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.
Table of Contents
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 Two Dangerous Emissions of 3D Printers
There are mainly 2 emissions to watch out for:
- Toxic fumes
- Nanoparticle emission
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, and 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.
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 the 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
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?
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.
An air purifier is another effective way to get rid of 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 the risks of 3D printer fumes.
Here are the 3 best air purifiers on the market:
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.
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.
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 way to manage the fumes is to get a printer with a built-in enclosure, or if you already have a 3D printer, build or buy an enclosure.
If you’ve never heard of an enclosure before, it’s basically just a container for your 3D printer that keeps the machine in its own little environment. Enclosures are mainly used because they trap heat around the printer, which makes printing high-strength materials, like ABS and polycarbonate, easier.
However, an enclosure also does a great job of ensuring that little fumes leave the print space and enter the open atmosphere in your room, hence why I strongly recommend using one if you can’t put your printer in your garage.
You can either get a 3D printer with a built-in enclosure, like the Dremel Digilab 3D45 and the Sindoh 3DWOX, or build or buy a separate one for an existing 3D printer.
If you take the latter option, make sure that the enclosure you build or DIY is large enough for your whole printer and has an access point (for taking out prints). The Creality Ender 3 Enclosure and WhamBam HotBox V2 are both great purchasable options! Read our article on the best enclosures for 3D printers here to learn more.
It’s also vital that you add an air filter to your 3D printer enclosure, as this will help remove the small particle contaminants from the air inside the enclosure. The two printers with built-in enclosures already have HEPA air filters inside, so you won’t need to buy separate ones if you get one of those machines. But if you’re DIY-ing your own 3D printer enclosure, make sure to pick up a good air filter too!
Using A 3D Printing Service
Our last and alternative option to avoid fumes altogether is to use a 3D printing service like Sculpteo, Shapeways, or Hubs.
You’ll pay a service to print for you and it’ll take at least 1-10 days for you to get the part depending on how complex your design is and what resin printing tech you use.
Learn more on the best online 3D printing services here and the best resin 3D printing services here.
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.
3D printing is a messy affair. While the technology presents many benefits and is super fun, it’s essential that you take the necessary precautions to ensure your 3D printer doesn’t harm your health.
The main way you might get harmed by your 3D printer is by the toxic fumes and UFPs the machine produces. Luckily, you can limit your exposure to these dangerous fumes by keeping your 3D printer in a well-ventilated area or a place, like a garage, that has easy access to open air and is out of the way from where you eat, sleep, and lounge.
An enclosure and air purifier also go a long way in ensuring that you don’t inhale any harmful fumes from your 3D printer.
At the end of the day, 3D printing can cause a plethora of health issues, from migraines to cancer. And while we all think, “this would never happen to me”, it’s better to be safe than sorry and take the proper measures to ensure we, and our lungs, stay safe.