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3D printer plastic for aquariums


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Others with personal experience can speak up. Nice article here.

ABS and T-Glase filaments seem to be commonly used.

Aquarium safe plastics are generally labeled "food grade" or "medical" materials.

Not a 3D printing thing per say, but keep an eye out for these labels to help steer you towards aquarium-safe plastics for all applications:

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Look out for / avoid long term use of plastics with these numbers / labels...

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Hat-tip to Dr. Ted Coletti for pointing this out at the last PVAS club meeting I was able to attend when he spoke on outdoor ponds.

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ABS is by far the best material to print with, but it's not a simple material to use as it does off gas during printing some noxious stuff. Enclosures with venting are ideal, as well as to regulate the printing area ambient temps to prevent warping or lack of adhesion of the print to the print bed. Be sure not to use chemical adhesives to promote printing when printing for aquariums. 

PLA isn't ideal for longterm use, but for proof of concepts its ok. You have to be sure that the PLA isn't exotic (no additives in terms of metals, graphite, etc) and is pure PLA. Ideally, sticking with a clear PLA is best for testing as it will be purely PLA with no additional dyes or fillers. Longer term tests have proven problematic for me with PLA as I've had copious algae issues in tanks post adding them. These additions were being tested in established tanks with no other modifications or additions, so I attribute the issues to PLA. 

PETG for longterm use is better, but it takes some tuning of the printer to get right. Again, make sure it's not anything exotic in terms of additives. Not as robust as ABS, but less of an investment to start if you're doing one off things for personal use. PETG requires higher temps for the hot end and the bed incomparison to PLA (depending on your printer) and will require a complete different tuning profile than PLA.

Resin should be avoided at all costs currently. Nothing exists on the consumer side of the market that has been found to be submersible safe.

I've talked to a ton of different companies through the years about aquatic applications and reviewed tons of white papers. I would recommend you do the same duedilligence and requst updated copies of the material reviews that companies are required to provide upon request. If you're unable to get a quality documentation of the material being used, skip that company and move to the next. These documents change with supply chain changes, their raw material wholesale availability as well as the manufacturers who provide the product to companies which rebrand. Lots of the China based companies who sell the rebranded spools of filament will not provide you the information in fear of being exposed as not being different from the other China vendors who use the same source meaning their product isn't better than the other next to them as it's just the same and packaged different. US vendors who use local and domestic manufacturers or in house manufacturing will provide you the white papers you need to do your analysis. 

3D printing is a rabbithole of it's own, and the application to this hobby is useful. Be sure to do your due dilligence of researching your materials and methods before starting and dropping parts in a tank with flora and fauna. Also, responsible recycle supports and failed prints to not propegate trash being generated by this hobby.

Edited by Tihshho
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PLA, ABS, and PETG, probably the three most popular filaments, are generally aquarium safe. I've tested PLA from reputable brands in my aquariums for years at this point and haven't noticed water quality affected by it or degradation of the plastic.

 

Quote

ABS is by far the best material to print with, but it's not a simple material to use as it does off gas during printing some noxious stuff. Enclosures with venting are ideal, as well as to regulate the printing area ambient temps to prevent warping or lack of adhesion of the print to the print bed. Be sure not to use chemical adhesives to promote printing when printing for aquariums. 

??? IMO ABS is one of the worst. If you've waded a ways into 3d printing and want the properties ABS offers it's fine, but like you said with the fumes and extra care needed to prevent warping...

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I'll have to find a link, but numerous studies have been done with 3D printed material being used in aquaria and what was found as side effect results. Some of them are looking at how fry are impacted with chemicals others are looking at algae as well as overall tank health. I'll have to do some digging and if I can find them I'll link them.

PLA in general is strongly recommended against for intank use as it is is known to degrade and waste away with constant water contact. Though not always there, there are specific enzymes that are known to break down PLA to result in a production of lactic acid which will in turn cause pH swings. For a small item in a large tank, this isn't much of an issue as it's a ratio of volume to what's being introduced. Smaller tanks though, this is where things become more aparant. Look at it like keeping a tank stable, the solution to polution is dilution. The more volume we have, the more stable a tank will be. Small changes will be small in a big tank, in a smaller tank the dilution is less making the issues not so small. That said, PLA isn't considered food safe. If something isn't food safe, I would never recommend it be used in a tank for long periods of time. PLA through its manufacturing process is one of the most unreliable products to track. Contaminants are accidently introduced through the manufacturing process because it's known to not be classified as a food safe material. The contaminants are not an issue for skin contact, but when saturated or having things that are to be ingested creating long contact with them you raise the risk of making said contaminants a problem. PETG and ABS are commonly used food safe plastics that go through lots of testing and approval. Yes, they can also contain contaminants, but because of their classification they generally are handled better with reliable raw materials being the key ingredients. 

On 5/12/2022 at 1:38 PM, TheDukeAnumber1 said:

If you've waded a ways into 3d printing and want the properties ABS offers it's fine, but like you said with the fumes and extra care needed to prevent warping...

These issues with warping and fumes have nothing to do with being safe in aquaria, only to do with the risks while using it as your extruded material under the extreme heat required to melt the plastic and shape it accurately. The risks are 100% during manufacturing, not post manufacturing. Once ABS is no longer at printing temps it reduces offgassing. It will offgass surface layers overnight and is more than fine to use the next day. I've purchased tons of ABS parts for reef setups (as I don't want to setup an ABS enclosure myself though I have a rack of printers) and those are more finicky about chemical leaks in the water column than any planted tank I've had. ABS would be my top choice as long as you know how to use it and can safely print with it. PETG is the only other option. 

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I would want to see those papers if you can find them, it goes against my experience of having large PLA prints in nano aquariums where the animals remained healthy and I didn't have algae issues. And I have actively tried to get PLA to degrade in aquariums over long periods of time to see if it would under some circumstance without success. So maybe those papers would uncover why I haven't had those issues.

I get what you're saying about ABS, I was thrown off by your wording as 'best' but yes it does have some nice properties.

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On 5/12/2022 at 3:03 PM, TheDukeAnumber1 said:

I would want to see those papers if you can find them, it goes against my experience of having large PLA prints in nano aquariums where the animals remained healthy and I didn't have algae issues. And I have actively tried to get PLA to degrade in aquariums over long periods of time to see if it would under some circumstance without success. So maybe those papers would uncover why I haven't had those issues.

I'll take a look through my bookmarks to see if I still have them saved. I know the one PLA degredation research topic stated the degredation was slow and under specific circumstances, but it was still aparent. All of our water is different, we have traces of different things, and depending on what we add to the tank (for those who use chemicals to condition or buffer) will be adding things that not everyone will run into.

Rather than roll the dice, going with a food grade product like PETG or ABS is always my first recommendation as they have to meet specific standards, unlike PLA. 

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  • 2 years later...

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