3D printers produce plastic fumes by melting the material (filament) for the printing process. The smell is very distinctive and spreads across entire rooms and floors. However, the fumes are not visible, since the filament is burned but rather heated. At least this is how it should be 😉
So the question is whether these exhaust gases from plastic 3D printers are actually harmful for your health?
Are exhaust gases from plastic 3D printers harmful?
We want to emphasize once again that this blog post article is about 3D printers that print with plastic material. There are also other models such as from Formlabs that print with resin or even with metal etc. — especially on an industrial level. In this discussion, won’t discuss these special materials which, for example, imitate wood as well as metals or are made from extraordinary components like Hemp.
For plastic 3D printers, there is also a distinction between types of materials/filament like e.g. ABS and PLA which are the main filament materials in use today. The general opinion is that ABS 10 is times as harmful as PLA. Even though the health factor of plastic fumes should be very important to each and every one of us, it is typically not the reason why people buy ABS or PLA.
ABS and PLA behave fundamentally different during the printing process and have different requirements for the 3D printers in use. ABS requires a heated pressure platform due to its material properties. Otherwise extreme material curvatures in the foundation (first layer) of the printed object (also known as warping) arise. This is also the case with PLA, but only to a smaller extent than with ABS although you can solve it with different tools and techniques.
For this reason, the majority of users (makers) decides based on these factors:
- Does my 3D printer have a heated printing platform?
- How big should my object be?
- Do I have the necessary tools, etc.
But only a few ask themselves which one of the two materials is better for your own health. At least in case you have no ventilation system or print in your basement/garage.
Is PLA safer/healthier than ABS?
Instead of describing the results in written form, we prefer to link to the original video of the test. The short and concise answer for the question is that fumes from ABS at least 10 times more harmful than PLA and more than 60 times more harmful than PET‑G.
Ultimately, it always depends on one’s own situation and application context. If you do not sit much next to the 3D printer and e.g. print in another room it is less worrying. Still, you should ask yourself the question why you want to use ABS at all?
The only reason we see is when someone prefers his heated printing bed over the mentioned tools and techniques we recommend – this mostly depends on your skill level. After all, you paid for the heating so why shouldn’t you use it which is a valid point.
Another aspect is the size of the object and its own printing requirements. Therefore, switching between the two materials depending on the situation is relatively easy.
We hope this little introduction helped you to understand potential health issues form long-term application of 3D printing. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us in the comment section below or via E‑Mail.