3D Printing Air Quality Study

You’ll often hear about some study in the media and then — on examination — find it doesn’t really apply to your situation. Sure, substance X causes cancer in rats, but they ate 8 pounds of it a day for a decade. That’s why we were glad to see [Chuck] post a series of videos about 3D printing air quality based on his practical experience. You can see the summary video, below.

[Chuck] is quick to point out that he isn’t a doctor or even a chemist. He also admits the $100 meter from IGERESS he is using isn’t necessarily high-quality test gear. Still, the data is a good guideline and he did get repeatable results.

Not surprisingly, ABS was the biggest offender of throwing off hazard particulates. It also released formaldehyde unlike the PLA, HIPS, PETG, ASA, nylon, or TPU. Of course, some of those may release amounts too low for the meter to detect, but at least that is better. In addition, [Chuck] mentioned he thinks some of the plastics release styrenes, but the meter didn’t directly read that.

If you want more details, there’s a video about the different tests in detail. There’s also information about how he’s vented printers outside for handling the nastier plastics.

We’ve talked about fumes from lots of hacker activities in the past. There’s also the ongoing discussions about how safe it is to use 3D printed items for food that ties into all this.

18 thoughts on “3D Printing Air Quality Study

  1. Nice to see someone actually doing research and testing instead of just repeating what they read on the internet somewhere. I am a PLA guy myself not for safety necessarily, but because I can get it to print very well 100% of the time.

    1. I use PLA mostly because it’s so easy to print with, but also because it’s biodegradable. PETG is nice for sturdier stuff, but since it’s not biodegradable, I only use it when PLA just won’t cut it.

      1. PLA is technically biodegradable, but not in the environment found in a typical compost bin. PETG can be easily made from recycled post consumer waste. While this is possible for PLA, reclaimed PLA is uncommon since it’s not commonly made into items likely to end up in the recycling bin.

    1. I had bought my first rolls of ABS and PETG at the same time. I tried PETG and the ABS has sat unopened on my shelf since. The only remaining use I could think of for ABS is if I needed to vapor smooth it, but I almost exclusively print functional stuff and don’t care much about fine aesthetics.

  2. If I’ve been printing ABS in the room and studying there too, given half a day I can get a bit wheezy. My lungs _really_ don’t like ABS fumes. Not doing that again!

  3. There is a simple rule you can quote for when dealing with people who don’t like to think, just tell them “If it isn’t food safe then it isn’t safe to breath either”. That should get through the thickest of skulls.

    1. “Flouride”? Is that some monatomic anion produced when using a Flour based filament? Place must smell like a bakery!
      But with Fluoride you get good strong teeth for biting off that excess filament!
      Fluorine, on the other hand, now that could lead to a bit of a bad day!

  4. Good to see experimental results.

    A study I’d like to see would be about ambient temperature ranges for printing different types of plastic. I’ve found that PLA and ABS both print poorly when the ambient temperature is “chilly”, whereas PETG performs quite well at the same temperatures. For example, PLA tends to snap and break off. What I would like to see are quantitative results indicating at what temperatures you should consider putting away different plastics. The same question applies for hot environments as it does for cold environments. I was reading an article discussing using 3d printers in “disaster recovery” zones or 3rd world mission areas, and the article said something like “you just need a printer and a roll of PLA and away you go”. Is that true when you’re in an equatorial zone (too hot) or a frigid zone (high altitudes or polar regions, too cold)? What climates would PLA be best suited for? PETG? ABS? Inquiring minds would like to know.

  5. Currently I print exclusively with PLA because when I first built my printer I tried ABS and it took weeks to get the stink out! Also too many articles about the possible health effects have me spooked. Still… I currently plan to resume using ABS once I have built an enclosure and air filter.

    So… all the people that say PLA is all they need… I wonder about that. Do you not have cars? Do you live in perpetually cold climates? I am really looking forward to printing things that I can use in my car or at least that I can leave in my parked car without worrying about them going soft. I consider my PLA prints to be toy, practice runs until I can print in something that will survive any environment I might reasonably expect to leave my store-bought items in.

    Yes, I know there is PETG. I keep reading that due to PETG ABS is dead. Ok. I guess that my J-Head is dead too then as PETG temperatures would probably melt it’s nylon insert! Eventually I hope to have a full metal hotend and maybe then I can abandon ABS for PETG but I think I am doing the right thing by choosing to build an enclosure and air filter first because even PLA fumes are probably not good for me and my family.

    1. I agree about PLA. To me it has always been a “toy” filament, best suited to making Yoda heads, with no practical uses because of the whole melting in a car problem. I suspect that like the filament itself, the prints become brittle when exposed to moisture in the air, too.

      The people who claim there’s no reason to print ABS (usually “because PETG”) are people who can’t print ABS. Anyone who can print ABS knows that PETG is at best a poor substitute for ABS.

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