10 3D Printer Maintenance Tips For Optimal Performance

Marcello De Lio

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Close up of an inksmith makerforge 3D printer

Proper 3D printer maintenance is essential for keeping your machine in top shape and producing high-quality prints.

Preventative maintenance ensures your printer functions as intended, minimizes print defects, improves safety, and increases the machine’s lifespan.

After owning and maintaining dozens of 3D printers, I’ve noticed that frequent maintenance saves me money because parts last much longer, and I don’t spend money on replacements or upgrades.

This guide covers ten easy 3D printer maintenance tips and steps to keep your printer running at optimal performance.

Basic Cleaning

Using a vacuume to perform basic cleaning on the frame of a 3D printer

Although it sounds simple, ensuring your printer is clean improves print quality, mechanical component life, and the safety of your system. Dust and filament residue can impact the performance of your 3D system.

I recommend vacuuming your whole printer from top to bottom at least once a month, whether you use it or not.

A good compressed air duster (Amazon) is a good choice for cleaning your 3D printing.

Cleaning the build platform of an Ender 5 3D printer with isopropyl alcohol

Paper towels or a microfiber cloth with isopropyl alcohol works excellent for cleaning non-electronic components. Cotton swabs are also helpful in getting into the nooks and crannies behind your printer’s electronics board.

Regular cleaning ensures that mechanical components like guide wheels, belts, and pulleys can move freely without debris buildup.

It is also a good idea to scrape and clean the build plate with a glass cleaner before every build.

Maintaining a clean build plate significantly improves my first-layer adhesion and helps prevent many common print issues.

Using a vacuume to clean the electric components on a 3D printer

To improve safety, clean the inside of the electronics case with compressed air or a vacuum. Dust-covered electronics are often neglected but can become a fire hazard when filament dust accumulates.

To help ensure nothing gets missed, here’s a short list of steps to ensure your printer is thoroughly clean.

  1. Turn off your printer with the power switch and unplug it from the wall.
  2. Vacuum all guide wheels, stepper motors, aluminum extrusions, drive belts, and printhead carriage.
  3. Remove the printhead heat block cover and vacuum the heat block and the cooling fans. Before you do this, please ensure that the heat block has cooled. Once cleaned, reinstall the heat block and fan cover. Ensure you hold the 3D printer fans while blowing compressed air so they don’t move during cleaning.
  4. Scrap, vacuum, and wipe the build plate with a glass cleaner. Note: Do not scrape a soft magnetic build plate, or you may damage it. Simply vacuum and wipe the build plate with a glass cleaner. If it is dirty or scratched up, consider replacing it to prevent first-layer bed adhesion issues.
  5. After you finish cleaning the outside of the printer, unscrew the electronics cover and dust off the mainboard and the power supply with compressed air. Pay extra attention to the cooling fans. With the mainboard cover off, checking that the connectors and wires are properly secured is a good idea. The vibrations caused by printing can loosen connections. Gently tug on the wire. If there is no movement along the connection, you know it’s properly secured. If the site pulls out, then you need to tighten it more.
  6. You can reinstall the cover once you finish cleaning the inside components.

Note: When cleaning tight areas, use isopropyl alcohol and a cotton swab. The alcohol attracts the dust, and the cotton swab is small enough to reach those hard-to-reach places.

Warning: Ensure the printer thoroughly cools down before using alcohol. DO NOT use alcohol on any wiring or electrical components.

Pro Tip: You can use a 3D printing enclosure to keep your 3D printer clean. An enclosure reduces the frequency that you’ll need to dust off your printer.

Check for Loose Wires and Connections

Checking for loose wires and connections is essential for several reasons:

  • Loose wires can lead to electrical malfunctions, short circuits, and even fires.
  • Regularly inspecting and tightening connections can prevent potential hazards and ensure the safe operation of electrical devices and systems.
  • Loose connections can also cause poor performance or malfunctioning of electronic devices, impacting your print quality.

 The vibrations during printing can lead to loose connections between wires. Loose wires are a common issue on printers that don’t provide strain relief.

Lightly tug on the electrical connections. If you notice movement at the connection, you must secure the wiring.

Z Axis Screw Maintenance

Linear screws, like the Z-axis screw found on Ender 3-style 3D printers, ensure smooth and accurate movement of the print bed.

Linear screws and linear guides must be clean to operate freely.

If dirt and debris accumulate along the Z screw, you’ll see movement issues that cause a loss in print quality and accuracy. Cleaning and lubricating your linear rails prevents common print defects such as increased surface roughness, visible layer lines, blobs, layer shifts, and more.

If you notice increased noise and vibrations while printing, it’s time to apply lubricant to the linear rails.

I recommend using white lithium grease (Amazon) when lubricating the above printer components. We’ve also gotten good results with PTFE lubricant or a dry silicone lubricant.

Here’s how to properly lubricate your 3D printer:

  1. Remove the rods.
  2. Clean the rods and bearings.
  3. Grease the rods, bearings, POM wheels, and lead screws.
  4. Re-assemble the Z-axis assembly.

After testing several types of lubricants, I’ve found it best to avoid grease-based lubricants, which act like a magnet to dust and can get gummy over time.

If you opt for the grease-based lubricant, wipe the rods and screws with a clean, dry cloth to remove the old residue before applying fresh grease.

I run my printers quite frequently and make a point of relubricating them every three months or 1000 hours of printing.

If you’re not running your printer often, it’s best to apply lubricant to the rails at least every six months.

Check For Loose Nuts and Bolts

Tightening the nuts and bolts on a Ender 5 S1 3D printer

3D printers create a lot of vibrations during printing, which loosens nuts, bolts, and fasteners.

You’ll be surprised how much the bolts loosen after only a few months of printing. Some people use epoxy (Amazon) to secure the bolts.

We don’t recommend permanently securing your bolts because it’ll prevent you from disassembling your printer in the future. Epoxy can also make it impossible to upgrade components if you can’t dismantle the frame of your 3D printer.

I recommend checking the nuts and bolts every three to six months.

Just be sure you don’t over-tighten any components. Otherwise, you risk stripping the threads or cracking the frame.

Adjusting Belt Tension

Allen Key Belt tensioner on an Ender 5 3D printer

Belts are the main drive unit that moves the print head and build platform. A correctly tensioned belt ensures smooth, consistent movement during printing.

When the belts are worn out, loose, or too tight, they can cause print defects like Z-banding, layer shifting, and ghosting. 

A properly tensioned 3D printer belt should have a similar tension to a guitar string. When you press down on the belt, there should be some resistance, but not so much that it’s stiff.

Knob belt tensioner on an ender 3 v2

Some 3D printers provide belt tensioning knobs, which make it easy to adjust the tension of your 3D printer belts. If your printer doesn’t have belt tensioner knobs, you’ll need an Allen key to tension the belts on older or budget 3D printers.

Checking the belt tension is quick and easy.

I recommend checking the belt tension every 10 to 20 prints.

If you see any layer shifting or 3D print ghosting, it’s often a sign of over or under-tensioned belts.

While taught belts are important, it’s equally essential that you don’t over-tighten the belts. If the belts are over-tightened, they can permanently stretch, resulting in the belts slipping over the gears, creating layer shifting and ghosting issues in your 3D prints.

You want to ensure the belts have a good grip on the belt pulleys so they don’t slip.

Nozzle Cleaning

A clean nozzle is essential for ensuring the proper flow of filament during the printing process. Many makers overlook nozzle cleaning, but it dramatically affects print quality.

Over time, nozzles accumulate dirt, dust, and filament residue. The debris leads to partial clogs, impacting the print surface of your 3D-printed parts.

You can use cleaning filament to remove dirt and debris from the nozzle. Or use a small wire brush to remove filament residue gently.

However, our preferred nozzle cleaning method is to perform a cold pull.

Here’s how to perform a cold pull to clean your 3D printer nozzle:

  • Set the hot end temperature to normal printing temperature (e.g. 200°C for PLA).
  • Adjust the nozzle to a temperature of 90°C.
  • Manually feed about an inch of filament while the nozzle is cooling.
  • Once the nozzle has cooled to 90°C, pull the filament up and out of the extruder.

One way to minimize clogs is to invest in an upgraded nozzle.

Hardened steel-tip and ruby-tipped nozzles don’t clog as quickly as the standard brass nozzle.

Ruby and steel are much harder than brass, meaning the nozzle doesn’t wear down as quickly as brass. Upgraded nozzles last much longer than brass and clog less often.

But you should regularly clean your upgraded nozzles as part of your regular 3D printer maintenance.

We recommend upgrading your nozzles when working with wood-filled, carbon-filled, glow-in-the-dark, silk, or other specialty plastics. Specialty filaments are more abrasive than standard PLA or PETG plastic, creating more wear and tear on your nozzles.

Bed Leveling

A level bed on an Anycubic Vyper 3D printer

Bed leveling is the most fundamental maintenance step to creating high-quality and consistent prints. Leveling the 3D printing build platform is often overlooked.

By leveling the bed, you can solve most 3D printing issues and print failures.

You should level your print bed before every print. However, manual bed leveling is tedious and time-consuming.

 We typically recommend performing a bed leveling every five to ten prints. Or when you notice first-layer bed adhesion problems.

Here are the steps to manually level the bed of your FDM 3D printer.

  1. Heat the build plate to the standard printing temperatures. A bed temperature of 55°C is good for PLA. Build plates expand slightly when heated. By heating the build plate before leveling, you’ll ensure that you’re calibrating your 3D printer to work under operating conditions. You can perform bed leveling without heating the build surface area, but a slight change in the gap between the nozzle and the build plate impacts your printer’s Z-offset.
  2. Auto-home the printer and make sure that the Z position of the printer is “0mm.”
  3. Disable the X and Y stepper motors, which allow you to move the print head by hand freely. If your printer doesn’t allow you to disable only the X and Y stepper, you can always manually move the print head to the desired position using the printer menu.
  4. Move the print head to one corner of the print bed.
  5. Slide a piece of regular printer paper between the nozzle and the bed. You should feel slight resistance when you slide the paper under the nozzle.
  6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 on each of the four corners and the center of your build platform. Continue repeating the steps until you can complete one rotation without adjusting any leveling nuts. You need to recheck the entire platform after adjusting one of the bed screws because changing one corner throws off the alignment of the other corners of the build plate.

Once you have rechecked your corners and are confident it is all level, run a test print and check the first layer. You want to note any gaps in the tool path, blobs, and scoring. Be sure there are no visible signs of the print being uneven.

Our preferred test print is the bed leveling squares below:

If you want to automate this process, you can always look to install a BL-touch, CR-touch, or another automatic bed leveling system.

Firmware Updates

Like your computer updates, printer firmware updates improve the software of your 3D printer. Updating the firmware can help correct print quality issues, enhance safety, and improve print speed, temperature control, and printer accuracy.

To check for updates, visit the 3D printer manufacturer’s website for the latest software version. Follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer to upgrade the firmware on your 3D printer.

We always recommend upgrading the original firmware during the initial setup of a new 3D printer.

Clean Your Extruder Gears

Close up of the extruder gear on the Ender 5. Mario is using an allen key to point to the gear teeth.

An overlooked but essential aspect of 3D printer maintenance is cleaning your extruder gears. As the gears feed filament through to the hotend, the gear’s teeth can pick up filament residue, which clogs the teeth. Blocked gear teeth have less contact with the filament, allowing the material to slip on the gears.

Clogged and worn-down extruder gears impact the proper feeding of filament to the printer head. If you have issues with the gears, you’ll under-extrusion and inaccurate filament retraction.

Issues caused by the gears are evident in print quality in gaps, holes, and stringing.

So, what is the best way to clean out your extruder ears?

  1. Use an Allen key to remove the grub screw on the extruder gear.
  2. Slide the gear off the extruder motor shaft.
  3. Use a toothpick or needle to pick out the plastic between the gear teeth.
  4. Slide the gear back onto the extruder motor shaft.
  5. Align the grub screw with the flat spot in the extruder motor shaft.
  6. Tighten the grub screw, ensuring center the gear with the extruder pulley.
  7. Check to make sure the pressure on the gear is consistent.

Filament Care

Drying white pla filament in a Sunlu filament dryer

Maintenance is about more than your 3D printer. You also want to ensure that your filaments are well-maintained for optimal performance.

Small dust particles can accumulate on filament spools, which impacts the flow rate. You need a proper filament storage solution to keep your filament clean.

Most 3D printing filaments are hygroscopic, meaning they absorb moisture. When filament absorbs moisture, it significantly impacts the print quality as it increases in diameter, and the water evaporates in the hotend.

You can dry wet filament before using it, but it’s best to properly store your filament rolls to prevent them from absorbing moisture in the first place.

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SUNLU Filament Dryer Box
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Article by

Marcello De Lio

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