I was sitting here, with my 3D printer in action and thought to myself, is there a way to describe the smell of 3D printing?
Most people don’t really think about this until they get a filament or resin which is quite harsh, so I set out to find out whether 3D printing smells and what you can do to minimize bad smells.
3D printing itself doesn’t smell, but the 3D printer material that you use can definitely emit smelly fumes that are harsh to our noses. I think the most common smelly filament is ABS, which is described as being toxic due to emitting VOCs & harsh particles. PLA is non-toxic and doesn’t smell.
That’s the basic answer to whether 3D printing smells, but there is definitely more interesting information to learn in this topic, so read on to find out.
Does 3D Printer Filament Smell?
It is completely normal for your printer to give out a pungent smell while it’s working if you are using certain materials. This is mostly due to the heating technology used by the printer to melt the plastic into a liquid which can be layered.
The higher the temperature, the more your 3D printer filament is likely to smell which is one of the reasons why ABS smells and PLA doesn’t. It also depends on the manufacturing and make up of the material.
PLA is made out of renewable resources such as cornstarch and sugarcane so this doesn’t give off those harmful, smelly chemicals that some people complain about.
ABS is made out of a process which polymerizes styrene and acrylonitrile along with polybutadiene. Although safe when 3D printed (legos, pipes), they aren’t very safe when they are being heated and melted down into molten plastic.
The printer usually smells when the filament starts heating up. However, apart from that, if your printer gets overheated, the burnt plastic also gives off a very unpleasant odor.
If you keep to filament which doesn’t require high temperatures, you should be able to avoid smells for the most part.
PETG filament doesn’t have too much of a smell to it either.
Do Resin 3D Printers Smell?
Yes, resin 3D printers emit a variety of smells when they get heated, but there are specialized resins that are being manufactured that have a less powerful smell.
Resins are mainly used in SLA 3D printing (Anycubic Photon & Elegoo Mars 3D printers) and are quite viscous and pourable polymers that can be turned into solid materials.
In the liquid form, resins range from having very strong smells to having some subtle smells as well depending on the type of resin you use. The fumes produced by resin are thought to be toxic and also harmful to human skin.
Resin comes with MSDS which are material data sheets (government regulated) and they don’t necessarily say that the actual ambient fumes from resin is toxic. They do say how it can be very irritating to skin if contact is made.
Is 3D Printing Filament Toxic?
3D printing on its own is not toxic to be very precise. In case you’re using any filaments or any tools they have a tendency to emit harmful fumes or radiations.
It can be alarming as it is a risk to your health. Harmful fumes usually originate from certain thermoplastic and plastic filaments mainly like ABS, Nylon and PETG.
However, Nylon filaments are plastic in nature, produce no noticeable smell but the fumes are still toxic as they emit gaseous compounds. These compounds are a potential risk to your health.
Regardless of what filaments you are using, if you are 3D printing, it is important that you practice precautions. And implement some consistent safety habits to guard your health.
Inhaling fumes might not sound very alarming primarily, but in the long term, it can prove to be damaging.
The primary concern of long-term exposure simply means that even if you make the use of “safe” filaments like PLA or even filaments like PETG that generate little fumes you are still in some way potentially risking your well-being and health.
There have been studies in the field of 3D printing and respiratory health problems, but these are in larger factories which have plenty of things going on.
You don’t really hear too many stories about negative respiratory health problems from 3D printing at home, unless instructions haven’t properly been followed, or you have underlying conditions.
Proper ventilation and precautions should still be taken when 3D printing, so you can minimize your risk to any toxicity in the air.
How Toxic Are PLA & ABS Fumes?
ABS is known to be one of harmful thermoplastic compounds. Not only does it emit a very strong unpleasant odour but the fumes are known to be harmful to our health.
Long periods of exposures to such hazardous compounds can have adverse health effects. The main reason behind ABS being so harmful is because of its plastic composition.
On the contrary though, PLA fumes are non-toxic. In fact, some people even like its fragrance and find it quite pleasing. Some types of PLA exude a slightly sweet smell, similar to honey-like smell while printing.
The reason why PLA emits a pleasant smell is because of its organic composition.
Which Filaments are Toxic & Non-Toxic?
Different print materials give off different smells when they are heated up. As PLA filament is based on sugarcane and maize, it emits a non-toxic smell.
However, the ABS is oil-based plastic so the fumes it emits when heated up are toxic and smell like burnt plastic.
On the other hand, the Nylon filaments produced no smell when heated up. It is another synthetic polymer consisting of a long chain of plastic molecules. But, they do give off harmful fumes.
Nylon has been proved to generate caprolactam particles, which are said to have many health risks. Talking about PETG, it’s a plastic resin and is thermoplastic in nature.
PETG filament produces a fairly small amount of smell and fumes, in comparison to the other harmful plastics.
Known to be Toxic
Known to be Non-Toxic
Best Way to Minimize & Ventilate 3D Printer Smells
Long printing hours and exposure to toxic fumes can prove to be damaging, but there are a couple of precautions you can practice to safeguard your health.
The most important of them being is that you perform your printing task in a well-ventilated area or room. You can install air and carbon filters in your work area so that the fumes get filtered out before leaving.
Moreover, you can also use printers with built-in air filters which will, in turn, further reduce your contact with toxic air and decrease your chances of inhaling toxic fumes.
For even better air quality assurance, you can install an air quality monitor which will inform you about your vicinity’s air composition in detail.
You can also add a ducting system or exhaust system to your enclosure to direct all the toxic fumes somewhere else.
Another very simple tip would be for you to wear a VOC mask while printing or when working directly with smelly or toxic materials.
You can also hang plastic sheets to enclose the whole printing area. This might sound basic, but it is quite effective in containing the unpleasant odors and smells.
Another important step you can practice is to choose your filaments wisely. After all they are the main origin of where the fumes come from whether they are toxic or even non-toxic.
Try using environmentally friendly and ‘health’ friendly filaments like PLA or even PETG to a certain level.
You can further improvise by using edible filaments which are even better and less hazardous.
It is also recommended if you assign a particular enclosure for your printer and your work. Enclosures usually come with built-in air filtering system, carbon filters and also dry hose.
The hose will serve as a way of fresh air inlet/outlet while the carbon filter will help trap styrene along with some harmful VOCs present in the fumes.
Adding to this, the location of your work area also matters a lot. It is preferred that you set up your stuff in a garage or home-shed type of place. Apart from that you can even set a home office.
A little goes a long way so even if you continue working in such a hazardous environment, by keeping the aforementioned tips in mind and by practicing them cautiously you can safeguard your health.