Isopropyl alcohol (IPA), AKA rubbing alcohol, is most user’s default solvent for resin 3D printing cleaning. However, IPA’s popularity is waning due to its increasing cost and unpleasant characteristics. So, what are the alternatives to IPA for cleaning resin 3D prints?
Some alternatives to isopropyl alcohol for resin 3D printing cleaning are ethyl alcohol or ethanol, denatured alcohol, and acetone. A non-flammable option with low volatility is tripropylene glycol monomethyl ether. Also, you may use an ultrasonic bath.
Not all alternatives are more pleasant than isopropyl alcohol, and a few cost more. Ultrasonic baths require solvents, while alternatives like wash and curing stations are an upfront investment. So, let’s explore the isopropyl alcohol alternatives you can use to clean resin 3D prints.
Alternatives to Isopropyl Alcohol for Resin 3D Printing Cleaning
Cleaning 3D resin prints is a tedious and unavoidable chore. IPA is a handy solution to clean resin, but it is neither pleasant nor inexpensive if you wash large batches of prints. So, you can look for affordable alternatives or a few solutions that are not as toxic.
While I write about a dozen alternatives, not every solution may be suitable for your needs, be it due to your setup, preference, budget, etc. Each substitute has pros and cons, and users don’t usually have the same experience with all these cleaning agents.
That said, let’s begin.
Ethyl Alcohol (Ethanol)
Most of the popular resins used for 3D printing are soluble in alcohol, not solely in IPA. Isopropyl alcohol became popular and the default option because of its widespread availability, but you can use ethanol instead of isopropyl alcohol in the same way to clean your 3D resin prints.
Here are a few reasons to consider ethyl alcohol as an IPA alternative:
- Ethyl alcohol or ethanol may be cheaper, depending on where you purchase it.
- Ethanol doesn’t have as pungent and unpleasant a chemical odor as isopropyl alcohol.
- Ethanol is less flammable and toxic than isopropyl alcohol, so it is not as hazardous.
I’m not getting into the bioethanol and its renewability debate. However, if you are passionate about the environment, it’s helpful to know that commercially manufactured ethyl alcohol’s primary ingredient is grain or corn.
On the flip side, ethyl alcohol’s low volatility compared to IPA means the cleaning agent won’t evaporate as quickly or completely. So, the chances are high that your 3D resin prints may have a bit of leftover ethanol residue after a wash.
Also, you must use highly concentrated ethyl alcohol, such as 95% or more. Otherwise, your 3D prints may have substantial leftover resin on the models. This criterion is similar to the need to use 91% IPA. Some people use 99% IPA, but it may be a tad harsh for a few resins.
The higher concentrations of ethyl alcohol pose another problem. The fumes are more potent, and you must work in a room with adequate ventilation. This issue is common for almost every alcohol-based solvent you can use for resin 3D printing cleaning.
Like ethyl alcohol, methylated spirits or denatured alcohol can also clean residual resin from 3D prints. Denatured alcohol is more effective and affordable compared to ethanol. Still, you have to deal with the strong fumes and odor of methylated spirits, much like you do with IPA.
Also, denatured alcohol is more hazardous than isopropyl alcohol. While consuming denatured alcohol is poisonous as it contains methanol, you shouldn’t allow the solvent to come in contact with your skin. So, you must use nitrile or neoprene gloves, not the typical latex ones.
Furthermore, you shouldn’t use denatured alcohol in a spray bottle or similar application. Many 3D printing hobbyists like to spray IPA and other cleaning agents to wash the crevices and details on their models. However, spraying denatured alcohol and such solvents is dangerous.
Take all these precautions and operate in a well-ventilated studio. Denatured alcohol can be an effective and affordable alternative to isopropyl alcohol, and denatured alcohol is widely available. You should find at least one brand at your local hardware store.
I must mention that mineral spirits aren’t denatured alcohol, ethanol, or similar solvents. Most mineral spirits are oil-based, not alcohol. Thus, mineral spirits won’t have the same effect on liquid or uncured 3D resin, albeit you may witness some leftover material wash away.
Acetone is a potent industrial solvent explicitly used to strip away wax, lacquer, paint, and grease. The potency of acetone is so high that it is known as a stripping agent or chemical. You can use acetone to clean residual resin from your 3D prints effortlessly.
However, exercise caution if you use acetone. Here’s why:
- While acetone can dissolve uncured resin, the strong chemical may also damage the cured material. A model may have some visible specks or other deformities if you use excess acetone or submerge your print in the solvent for a long time.
- Acetone evaporates rapidly, which is good for cleaning the resin but potentially bad for you. If a room lacks ventilation, you may have an unhealthy buildup of acetone fumes. The solvent is highly toxic and flammable.
- Inhaling acetone vapor or fumes may cause headaches, nausea, confusion, and irritation in the throat and lungs. So, you should ideally wear a mask. Also, don’t let acetone come in contact with your skin, eyes, edibles, and food or beverage containers.
The quantity of acetone used in nail polish removers or the vapor that a person gets exposed to while using it is too little compared to the volume you need to dunk your 3D resin prints. Still, the solvent is an asset for cleaning residual resin, irrespective of whether or not you use IPA.
Tripropylene Glycol Monomethyl Ether (TPM)
Tripropylene glycol monomethyl ether (TPM) can dissolve uncured resin from your 3D prints. It is a significantly safer alternative to IPA. Also, if you are concerned about the fumes and effects of acetone, denatured alcohol, and ethanol, TPM is a much better option to clean resin.
Tripropylene glycol monomethyl ether (TPM) is also known as:
- Methyl tripropylene glycol, and
- Tripropylene glycol methyl ether
Here are the most significant advantages of using TPM for resin 3D printing cleaning:
- TPM is not as toxic or flammable as IPA, so it is a lot safer to use. However, I will still stress the importance of nitrile or neoprene gloves, and you must have adequate ventilation in your 3D printing studio.
- TPM is not even remotely as volatile as isopropyl alcohol, so the fumes aren’t a concern. Low volatility does mean that TPM won’t evaporate off your 3D resin prints as quickly as IPA. However, that’s not a problem (more on this below).
- TPM is a clear and colorless solvent. Thus, you can conveniently use TPM to clean a transparent resin or a white variant. These models won’t have any colored imprint or effect.
- TPM has three times the capacity of cleaning liquid or uncured resin than IPA. Hence, a specific volume of TPM can be used for two more rounds of cleaning resin, whereas IPA of the same quantity will be ineffective by then.
TPM has a slightly oily or waxy texture, which you may feel on your 3D resin prints after a wash. However, this waxiness isn’t evident in all resins, and the types of materials with this waxy feel will lose the finish as it cures. So, this issue isn’t a concern.
Here are the resins that don’t have any waxiness after you wash and clean them with TPM:
- Castable Wax Resin
- Gray Pro Resin
- High Temp Resin
- Rigid Resin
- Some Tough Resins
Here are the resins that retain some waxiness and some details on how soon that goes away while curing:
- Standard Resins: during post-curing or one week without curing.
- Castable Resin: in 3 to 12 hours for models with 50 to 100 microns thickness.
- Color Resin: during post-curing or one week without curing.
- Draft Resin: 3 to 12 hours for models with 50 to 100 microns thickness.
- Elastic Resin: waxiness goes away during the mandatory post-curing.
- Flexible Resins: waxiness goes away during the mandatory post-curing.
- Model Resin: 3 to 12 hours for models with 50 to 100 microns thickness.
- Some Tough Resins: in 3 to 12 hours for models with 50 to 100 microns thickness.
I’m sure you’re aware of cleaning 3D resin prints in an ultrasonic bath. If you aren’t, you load an ultrasonic cleaner with a solvent to prepare a bath for resin 3D prints. The solvent and the liquid or uncured resin are agitated by ultrasound, which cleans your 3D printed models.
Many companies make ultrasonic cleaners, such as Zortrax. Some cleaners use ultrasound and heat to wash resin prints thoroughly. A few models don’t have the heating mode. Irrespective of this heating feature, you shouldn’t use volatile solvents such as:
- Isopropyl alcohol
- Denatured alcohol
So, you must use less volatile and safer cleaning agents for an ultrasonic bath. If you do not have an ultrasonic cleaner, you can still use the following isopropyl alcohol alternatives to clean resin 3D prints in a bucket or vat:
- Mean Green
- Simple Green
- Mr. Clean
These cleaning agents are still chemical solvents. However, they don’t transform your room into a chemical factory or medical laboratory. Most of these solutions have a pleasant smell.
These products aren’t as abrasive and volatile as alcohol-based solvents. So, most of these cleaners won’t strip away all the liquid or uncured resin from your 3D prints. However, you can remove whatever is left behind during post-curing with something as simple as a toothbrush.
The Mean Green Cleaner (available on Amazon.com) is one of the best among such products. You can use this solvent in an ultrasonic cleaner, with or without the heating element. Also, Mean Green Cleaner is among the most affordable alternatives to isopropyl alcohol for resin 3D printing cleaning.
The second best options are Simple Green Cleaner and Degreaser and Mr. Clean Multipurpose Cleaning Solution (both available on Amazon.com). Both are affordable and quite effective, albeit not as much as IPA. In addition, you’ll have to agitate the solvents manually if you don’t have an ultrasonic cleaner.
Monocure 3D ResinAway (available on Amazon.com) is a good product for resin 3D print cleaning and post-processing, but the price of ResinAway is likely to keep many users away.
Many of these products aren’t colorless, so you must carefully choose your product when using transparent or white resins. Also, these cleaning agents don’t evaporate as thoroughly or swiftly as isopropyl alcohol and acetone. You’ll need to brush your models a bit for a neat finish.
Wash and Curing Stations
Wash and curing stations aren’t technically an alternative to isopropyl alcohol. However, you can consider them as such because IPA isn’t the only solvent you can use.
Formlabs makes Form Wash that you can use with tripropylene glycol monomethyl ether (TPM) or isopropyl alcohol (IPA). You may also check out the AnyCubic Wash and Cure Machine (available on Amazon.com) on Amazon.com.
You can use these stations with alcohol-based solvents or the other cleaning agents I’ve shared in this guide. These stations agitate cleaning solvents and wash resin 3D prints to prepare them for post-curing with UV.
Water for Soluble Resins
Lastly, you can use water as an alternative to isopropyl alcohol to clean resin prints. However, this universal solvent works only on water-soluble and washable resins. The uncured residue of most resins won’t wash off if you dip the printed 3D models in water.
The exceptions are the likes of the Elegoo Water Washable 3D Resin (available on Amazon.com). This resin is available in many colors, and you can clean the 3D prints with plain tap water. Of course, you shouldn’t let the water drain into your sink or sewer. Dispose of the wastewater as you treat resin and IPA.
There are a dozen alternatives to isopropyl alcohol for resin 3D printing cleaning. As I have discussed, each chemical solvent or cleaning agent has its strengths and weaknesses. So, you can compare these options and select the best solution for your 3D resin prints.