Ahh, the smell of plastic. Wait. No, that’s not right. Breathing in fumes from 3D printing over an extended period of time may have negative ramifications on our health that we should consider as lifelong 3D printing makers. But one thing we should definitely keep in mind when thinking about 3D printing fumes is that they’re always present, even when you can’t actually smell them. For example, if you’ve 3D printed with PLA material, you’ll notice that there’s no distinguishable smell, but melted PLA still releases emissions because all plastic when melted emits volatile organic compounds (otherwise known as VOCs). According to the EPA, long-term exposure to VOCs can have some pretty adverse health effects, and since VOC concentration can be up to 10x higher indoors, it’s even more important for us to properly ventilate our workspaces while 3D printing.
So let’s clear the air on how exactly we can develop good ventilation practices in order to help us reduce the likelihood of developing acute or chronic health issues from 3D printing emissions.
When should you ventilate?
The bottom line when it comes to ventilation is whenever your plastic is warm or melting, VOCs are being released into the air. So whether you are actively printing or not, you should make sure whatever ventilating measures you have are in place.
How should you ventilate?
When it comes to keeping your area free (or as close to free as possible) of VOCs you have a few different options.
Open some windows
Sounds easy, right? Now this may seem like a tried and true method, but there’s actually a caveat you’ll need to be aware of if you choose to keep your windows open during the 3D printing process.
To maintain the integrity of your print, temperature consistency is key, an open window has the potential to sabotage that. But worry not, there are a couple of ways you can protect your print!
Make a temporary shield This option is simple enough and gets the job done. You can use something as simple as cardboard; just make sure the wind’s not strong enough to knock down!
Create a localized shield You can configure your print to print with a draft shield that’s offset from the object by a few millimeters. This will also do a fairly good job at protecting your print. The downside to this option is that you create some additional print waste, and use up a bit more filament.
Location, location, location Depending on the size of the room, you could place your 3D printer out of the way of any window breeze. This will help ensure that the ambient temperature doesn’t vary too greatly while also maintaining ventilation in the room.
A word to the weary: also be sure that your outdoor air quality is not equally or more harmful than your indoor air quality. A quick and easy way to check would be to use AirNow to monitor your area's air quality index. This may not be your best option if you're experiencing poor air quality.
Increase air exchange between rooms
Another way to dilute and circulate out the emissions from your 3D printer is to increase airflow between the rooms in your living space.
You can do this by simply leaving doors open, printing in a larger space, or using fans. Fans may pose a similar issue with an open window since the air flow may cause a greater variance in ambient temperature, but strategic placement of your fans could help mitigate any issues with your print.
Print in a room with little foot traffic
This is an easy way to reduce your exposure to VOCs would be to simply put your printer in a room that’s less frequently accessed if possible.
The above methods are relatively quick and easy ways to passively keep your exposure to 3D printing emissions at a minimum. If you’re interested, however, there are other more active ways to ventilate your space.
Use a localized filter
This method mainly works for enclosed 3D printers. If you have an open printer, you could enclose it; otherwise this method may not be for you.
Using a carbon-based filtration system with your printer will resolve the temperature consistency issue of using an open window and will drastically reduce the emissions that escape from your printer. Alveo3D has created some awesome and 3D printable filtering kits that you can download here. Their design enables you to easily replace filter cartridges as necessary.
Invest in a VOC-rated room air filter
This one’s a bit of a bigger investment. Here at CLP we use this air filter. This purifier filters the air at the industry-recommended rate of five times an hour (or roughly every 12 minutes) in a 540 ft² room. This clears the entire room of any emissions from printers or from outdoor air quality, and proves useful even in non-3D printing circumstances.
As much as we all may love 3D printing, failing to do it responsibly may have negative ramifications on our health long-term. So remember to keep yourself safe with these quick and simple ways to make sure your air is clean and clear!