In 3D printing communities, there’s a lot of discussion around the best 3D printer bed cleaning methods. Whether you’re a newcomer or a veteran, we’ve got some tips for success.
We’ll discuss various cleaning products and how to use them to clean the beds of FDM printers.
Why Clean the Print Bed?
It may seem obvious, but plastics stick better to clean surfaces. If you have poor bed adhesion, your printing quality may suffer. To get the best adhesion, remove any buildup of filament, oil, dirt, and dust.
Plus when you have a clean 3D printer bed, you might not need to use hacks like glue sticks, painters tape, and hairspray to improve adhesion.
As with anything involving chemicals and electricity, a little common sense will go a long way to protect yourself and your property.
Never mix chemicals. You may end up inadvertently creating toxic and dangerous substances. Specifically, never mix acetone and isopropyl alcohol. It forms a toxic chemical, peracetic acid, which can cause chemical burns or worse.
Don’t use any of these products in a confined space, and make sure you have good ventilation.
Also remember that acetone and all kinds of alcohol are highly flammable. All it takes to start a fire is a spark from the electronics or heated bed.
Only a few cleaning products are effective and safe to use to clean the bed surface.
Isopropyl Alcohol (IPA)
IPA or rubbing alcohol at a 90% concentration or higher is an excellent cleaning solution. Anything above 90% will be hard to find at a drugstore, but you can easily find it on Amazon.
In a pinch, you can use 70%, but keep in mind it won’t remove as much oil from the build surface, and it may contain chemicals other than just alcohol and water. When alcohol and water dry, they might leave a thin film of other, unknown compounds on your bed.
In our experience, 70% isopropyl will do a great job on beds that are already fairly clean. If you see fingerprints or smudges on your build plate that don’t come off with 70% isopropyl, you may need something stronger. We’ve found 90% isopropyl to be the sweet spot between price and effectiveness.
In theory, ethyl alcohol is also a good cleaning solution. However finding it in a strong enough concentration is difficult, and in some U.S. states it’s illegal to purchase over the counter.
Everclear is a brand of ethyl alcohol that you can buy at a liquor store. Everclear is 190 proof, which means it’s 95% alcohol.
On the whole, though, ethyl alcohol is more likely than isopropyl alcohol to have impurities, and it’s more expensive. For these reasons, we recommend isopropyl over ethyl alcohol.
You might already have some acetone in your home. It’s the main ingredient in some nail polish removers. Read the label, because not all nail polish removers contain acetone. You can find 100% acetone at hardware stores, and it’s a relatively inexpensive solvent.
Acetone is extremely good at removing oil, and it evaporates very quickly. It has a very strong smell and is highly flammable. It can also dissolve some plastics like ABS and acrylic. For that reason, be very careful about what you’re putting acetone on. Prevent damage to your skin, your 3D printer, floors, and furniture by avoiding contact with any other surface besides the bed.
Even though it’s extremely good at cleaning the build plate, we don’t recommend using acetone regularly. In fact, it may damage beds that have a PEI coating.
Soap and Warm Water
Alcohol and acetone, though they can take off grease, aren’t good at removing glue sticks, which some people use to help with first layer adhesion. Dishwashing soap and water work well to remove both grease and glue stick. It’s easier to use dish soap and water if you have a removable bed because you can take it to your sink.
Remember, soap and water mixtures are conductive, so don’t get any on the electronics on your 3D printer. It might cause a short, or, worst case, a shock.
All in all, soapy water may be the best mix because it can remove all types of contaminants.
Glass surface cleaners like Windex aren’t just for cleaning glass. They can act as release agents too. Windex will remove some oil from the bed as well as some other water-soluble contaminants, but it will also leave its own film behind. That might result in less adhesion—which isn’t always a bad thing.
In some cases—like when printing with PETG onto a PEI-coated printing surface—your prints may stick so well that they can pull up the PEI coating when you try to remove them. If you’re having that problem, consider using a window cleaner to clean your bed, or just spray some on to help reduce adhesion, even if your bed is perfectly clean. Just remember to clean it again if you switch to a filament type that doesn’t adhere as well, like PLA or ABS.
How to Clean Your 3D Print Bed
The steps for cleaning the bed of a 3D printer are largely the same, whether you have a glass bed (like the Anycubic Kobra Max), a metal bed (like the Voxelab Aquila), a magnetic bed (like the Anycubic Vyper), or a PEI-coated bed (like some Ender 3 printers).
There’s really only one exception. You shouldn’t use acetone to clean PEI sheets because it might damage the PEI sheet over time. With that in mind, follow these steps for cleaning beds of different materials.
These are the steps for cleaning with isopropyl alcohol, ethyl alcohol, acetone, or Windex:
- Using a scraper, remove any leftover filament residue or adhesive tape from the glass plate, metal bed, or PEI sheet.
- Make sure the bed is at room temperature. Otherwise, the cleaning fluid will evaporate. You want to give it time to soak the oil off.
- Don’t touch the bed directly with your hands, lest you recontaminate it. Pretend you’re a surgeon.
- Always add your cleaning solution to a clean paper towel or cloth and avoid spraying it directly on the bed because the mist might get into your electronics. Put enough cleaning solution on the paper towel so you’re able to wipe down the whole bed before it starts evaporating.
- Methodically clean the entire bed, applying pressure evenly throughout the cleaning process.
- Optionally, introduce a second paper towel or clean cloth to dry the bed. Drying can remove even more surface contaminants and oil, and it can dust off any remaining dirt or pieces of the first paper towel. The first pass is dissolving the contaminants. The second pass is removing those contaminants. If your bed is relatively clean, you can skip the second pass. If you’re having adhesion issues, definitely dry the bed.
If you see any remaining smudges, fingerprints, etc., repeat the steps above until they’re gone.
With Soap and Water
When using soap and water to clean the bed, follow these steps:
- First, wash your hands thoroughly.
- Wash the bed like you would a dish, but don’t use anything abrasive. A soft sponge or cloth will work. You could just use your hands, but you’ll get off more grease if you use a sponge, cloth, or paper towel.
- Add some pressure while you’re soaping it up to help dislodge the oil.
- Then rinse all the soap off. Don’t leave any behind. You don’t want any soap left on the bed at all.
- Lastly, dry the bed thoroughly with a new, clean cloth.
Keeping Your Bed Clean
The best way to have a clean bed is to not get it dirty in the first place. Avoid touching the bed at all, if possible. Thoroughly clean your hands if you do need to handle the bed. Better yet, wear clean gloves. Nitrile or latex gloves work great.
Once you’ve cleaned the bed, only touch it on the sides. Keeping your bed clean means future prints are more likely to be successful.
*Special thanks to FormerLurker for his 3D printing expertise.