Thinking about associated hazards before buying a 3D printer is essential.
Fire hazards are notorious, but these machines also generate volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and particulate.
Proper 3D printer ventilation is crucial to avoid breathing in the fumes generated during the printing process. A single 3D printer located in a 1080 cubic feet room requires an air exchange rate of at least 1.8/hour. Carbon and HEPA filters can help tackle ultrafine particles and odors.
Do 3D Printers Need Ventilation?
Printing a 3D object involves melting a variety of plastic filaments. Regardless of their actual composition, they all release chemicals, commonly referred to as volatile organic compounds.
These fumes are harmful to human health. Moreover, the printing process also releases ultrafine particulates. Even filaments such as PLA, which derive from renewable sources like corn, present a risk of exposure to respirable particles.
To stop 3D printing fumes, you must ensure adequate ventilation.
One of the easiest ways to do this is by using a 3D printer ventilation fan that vents the fumes to the outdoors. Alternatively, keeping the printer in an enclosure can minimize some of the risks.
5 Ways To 3D Printer Ventilation
Finding the best resin printer ventilation method could seem daunting. However, there are ways to get rid of airborne contaminants without spending a fortune.
1. Use a Ventilated Enclosure
One of the easiest and cheapest ways to eliminate particulate and VOCs is by keeping your printer in a ventilated enclosure.
Enclosures prevent fumes and particulate from being released right into the room. Sure, unless the closure is airtight, the tiny particles can still find their way out sooner or later. This is where the filtered ventilation system comes in.
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These ventilation systems work in a way similar to non-vented range hoods that absorb cooking fumes without actually venting them outdoors.
There are two types of filters your system should have:
- HEPA filter to remove fine particles
- Activated carbon filter to remove VOCs
HEPA filters offer high-efficiency particulate absorbance and are the current standard of air filtration. They can capture up to 99.97% of particulate pollution, minimizing the risks almost completely.
While HEPA is considered the ultimate particulate filter type, 3D printer brands like Ultimaker claim that using an EPA filter can help you get rid of harmful particulate generated during the printing process at lower costs.
If you do decide to use an EPA filter, check its MERV rating and use a filter with a rating of at least MERV 16.
In addition to the HEPA filter, the enclosure must also have an activated carbon filter.
Activated carbon captures toxic fumes, neutralizing them before returning the air back into the room.
For the best results, you should fit the enclosure with a wall-mountable 3D printer filtration unit that includes HEPA and activated carbon filters. Even though these filters remove contaminants before releasing the air into the room, it might be best to place the printer and its enclosure near a window.
2. Vent the Fumes Outdoors
Venting the 3D printer outdoors is perhaps the most effective way of preventing fumes and particulate from contaminating the air in your room.
However, this method comes with a huge disadvantage – the duct leads the warm air within the enclosure outside, but it also lets outside air to get in. Due to this exchange, the cooler air can lower the temperature inside the enclosure.
As a result, the printer will struggle to maintain a constant temperature of the build plate and nozzle.
Depending on the filament you work with, a vent to the outdoors can negatively affect your prints. ABS, for instance, is notoriously difficult to work with in fluctuating temperature conditions. A constant build plate temperature is crucial to prevent warping and layer separation.
That said, if you’re working with less fuzzy filament types – such as PLA – outside venting might be worth considering.
3. Install Air Purifiers
Air purifiers are a good alternative to outdoor venting if your 3D printing volume is high and you can’t or don’t want to connect the enclosure to a duct vent.
The air purifier can remove some contaminants, taking some of the burden off the filters.
Air purifiers can also be used to remove fumes and particulate faster if you’re keeping the printer in a separate, aerated room and don’t want to use an enclosure.
However, the air purifier on its own is insufficient to remove airborne contaminants from an unventilated room.
If you can’t place the printer in a room with windows and can’t use an enclosure for some reason, you should consider installing an extractor fan in addition to use a purifier.
4. Install Air Extractors
Extractor fans are typically a solution chosen by those who can’t or don’t want to use a 3D printer enclosure.
Depending on their type and the filters they use, air extractors can effectively remove all types of air contaminants, including fumes and particulate. Most domestic extractors can pull through 20 to 21 liters of air per second.
This typically provides a high-enough air exchange rate for most domestic purposes, including low- to moderate-volume 3D printing.
However, the easiest way to tell what size extractor fan you need – or whether the fan you have is sufficient – is by calculating its air exchange rate.
To do that, you must find the CFM of your device and multiply it by 60. Then, divide the result by the total cubic feet of your room.
5. Consider Built-In Filtration Systems
If you can keep the printer in a separate, windowed room and don’t want to use an enclosure, extractor fan, or air purifier, you could consider buying a 3D printer with built-in air filtration system.
These machines incorporate both HEPA or EPA and activated carbon filters that remove some of the airborne contaminants. Such a 3D printer won’t release too many fumes, and keeping the device near an open window can effectively disperse all contaminants.
However, a built-in filtration system might not be able to remove all fumes and particles if your printing volume is high.
In this case, you should still consider adding another filtration option, such as an air purifier or a ventilated enclosure.
Importance Of 3D Printing Ventilation Systems
There are various ventilation options for 3D printers. Yet, some enthusiasts fail to implement any of them. This may happen if you don’t understand the risks of 3D printing and the importance of ventilation systems.
Removal of Plastic Nanoparticles
All filaments used in 3D printing are exposed to high heat and pressure during the printing process. While not all materials release the same amount of plastic nanoparticles, they all contaminate the air with microplastics.
These particles are absorbed by the human body through skin contact and direct inhalation. They can lead to a number of problems, including respiratory issues, inflammation and chronic pain, DNA damage, and even cancer.
A good ventilation system can remove these particles, reducing these associated risks.
Removal of Toxic Fumes
Alongside plastic nanoparticles, most filaments also release toxic fumes. Some of these fumes are carcinogenic, and those that aren’t can still irritate your throat, nose, skin, and eyes.
From all plastics used in 3D printing, ABS is one of the most harmful because of fumes. Nylon and PETG don’t release carcinogenic substances – at least according to existing studies – but their fumes can lead to irritation, headaches, confusion, and general malaise.
Most of these fumes don’t have a specific odor, so ventilation is needed even if you can’t smell anything.
Enhanced Printing Performance
Beyond nanoparticles and toxic fumes, ventilation can actually improve the printing performance.
Keeping the printer into a ventilated enclosure can help prevent bed and nozzle temperature loss. This is possible because the heat generated by the machine warms up the air inside the enclosure. At the same time, proper ventilation prevents overheating while also preventing temperature fluctuations.
As such, the printer doesn’t have to struggle to maintain the bed and nozzle temperature, and bed adhesion will improve.
Tips For Improving 3D Printing Ventilation
Investing in a proper ventilation solution for your 3D printer is crucial. However, the tips below can help you improve ventilation temporarily until you can implement a long-term solution.
Improve Your Furnace Filter
If you just bought your first 3D printer for home use and don’t have the budget to buy an enclosure (or alternative ventilation systems), you can take advantage of your home’s furnace filter to remove fumes and particulate.
Check the furnace’s specifications and replace its filter with the highest MERV filter your system can handle. This should help remove most of the contaminants in the room.
Print Near An Open Window
In addition to upgrading the filter, place the printer near a window. Make sure the window is open when the printer is in use.
However, remember that you should only use this method if the outside temperature isn’t too cold or hot compared to your room temperature.
Use A Grow Tent
If you can’t afford a proper 3D printer enclosure, you can use a grow tent instead.
These tents are specifically designed to retain heat while also providing some ventilation for the seedlings.
To ensure proper ventilation of your 3D printer, connect a duct vent to the tent to transport all harmful fumes outside.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can 3D printers cause headaches?
Yes, the fumes released by the melted filament can cause headaches. They can also cause irritation, inflammation, and an array of other health issues.
Are 3D printers safe to leave overnight?
While some users claim that it’s perfectly safe to leave the 3D printer on overnight, manufacturers advise against it for a reason. There are plenty of things that could go wrong while your printer works unsupervised, including catching fire.
At the same time, it is frustrating to wait for days on end for the printer to complete your project.
If you have to leave the machine unsupervised, enable the auto-shut-off function, the thermal runaway protection, and use a camera to monitor the printer from a distance.
Do enclosed 3D printers need ventilation?
Yes, an enclosed 3D printer needs ventilation. Otherwise, all the fumes and particles will remain trapped inside the enclosure and contaminate the air in your room as soon as you open the enclosure door to retrieve your object.
Ventilating your 3D printer is crucial to prevent breathing toxic fumes and airborne contaminants. Keeping the printer in a ventilated enclosure or installing an outdoor vent are the best options. However, there are plenty of alternative and temporary solutions you could use until you set up a permanent system.