How Long Do PLA Prints Last?

by Mike Brooks | Last Updated: October 20, 2021

As a 3D print enthusiast, you must have wondered about the longevity of a PLA 3D print.

How Long Do PLA Prints Last?

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And yes, PLA 3D printed objects degrade over time, just like any other machine, but it takes so many years to do so.

Therefore, you need not be overly concerned as the standard PLA material degrading process takes a long time to impact the 3D print functionality.

So, How Long Do PLA Prints Last?

PLA material (view on Amazon) lasts a while under normal circumstances. However, certain conditions accelerate the biodegradable properties of a PLA object.

Environmental humidity, direct sunlight, and microbes are some of the factors that degrade PLA prints over time.

What Is a PLA Filament?

PLA plastic filament is a vegetable-based plastic material. It’s one of the most popular plastic materials used in the 3D printing industry.

PLA filament is manufactured using cornstarch as raw material, making it a genuinely eco-friendly filament brand.

PLA filament properties make it ideal for most 3D printers. Its qualities eliminate the need for a heated 3D printer inbuilt bed because of its low glass transition temperature.

Also, you don’t need a reinforced nozzle (view on Amazon) or a printer chamber to make your prints.

Its storage is low-keyed compared to other plastic filaments, and it offers 3D hobbyists a wide range of applications. Additionally, the PLA filament comes in quite a range of colors.

Is PLA Filament Biodegradable?

Yes! PLA filament is made of renewable material that is biodegradable in industrial composting plants. PLA remains highly sustainable compared to fossil filaments because it is manufactured from renewable raw materials that degrade it.

However, PLA filaments are reinforced using carbon fiber during their production. Carbon fiber boosts strength, stiffness, and dimensional stability, making PLA filament a higher performer.

So, like other plastic filaments, PLA pollutes the environment, and there is a need for 3D print users to recycle it.

Biodegradation Process and Time of a PLA Print

The biodegradation process and time of the PLA 3D print process depend on the environment. The consensus is that PLA objects do not readily degrade under room temperature. In fact, under average environmental temperatures, PLA prints last as long as 15 years.

However, certain conditions may accelerate PLA objects to decay, and the decay signs could be quite glaring in one year.

Three elements from the environment cause PLA print degradation. These are heat, humidity and room pressure, and microbes.

These factors combine to create an environment conducive to the biodegradable material that is a PLA print to decay rapidly.

Additionally, a PLA print degrades faster in a high-temperature environment with a rich microorganism presence.

Soil absorbs water and is required for the PLA print decay, but degradation requires a PLA glass transition temperature of 60 degrees centigrade.

A backyard compost bin (view on Amazon) is required in the mix to achieve this glass transition temperature.

Does PLA Filament Have an Expiry Date?

Yes! PLA filament has a shelf life. More importantly, PLA is a biodegradable plastic, and humidity and moisture determine how long it lasts.

PLA and other filament manufacturers advise on the need to store plastic filaments in low humidity environments.

3D printers produce robust prints through indoor3 D printing conducted away from possible adverse effects of sunlight.

Notably, PLA prints used and kept indoors last long, like almost forever!. PLA object’s life span can also be prolonged if you avoid using the object to sustain heavy mechanical loads.

Thus, to last long, you need to avoid exposing your PLA prints to outdoor conditions for long periods.

PLA objects last for as long as 15 years when kept indoors and used with care. By contrast, it will start showing visible signs of deterioration in only a year if used outdoors and subjected to heavy and persistent use.

The shelf life given above is standard for most 3D prints in the 3D printing industry. However, it is subject to other factors widely based on specific environmental conditions.

Reasons Why PLA Objects May Heavily Deteriorate

PLA material deteriorates when exposed to outdoor elements such as humidity and UV radiation. Completely solid and thicker prints with a high interior density may degrade heavily under humid environments.

Yet, they could have existed virtually forever under normal indoor conditions.

At the same time, PLA filaments readily absorb water causing PLA objects to gain weight and swell. The hygroscopic nature of PLA prints is not seen in 3D printing ABS filament, which takes months to absorb minimal water if exposed to the atmosphere.

PLA and other plastic filaments degrade depending on storage. That informs why PLA filament manufacturers store the plastics in specific conditions, like in a vacuum bag.

PLA Filament and Object Deterioration Process

PLA filaments absorb water from the environment if it is not stored correctly. Secondly, the filament’s outer parts become brittle as a result of exposure to humid conditions. The PLA object starts swelling as object dimensions are enlarged.

Object swelling and diameter increase are followed by gradual deterioration and final decay.

How Can You Tell Filament Has Degraded

Poor quality print is evidence of filament deterioration. Sometimes, you may notice that the PLA 3D prints are streaky. These signs should alert you that you are 3D printing with degraded filaments.

Contrastingly, fine prints from a 3D printing process signify that your PLA filaments are in great shape.

What Causes PLA Prints Not to Last Long?

Let’s dive into some causes why PLA prints won’t last long.

Why Does Moisture Cause PLA Filament to Degrade?

PLA filament breakdown takes place in a process called hydrolysis. In the hydrolysis process, the PLA polymer reacts with water at a low speed. Thus, breaking the longer polymers into smaller chains.

When longer PLA polymers beak down into smaller chains, the PLA filament brittles up.

This remains the main reason why PLA filament fares so poorly in humid conditions. Therefore, it is not advisable to use PLA 3D printed containers to store food and drinks where there is humidity present.

Photodegrading is a process caused when the polymer qualities of a filament reduce due to exposure to UV radiation. PLA’s resistance to this process is significantly weak.

The photodegrading process is indicated by brittleness and fading of filament color. Brittleness causes filaments to be stiff, causing them to break easily. Additionally, plastics bleached tend to turn yellowish.

The process affects filaments stabilizing agents, turning them into free radicals. Additionally, Photodegrading causes 3D printed object dyes to shade color hence causing object color fading gradually.

You are advised to avoid exposing PLA material to high-temperature conditions because PLA prints warp as it has a low glass transition temperature of between 60-65 degrees centigrade.

Also, high temperatures increase the moisture diffusion rate into the PLA material.

When moisture diffusion rate is increased, chances of hydrolysis taking place are also heightened.

PLA is a known biodegradable plastic that needs to be stored well to avoid its deterioration. Microbes’ effect on PLA decay remains a biological matter, and keeping the filaments from anything that may aid microorganisms to thrive is a great idea.

Keeping PLA material from anything that has a high concentration of microorganisms is the first step.

The agents of microorganisms include soil, plants, and water. Additionally, the hydrolysis process accelerates microorganism PLA decay as it results in short-chain polymers.

The environmental role remains the most significant factor aiding microorganism degradation. Therefore, you need to slow down moisture and keep sunlight away from the PLA material by operating and storing it indoors.

Can PLA 3D Prints Break Easily?

Yes! PLA 3D prints may break easily under specific conditions. Notably, PLA 3D printed objects may quickly degrade if exposed to environments with high temperatures and moisture levels.

Additionally, smaller prints break easily compared to big prints. Thicker and bigger prints prove stronger because they have a large surface. It allows stress to be distributed across numerous layers ensuring 3D object stability.

Choosing a perfect 3D design and printing materials ensures the 3D prints come out stronger and don’t break easily.

Can PLA 3D Prints Be Made Unbreakable?

PLA 3D prints are created for different applications, and some applications require that the object is strengthened to cope. Examples of such applications are toys and palates production.

Notably, toys are adored and are extensively used, while palates are used to carry heavy objects.

Tips to Strengthen Pla 3d Objects

PLA is one of the most popular materials that need strengthening for specific applications that need solid 3D objects. You can increase the interior density of a print to acquire the solidity level you need.

The three-dimensional slicing systems enable you to select the interior density level. More importantly, you may not need to have solid PLA 3D prints for each application.

The 3D system allows you to adjust your object’s interior density across a 0-100% scale, with O% being completely hollow and 100% very solid.

3D printing is done using printers that extrude molten filaments to produce objects. During the printing process, objects develop boundary layers that weaken them. Also, it is difficult to change the printing direction when the process is ongoing.

Thus, model orientation before printing helps solve this particular challenge. To orient your model perfectly, you must observe your object’s mechanical stress to avoid imminent exposure to weak boundaries.

Composite materials like wood, metal, and ceramic allow you to manufacture 3D objects that resemble materials not traditionally used in 3D printing.

Composite filaments like carbon fiber contain solid material; these solid materials only strengthen PLA and should not be construed as stronger than authentic materials like metal, wood, or ceramic.

3D printing allows you to print hollow objects. So, this is a significant advantage of 3D technology. On the other hand, it makes PLA 3D prints degrade quickly.

3D objects are injected with adhesive material in their internal cavity to remedy filament deterioration.

You need to drill small holes in the shell surface to enable injection.

Are Broken PLA 3D Printed Parts Recyclable?

Yes! You can recycle broken PLA 3D printed parts. Also, 3D print recycling helps in cleaning the environment; hence the process is eco-friendly.

As a thermoplastic material, PLA is recyclable. The recycling process involves washing, sorting, shredding, melting into smaller pellets. These tiny pellets can then be used as raw materials to manufacture new 3D-printed objects.

Does PLA 3D Printed Objects Last Inside or Outside Water?

For PLA to dissolve in water, other variables need to come into play. Some of the conditions necessary for PLA to dissolve in water include a high water temperature, exposure to UV light, and biological activity in water.

Otherwise, PLA is safer when kept indoors and outside water.

Conclusion

The article attempts to answer concerns you may have on the longevity of PLA filaments used in 3D printing technology.

Additionally, it discusses numerous other issues concerning PLA plastic filaments, making it a virtual comprehensive guide that is helpful to you on this topic.

More importantly, note that PLA prints degrade under unfriendly environmental circumstances such as high temperatures and humidity, UV light exposure, and water exposure.

However, when used indoors and stored safely, PLA lasts for more extended periods making it one of the most popular 3D printer filaments.

Michael Brooks is the founder of M3DZone.com. He sees a very bright future for 3D printing that's why his mission is to try and make this easy for everyone. Discover your hidden talent and creativity. You can follow here: Facebook, Twitter & Pinterest.