Are 3D Printing Fumes Bad For You?

The Short Answer, Yes. The Long, More Nuanced, Not So Black And White, But Grey Answer – It Depends.

So what does it depend on? It depends on the type of 3D printing filament you use, the room you 3D print in, how much ventilation you have, and many other factors.

If you own a 3D printer, this ISN’T a topic to ignore. While 3D printing is a fun hobby to engage in, few people talk about the dangers of fumes.

How are 3D printer fumes created?

Fumes are created when the extruder of 3D printers heats the plastic/filament during the printing process. Not all plastics produce dangerous fumes. However, many do and they can be lethal. 

We will first look at the different types of fumes produced and how they affect you. And then, we will go through the best methods to eliminate the problem. 

The 2 Dangerous Emissions of 3D Printers

There are mainly 2 emissions to watch out for:

  • Toxic fumes
  • Nanoparticle emission

Toxic fumes

Most 3D printing plastics on the market produce toxic fumes dangerous to any human who inhales them. And the most unsafe one is ABS.

Inhaling ABS is shown to cause skin, eye and respiratory tract irritation. And that’s not all. The more of these fumes you inhale, the more you are likely to suffer nausea or get a headache.

So what’s the big deal, you ask? I ain’t afraid of no skin irritation and a little headache here and there, you say? Stop scaring us with the article, dude!

Well, there are even worse effects. Studies show that the ABS is possibly carcinogenic and can cause acute myeloid leukemia (cancer of the blood and bone marrow).

The other two plastics that are dangerous are PETG and nylon. They emit a volatile organic compound (VOC) called caprolactam when they are heated in the nozzle. 

Now PETG and nylon don’t have any carcinogens, but they do irritate your eyes, ears, nose, and throat. Caprolactam also leads to headaches, irritation, confusion. And finally, extended exposure can peel off your skin. 

So does it mean that all 3D printing filaments are out to mess with your eyes, make your head hurt, and make your life hell? Well, luckily there is a plastic that is quite innocent and does not cause much harm. And that is PLA filament.

PLA is made from 100% natural materials like maize and sugarcane. Upon printing, it produces a substance known as lactide, which does not have any adverse effects on the human body. And given that it is biodegradable, it is safe for the environment as well. 

Therefore, we highly recommend using PLA with your 3D printers if your health concerns you. 

Before you get all fuzzy and mushy about PLA, we have to give you a word of warning. You need to select the right brand when you buy PLA. Some manufacturers add various additives to PLA to make it more colorful or to enhance other properties. Unfortunately, some of these materials produce toxic fumes. 

For this reason, we highly recommend you purchase PLA of the highest quality. We have listed the best PLA brands here

Resin is another plastic that gives off deadly fumes. When inhaled, it can affect the nose, throat, and lungs causing inflammation and irritation. In the worst case, it can cause asthma. 

Nanoparticle emission

Fumes are not the only problem when using 3D printers. Nanoparticle emission or ultrafine particles (UFP) can also cause a host of issues as well.

When plastic melts, UFPs of 0.01 micron enter the atmosphere and subsequently enter your lungs quite easily. They then make their way into your bloodstream.

Why worry about nanoparticle emission? Something so small should barely do you any harm, right?

Well, in the mildest of cases, they may cause bronchitis and asthma. And in the worst case, cancer.

ABS still remains the biggest culprit here. A study carried out in 2013 showed that ABS plastic emitted up to 200 billion particles per minute. 

Now ABS in an unheated state is pretty safe. But upon heating, its chemical characteristics change and it ends up different from its initial composition. 

Similarly, PETG and nylon also emit harmful nanoparticles into the atmosphere.

A Note on Resin

Resin, before curing, is a dangerous substance to handle. Here is why:

  • It can cause dermatitis, which is an inflammation of the skin which causes it to become dry and look red and swollen. Resin gets absorbed into the skin easily. Mild effects include irritation. In the worst case, it may lead to severe reactions. 
  • If resin enters your eyes or mouth, it can cause permanent harm to these areas of the body.
  • Resin printing is just plain bad for the environment. It can destroy the neurological processes of fish and other aquatic life if it enters their bodies, and can sometimes kill them.

So how do we mitigate these risks? We’ll look at 4 ways you can safeguard yourself against these effects. 

How to Manage 3D Printing Fumes

Ventilation

Check the ventilation capacity of the room your 3D printer is located in. Good ventilation is critical to minimize the amount of toxic fumes in your room.

So if you plan to keep the printer in your living room or bedroom, make sure you have a window that you can open to let some fresh air in.

That said, we found that the best place for a 3D printer is, without a doubt, the garage. The reasons for this are twofold. 

First, you won’t spend all your waking hours in the garage (unless you find your family annoying and you want to escape them). This means that you can let the printing process happen while you do something else. After the printing is done, the fumes will dissipate naturally. 

Now if escaping your family is a priority, then you can be in the garage while the printing is ongoing. In this case, just make sure to keep the garage door open. This will allow an ample amount of air to enter the room which will help dissipate the harmful fumes into the atmosphere. 

Unfortunately, the downside is that it is easy for the family member you were running from to enter the garage and ruin your day. 

Family or your health and sanity. Not an easy choice, eh?

Air Extraction

Now if you don’t own a garage AND your rooms lack ventilation, then you may need to invest in air extraction fans that can extract the air from the room. 

And if you’re printing plastics like ABS and PETG, you will need powerful fans that can extract 2-4 times the air in the room within an hour and then allow fresh air to come in. 

If you want the best air extractor, we highly recommend the Holmes Dual 8″ Blade Twin Window Fan. It’s one of the best-selling window fans that will extract the fumes, send fresh air in, and exchange clean air with polluted air. 

Air Purifier

An air purifier is another effective way to get rid of the fumes and nanoparticles. A top-notch air purifier does 2 things. It a) helps clear out the nanoparticles using a HEPA filter, and b) uses carbon filters to get rid of fumes. Some purifiers have special technology that can help break down odors and chemical vapors. 

So what is the difference between air extraction and air purification? 

Air extraction involves removing polluted or contaminated air from indoors and bringing in fresh atmospheric air from outdoors. 

In contrast, air purification removes pollutants/contaminants from indoor air without the need to recycle fresh air from outside. 

We recommend a combination of air extraction and purification if you want to minimize risks of 3D printer fumes. 

Here are the 3 best air purifiers in the market.

  1. Levoit LV-H133

The Levoit is one of the best air purifiers in the market, especially for 3D printing. It cleans the air in 30 minutes for rooms as large as 1076ft². 

The noise is ultra-low and it won’t be a bother. Their high-speed fans can tackle the worst of air quality. 

  1. Winix 5500-2 Air Purifier

The Winix is another popular air purifier that is suitable for rooms having 360 sq ft. The Winix comes with a special technology called the PlasmaWave, in addition to the standard HEPA filter and carbon filter. 

With this technology, a short electric charge is generated that creates dual polarity ions in moisture. These ions remove hydrogen from air pollutants, thereby rendering them inert and cleaning the air in the process. 

  1. VALKIA HEPA Air Purifier

Looking for a slightly cheaper air purifier that is more than worth its salt? Then the VALKIAs air purifier is for you. It has similar features to the Levoit LV-H133. The only downside is that it can only handle smaller rooms of 320 sq ft

Bear in mind that HEPA filters usually filter out particles that are 0.3 microns in size. And if you remember, UFPs are 0.1 microns in size. So HEPA filters cannot filter out ALL particles. 

However, most of the 0.1-micron UFPs (ultrafine particles) tend to clump together, thereby increasing their size and making it easier for them to get filtered by these HEPA filters. This means that while HEPA filters cannot completely get rid of UFPs, they do an outstanding job of removing a bulk of them from the atmosphere.

3D printer enclosure

Stuck with keeping your printer in the living room or bedroom? Then a GREAT option is to get a printer that has an enclosure and an air filter. 

Printers like the Dremel Digilab 3D45 and the Sindoh 3DWOX have both of these features. An air filter is needed, along with an enclosure, to filter out the UFPs from the trapped air so that they don’t release into the atmosphere. 

An enclosure also has other benefits, like keeping dust out. It also increases the internal heat, which is useful for printing filaments that melt only at higher temperatures.

Are 3D printing fumes harmful to pets?

In short, yes. Fumes from ABS and resin are just as bad for pets as they are for humans.

If you have a bird as a pet, these fumes are even worse, as birds get more easily affected by fumes.

It’s not just the fumes you should watch out for. Uncured resin is also bad for both the skin of humans and pets and can lead to a host of problems. 

If you have a habit of keeping resin out in the open, make sure to discard any uncured resin in a sealed container. You wouldn’t want want to expose your pets to any of the toxic chemicals by accident.

Verdict

3D printing is a messy affair. To enjoy its benefits, you must absolutely take all the precautions necessary to insulate yourself from any harmful effects. If you follow the precautions highlighted, you will have nothing to be afraid of and you can enjoy your hobby as much as you want to. 

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