All You Need To Know About Nozzle Cleanliness
All You Need To Know About Nozzle Cleanliness
On FDM 3D printers, many parts contribute to creating a model, but the nozzle is arguably one of the most important. This is where melted filament exits the hot end onto the bed. The nozzle is very important because it affects a printer’s extrusion, and if it is not working optimaly, it can lead to a host of printing problems. However, not all nozzles are the same. Material composition (brass, steel etc), diameter, and other nozzle characteristics determine its performance and expected lifespan.
Lets first take a look at different types of nozzles and why we would use them.
A 0.2-mm diameter exit hole is on the smaller side of diameters and will allow you to print items with more detail. It’s a great size for printing items like miniatures. It’s important, however, to note that prints will take longer and usually be weaker because they have more print lines.
The 0.4-mm diameter is the industry standard across consumer 3D printers. This size offers a great mix of detail, strength, and print time.
This diameter nozzle is on the higher side of nozzle sizes and allows you to print much faster. Prints should also be stronger because they will have fewer print lines, but this comes at the expense of print detail.
Brass is the most popular material for nozzles and is the cheapest too. They’re so cheap that you can purchase a bunch of generic ones for under R100. As you might expect, this nozzle material typically has the shortest lifespan, as it degrades the fastest. Brass nozzles are most appropriate for printing non-abrasive materials like PLA, ABS, and PETG. However, this nozzle material will degrade significantly faster when used with abrasive materials.
Steel nozzles (including hardened and stainless steel) are one step above brass nozzles. Nozzles in this material cost more than brass nozzles but have a longer lifetime and a higher maximum temperature. On top of non-abrasive materials, steel nozzles can also handle light use of abrasive materials before significantly degrading.
Nothing lasts forever, nozzles included. They degrade over time, especially when they get dirty, clogged, or overused. That’s why it’s critical to regularly clean your printer’s nozzle and ensure that it’s working well with the other hot end components on the printhead assembly. Doing so will help extend the lifespan of your nozzle.
In this blog, we’ll go over how to clean your nozzle and prevent issues from arising as well as to fix any problems that could take your printer out of commission. Let’s dive in.
Before we get into the solutions for cleaning your nozzle, it’s imperative to ensure that the nozzle is infact the problem. Below, we’ve listed a few problems that may be caused by a dirty nozzle. For each one, we’ve also included other factors to check before determining the problem is in the nozzle:
- No first layer: If you started a print and see no filament being extruded from the nozzle for the first layer, it could be due to a clogged nozzle. However, it would be worthwhile to check that this problem isn’t caused by the extruder, the Z offset setting, or an unlevel bed.
- Nozzle picks up printed material: This problem is when your nozzle lays some material down, then accidentally picks it up when it moves across the layer. Usually, the nozzle is the only cause of this problem, but make sure you also have a proper Z offset and a level bed.
- Hot end jam: Hot end jams often look as if filament got stuck or trapped in the middle and lower areas of the hot end. As the nozzle is a component of the hot end, it could be responsible for a jam, but be sure also to check that the hot end path (e.g. PTFE liner) isn’t the cause.
- Inconsistent extrusion: Inconsistent extrusion usually looks like your printer can’t keep up with the extrusion of material. It extrudes material in sudden bursts when it should be extruding an even amount of material consistently. Make sure, however, that this problem isn’t caused by wet filament or the extruder’s stepper motor (specifically, its power).
- Under-extrusion: Under-extrusion is similar to the previous one but is a more moderate version that yields a print with obvious missing portions. Make sure to also check that the problem isn’t caused by wet filament, loose extruder tension, or a non-smooth filament path.
- Missing print: If you start a print and come back to “completed” print with only a few, if any, printed layers, it could be caused by a clogged nozzle. However, make sure to also check that your filament diameter is accurate, the print temperature is within the filament material’s range, and the extruder is rotating (It’s ok if no filament comes out, but make sure the extruder motor works).
As we’ve said, it’s imperative to first diagnose the source of the problem as the nozzle. While cleaning your nozzle is usually not a bad idea, it may not resolve the issues that you’re experiencing. A good idea to effectively fix a printing issue is to consider each potential cause of the problem. Then, going from the easiest to check to the hardest, examine each possible cause to find the real culprit.
Once you’re confident that the printing problem you’re experiencing is due to a dirty nozzle, move on to the cleaning methods.
Debris on the nozzle’s exterior is the most visible of all nozzle problems. The debris is usually excess melted material that got stuck to the nozzle during printing.
While this problem is almost always caused by the nozzle being too low – often while printing the first layer, the problem is exacerbated because materials stick best to the same material. Basically, as filament flows out of the nozzle, some get stuck to the side of the nozzle, and as the filament continues to flow out, more catches on the initial material that is stuck to the nozzle’s exterior.
First, clean the nozzle using a damp cloth or an alcohol wipe while the nozzle is hot. This may cause some steam but will indeed remove any material clinging to the nozzle. If this doesn’t work, you can also use a wire brush, small blade, or needle to remove any remaining debris from the nozzle.
While this cleans the nozzle’s exterior, it’s best to prevent any material from getting on the nozzle in the first place. So, consider raising the Z offset and leveling the print bed. It also helps to use a silicone sock that covers most of the nozzle and prevents too much material from sticking.
Another method to clean the interior of the nozzle is to use a heat gun to warm up the nozzle and unclog the inside using nozzle cleaners.