Keeping an Eye on Air Quality when 3D Printing
3D printing has only been around for a few years but it’s already becoming commonplace in many businesses, schools, and homes. When using a 3D printer, you’ll notice the odor of melting plastic. Although most 3D printer plastics are safe, some can give off harmful emissions.
No Need to Panic
There haven’t been any serious health risks attributed to using 3D printers, however, some of the plastics using in 3D printing such as ABS are known to give off toxic emissions when heated.
It’s important to remember that lots of our daily activities also expose us to similar emissions. Common activities like burning cooking oil, using household cleaning sprays, or sitting in a new car breathing in the new car smell all expose us to similar compounds and chemicals.
Nonetheless, I think it makes sense to be aware of any potential health risks and do what you can to limit them, especially when using a 3D printer in a home and around your family.
Why Use an Air Quality Monitor?
The easiest way to limit your risk of exposure to harmful fumes is to know just how much you are actually exposed to.
You should always use your 3D printer in a well-ventilated room, at the very least with a window open but you shouldn’t assume that this is enough to reduce harmful fumes to zero.
An air quality monitor will instantly tell you if you are ventilating your space well enough while 3D printing.
You may think that because you can’t smell anything you are safe, or because you have a window open any fumes must be going out.
However, this isn’t always the case, it’s easy to get used to smells, and the only way for you to really know how safe your room is, is to use an air quality monitor.
How to 3D Print and Maintain Clean Air
If you operate your 3D printer in a well-ventilated space with open windows or extraction fans, or use a 3D printer that makes use of technology such as HEPA filtration then you are much more likely to avoid breathing in any of these potentially harmful particles.
Choosing Materials for Clean Air
PLA has not been proven to be harmful when 3D printed, and as it is derived from natural plant materials it does seem to be inherently safer.
Whereas ABS, which is derived from petroleum, has been proven to emit several toxic chemicals when heated in a 3D printer.
How to Clean your Air
If your air quality monitor tells you you have too much pollution in your air, then you will need to ventilate and clean your air. One of the easiest ways to do this is with an air purifier. I wrote an article about choosing an air purifier for 3D printing that hopefully you will find useful.
What to Look for in an Air Quality Monitor for 3D Printing
There are many different types of air quality monitor available and you need to make sure you get the right type so it will detect 3D printer emissions.
PM2.5 and VOC Detection
To monitor emissions from 3D printers you will need an air quality monitor that can detect particulate matter (PM) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
More specifically, it will need to be able to detect particulate matter that is less than two and a half microns in size, this is designated as PM2.5.
PM2.5 is measured in micrograms per meter cubed or ug/m3. The PM2.5 USA National Air Quality Standard is as follows:
Good: PM2.5 < 35 ug/m³
Moderate: 35 ≤ PM2.5 ≤ 200 ug/m³
Hazardous: PM2.5 > 200 ug/m³
Air quality monitors will alert you when they detect poor air quality, either by an alarm or sending push notifications to your smartphone. Some monitors are even able to use smart technology to startup an extractor or air purifier.
Best Air Quality Monitors for 3D Printing
Here are the best air quality monitoring systems that you can use when 3D printing to ensure you’re working in a safe environment.
Temtop Airing-1000 Professional
This is one of the best air quality testing devices available and it uses the latest air quality testing technology.
It can detect both PM2.5 and PM10 particle sizes as well as temperature and humidity. However, it doesn’t detect VOCs.
It has a built-in high capacity battery, and shows the air quality results on an easy to read color LCD display.
- In-built high capacity battery
- An LCD display with English interface display
- Ideal for wide application including 3D printers
- Compact and lightweight makes it easy to use in 3D printing application
- Accurate and short detection time
- Easy to operate with only two function buttons
- Sufficient in-built lithium battery
- Easily charged via the USB port
- No VOC detection
uHoo indoor Air Quality Sensor 9-in-1
The uHoo 9-in-1 is able to detect both PM2.5 and VOC emissions, making it perfect for monitoring your 3D printers’ emissions.
It looks very inconspicuous, so you can leave it on a shelf and people with just think it’s an air freshener or air purifier.
It comes with its own smartphone app which allows you to track air quality and send you custom alerts.
You can pair your uHoo with other IFTTT devices such as air purifiers and allow the uHoo to turn them on and off when required.
In addition to PM2.5 and VOC, the uHoo can monitor temperature, humidity, Carbon Dioxide, Nitrogen Dioxide, air pressure, and ozone!
In addition to the uHoo 9-in1 sensor being one of the most advanced air quality sensors available it is also a robust and practical device. Apart from using eight dedicated sensors, it can communicate with a variety of devices including your smartphone.
- Ideal for 3D printing since its tracks VOCs and PM2.5 particulate matter
- Features nine different levels using eight different dedicated sensors
- Come with a mobile app to minimize hassle
- Integrates with a multitude of other smart technology products such as Alexa, Roomba, air purifiers etc.
- Dedicated sensors for improved accuracy
- Easy operate through a mobile application
- Sleek and compact design for 3D printing applications
Foobot Indoor Air Quality Air Monitor
This monitor is able to monitor both PM2.5 and VOC emissions. It has great connectivity options in the form of IFTT, and Wifi, which enable it to control other devices such as air purifiers.
The Footbot looks like an ornamental air freshener and can be placed anywhere in the house without looking out of place. It only takes a few minutes to set up the device using the smartphone app.
The monitor displays the status of the air via the LEDs that are built in to the front of the device. Blue color indicates good air quality while orange to red indicates a drop in air quality. The LEDS can be programmed to dim at night so they won’t keep you awake.
- Ideal for 3D printing function since it is designed for Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) and particulate matter (PM2.5).
- The colored LED indicators clearly show your air quality without you having to interrogate numbers or graphs
- It also compatible with the Foobot smartphone app
EGVOC-100 Air Quality monitor
Portability is one of the most prominent features of the EGVOC air quality monitor. It suitable for 3D printing applications because it features sensors that are capable of monitoring both PM2.5 and VOCs.
The collected data is displayed on the 2.8-inch LCD display in large fonts for easier readability. It comes with an ebook that provides a lot of information about air quality hazards and their effects.
The device is powered either through the 2200mAh battery or via a USB cable.
It can also detect PM10 and PM1.0, temperature, and humidity.
- Compact enough to be handheld providing portable testing unit
- An in-built stand allows the monitor to be placed anywhere unattended
- Two way charging via USB and battery
- Colored LCD display for accurate readings
- Inbuilt fan to draw in ambient air
- Integrated laser sensor to accurately measure dust levels
- Auto calibration eliminates the need to rest manually
The Eve Room version 2 is able to measure VOCs, temperature, and humidity but not PM2.5.
It is the latest offering from Eve technologies, a home devices manufacturing company. It is an upgrade from the previous model that was released back in 2015. However, the new version has been completely redesigned, and it is sleeker and more informative. While the original device was just a plastic box, this new model features an aluminum and e-ink design. It is still palm-sized measuring only 53 x 53 x 15mm. So, it can be placed anywhere on the desk or working space.
The status of the air quality is displayed as a series of five stars. This will enable you to check the conditions of your environment without the need of using other applications. It also features other functions such as temperature and humidity.
- Compact enough to fit in the hand
- Features a sleek black-and-silver finish
- Large air quality feature for easier readability
- Arrow buttons on the right and left bezels to scroll the options
- Sensors that measure VOC levels
- Uses an internal rechargeable battery
Levoit Air Purifier Wi-Fi Version with Air Quality Monitor
The Levoit Smart WiFi is an air purifier with an air quality monitor built in. The information it gives you on air quality is limited to a single sliding scale that is displayed on a smartphone app, however, when the air quality in your room drops the Levoit will automatically start up its purifier until a healthy air quality level is reached.
It features fresh white color and sleek lines that give it a distinctive look. Also, it has a digital display user interface and a horizontal control panel. One of the most noticeable features of this device is the auto-mode that assesses the air quality and purifies it accordingly. An indicator which uses different colors shows the status of the air quality.
- Three filtration stages to completely remove particles and chemicals in the air
- Easy to read air quality indicators
- Quite sleep mode
- Two-year warranty
- Does not produce ozone
How does 3D Printing affect Air Quality?
The most common 3D printing technology is FFF or Fused Filament Fabrication. This involves heating up a polymer filament to around 200°C and extruding the softened plastic through a narrow nozzle to print an object.
This process has been shown to result in the emission of fine particles of plastic and chemicals into the surrounding air, however the danger these emission pose to your health is open to debate.
Polymer filaments such as acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) and polylactic acid (PLA) are the most commonly used 3D printing materials. Emissions from PLA, which is derived from plants, are believed to not cause a health risk, whereas emissions from ABS, which is derived from petroleum, are known to be toxic.
Studies have shown that the use of these filaments in 3D printers can produce emissions of fine particles and chemicals which in some cases may be harmful to your health if breathed in.
Since the demand for 3D printing has increased, a lot of people may be exposed to chemicals and particles produced when using the equipment in their offices, homes, and schools. In most cases, low-cost 3D printers, which are the most popular, do not have in-built air cleaning systems that tend to feature in high-end and expensive 3D printers.
3D printing with certain materials can produce hazardous fumes and particles that may pose health risks. Since the use of 3D printers has become widespread, it’s advisable to take as much precaution as you can to ensure you and your family are using your 3D printer safely.
You should be sure to take care, especially when using low-cost printers that do not feature air filter systems or when the ventilation in your room is limited.
Whatever you’re using to help reduce emissions from your 3D printer, it makes sense to use an air quality monitor so you can be sure you and your family are working in a safe environment.