3D printing is one of the new ways of manufacturing products, and in recent years it has made great progress by making quick and geometrically accurate prototyping possible. However, it found its largest expansion in households, and 3D printers became one more element in the daily life of thousands of users all over the world who already enjoy the big universe of possibilities that they offer.
Though they have improved much regarding the design, they are not still 100% safe: there are some risks that can cause anything from small burns to catastrophic fires. Knowing said risks will allow users to anticipate them and prevent damage to their homes.
Is it safe to use a 3D printer at home?
Generally, it is safe to use a 3D printer indoors. The most popular manufacturers of 3D printers have managed to develop very reliable and safe equipment from the point of view of electrical safety, and nowadays, all firmware included in the control boards protect the system when risky temperature thresholds are exceeded. However, there are still some potential risks to prevent.
Potential risks (and recommendations to avoid them)
As printers run at high temperatures, the most obvious risk is the chance of getting burnt. Especially hot parts, such as the hotend block, are normally exposed and may be touched by small children, pets, or unsuspecting users. This temperature remains very high even a few minutes after printing is finished, so it can hurt whoever comes into contact with the printer and believes that the pieces are cold.
How to prevent it?
Placing the printer in a high place, out of reach of children and pets. Furthermore, a cover specially designed for 3D printers can be used to block accidental access to the inside.
Mild or severe poisoning
When some compounds that form the molecular structure of polymers decompose during heating, toxic substances are released into the environment in the form of gas. Inhaling these toxic gases can cause eye and airway irritation, headaches, vomiting, dizziness, or even fainting. Said risk increases exponentially when the printer is used during sleeping hours since it does not allow users to anticipate the first symptoms of poisoning.
How to prevent it?
Never use the printer in bedrooms or closed places. Properly ventilate work spaces often to renew the air. A cross airflow is ideal and it is achieved by means of opening doors or windows on opposite walls of the room or workshop.
Temporary or permanent damage to the respiratory system
Besides irritating gases, many filaments release microparticles during extrusion. These microparticles are inhaled and, due to their microscopic size, reach the lungs where they settle. After a long period of exposure (It can last a few days or several years), these waste can potentially cause serious disorders in the respiratory system such as chronic obstructive diseases or lung cancer.
How to prevent it?
Adopt a printer enclosure system. For constant 3D printing, it is suitable to install a HEPA air filtering system that retains the smallest particles. See a professional at the first symptom.
Hand injuries or fractures
Since they are made up of moving elements, printers could catch fingers and cause severe damage or fractures. The torque generated by a large stepper motor is enough to injure people and animals.
How to prevent it?
Making sure to turn off the printer before carrying out any maintenance work. Precautionary measures should also be taken to keep it away from places where children and pets pass by.
The temperature generated by a 3D printer is enough to start a fire in materials that accidentally come into contact with it. A windblown curtain can quickly ignite and spread fire in seconds. Furthermore, poor electrical connections can heat up when a faulty line shorts out.
How to prevent it?
The environment in which the printer will be placed must be carefully controlled in order to prevent items from falling on or touching said printer. Maintenance must be carried out by specialized personnel and with good quality materials, such as fireproof cables and reliable thermistors. It is essential to ensure that the high temperature emergency stop system is activated. For this purpose, the control board should always be updated with the latest firmware.
Filaments to print indoors and filaments that should be avoided
Some filaments are made of polymers that release toxic substances when subjected to high temperatures, so it is important to know how dangerous they are before printing and thus take measures to minimize toxic emissions.
- PLA: It is the least risky material of all, as it comes from natural elements. However, dyes, additives, and other substances that modify the properties of the filament (Such as PLA that glows in the dark, or those with particles of other materials) can make it unsafe. Check the safety data sheet provided by the manufacturer before using a new filament.
- ABS: Besides the unpleasant smell that ABS produces during printing, its emissions have been shown to be toxic so it is not suitable to use it indoors unless the printer is enclosed and the environment is ventilated regularly. This is often avoided to prevent the warping effect.
- ASA: Another filament that, like ABS, should not be printed indoors. It contains styrene, a highly toxic compound.
- PETG: Within the wide variety of filaments available, PETG is one of the friendliest regarding emissions. Though it produces harmful gases, its concentration is low, and it can be tolerated in large environments.
- TPU: Under normal conditions, it releases very few toxic gases so it can be printed indoors.
- Nylon: With emissions similar to PETG, nylon is a very stable and safe material to print indoors.
- Polycarbonate: This material contains a substance called bisphenol A, which causes serious damage to the body when inhaled, so it is suitable not to print with PC indoors.
Alternatives to choosing safer filaments
- If pieces with greater resistance than PLA are required: Use PETG instead of ABS, as it is easier to use.
- When an object that will be used outdoors is needed: Use nylon or TPU, two filaments that are highly resistant to UV rays and high temperatures.
- When it is necessary to print with Polycarbonate: Acquire printer brands that produce bisphenol A-free PC, which keeps the original properties of the material without releasing toxic gases.
Can resin printers be used indoors?
Resin printers manufacture pieces in a very different way than filament FDM printers. When carrying out the “curing” process, the pieces are subjected to UV radiation. Said radiation creates a reaction that releases heat and highly irritating and corrosive gases. Usage in closed environments or at home is not recommended at all, since emissions are much stronger and more dangerous than those generated by filament printers.
Similarly, accidental ingestion of resin can cause death and severe damage to the digestive tract so resin bottles must be stored in safe places and away from children. Even contact with the skin can cause health damage to exposed people.
So far, risks to the health and safety of people and pets have been considered, but there is another reason why using a 3D printer indoors could be taken into account. When printing, these machines produce noises that range from tolerable to very disturbing, especially during the night and sleeping hours. Before purchasing a 3D printer, it is suitable to consult the manufacturer about the noise level since such noises can be very annoying. In fact, we wrote an entire article on this exact topic.
3D printers, like any machine, must be operated by qualified personnel and must not be put into operation before ensuring their correct location. This includes selecting the place where they will be used so that they do not present risks that can be avoided and do not cause damage to property or people.
Before using a 3D printer indoors, it is important to be aware of the risks that could arise during printing, such as burns, inhalation of toxic gases, or fires.