3d Printer Ventilation: Why it’s important and what to do

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When it comes to 3D printing safety, many, if not most people tend to think that 3D printers catch fire and burn up. However, that is not the truth as such.

On the contrary, 3D printers are far more likely to generate various kinds of particulates and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Ok so what can these VOCs and particles released during the 3D printing do to us anyway?

Let us take a quick look at the key issues with 3D printing emissions and the dire need of ventilation from a safety point of view as well as the misconceptions associated with it. Then we will see just what we have to do to make our home, workshop and office completely safe from all emissions and other noxious by products of the whole 3D printing concept.

Why 3D Printer Ventilation Is So Very Important?

Many people ask the question “Is 3D printer ventilation important?”

Well. It is now an established fact that breathing in 3D printing fumes could certainly be very harmful to human health. Now, the very next thing to do is to understand the critical importance of a fully functional ventilation system for your printer.

This is particularly important for the following reason:

  • The average time a 3D printer runs stretches for around 5 to 7 hours. This means in effect that your 3D printer will basically be producing and churning out potentially harmful fumes continuously for around about a quarter of the day, at the very least.
  • Both SLA and FDM printing technologies typically produce heaps of ultrafine particles and VOCs, Not to mention styrene too.

Taking both these issues together we can say that “Houston we have a problem.” While the above materials may not be particularly harmful in small portions; however, breathing them in and out on a daily basis can most certainly prove harmful to your body, unless you start using a 3D printer enclosure.

If you have never used one before, it is never too late to start for all of your 3D printers.

Returning back to your 3D printer ventilation needs, it is important to figure out precisely where you conduct all of your 3D printing operations. This will also help you determine if you have to use an air purifier for your 3D printer, especially in a high temperature environment where your printers work overtime.

Enclosed Spaces

These spaces usually refer to just about any area that does not have a really clear ventilation outlet. It can also mean a space where there are not enough windows and doors to the natural outside atmosphere. Such enclosed spaces usually include the workshop, bedroom, living room and basement.

In fact all enclosed spaces where you print or have printed 3D objects. This also holds for rooms that are big in size and even smaller ones.

You can of course, conduct your 3D printing activities in an open space such as a shed or garage that has plenty of windows and cross ventilation.

However, this is not always possible and many people don’t have a choice except to use an enclosed space for all of their 3D printing needs or where they keep their 3D printers for safety purposes.

You will need an air purifier and even if you have never used one before and it is small in size, you should still get one. Even a used one or one small in size is better than not having one at all. You shouldn’t print without one.

How Much Ventilation Does a 3d Printer Need?

There are several models that are closed design only. They don’t require all that much ventilation, barring a small window at most. However, large and open 3D printers that are professional workhorses and work for a long time every day, definitely require a whole lot more ventilation than their closed box counterparts.

You should always prefer enclosures with HEPA/VOC filtration capabilities. It is a good idea to only use your 3D printers in a well-ventilated area where there is very limited occupancy; a designated lab or student lab (in case of an educational institution) with a minimum of 6 air changes per hour is a sound idea, especially if the place is already well ventilated, as it is.

Is It Safe To Have A 3d Printer In Your Room?

Once again it depends upon the level of ventilation present in your room. If it is light and airy with plenty of cross ventilation points you may be good to go. Provided that you don’t sleep in the room.

However, if it is completely sealed in an HVAC controlled environment and you live and sleep there, then it might not be such a great idea after all. If you don’t have a choice, you might consider getting HEPA filters for your 3D printer to go with its own ventilation system.

Which Filaments Produce Toxic Fumes?

ABS produces toxic fumes when printing. Not only is it highly carcinogenic (cancer causing) but also gives off styrene when it is being melted to create 3D prints. Styrene is a toxic chemical and you are better off being far away when it is churned out in large quantities.

Nylon and PCTPE as well as exotic filaments like Laywood and Laybrick also release caprolactam. In its gaseous state this chemical cause headaches, respiratory and eye problems.

If you will be using any of the above filaments you will definitely need a lot of ventilation (for the air in your room) complete with HEPA filters and a 3d printer enclosure.

Is PLA Toxic To Breathe?

Many people tend to think that the air around PLA is perfectly breathable. However that is not necessarily true. Since most PLA filaments are made from natural materials such as Maize and sugarcane, users tend to think that the air quality is perfectly fine.

Here, it is pertinent to note that PLA filament also starts shedding Nano particles as well as VOCs in the air at around 200 degrees temperature and above. In this case using a fan can also be one of many other solutions.

Where Should You Keep Your Printer?

As mentioned earlier, the placement of the printer also has a direct impact on the quality of the air in the room. The general rule of thumb is that the less ventilated the room, the worse will be the air quality there and vice versa.

Let us check out the different places where people keep their 3D printers so they remain safe from harmful emissions. (In excessive quantities such emissions can even lead to lifelong problems). Here a 3D printer enclosure would be a great idea and will help clear the air, so to speak.

Garage

A garage is a pretty good place to keep your 3D printer, especially when printing ABS. If the walls are high enough the quality of the air would be breathable, this holds truer if there is an air filter present with your 3D printer.

Home Office

If you like to work in a home office and don’t want to deal with volatile organic compounds vocs, it would be a good idea to use carbon filters and other air purifiers to improve air quality. During the printing process try and make sure that the temperature does not exceed harmful levels, particularly when printing with ABS.

Workshop

If it is a fairly simple open air workshop on your property, then you won’t have to worry about harmful emissions from your 3D printer. Open air workshops also mean that you won’t have to smell the noxious fumes during the printing process. Since the two main issues of 3D printing are enclosed spaces and lack of an air purifier, you are good to go on both counts.

In case your workshop is in an enclosed space you will probably need a carbon filter to get the job done. You have to be doubly cautious if you are going to be using ABS filament. But if you were to build a 3D printer enclosure, you won’t even be in any real danger.

Bedroom

If your bedroom is your default 3D printing space, you will definitely have to use some form of filtration system to get rid of the fumes. There is no small danger in living in a room full of ultrafine particles and high concentrations of VOCs. Even if you have a powerful ceiling fan to get rid of the particulate, it wouldn’t be enough. Just about every filament type comes with its own inherent dangers due to its fumes.

How to Build a Fume Hood

If you need a filtration system for safety reasons, there are plenty of solutions available that will apply to just about any filament you would like to use. One of the best ones is to build a fume hood air purifier or 3D printer enclosure. Let us see how:

The above video shows how to build and use a fume hood complete with air purifiers and a powerful fan.

Conclusion

The above discussion makes it amply clear that you will need air purifiers and HEPA filter not to mention lots of ventilation for your 3D printing process. If you will be working in an enclosed space, you will end up breathing poor quality air and that will have long term negative effects on your health.

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