ABS vs PLA: Are plastic fumes from 3D printers harmful?

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.

Con­clu­sion

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.

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