How to clean a 3D printer bed: the correct way!

It happened to me when I got started in 3D printing, so it may as well be happening to you. You think you found those golden settings on your slicer that just output nice-looking prints and you get the feeling that you may be a printing genius.

Perhaps, you think, you should buy twenty more printers and start your own printing farm. In your mind, you are already thinking about the size of your future yacht and its amenities.

Suddenly, your objects detach from the build plate in mid-print. It may be time for a new series of tutorials before we can go back to our 3D printing empire.

If what happened above is word for word what happened to you, it may be time to learn how to keep a clean printer bed (and lower your overall expectations).

A clean printing bed is especially important for improving layer adhesion to the build plate and yields a better looking first layer. Isopropyl Alcohol (IPA) in graduations ranging from 70% up to 99.99% is appropriate for this task.

Soak the IPA in paper towels, microfiber cloth, or cotton and clean the bed surface in a circular motion. Rinse and repeat until the build plate is free of leftover filament, fingerprints, oils, and other imperfections that affect printing quality. Depending on the build plate type, you can also use acetone, but only use it as a last resort and on the specific parts where you could not clean it using alcohol.

If you do not know if your build plate is dirty or clean, assume that it needs some cleaning. It never hurts!

Look at the picture below. If your surface looks like the left-hand side, you clearly do not suffer from dirty-build-plate syndrome (or DBPS). On the other hand, if you identify with the right side of the picture, it does not take a germaphobe (nor a tutorial) to infer that some cleaning may be necessary.

Source: Prusa Knowledge Base

Why is 3D Printer Bed Cleaning Important?

The 3D printer bed serves as the base on which your model is printed on. The printing process can leave residual filament after the process is completed.

The bed also becomes dirty by general handling (skin oil, fingerprints, dirt, etc.) and materials from the surrounding. These contaminants affect the quality of your future prints and damage the printing bed over time.

Skipping maintenance can ultimately cause irreversible damage that can only be resolved by replacing the printing bed. 

Advantages of a Clean 3D Printer Bed

Having a clean 3D printer bed is essential for achieving perfect results. Unclean beds have recurring issues with layer adhesion that compromise the quality of your prints.

Keeping the 3D printing bed in an acceptable state prolongs its serviceable life and can save you from spending a few extra bucks on somewhat expensive replacements. 

A key issue with printing is the quality of the first layer and its adhesion to the build plate.

A clean 3D printer bed ensures your models print properly without any issues. Remember to follow the recommended care for your printing bed as it varies according to models and their materials.

Maintaining Your 3D Printing Bed

Most printer beds are made of glass Polyetherimide (also known as PEI) or covered in tape. At 3DSolved we leave (almost) no rock unturned, so we will cover those types!

Polyetherimide (PEI) Printing Beds

PEI sheets are being actively used as 3D printer bedding since they require little maintenance and are suitable for the process. They are also resistant to wear under extreme temperature and radiation that are a regular feature in 3D printing.

PEI sheets have good bed adhesion and don’t normally get stuck with the model if maintained properly. Consequently, there are few instances where adhesives and tapes are needed when using them. 

However, PEI sheets do need maintenance to keep up the quality of their prints. Their adhesion becomes weaker over time as the bed is repeatedly subjected to printing radiation, temperatures, 3D printing inks, environmental contaminants, and general handling.

This leaves glue, printing ink, and filaments as well as oils and dirt on the surface. Simple cleaning procedures such as scratching, scraping, and wiping with any cleaner can damage the bed.  

How to clean a PEI Printing Bed

The following is the recommended way to clean a PEI 3D printing bed:

What You Need

You will need the following materials for cleaning the PEI 3D printing bed:

  • Isopropyl Alcohol (IPA) at 70% to 99.99% concentration (depends on cleaning)
  • Acetone/Propanone
  • Paper towels, microfiber cloth, or cotton
  • Sandpaper (+1,500 grit)
The Process

Using unscented IPA at ~70% concentration is a safe standard to clean PEI 3D printing beds. It is volatile (it evaporates), which means you don’t have to worry about a liquid mess. Higher purity of IPA can be used in cases where oils, dirt, and grease have been layered considerably.

As a safety precaution, be sure to always use it in a well-ventilated area.

Let the 3D printing bed cool down before starting maintenance. Apply IPA and wipe it well with a dry microfiber cloth, paper towels, or cotton. The higher concentration of IPA completely breaks down organic oils and makes them easier to remove. 

Use acetone for removing 3D ink and plastics that are stubbornly bonded with the bed. Pour the acetone on the cloth (not directly on the bed) to dampen it.

While PEI is not soluble in acetone, pouring too much on one area for prolonged periods can still damage it. Wipe the bed in circular strokes to remove the plastic compounds. You may pour some of it directly on tough stains to soften them for removal.

Remember to use acetone only when alcohol is no longer completely cleaning the surface. 

In case of very stubborn stains or uneven surface, use fine-grit sandpaper (+1,500 grit) to scrub off the buildup or simply smoothen the surface for even traction after cleaning it. Remember to clean again as sandpapering produces very fine dust from grinding the surface.  

Time for Maintenance

The time between maintenance is variable for different brands of PEI sheets and how often they are used. It also decides their serviceable life. Using glue and hair spray has also become a common hack to prevent the model from sticking to the bed. While the technique has proven effective, cleaning up can become problematic without proper guidelines. 

To avoid damage, follow the instructions, though wiping is a standard after a few prints. Depending on the usage (a month on average), you may have to use acetone and sandpaper for restoration. 

Glass

Glass is a very common material for 3D printing. It has a longer serviceable life than PEI. It also facilitates the usage of hairspray and adhesives for the 3D printing process because the surface does not react with any material. Glass 3D printing beds have an even surface that is also relatively easy to clean. 

Glass by itself does not have a good surface adhesion. It is normally used with adhesives such as glue sticks and hairsprays. They increase surface adhesion for the first layer of print that sets a stable base for the rest of the model.  

Cleaning Glass 3D Printing Beds

The following is the recommended way to clean a glass 3D printing bed:

What You Need

You will need the following materials for cleaning glass 3D printing bed:

  • Scraper
  • Dishwashing soap
  • Sponge
  • Isopropyl Alcohol (IPA) at 70% to 99.99% concentration (depends on cleaning)
  • Paper towels, microfiber cloth, or cotton
The Process

Working with a heated glass 3D printing bed is easy as the surface does not become sensitive after getting warm. The heat makes the residual materials easier to scrape off. Be careful when scraping as glass is prone to scratches from sharp objects. 

For starters, you should remove any traces of glue and hairspray on your glass 3D printing bed. This can easily be done with smooth, leveled objects such as a plastic ruler or metal spatula. Apply only necessary force when using metal as it can scratch the glass. After removing glue, you can move on to removing the printing material stuck from the bed. 

The blade on a scraper is extremely sharp. Exert a downward force with one hand and get a good grip at the edge or in the middle of the glass bed with the other. This will help remove the leftover material properly and prevent your hand from slipping. Remember that you will have to clean the bed later when you touch it with your hands, as it will leave residual oils and dirt. 

Soap and water are perfect for removing glue and hairspray. Check the composition of your product to find out its solubility in water. In some cases, acetone and alcohol are better solvents for removing them. Wipe with disposable paper cloths or cotton because cleaning a microfiber cloth is difficult once used for this purpose. Be careful when using liquids because they can damage the nearby electronic equipment.

Time for Maintenance

The time between maintenance of your 3D printing bed will vary, depending on the usage and materials used to print the models. Scraping after every print removes any printing material stuck to the bed and prevents buildup which becomes harder to clean. It also keeps the next model’s base clean and easy to detach. 

Use soap and water every week if the bed is being used every day. Otherwise, monthly maintenance is good enough to keep the prints stick. Use IPA and acetone only when the buildup has become very tough to remove. 

Adhesive Tape

Adhesive tape is easy to use and cheap to replace. This makes it a reliable choice for anyone getting into 3D printing or looking for a cheap yet reliable 3D printing bed. It is mostly used with non-heated beds because it is sensitive to heat. Masking and painter’s tape are among the top choices for making an adhesive tape 3D printing bed. 

Cleaning Adhesive Tape 3D Printing Bed

The following is the recommended way to clean an adhesive tape 3D printing bed:

What You Need

You will need the following materials for cleaning adhesive tape 3D printing bed:

  • More tape of the same type
  • Scraper, plastic ruler, or metal spatula
  • Isopropyl Alcohol (IPA) at 70% to 99.99% concentration (depends on cleaning)
  • Dishwashing soap
  • Sponge
  • Paper towels, microfiber cloth, or cotton
The Process

While adhesive tape is easy to use, it is equally hard to clean up. Scraping with a metal spatula is good enough to clean residual filament. Patch any area that is showing signs of wear. Be careful to maintain the level of your 3D printing bed to ensure the model is printed without defects. 

At times your bed will either be simply too used or will not have an even level. This is an indication to replace your adhesive tape 3D printing bed. Remove all of the tapes and clean the base of the bed with IPA or soap and water. Let it dry completely, and then apply a fresh layer of adhesive tape. Take care to keep it leveled to get the best prints. 

Time for Maintenance

Adhesive tape 3D printing beds have a short lifespan and need to be repaired and replaced often. Lightly scrape the surface after every print and replace the entire tape after a week or biweekly basis, depending on the frequency of usage.

Conclusion

By now, you should have no excuse for having a dirty printing bed on your machine. I should mention that I am not the most methodic person in the 3D printing world, so I tend to clean it when I start to see a higher failure rate. In short, my strategy can be described as reactive instead of preemptive.

If you do not want to get frustrated from time to time, waste filament, and get poor quality prints, you should always thrive to do preemptive maintenance to your 3D printer, and a clean printing surface is certainly not the exception!

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