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Unclogging 3D Printer Nozzles: Most Practical Guide

Aug 03,2023 | 3D4Create

I. Introduction

Nozzle clogs are a common headache for FDM printer users. When plastic debris jams up the nozzle or hot end, your printer can grind to a halt. Left unchecked, clogs lead to under-extrusion, poor layer adhesion, gaps, and weak prints. Severe obstructions can completely stop extrusion and end printing altogether. 

The good news is most clogs can be cleared with some disassembly and cleaning. This guide summarizes practical, straightforward methods to get your printer flowing again based on hands-on experience. We'll examine where clogs originate, smart prevention tips, and step-by-step unclogging techniques for both the extruder and hot end. 

 

II. Where Do Nozzle Clogs Come From?

Before we dig into solutions, it helps to understand the main causes of nozzle clogs:

1. Extruder Clogs

The extruder is the mechanism that grips the filament and pushes it into the hot end. Clogs here stem from plastic bits jammed and melted within the extruder drive gears or hobbed bolt. Normal wear-and-tear also produces plastic dust that accumulates.

Anything blocking the drive path will prevent smooth filament entry into the hot end. Extruder clogs manifest as intermittent under-extrusion, slipping filament, or complete jams.

2. Hot End Clogs

The hot end heats up filament right before it extrudes from the nozzle tip. Clogs here occur when debris blocks the nozzle opening or throat. This prevents melted plastic exiting to the print bed.

Hot end clogs show up as weak lower layers, gaps in prints, or no extrusion at all as pressure builds up. The clog may be deep in the throat or at the nozzle tip.

Fortunately unclogging the extruder and hot end involve similar teardowns - taking components apart, scrubbing out gunk, and reassembling.

Hot End Clogs - The How & Why - Snapmaker 2.0 - Snapmaker: where creation  happens

Hot End Clogs (photo: Snapmaker)


III. Smart Ways to Prevent Nozzle Clogs

Unclogging nozzles can be tedious, so prevention is wise. Here are tips to avoid clogs in the first place:

  • Use a nozzle wiping pad - Wipe away ooze after prints so it doesn't bake on.
  • Install a silicone sock over the hot end - Catches stray plastic and protects the nozzle.
  • Avoid high-temp materials - ABS and nylon create more debris than PLA or PETG. There are more differences between PLA and ABS.
  • Dry filament properly - Moisture in filament can leave sticky residue during printing.  
  • Swap nozzles regularly - Nozzles wear out over time. Replace before failures occur.
  • Check for PTFE tube gaps - Any gaps will fill with melted plastic.
  • Print cold pulls often - Helps clean inside of nozzle and throat periodically.

 

IV. Step-by-Step Guide to Fixing Extruder Clogs

When experiencing slipping filament, grinding noises, or no movement, an extruder clog is likely the culprit. Here's how to clean it:

  1. Fully remove the extruder from the printer frame and disconnect all wiring.
  2. Carefully disassemble the extruder module using the manufacturer's instructions (You can photograph to aid reassembly).
  3. Check for packed in debris and plastic flakes around the hobbed bolt and drive gear teeth.
  4. Scrub the gears using stiff nylon brushes and dental picks. Avoid scratching metal surfaces.
  5. Clear out compacted filament dust from crevices using compressed air.
  6. Use a sharpened wire wheel brush to scrub packed plastic from the hobbed bolt.
  7. Once components are fully cleaned, reapply any recommended gear lubricant.
  8. Reassemble the extruder and remount it securely onto the printer frame.
  9. Cold feed filament through the extruder to confirm smooth, unimpeded motion.
  10. Hot extrude filament to ensure normal functioning before starting another print.

Be methodical and careful during disassembly to avoid damaging fragile components. With some elbow grease, you can clear even the most packed extruder clogs this way.

3d printing extrusion process with filament passing through the printer's extruder

The 3D printing extrusion process (photo: 3DSOURCED)

EasyThreed Extruder Kit with Nozzles

EasyThreed Extruder Kit with Nozzles

 

V. Step-by-Step Guide to Fixing Hot End Clogs 

When the extruder turns but no plastic comes out, the clog is likely in the hot end. Here is how to fix it:

  1. Power off the 3D printer and allow the hot end to naturally cool down to room temperature. Then detach the hot end from the extruder.
  2. Heat up the thin acupuncture needle with a lighter for about 30 seconds until it turns red hot.  (PS: Heating the nozzle directly may not work as well as heating the needle.)
  3. Stick the heated thin acupuncture needle into the nozzle opening to pierce the clog.
  4. Allow the hot end to fully cool down, keeping the needle inserted.
  5. Heat up the hot end again to around 110°C - 130°C.
  6. Slowly pull out the needle, which should draw out the pierced clog.
  7. Remove needle and heat the nozzle to 260°C.
  8. Poke around in the throat through the bottom opening with the needle.
  9. Insert a 0.4mm nozzle cleaning drill bit to further clear any debris.
  10. Optional - For tough clogs, fully disassemble the hot end for a complete scrub.
  11. Reassemble with a fresh nozzle once entirely clean.

The key steps are heating to soften the clog, piercing with a needle, then slowly removing it once cool. Be cautious to avoid damaging the nozzle throat when poking around inside.

How to Clean a 3D Printer Nozzle: The Easiest Ways | All3DP

Cleaning a 3D Printer Nozzle with a needle (photo: All3DP)

 

VI. When To Call for Professional Service 

If an extruder or hot end remains jammed after trying all standard unclogging steps, the components likely need professional service. The inner mechanisms may be damaged or worn out. 

Technicians have specialized tools like ultrasonic cleaners and tiny water jets to clear even microscopic debris. They can fully disassemble parts and replace anything defective. While expensive, professional service can restore functionality if DIY efforts fail.

EasyThreed Nozzle 0.4mm Connector (1+1)

EasyThreed Nozzle 0.4mm Connector

 

VII. Conclusion

Learning to properly disassemble, clean, and reassemble your 3D printer's extruder and hot end is crucial for resolving nozzle clogs. Methodically applying heat and using simple picks and needles can clear most plastic buildup and debris. 

While clearing clogs takes time and patience, these practical steps can bring even the most stubbornly jammed nozzle back to smoothly extruding filament. And remember, a little preventative maintenance goes a long way towards avoiding clogs in the first place!

 

FAQS

1. What is the best way to unclog a 3D printer nozzle?

A: One effective method is using a cold pull or "atomic" pull. Heat the nozzle to the printing temperature, then cool it down to a lower temperature. Once cooled, gently and firmly pull the filament out of the nozzle to clear any clogs.

2. How do you remove PLA from a clogged nozzle?

A: To remove PLA from a clogged nozzle, heat the nozzle to its melting temperature for PLA. Carefully use a nozzle cleaning needle or a small drill bit to manually clear the blockage. Be cautious not to damage the nozzle.

3. How do you fix a clogged extruder nozzle?

A: Start by heating the nozzle to its specified temperature for the filament material in use. Use a nozzle cleaning needle or a small drill bit to gently clear the clog. Additionally, performing regular maintenance, such as periodic nozzle cleaning and proper filament handling, can help prevent clogs.

4. What tool is used to unclog 3D printer nozzles?

A: A common tool used to unclog 3D printer nozzles is a nozzle cleaning needle or a set of cleaning needles. These needles are available in various diameters to match the nozzle size and are designed to carefully remove any debris or blockages.

See Also:

How to Dissolve PLA to Clean 3D Printer Nozzles?

4 Best Methods to Clean PLA Residue Off Magnetic Print Bed

3 Easy Ways to Clean a 3D Printer Nozzle

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