3d printers do produce fume but, this is really an important question of whether they are toxic. If so, to what extent will they affect us? This article will elaborate on each of the aspects one by one followed by the health & safety guideline set by the authorities.
3d printing fumes are toxic. Because a 3d printer uses high temperatures to melt the filaments to produce 3d prints. Among the wide variety, PLA produces less toxic fumes while Nylon is known to be the most toxic.
However, there are some tips & techniques that help protect ourselves from 3d printing fumes.
What are the fumes of 3d printers?
3d printer fumes are the smell or the vapor that comes from a 3d printing device. Such fumes contain two elements which are VOCs and UFPs.
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
Volatile Organic Compounds or VOCs are the sweet smells that come from burning 3d print filaments. There are other sources of VOCs apart from 3d printing fumes, such are paints, aerosol spray, disinfectant cleansers, perfume, dry cleaning cloth, pesticides, etc.
Usually, VOCs come from filament paints and do not harm our health a lot. However, VOCs may be dangerous in the longer term.
As per the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), some notable health impacts could be:
- Irritation in the nose, eyes, and throat
- allergic reaction
- Sneezing & Runny nose
- Kidney damage
- Elevated blood pressure
- Cancers in the longer term in some cases etc.
Ultrafine Particles (UFPs)
Ultrafine Particles or UFPs are the most dangerous particles that also come from a 3d printer. UFPs are air bourne and usually smaller than 0.1 microns. Sometimes UFPs are even lesser than 0.003 microns.
Apart from the 3d printing fumes, there are other sources of UFPs such as volcanic lava, wildfire smokes, and ocean mist aerosols. Moreover, there are human-made UFP sources as well such as smoking, diesel exhaust, industrial emissions and burning plastic garbage, etc.
As per the Experimental & Molecular Medicine (EMM), the impacts of Ultrafine Particles could be:
- Lung inflammation
- Volatility in blood pressure
- Heart diseases
- Chronic cough
- Nerve and brain damages
- Digestive problems
- Skin rashes
- Cancer sometimes
What do researchers say about 3d printing fumes?
A recent study by Environmental Science and Technology has shown how 3d printers produce harmful fumes consisting of VOCs & UFPs. The team of researchers used 5 different 3d printers with 16 different filaments/printing materials. The extruder temperature ranged from 200 to 240 °C while the bed temperature was between 60 to 110 °C.
Following types of printing materials were used during the research process:
- ABS white
- PLA red
- PLA white
- ABS blue
- ABS red
- PLA red
- HIPS black
- Laybrick white
- laywood brown
- Polycarbonate transparent
- PCTPE semitransparentt
- T-glass transparent
There were outcomes of the research on 3d printing fumes
- Nylon was the most toxic in terms of producing harmful fumes
- PLA was the least toxic
- UFP emission increases significantly in line with the incremental nozzle temperature especially when the bed temperature is 60-65 °C.
- UFP emission remains quite stable even in increased nozzle temperature while the bed temperature is less than 45 °C.
- VOC emission also increases dramatically in line with the increase in nozzle temperature especially when the best temperature is 60-65 °C.
- Surprisingly, VOC emission tends to become lower slightly with the maximum nozzle temperature especially when the bed temperature is between 100 – 110 °C.
Fumes from ABS
Acrylonitrile-Butadiene-Styrene or ABS is popular for heavy temperature resistance. Almost every 3d printer enthusiast prefers ABS to make 3d prints. However, the 2016 research shows that ABS is the top contributor to toxic fumes. Per minute, ABS contributes ∼2 × 1010 to ∼9 ×1010 particles of UFPs.
Fumes from PLA
Polylactic Acid or, PLA is also popular as a renewable 3d printing raw material. As per the research, PLA produces the least toxic fumes. Because upon melting, PLA releases Lactide into the outer atmosphere which is environmentally friendly. However, we cannot still ignore the long term impact of PLA fumes.
Fumes from PETG
Polyethylene Terephthalate Glycol or PETG is also a popular 3d printing material due to the durability it offers. We could not extract exactly how much VOC and UFP PETG releases into the air. However, the chemical composition states PETG as a toxic material since it releases Ethylbenzene and Styrene while melting.
Fumes from NYLON
Nylon is very popular industrially. Even, it offers higher durability compared to ABS. The research marks Nylon as a top contributor to toxic fumes due to having Caprolactam. Per minute, Nylon releases 180 μg of VOC into the air.
Fumes from Resin
The resin itself is a liquid material. In most of the best quality resin printers, resin tanks are locked and fully air-tight. However, resin printers use UV light as a curing mechanism to form all layers into a single layer but the process does not harm mostly due to having a strong enclosure inbuilt. So, the resin is less harmful than the FDM filaments.
How to reduce the risk of 3d printing fume toxicity
These are the best practices by which you can mitigate the risk of the 3d printing fume toxicity to a certain level. Following these steps will surely help you in reducing exposure.
As this is already proven that 3d printers continuously emit VOCs and UFPs, this is a very good practice to properly ventilate the workplace. Using HEPA-certified air filters along with fan and window helps a lot in evacuating the vapor coming from the 3d printers.
Be Clever with the printing material
We already know that Nylon and ABS are top contributors to toxic fumes. This is your turn to choose the best alternative or the most suitable printing material for your next 3d printing works.
Let’s say you need to make some awesome action figures. People often try FDM printers to make action figures or miniatures. However, resin printers work GREAT in that case.
Most Importantly, Resin is safer than plastic filaments.
As said earlier, PLA filament is an environmentally friendly and renewable source of 3d printing material. Due to heavy VOC and UFPs, you can easily choose PLA instead of PETG and ABS for the nest printing work. Learn more about the best alternative to ABS Filament.
Install an Enclosure
An enclosure not only helps 3d printers release less toxic fumes; however, also contributes to mitigating other hazards such as fire incidents. A metal enclosure will stop toxic fumes from spreading in your room.
You can take the help of an air filter or an exhaust fan and choose to send the fumes somewhere else.
However, some Good FDM Printers come with an attached enclosure and in that case, you do not need that.
Get an Air Quality Monitoring Device
An air quality monitoring device helps in monitoring the quality of indoor air. It can tell you what level of toxicity is currently you are experiencing so that you can either protect yourself or take action regarding the fumes.
Install Air Purifier
Installing an air purifier is also a great idea. It gathers all the toxic fumes and redelivers the fresh air inside the room. There can be a little more extra investment but, you will be having extra control over the toxic VOCs coming out of your 3d printers.
For example, HEPA filters can extract almost 99.9% of the toxic VOCs from the air.
There are only a few 3d printers that come with HEPA-certified air filters.
Install Carbon Filter
There is activated carbon inside of a carbon filter. It extracts the toxic parts of the air and makes air almost odorless. Carbon filters are not as efficient as HEPA filters because they can only clean within the best possible range. In contrast, HEPA filters clean fumes and dust.
Choose the best place for 3d printing
Installing FDM 3d printers around other people, children or pet is not a very good idea. Since there are toxic fumes, risk of fire, and risk of filament mess, it may harm you, people around you, or pets within the house.
Select a place that is only accessible to you or a certain person.
Ensure proper ventilation and air filtering devices are installed.
Installing 3d printers in Garages may not be a very good idea unless you have these preparations.
3d printers’ fume is toxic. There are no alternative answers to that. The best way is to avoid 3d printing fumes or take actions accordingly that help mitigating the exposure to the best level.