PLA has been a fan favorite in 3D printing for a long time now because it is cheap and easy to print with on every printer. PLA is basically the baseline functionality of a 3D printer. If it can’t handle PLA then it definitely can’t handle anything else.
PLA is safe for gardening. Many people even pot plants, herbs, flowers, or succulents in PLA pots. PLA Plastic or Polylactic acid is synthesized from fermented plant starches and it is biodegradable and produced from renewable resources making it an excellent choice for eco-friendly gardeners.
My wife and I have been using 3D printed PLA pots and drip trays for over a year now and we have had tremendous success with our plants. My wife is a total plant mom and she would never do anything to hurt her plant babies. I am not a physicist or a chemical engineer so I am speaking from my experience as well as many hours of research. Continue reading for some of the most commonly asked questions surrounding the safety of PLA and plants.
PLA is really the bread and butter of 3D printers. It is not the strongest material available or nor the most durable but it is extremely affordable and is excellent for most applications. PLA is not the best for every application. If you are needing something stronger or that can withstand extreme heat (Well over 100° F) you might be better suited with polycarbonate or PETG. We live in Texas and see a lot of 100°+ days. our 3D prints stay outside often in direct sunlight, I have never even felt my prints starting to get tacky or soft and they have stood the test of time in the elements.
3D printer planter pots made of PLA will last for years and can be very cost-efficient depending on the size, shape, and design of the planter. For example, this 3D printed PLA pot costs about $0.96 to 3D print and is actually a pretty high quality and durable pot, a cheap flimsy generic-looking pot from a hardware store would cost around $3.00. That is triple the cost and the real value comes when you print custom shapes and colors for whatever look you are going for.
Are 3D Printed Pots Bad for Plants?
3D printed pots are not bad for plants. When wet PLA slightly absorbs water and does not leach out any significant amount of toxic chemicals and therefore will not harm your plants. If there is still concern you can coat your 3D printed pot with a layer of paint or epoxy.
One of the pros of 3D printed pots is that you are able to customize the size and shape of the pot. Similar to a snail, once the plant no longer fits the house that it is in, you can simply plant out a larger pot and transfer your plant to its new home.
You can also create custom shapes for your pot and create the style that you want for your space. Printing a pot this size would likely cost around $1.00 – $1.50 and to purchase at a hardware store could cost over $5.00 each. There is some initial investment in the 3D printer but I completely believe that my 3D printer paid for itself within the first month.
Is PLA Toxic?
PLA itself is not toxic and is considered safe. The main concern with the toxicity of PLA is particles that are passed from the hot end to the material and also if PLA is being used for food handling/preparation or food packaging due to its porous nature that can lead to bacteria growth.
There is also a concern of small PLA dust particles caused by the process of 3D printing. To avoid this always wash your 3D prints with hot soapy water before using them for food preparation and food handling. Also, it is best to only use PLA once when it is used for food handling to avoid consuming harmful bacteria.
I think in this case you will need to use some gray matter (your brain) and make educated decisions for yourself. If you are using 3D printed PLA for planting/gardening or for dry products like scooping rice, dry cereal, dry oatmeal, uncooked pasta, etc. there will be very little concern for bacteria. If you use it to plate up hot soup… you might want to consider throwing your print away after that one use.
Does PLA Leach into Water?
PLA does not leach into water and will absorb water over time. It is not advisable to use 3D printed PLA for food handling or food consumption due to its porous nature that can lead to bacterial growth and also the uncertainty of contamination from the hot end of your 3D printer.
People often use PLA for aquariums and fish tanks. These materials have been used for years in aquatics and from everything I have seen and read, there hasn’t been any adverse effect on fish or aquatic life.
Is 3D Printed PLA Safe to Use for Herb Planters?
3D printed PLA is safe for Herb Planters and is a commonly used material in food packaging and medical implants. The herbs from these plants are safe to eat and will not contain toxins that are harmful to humans. PLA is created from plants and does not leach out when wet.
The items grown in your PLA herb garden will be safe to eat. PLA is a biodegradable substance so even if the plastic did start breaking down and start being absorbed by the plant this would actually be a good thing for your plant, not a harmful thing.
If you are still concerned there is food-safe PETG that should definitely also be plant-safe on the market that is not too much more expensive and there are also many filaments that are even approved by the FDA.
What 3D Printer Filaments are Safe for Plants and Planters?
Best 3D printed planters.
Self-Watering Planter (Small) by parallelgoods. This is actually one of our tests for this post (see timelapse) and it is such a cool project and very useful for plants that need a lot of water. I would not suggest this planter for a succulent because it will provide too much water but it is great for our newly propagated pothos plant.
Baby Groot Air Plant Planter by JuliaTruchsess. This is such a cool design. I love guardians of the galaxy and think this would look so good on my mantle in my living room.
Mario Bros Planter by FLOWALISTIK. This is a really fun print that I think would be amazing as a gift for a friend or coworker. Who doesn’t love Mario and plants! Especially if you gift a succulent that basically lives forever even in harsh conditions.
Best 3D Printed Gardening Tools and Accessories
Vegetables signs/labels by NikodemBartnik. Typically plants come with one of those thin paper label that typically blows away in the wind after a couple of days. Check these out if you want something more durable.
Customizable Garden Hand Shovel Trowel by Nother_Ngineer. This is a durable low-cost alternative that is definitely a lot safer for delicate plants vs a sharp metal shovel.
If you are really concerned with the potential of something leaking out of your 3D printed parts and being absorbed by your plants. Don’t be. But if you can’t resist but be concerned stick with a food-safe or FDA-approved filament so that you can rest easy and know that you are not consuming plastics.