3D prints can take anywhere from a few hours to overnight depending on the size and complexity of the model. Some enthusiasts say they have had prints run for more than 100 hours at a stretch!
Long prints can get complicated because they require careful management. While nearly all 3D printer manufacturers advise against leaving a printer unattended, it is nearly impossible to be present for a print run that stretches for 16 hours or more.
Extended prints thus present a safety problem. Whether you are present the entire time or you need to leave the printer running on its own, both scenarios present a safety risk.
On one hand 3D printers emit toxic fumes that are dangerous when inhaled. Prolonged exposure to those fumes in a room without proper ventilation has serious health implications. On the other hand the risk of mechanical failure that can cause a fire is greater when there is no one attending to the machine.
How do you tackle these safety issues and produce a good print at the same time? In this article, we look at measures you can take to reduce the risk posed by toxic fumes when using a 3D printer indoors. We also look at how to mitigate the fire hazard of a 3D printer.
Do 3D Printers Emit Toxic Fumes?
3D printers melt or cure plastic to produce models. The materials emit toxic fumes that are harmful when inhaled. This happens with all filament types from PLA to PETG. Research suggests that filaments with higher extrusion temperatures emit more toxic fumes.
Studies around the effect of emissions from 3D printers are still in their early days. The few studies available, however, confirm that filament releases toxic particulates into the air when melted. These are known as Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) and Ultra Fine Particulates (UFP).
This is the case for any type of printing method. FDM and resin printing are two of the most popular printing technologies favored by hobbyists and professionals alike. Resin printing produces up to 6 times more emissions than FDM. Source
The particulate emissions from 3D printing have been linked to short term illnesses like bronchitis. More concerning are the findings on 3D printers and cancer. Studies suggest exposure to 3D printers fumes increases the likelihood of getting cancer by more than 3 times compared to exposure to urban pollution. Source
We also highly recommend that you check out our post Do 3D Printers Cause Cancer? Risk & What You Must Know!
Are 3D Printers Safe To Use Indoors?
3D printers can be used indoors provided certain safety precautions are followed. The biggest risk to using a 3D printer indoors is the possibility of inhaling the toxic fumes emitted by the printer. In a small room with poor ventilation, such as a bedroom or living room, the fumes pose a hazard for anyone exposed to them.
This is why while you can safely use a 3D printer indoors, you should not use it in just any room. Where possible you should look to set up your printer away from your day-to-day living space. A garage or workshop is the best place.
This might not be as critical for a casual hobbyist printing a few hours a week. But once you start printing for more than 40 hours a week you’re going to want to consider making a few changes to your printing environment.
But what if you do not have a garage or workshop and you have limited space to work with? Fortunately, there are a few steps you can take to make almost any room printer safe.
Aso check out our post on “Where To and Not To Place A 3D Printer In Homes And Schools? Potential Risks!“
Do You Need To Ventilate A 3D Printer?
Ventilation provides an outlet or exhaust for the toxic fumes emitted by a 3D printer to escape. Open windows and air vents are the simplest and lowest cost precaution to take to reduce the level of fumes in a room.
Printers produce a heavy smell when in use. That smell is the harmful particulate expelled from the burning of plastic. It is what can lead to respiratory complications or worse if you are exposed to it long enough.
Printing in a small windowless laundry room for example, will create a very high concentration of VOCs in the closed space. There are a few steps you can take to reduce your exposure to emissions.
Print near a window
As long as it is not too hot or cold, you should try printing near an open window. An extra step would be to have a fan close by to blow the fumes out the window. While this might seem low tech, it can still get the job done.
Use a print enclosure
A print enclosure will drastically reduce the VOCs you are exposed to. It will not completely eliminate them unless it is airtight, however. Still, a good enclosure will trap most of the toxins expelled.
The “Creality Fireproof and Dustproof 3D Printer Warm Enclosure” is a popular and recommended ready-made option (Amazon Link)
For more on this, we recommend that you check out our post Is 3D Printing Poisonous? What you need to know!
Use an air purifier
An air purifier actively removes particulate from your environment. Using a purifier in combination with a print enclosure not only reduces toxins but also eliminates the smell produced when printing.
Use an air monitor
It is also a good idea to have something that can measure the air quality in your environment. An air monitor will alert you when the levels of VOCs or UFPs get dangerously high. An air quality monitor is also a great way to track the humidity levels so as to avoid your filament absorbing moisture.
For extra safety, you may want to opt to add a smoke detector to the enclosure. It cost only from 20 to 50$ USD but will buy you a great deal of peace of mind. Check out the “First Alert” (Amazon Link) Powered Alarm SCO5CN which detects both, Smoke and Carbon Monoxide and it is Battery Operated
How Likely Is A 3D Printer To Catch Fire?
3D printers work with very high temperatures of up to 500 degrees Celsius. While this does increase the risk of fire, 3D printers are no more likely to catch fire than a stove or gas cooker. Incidences of 3D printers catching fire are very rare.
While incidences are rare, this does not mean it cannot happen. 3D printers made with cheap components have a higher likelihood of catching fire. This is why you should be wary of any deal on a printer that seems too good to be true.
Overheating is very frequently a cause of most appliances catching fire. 3D printers are no exception. Wires can burn through their insulation and spark a fire when they come in contact with other components.
Printers have a thermal runaway to prevent overheating. If the printer gets too hot, the runaway shuts the machine down. This is provided your thermistor which senses the temperature in your printer is working as it should.
How to reduce the risk of a printer catching fire
You can reduce the risk of fire in your printer by:
- Getting a good quality printer and only using good quality material.
- Carrying out regular maintenance on your 3D printer.
- Using remote monitoring.
- Installing a smoke detector close to your printer.
- Using your printer inside an enclosure.
For more on this, we recommend that you check out our post “How Long Can a 3D Printer Run? Fire Risk and What to Do About It!“