How to melt PLA? dissolve PLA (Polylactic Acid)

If you’re a perfectionist, you would want your 3D printer finished product to be perfect. But no thanks to the manufacturing process of the PLA filament, your finished product might show some form of imperfection.

Nevertheless, there’s a way to get rid of those imperfections that stick on your 3D-printed object. The easy way is to dissolve your PLA filament. When you dissolve the PLA filament, the result you’ll get is a smooth filament that adds the perfection you seek to your finished product.

Now, the question is, can you dissolve PLA? If yes, how and why is dissolving your PLA filament possible? Curious much? That’s a lot of good things. Keep reading to satisfy your curiosity.

Can You Dissolve PLA?

The simple answer is Yes! You or anyone can dissolve PLA with the right ingredients. Without dissolving your PLA filament, you might mess up your 3D-printed object. Although PLA filament has been classified as an easy-to-handle filament amongst other filaments, you’d still encounter some bumpy areas. Just as they say that nobody is perfect, in this case, no filament is perfect.

The truth about PLA filament is, while it is made from organic materials, you might not enjoy using it directly to print out your 3D objects. Hence, the solution is to dissolve it. Guess what? There are various ways to dissolve PLA filament to give you the desired result without defects arising from printing.

Now, you’re probably thinking about how it’s possible to dissolve PLA. For starters, you can easily dissolve PLA filament because it is soluble. Few chemicals can help with dissolving it. But you have to be careful when shopping for the best chemicals to help dissolve PLA. The reason? Not all chemicals are safe to use on the skin or in the house. So, before you dress up, get in your car and drive to the drugstore, you need to determine the kind of chemical you need to buy. The chemical you should opt for should produce the result you hope to get from dissolving your PLA.

In essence, while you’re thinking of the chemical to dissolve your PLA filament, you need to decide the result you want to get. How smooth do you want the dissolved PLA to be? Your result determines your method/ dissolving agent.

With the help of several solvents, PLA can be dissolved to give rise to a smoother-looking finished product. Some of the solvents that you might want to adopt in the PLA dissolving process includes, DCM (Dichloromethane), acetone, etc. amongst the other solvent that exists to dissolve PLA, DCM seems to be the best. The reason is, it mingles well with organic solvents, even though it doesn’t go well with water.

Although there seem to be enough chemical variants that can help with dissolving PLA, you’ll find that not all these chemicals are easily accessible. The inaccessibility of some of these chemicals is closely linked to how dangerous or harmful they are.

Aside from chemicals, there are other environmentally friendly options for dissolving PLA. However, you might not quickly get your desired result with these other non-chemical options. You might also burn a lot of energy trying to get these other friendly options to work.

Stick with us longer, and we’ll show you how the magic of dissolving PLA to reveal a smoother print works. Grab your notepad because we’ll be spilling a lot of secrets in the sections ahead.

Read: Two 3D Printing Filaments Comparison, PETG and PLA

How to Dissolve PLA With Chemistry

No doubt, the faster way to dissolve PLA is through the use of chemicals. Now there are a wide variety of chemicals that can rise to the task of dissolving PLA. As earlier stated, dissolving PLA is one of the best ways to ensure your 3D objects are printed with perfection. Although some of these chemical solvents are good, others are just plain harmful to the environment and your health in general. Looking for some of suitable solvents to dissolve PLA with? Here are a few and how they work.

ACETONE:

Acetone is one of the various solvents that you can use to dissolve PLA. However, based on research, it is not 100% the best solvent for dissolving PLA. But it works to some extent when it comes to dissolving PLA. The reason is, acetone is not strong enough to dissolve pure PLA. It works best when PLA is blended with other types of plastic. The trick to doing acetone work for PLA is to mix it with additives.

These additives would latch on to the acetone, aiding it in its task of melting your PLA. The downside to using acetone to dissolve PLA is that it would give the PLA surface a sticky and softer surface. In extreme cases, acetone could damage your PLA material. Hence you have to take caution when applying it to your PLA. There are certain precautions you should observe when using acetone to dissolve your PLA.

You need to take these safety measures because of the flammable nature of acetone. Some of these safety tips include use eye and breathing protection goggles and mask. It would shield you from the harmful fumes of acetone.

You’d be better off wearing hand gloves to prevent direct skin contact with the acetone. Only use acetone in a room that is perfectly ventilated to prevent acetone fume accumulation. A vital safety tip is to avoid working in a room that lacks any ignition source like an electronic device.

ETHYL ACETATE:

If you’re looking for a less toxic option to diluting PLA, ethyl acetate is perfect for it. To top it all, it has a nice smell and is quite affordable. The smell this chemical gives off is similar to that of banana and strawberry. It evaporates easily, making it one of the best choices for dissolving PLA. If you check out ingredients in your products, then you should have come across ethyl acetate.

It is a common solvent used in making perfumes, tea leaves, nail varnish removers, etc. Although it seems harmless, you should be careful with this solvent as it is very flammable. Hence, it’s important to be careful with using and storing ethyl acetate.

Methyl ethyl ketone (MEK):

This solvent can dissolve PLA. However, expert researchers strongly advise against using this solvent. Their claim is, MEK is highly hazardous. It falls in the class of highly dangerous chemicals. It is only best for industries and, even then, only experts should handle it. Do not attempt to use it at home as it is dangerous.

Tetrahydrofuran:

Tetrahydrofuran is another chemical that you can use to completely dissolve PLA. Like MEK, it is best used in industries. It is another highly dangerous chemical that should not be used in the home ad there are reasons. It has a very low flashpoint. As a result, it is a flammable chemical. It could start a fire in the face of the slightest trigger which ticks it off the list of ideal choices to dissolve PLA in the home. Although the vapor of this chemical is effective in dissolving PLA and giving it a good appearance, it is dangerous to health. So, if you cannot avoid using this chemical, ensure you wear a protective mask while using it. You’d protect yourself from inhaling the dangerous fumes.

Caustic soda (sodium hydroxide):

Caustic soda is also good when it comes to dissolving PLA for certain reasons. For starters, it is easy to find. You can easily get it from a drugstore near you. Nevertheless, the fact that is readily accessible is not a ticket to not handling it with caution. The best way to get the best result from caustic soda is to make a caustic soda mixture. You’ll need about 120gram of caustic soda. Mix it in 1 liter of water. Then, dip the PLA filament or carrier into this caustic soda bath.

Do not dip your bare hands into the caustic soda bath as it is not safe. Instead, put on protective goggles and gloves to protect your skin and eyes from the impact of the caustic soda as it is aggressive and flammable too.

Chloroform/Dichloromethane (DCM):

Unless you’re an expert in the use of DCM, the experts advise not to use this chemical to dissolve PLA. Although a faster way to dissolve PLA, it can damage your skin, plastic, paintings, coatings, etc., this colorless chemical has a nice odor. But it can also ruin all your hard work. So, if you opt for DCM to dissolve your PLA, do it under the supervision of an expert or let the expert handle it. Also, do not expect this chemical to mix with water because it won’t. But it would easily bond with other solvents.

HOW TO SMOOTH PLA WITHOUT CHEMISTRY

Although using chemicals is the easier and faster route to dissolving PLA, the fact that it could be potentially harmful to your health and environment cannot be ignored. The main reason why you’d need to dissolve your PLA is to smoothen it out. Once you smoothen your PLA, your 3D-printed objects would be flawless. However, you can still smoother out your PLA without the help of chemistry or any chemicals. Here are some of the ways to dissolve PLA without chemicals.

PLA Weilding:

a non-chemical method to smoothing PLA is to wield the PLA surface. This would result in a smooth and flawless result after printing your object. It is also a much safer route as you won’t have to come in contact with chemicals that might cause your skin to react in a certain type of way. To Wield a PLA surface, you’ll need PLA wielding tools like a drilling machine or a Dremel. If you don’t have access to either of these pieces of equipment, a device that rotates well will work to wield the PLA surface.

Primer Spray:

Using a Primer spray right after sanding your PLA surface is another great way to get a smooth finishing on your 3D-printed object. After printing your object, apply the primer spray. A sandable primer spray would give you your desired result. Although a primer spray also uses chemicals, it is not as intense or severe as other chemical solvents that would be usually used to dissolve PLA. It is a lot safer and wouldn’t cause you to react negatively to it.

FAQ

  • What are the Solvents that Can Dissolve PLA?
    PLA doesn’t easily dissolve. But with the right chemical solvent, it would readily dissolve. Some of the solvents that can dissolve PLA include Acetone, Chloroform, or DCM, Ethyl Acetate, Caustic Soda, etc. While some of these chemicals need to be mixed with water before use, others can be applied directly.
  • How can I Melt PLA Filament?
    Melting PLA filament is quite easy. The goal is to get smooth and flawless 3D-printed objects. The easiest method is to make use of chemical solvents. Some of these solvents have been listed above. However, before you adopt any chemical solvent to melt PLA, you have you take certain precautions like wearing protective goggles, hand gloves, and nose covers to shield you from the negative impacts of these chemicals on the human body.
    Also, you have to watch the concentration of these chemicals. Ensure that it is not too much so that it doesn’t damage your plastic.
  • IS IT SAFE TO MIX SOLVENTS TO DISSOLVE PLA?
    The short answer is No! It is not safe to mix different solvents to dissolve PLA. The reason? These solvents, on their own, are not 100% safe. They are dangerous to the environment and highly flammable. Mixing these solvents could lead to accidents like fire outbreaks. Hence, it’s best to stick to a single solvent when it comes to dissolving PLA with chemicals.
  • CAN ACETONE DISSOLVE PLA?
    Yes, Acetone can dissolve PLA. However, the result might not 100%. It would be best if you pulled some strings for acetone to dissolve PLA off any surface or on its own. Adding additives to the PLA makes it easier to dissolve in acetone.

Last Words

There are so many methods that can be used to dissolve PLA. You can either do it with or without chemicals. But your choice of approach should be hinged on the result you want to see.

Using chemicals is the fastest way to melt PLA. You need to be careful with the solvent as they are harsh. The best way to use solvents is to protect your skin, eyes, and nose from coming in contact with these solvents.

You need to wear hand gloves to prevent the solvents from damaging your skin. You also need to prevent the fumes from entering your nose and eyes. Thankfully, goggles and nose covers can work.

Another thing is, make sure the solvent concentration is not too much or intense. When properly measured, you’ll successfully melt PLA. Otherwise, you might damage it in the process.

If you’re not sure about using chemicals, then, opt for ways to smooth PLA without chemicals. Read through for some suggestions.

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