for reptiles when you 3D print large objects such as terrain for their environment. Many people create huts and hides for their reptiles within the enclosure. They also make bowls out of PLA and things like litter boxes. You might not want to 3D print small objects that they could ingest.
Someone who has a leopard gecko said he’s been decorating it with 3D prints for years. He used ABS and PLA, sometimes painting them but always making sure to seal them with polyurethane and letting them set for 25 hours before putting them into the enclosure.
He mentioned that he printed various corridors from the Open Forge Stone Series and Castle Grayskull from Thingiverse with PLA filament.
Is PLA Safe for Food or to Drink From?
PLA is known to not be safe for food or drink due to the layer-by-layer nature of 3D printing and the crevices that can harbor bacteria over time. Also, the hotend is usually made from brass which might extrude trace amounts of lead. PLA filament usually has additives that decrease its food and drink safety.
PLA 3D prints can be made safe by using a food-safe sealant or epoxy and letting it set. Another thing you should do is to use a stainless steel nozzle and all-metal hotend to avoid those traces of lead that can be extruded.
Some users claim that PLA is only safe for food or drinks if you use it once or twice, though this is incorrect and you’ll need to take more precautions to ensure safety.
Is PLA Safe for Plants?
PLA is safe for plants as PLA printed pots are widely used both for indoor and outdoor gardening. People grow herbs, fruits, vegetables, and many other greens in PLA pots. Many people grow plants in PLA printed pots with the same normal procedure of using soil and water and they haven’t noticed any issues at all.
Below are some of the most beautiful and efficient plant pots printed with PLA:
- Self-Watering Planter (Small)
- Baby Groot Air Plant Planter
- Mario Bros Planter – Single/Dual Extrusion Minimal Planter
If your PLA-printed plant pot is placed in direct sunlight, it is better to apply Krylon UV Resistant Clear Gloss from Amazon as it will protect it from UV rays making it last longer.
A user said that he has pots and vases made from PLA that always remain in a moist environment. He printed them about 6 months ago and they are still watertight and look as good as they were on the first day of printing. One of his PLA printed pots is:
A user said that PLA degrades fast but it doesn’t mean that it starts degrading just after a month. The usual degradation process of PLA requires certain conditions such as heat and pressure to degrade properly, so having it just in normal conditions means it should last a very long time.
Is PLA Safe to Breathe?
PLA is known to be safe to breathe for the most part because it emits a low amount of VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) and UFPs (Ultra Fine Particles) during the printing process, especially compared to ABS or Nylon. Not many long-term studies have been done to conclude it’s safety over many years though.
PLA does release a chemical called Lactide which is non-toxic which means that you should be able to breathe fumes without facing any issues. However, it is better to stay cautious if you work with the PLA regularly.
Although most users claim PLA to be safe to breathe, some disagree and they are right to a great extent as well.
Users claim that although PLA is safe to breathe, you should still print it in a well-ventilated area especially if you have allergies, skin conditions, or children in your house.
The best method of ventilation is to 3D print within an enclosure and extract the air through an air hose or vent of some kind. One user mentioned that if he sits close to his 3D printer while printing PLA, his sinuses start to bother him, though he said he has a sensitive respiratory system.
It’s important to keep safe rather than taking chances on your health.
Check out my article 3D Printer Enclosures: Temperature & Ventilation Guide.
Is PLA Safe to Eat or Put in Your Mouth?
According to the MSDS of one PLA filament, no harmful effects should be expected if you swallow PLA, but you should still consult a physician. PLA has additives and chemicals which might be toxic, so you should check the MSDS if possible. Also, the extrusion process with the brass nozzle can leave lead in the filament.
Manufacturers of PLA do say that it shouldn’t be kept inside the mouth, even if it has been categorized as food safe.
Although ingredients for PLA are derived mostly from plants, it is still a thermoplastic and should be avoided in terms of eating or swallowing. Eating PLA can directly lead to health issues because experts claim that PLA resists digestion.
A user said that there is no study showing that chewing PLA is a harmful practice while there are also no studies that claim 100% that PLA is safe to chew. So, we cannot be 100% sure in any opinion.
If you do accidentally put PLA in your mouth, there shouldn’t be an issue but it’s a better idea to avoid it.
Some experts believe it would be okay if you have the right procedures and steps since it’s used in medical applications.
There is also a user who claims that one of his friends is in the lab and he says that PLA is offering many benefits and will revolutionize the medical field in the coming future. PLA has properties to be used in different body parts for different purposes.
However, it should not be treated as 100% safe to eat just because it is used in the medical field.
Check out this article from PeerJ about the intrinsic sterility of PLA.
Is PLA Safe to Burn?
PLA is not safe to burn since it will produce toxic fumes above certain temperatures. If you simply heat up PLA to fix some stringing like using a lighter under the print very quickly, that wouldn’t be too bad. PLA releases VOCs while burning so you should be in a well-ventilated area before doing anything like that.
Inhaling some of these fumes can cause health issues, especially with those who are going through a health condition or have allergies.
It’s a lot better to properly recycle PLA since burning it isn’t good for the environment.
PLA is known to not be very harmful when heated at temperatures between 180 – 240°C (356 – 464°F). At these temperatures, it emits mostly Lactide which is recognized as fairly safe and not known to harm humans or animals.
Is PLA Safe to 3D Print Indoors?
PLA is one of the safest filaments to 3D print indoors but nothing is 100% safe. You still want to 3D print in a room that’s well-ventilated. PLA can contain other additives and chemicals, especially with filament like PLA+ that can contain parts of ABS. Many users have been printing PLA indoors without issues.
Since many studies haven’t been done on this, you still want to stay cautious. People mention that something like cooking with hot grease or oil over a cooker would release much worse particles than 3D printing with PLA, plus you can walk away from your 3D printer easier than cooking food.
A user also said that he has his 3D printer placed right near his computer in the room and he has been printing standard PLA (without additives) for a long time now. He believes that smoke from cars and fireplaces is much more harmful than fumes coming from printing PLA.
It’s important to use PLA that has proper safety measures and is from a reliable brand. Some filament is made cheaply without much manufacturer information like the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet).
Is PLA Safe for Cookie Cutters?
A natural PLA filament without additives is considered to be safe for cookie cutters, usually if used once or twice. Cookie cutters only come into contact with cookie dough for small periods of time. You can seal your cookie cutters in a food grade sealant or epoxy to use it longer term.
One user even suggested using cling film as a way to not have the cookie cutter directly contact the cookie dough. Since 3D printers are created layer-by-layer, bacteria can build up between these nooks and crannies, making them very hard to clean.
Some people believe that the bacteria transferred from PLA cookie cutters would be killed when baking the cookies in high heat, though I’m not experienced with that.
PLA cookie cutters can be great if done correctly, though for a long-term solution it might be better to go with an injection molded material.