3D printing is a marvelous technology. If you need something and it isn’t available on the market, just make it yourself. You are not bound by what’s available on the shelf, you need an automobile part, print it yourself. You have an idea for a costume, but you can’t find the parts? Make it yourself.
In short, you are only limited by your creativity. A lot of people are captivated by the technology. It is like magic since objects materialize right out of thin air. Beyond this joy, people also note another aspect: the smell.
While your 3D printer works away, printing your designs, it may produce unusual aromas. Is it safe to breathe it in? Some materials are more harmful than others. Let’s explore.
Are 3D printer fumes bad for your health?
3D printing can be very bad for your health. Studies have revealed that 3D printers emit a hefty number of Ultrafine Particles (UFPs) while printing. Typically, the 3D printer heats up the thermoplastic filament, extrude it through a nozzle which lands on a heated bed where the item starts materializing.
Similar practices are known to produce harmful emissions in commercial environments, but the difference is that in a factory, the machine operator would be required to follow safety protocols and wear safety gear. Such places have better ventilation, allowing for better dispersal of any emissions. In your home environment, not that much.
Researchers have measured the number of particles emitted when a printer creates a small object, and it isn’t pretty. About 20 billion particles are emitted for a 3D printer using PLA filament (and that’s the most environment-friendly filament out there) at a relatively lower temperature and above 200 billion per minute utilizing higher temperatures and other kinds of filament. They have compared the negative impact on your health to being similar to smoking a cigarette inside or working with a gas stove in an enclosed space.
The UFPs park themselves in your lungs (in the alveolar and pulmonary areas). They can also deposit themselves in the head airways as well as the brain through the olfactory nerve. Because of the higher surface area, UFPs tend to soak in other harmful compounds becoming much more toxic. Resulting conditions? Asthma like issues, heart attack and in the worst case it can even lead to death.
These side-effects are all known to develop with prolonged time spent in the printing spaces. It’s not like you have to wear those bio-hazard suits when entering the area, but you should always be careful.
When working with a 3D printer at home, make sure that you have set it up in a properly ventilated area, and that you’re wearing apt safety gear. You might not develop a lung disorder at the hands of your 3D printer but better safe than sorry.
Different 3D printing smells
Let’s explore some smells you can encounter.
– PLA: Exuding a sweet honey like smell during printing, PLA is an organic substance usually made from corn starch. People tend to find the smell very irresistible.
– Projet/ZCorp: The 3D printers using powder-based inkjet technology exudes a very sharp tangy aroma that reminds people of vinegar at times.
– ABS: This thermoplastic exudes a very strong and one of the most harmful aromas emitted during 3D printing. The plasticky smell, if it isn’t toxic, certainly smells like it.
While you may be subjected to some very pungent and harmful smells during 3D printing, the newer commercial printers come loaded with state-of-the-art filters with remove particles from the chamber before releasing them to the environment, rendering the particles completely aroma-less. Yet, they can still contain enough toxicity to harm you with prolonged use.
So, it is better to avoid having to inhale these fumes as much as you can and look at ventilation options to steer clear of any health issues that might surface later. Let’s explore some solutions.
3D printing ventilation solutions
Since the fact that 3D printing produces harmful emissions for you, the next step for you is to understand the need of proper ventilation. You have to work around the question, where do you do your 3D printing? Identify the kind of space you have available.
Enclosed spaces: The term refers to any area without any clear ventilation, or a lack of doors and windows leading directly into nature. A good example of an enclosed space would be your living room, bedroom or a basement.
Open space: This term refers to places with enough openings to allow for cross ventilation. A good open space can be you garage or a toolshed.
With the kinds of spaces established, it is very clear that an open space is a much conducive environment for 3D printing, without requiring much extra effort in terms of ventilation.
How to get rid of 3D printer fumes
However, if you don’t have access to an open workspace you shouldn’t be disheartened. There are a couple of ways you can leverage to dissipate the fumes your printer produces.
Get an air purifier (or more):
Perhaps the simplest solution, get an air purifier for your enclosed workspace.
There is a very wide and diverse array of products available on the market, so make sure to conduct extensive research on the available options and get the one best suited for you. Here are some features to help make the decision easier:
- Get the right size air purifier. Just get the size of your room and find the air purifier with the right specifications for your room.
- Get a charcoal air purifier.
- Get one which employs HEPA (high efficient particulate air) filters.
Use only PLA filament
Though it will limit your creativity, perhaps the easiest way to consider is working only with PLA filament. The composition of a standard PLA filament renders it eco-friendlier than the other types.
If you decide to move ahead with this, make sure to reduce the number of hours you spend in the enclosed space while the printer is working.
Using edible filaments
With the developments in this domain, some manufacturers have come up with edible filaments which are not just edible, but they smell delicious as well. There is a wide variety of edible filaments, ranging all the way from chocolate flavored to coffee flavored filaments.
Technically, you can print whole dishes as long as the involved ingredients can be pureed. The key consideration being the ingredients need to be extruded through a syringe like machine onto a plate. Examples of 3D printed food include burgers, quiches and gingerbread.
Get an enclosure
You can consider building a dedicated enclosed compartment for your 3D printer, or getting one off the shelf. Enclosures usually come equipped with carbon filters, fans as well as a dry-hose. The hose will serve as a fresh air inlet/outlet while the carbon filter traps styrene along with the harmful VOCs.
Install air extractors
Installing an air extractor is a pretty great way to improve the ventilation in an enclosed space. These work by bringing in cool air from the outside of the space, all the while throwing out the heated/toxic air from the inside of a room. They usually employ suctions pipes and fans to achieve this.
Like air purifiers, compact air extractors are quite affordable and you should definitely consider buying one when you are purchasing your 3D printer.
However, some air purifiers fail when it comes to certain 3D printers, which produce certain amounts of UFPs which can slip through HEPA filters. To truly get rid of them you can employ air extractors which can vent the fumes outside where they can do you no harm.
Where to set up your 3D printer to avoid smells?
A room separate from the rest of the house, or at a corner, with its doors shut and a window open can be a great place for your 3D printer. Ideally, you leave your 3D printer running when you are not in the room.
If you have to be in the room at the same time as your model is being printed, you must make sure to provide adequate ventilation, meaning you should place it closer to a window which should can remain ajar when you are in the room.
The ideal place to set up your 3D printer. You can easily leave a window you’re a door open for ventilation and leave the place vacant for prolonged periods while the printer is busy. You can also set up extra ventilation efforts without having to worry about it affecting you or your family.
Living rooms and bedrooms are to be avoided as much as possible, but if the whole family uses the 3D printers then you can probably set them up in such rooms.
Unfortunately, it means that often there will be people in the same space when the printer is running. In such cases, make sure to add as much ventilation as you can and install air purifiers/extractors especially since you’ll need to leave the printer running at night.