When it comes to 3D printers, there are many complexities to it which can make people wonder whether they are safe to use. I’ve been wondering this myself, so I’ve done some research and put what I found out together in this article.
Will I be safe after I use a 3D printer? Yes, with the right precautions and knowledge you will be fine, like most things out there. The safety of 3D printing comes down to how competent you are to minimize potential risks that can arise. If you are aware of the risks and actively control them, health risks are minimal.
Many people use 3D printers without knowing the necessary information to keep themselves and people around them safe. People have made mistakes so you don’t have to so keep reading to brush up on your 3D printer safety.
Is 3D Printing Safe? Can 3D Printers Be Harmful?
3D printing is generally considered safe to use, but it’s a good idea to not occupy the space where your 3D printer is operating. 3D printing uses high levels of heat which can emit ultrafine particles and volatile organic compounds into the air, but these are found in daily life regularly.
With a reputable 3D printer from a good brand, they should have built-in safety features that prevent certain things from happening such as electric shocks or your temperatures rising too high.
There are several millions of 3D printers out there in the world, but you never really hear about safety issues or dangerous things happening, and if so, it was something that was preventable.
You probably want to avoid buying a 3D printer from a manufacturer that isn’t known or doesn’t have a reputation since they might not put those safety precautions in place within their 3D printers.
Should I Worry About Toxic Fumes with 3D Printing?
You should worry about toxic fumes when 3D printing if you are printing high temperature materials such as PETG, ABS & Nylon since higher temperatures usually emit worse fumes. Try to use good ventilation so you can tackle those fumes. I’d recommend using an enclosure to reduce the number of fumes in the environment.
The Creality Fireproof Enclosure from Amazon is very useful, not only for toxic fumes, but for increased safety for fire risks which I’ll talk more about further in this article.
3D printing involves the injection of material in layers at high temperatures. They can be used with many different materials, the most popular ones being ABS & PLA.
These are both thermoplastics which is an umbrella term for plastics that get soft at high temperatures and hardens at room temperature.
Now when these thermoplastics are under a certain temperature, they start to release ultra-fine particles. and volatile organic compounds.
Now these mysterious particles and compounds sound scary, but they are things you have already experienced in the form of air fresheners, car emissions, being in a restaurant, or being in a room with burning candles.
These are known to be bad for your health and you wouldn’t be advised to occupy an area filled with these particles without proper ventilation. I’d advise to incorporate a ventilation system when using a 3D printer or one with built-in features to minimize respiratory risks.
Some commercially available 3D printers now have photo-catalytic filtration systems which breaks down harmful chemicals into safe chemicals such as H²0 and CO².
Different materials will produce different fumes, so it’s been determined that PLA is generally safer to use than ABS, but you also need to consider that not all of them are created equal.
There are many different types of ABS & PLA which add chemicals for better print quality, so this can affect what kind of fumes are released.
ABS and other 3D printing materials do emit gasses such as styrene which will have adverse health effects if left in an unventilated area.
Dremel PLA is said to produce more hazardous particulates than, let’s say Flashforge PLA, so it’s a good idea to research this before printing away.
PLA is the 3D printing filament deemed most safe and least likely to be a problem in terms of fumes, mostly emitting a non-toxic chemical called lactide.
It’s good to know that most PLA is completely safe and non-toxic, even when ingested, not that I advise anyone to go to town on their prints! Another thing to note is, using the minimal temperature for a print can help to minimize exposure to these emissions.
The Center for Research Expertise in Occupational Disease (CREOD) found that regular exposure to 3D printers do result in negative respiratory health effects. However, this was for people who work full-time with 3D printers.
Researchers found full time workers in the 3D printing field:
- 57% experienced respiratory symptoms more than once a week in the past year
- 22% had physician-diagnosed asthma
- 20% experienced headaches
- 20% had cracked skin on their hands.
- Of the 17% of workers who did report injuries, most were cuts and scrapes.
What Are the Risks in 3D Printing?
Fire Risks in 3D Printing & How to Avoid Them
The risk of fire is something to consider when 3D printing. Although very uncommon, it is still a possibility when there are certain failures such as a detached thermistor or loose/failing connections.
There were reports that fires have started from Flash Forges and electrical fires due to faulty solder jobs.
Bottom line is you need to have a fire extinguisher on hand, so you’re prepared for such an event and make sure you know how to use it!
The possibility of 3D printers catching fire doesn’t actually depend on the manufacturer of the printer, as manufacturers use very similar parts.
It actually depends on the version of firmware that is installed. Recent firmware has developed over time and have additional protective features against detached thermistors for example.
An example of this is being able to enable “Thermal Runway Protection” which is a feature to stop your 3D printer burning if the thermistor comes out of place, something more common than people realize.
If your thermistor comes off, it actually reads a lower temperature meaning that your system will leave the heating on, resulting in burning the filament and other nearby things.
From what I’ve read, it’s a good idea to use flame retardant foundations such as a metal frame rather than a wooden one.
You want to keep all flammable materials away from your 3D printer and install a smoke detector to alert you if anything does happen. Some people even go so far to install a camera to keep a close eye on the active 3D printer.
Get yourself the First Alert Smoke Detector and Carbon Monoxide Detector from Amazon.
The risk of a fire is very low, but doesn’t mean it’s impossible. The health risks are marginally low, so there hasn’t been any industry-wide warnings against using a 3D printer as the risks are hard to analyze.
In regard to fire safety issues, there are issues with 3D printer kits as opposed to a standard 3D printer.
If you put together a 3D printer kit, you are technically the manufacturer or the final product, so the seller of the kit doesn’t have responsibility for electrical or fire certifications.
A lot of 3D printer kits are actually just prototypes and haven’t been through the testing and problem-solving from hours of user testing.
This just unnecessarily increases the risk to yourself and doesn’t seem worth it. Before buying a printer kit, do some thorough research or avoid them altogether!
What are the Risks of Burns in 3D Printing?
The nozzle/print head of many 3D printers can exceed 200°C (392°F) and the heated bed can exceed 100°C (212°F) depending on what material you’re using. This risk can be minimized by using aluminum casing and an enclosed print chamber.
Ideally, the hot ends of the nozzle are relatively small so it won’t result in anything life-threatening but it can still result in painful burns. Commonly, people burn themselves trying to remove melted plastic from the nozzle while it’s still hot.
Another section which gets hot is the build plate, which has different temperatures depending on what material you are using.
With PLA the build plate doesn’t have to be as hot as, say ABS at around 80°C, so this would be the safer option to minimize burns.
3D printers heat materials to very high temperatures, so there are potential risks of burns. Using thermal gloves and thicker, long sleeve clothing while operating a 3D printer would be a good idea to minimize this risk.
3D Printing Safety – Mechanical Moving Parts
Mechanically speaking, there is not enough power that runs through a 3D printer for moving parts to cause serious injuries. Nonetheless, it’s still good practice to lean towards enclosed 3D printers to minimize this risk.
This also reduces the risk of burns from touching a printer bed or the nozzle, which can get up to very high temperatures.
If you want to need to reach into your 3D printer you should only do this when it’s turned off, as well as unplugging your printer if you’re doing any maintenance or modifications.
Hazards can arise from moving machinery, so if you are in a home with children, you should buy a printer with housing.
Enclosures are sold separately, so you can still buy a 3D printer without one if it has certain features which enclosed printers doesn’t have.
Gloves should be worn when operating your 3D printer to avoid any cuts and scrapes that can happen from moving parts.
Safety Precautions from RIT for 3D Printing
The Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) have put together a list of safety precautions when using a 3D printer:
- Enclosed 3D printers are going to be a lot safer than other 3D printers.
- In order to minimise inhaling dangerous fumes, people should avoid the immediate area as much as possible.
- Being able to mimic a lab-like environment is ideal for using a 3D printer. This is because there is a lot of emphasis on ventilation, where fresh air exchanges with particle-filled air.
- When a 3D printer is in operation, you should avoid day-to-day tasks such as eating, drinking, chewing gum.
- Always keep hygiene in mind, making sure you wash your hands thoroughly after working around 3D printers.
- Clean up using a wet method to collect particles rather than sweeping the potentially dangerous particles around the room.
Extra Safety Tips for 3D Printing
It is advised that you should only have one 3D printer per standard-sized office or two in a standard-sized classroom. There are also recommendations on ventilation, where the volume of air should be replaced four times per hour.
You should always know where your closest fire extinguisher is and are advised to wear a dust mask when accessing the printer area.
Get yourself the First Alert Fire Extinguisher EZ Fire Spray from Amazon. It actually sprays 4 times longer than your traditional fire extinguisher, giving 32 seconds of firefighting time.
Some people complain about respirator problems after a few months of using their 3D printers such as a sore throat, feeling out of breath, headaches, and the smell.
It’s always advised to use a fume extractor/extractor fan whenever using or cleaning up your 3D printers as there are nanoparticles released which your lungs cannot clean out.
Conclusion to 3D Printing Safety
Knowing and controlling your risks is paramount to your safety when operating a 3D printer. Always do the necessary research and follow guidelines and advice from the professionals. Keep these things in mind and you will be printing away knowing you’re in a safe environment.
For people struggling with various 3D printing issues, you might want have wanted more guidance towards getting ideal 3D printing results. I created a course that's available to get called Filament Printing 101: Beginner's Guide to Filament Printing that takes you through some of the best 3D printing practices early on, so you can avoid those beginner mistakes.