Have you ever smelt the sweet-fragrance of Ingeo PLA or the cloying smell of HITPS and gone; is this harmful to my health?
Thankfully, extensive research on 3D printing has provided answers to your question, and the answer is yes and no… Confused, aren’t you? but do not fret for today, I intend to expatiate more on the by-products of the 3D printing process its effect on your health and how to mitigate risks.
Sometime in 2014, scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, took it upon themselves to analyze the air around a working 3D printer and discovered that it emitted some substances. These substances include; ultrafine particles (UPs), Styrene and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs).
The research went further to list the different filament types used and the substances they produced. The list was rather exhaustive and I won’t bore you with the details but simply focus on PLA and ABS—the most used filament types in the 3D printing industry.
Now, taking a look at PLA, it is no secret that this thermoplastic is made from eco-friendly materials but how friendly are its emissions? When 3D printed, PLA produces sweet-smelling fumes which are laced with UP and VOC. Although studies have shown that the harm caused by UPs and VOCs is negligible, it is definitely not ideal for us to breathe in these fumes on a regular basis.
As for ABS, when 3D printing with it, the research shows that it produces both UP and VOCs which includes styrene. While not harmful in small portions, breathing in styrene on a regular basis can be harmful to the human body. Therefore, ventilation is needed anytime the 3D printing process is initiated.
Analyzing Your Ventilation Needs
Since the fact that breathing in 3D printing fumes could be harmful to the human health has been established, the next step is understanding your ventilation needs. But before going into that, let me outline some facts you need to consider about 3D printing:
1. The average time a 3D printing project runs for is 5-7 hours. This means your 3D printer will produce fumes continuously for a quarter of the day.
2. Both SLA and FDM printing technologies produce ultrafine particles, VOCs and styrene.
Returning back to your ventilation needs, the most important question to ask yourself and provide an answer to, is where do you do your 3D printing?
- In Enclosed Spaces: These spaces refer to any area without a clear ventilation outlet or not enough windows and doors that open up to nature’s atmosphere. Enclosed spaces could include your bedroom, living room and basement.
- Open Spaces: This refers to work spaces with enough features that make cross-ventilation possible. Example of open spaces are your garage, external workshop or a toolshed located outside the main living area.
With these definitions of work spaces, it is already quite clear which of these structures will be conducive for 3D printing without any thought to ventilation as well as that which requires ventilation aid.
Therefore, if you have a choice, installing your 3D printing workstation in an open space ensures that the ultrafine particles, VOC and styrene your 3D printer produces dissipates into the air and gets diluted by oxygen. But if that option isn’t available, then you must consider taking some action to disperse the fumes produced in your enclosed space.
The Ventilation Solutions You Can Explore
If you do not have any access to an open space workstation, do not be disheartened for there are a couple of solutions which can be taking advantage of to dispel the fumes a 3D printer produces. And here, I will highlight these solutions and the relief they bring to the table to simplify that important decision you have to make.
Working with Only PLA
The easiest and most affordable solution you can consider is working with only standard PLA filament. The composition of PLA makes it eco-friendlier than the other filament types you can work with. Although this will limit your creativity, it is still a great option for entry-level hobbyists to consider.
If this solution is the one you find appealing and affordable, then it is also important to note that you will have to reduce the hours and number of projects you work on within the enclosed space.
Installing Air Purifiers
In Asia, China to be precise, toxicity in the air is managed through the installation of large air purifiers in major cities and it works. Therefore, you can borrow a leaf from China’s book by purchasing a small air purifier for your home. There are a plethora of air purifiers out there and to make the right choice, here are the features you must look for:
- An air purifier that uses high efficient particulate air (HEPA) filters.
- A charcoal air purifier
- The right size of air purifier. To get this, simply calculate the size of your room—by multiplying its length and breadth—then select an air purifier with the specifications for your room.
Using an air extractor is a great way to improve the ventilation of an enclosed room. Air extractors work by sucking in heated air and exchanging it with cool air from the outside of a room. It does this with the use of a fan and suction pipes. The two main types of air extractors that you can purchase are:
- Twin Reversible Airflow extractors with thermostats and
- Reversible Airflow extractors without thermostats.
Like its counterpart—the air purifier—small air extractors are actually quite affordable and it should be an accessory you should consider purchasing with your 3D printer.
Building a 3D Printer Enclosure
For hands-on DIY enthusiasts, you can also consider building an enclosed compartment dedicated to your 3D printer. The task involves creating an air-tight enclosure equipped with carbon filters, a fan, and a dry-hose which runs outside your home. The carbon filter will trap styrene and other VOCs, while the hose will serve as an air outlet/inlet.
So, here you have it, the four affordable options you should consider when looking for different ways to provide enough ventilation for your 3D printing workspace.