3D Printers are rapidly gaining acceptance as a method for rapid prototyping as well as manufacturing. If you are someone who is considering using a 3D printer at home, then you must have come across information about the emissions from a 3D Printer. So if you are wondering whether you need an Air Purifier for your 3D printer at home, we have got you covered. We will talk about the various emissions from a 3D printer and whether an Air Purifier is a good option to mitigate the effects of these emissions.

3D Printers Basics

The most common 3D printers for home usage utilize thermoplastics for printing. The two most widely used plastics for 3D printing are PLA (Polylactic Acid) and ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene). These plastics are fed into the printer in the form of filaments. These filaments are heated to their melting point. The liquefied plastic is then deposited layer by layer on a printing platform. As the layers are deposited, the object that you are printing takes shape.

As the plastic is heated and melted within the printer, certain air pollutants will be emitted.

Air Pollutants emitted by 3D Printers

Scientific studies have found that the operatin of 3D Printers produces both particulate pollutants as well as gaseous pollutants like Carbon Monoxide, Hydrogen Cyanide and various other volatile organic compounds (VOCs) like aldehydes and benzene.

Particulate Pollutants emitted by 3D Printers

Particulate Pollutants produced by 3D Printers

Particulate pollutants are a mixture of solid and liquid droplets present in the air. Typical air pollutants that are classified as particulate pollutants are – dust, smoke, soot, dirt, dander, pollen and others. Particulate pollutants are frequently classified on the basis of their size. The categories of particulates based on their size are

  • PM10 Pollutants: Particulates smaller than 10 micrometers
  • PM2.5 Pollutants: Particulates smaller than 2.5 micrometers
  • Ultrafine Pollutants: Particulates smaller than 0.1 micrometers

Particulates smaller than 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5) are especially dangerous since they can easily bypass our respiratory system and lodge themselves in our lungs. These particles can cause health problems related to the lungs and the heart.

Research conducted on the effects of 3D printing on particulate pollutants has shown that 3D Printing produces particulate pollutants of all sizes. The table below shows the increase in levels of various particle sizes seen when a 3D printer is operated.

Particle Size Increase in concentration
0.01 um 1814%
0.02 um 1323%
0.05 um 359%
0.1 um 9029%

Based on the above table, the scientists were able to conclude that operating a 3D Printer produces fine particles in the same magnitude as grilling food on gas or electric stoves at low power. Based on this, both PLA and ABS based 3D printers can be classified as high emitters of fine particles.

Gaseous Pollutants emitted by 3D Printers

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) emitted by 3D Printers

Along with particulate pollutants, 3D printers also emit pollutant gases during operation. Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are an important class of pollutants produced. VOCs are compounds which contain carbon and are produced on the burning of substances like fossil fuels or plastics. VOCs can cause eye, nose and throat irritation when inhaled.

VOCs can also have long term health consequences if they are inhaled regularly. Apart from VOCs, 3D printers can also emit other harmful gases like Carbon DiOxide and Hydrogen Cyanide.

How can an Air Purifier help with 3D Printer Emissions

Most Air Purifiers have at least two different two different types of filters to help reduce the pollutants emitted by a 3D Printer

HEPA filter: for particulate pollutants

The most common filter seen on Air Purifiers is the HEPA filter. HEPA stands for High Efficiency Particulate Air Delivery. HEPA is an international standard of air filtration. These filters therefore have to adhere to these standards of air filtration. The HEPA standard for air filters in the US states that these filters must be able to

remove at least 99.97% of pollutants that are 0.3 micrometers or larger in size

As we saw above, 3D printers produce particulate pollutants in a range of sizes, with the smaller particles as small as 0.01 micrometers. So does this mean that the HEPA filter on an air purifier will not be able to remove these particles? Turns out that the HEPA standard measures the filtration efficiency for particles 0.3 micrometers in size because this is the most difficult particle size to filter. For smaller particles, the efficiency of HEPA filter is in fact higher than 99.97%. A study by NASA has found that HEPA filters have almost 100% efficiency when it comes to the removal of particulates that are 0.01 micrometers in size.

Having an Air Purifier with a HEPA filter in the same room as your 3D printer will therefore cut down on a large proportion of harmful particulate pollution.

Activated Carbon filter: for gaseous pollutants

The other commonly found filter on Air Purifiers contains Activated Carbon which is used for the removal of gaseous pollutants including odors and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs).

Activated Carbon is well suited for the removal of gaseous pollutants due to two interesting properties that it possesses

  • Activated Carbon has the ability to adsorb gases on its surface
  • Activated Carbon has a very high surface area in comparison to its weight

Adsorption is a process through which gases stick to the surface of Activated Carbon without getting chemically absorbed into it. Activated Carbon has millions of tiny micro pores on its surface that enable it to adsorb a large quantity of gases for a small unit weight. Just 1 gram of Activated Carbon can have as much as 32,000 square feet of surface area.

A combination of HEPA filtration and Activated Carbon filtration provides a perfect two stage process for the removal of all pollutants produced by a 3D printer. There are a few other things you need to take care before getting the right air purifier for containing the pollutants from your 3D Printer

Choosing an Air Purifier for your 3D Printer: Room Size

An important consideration while choosing an Air Purifier for your 3D Printer is the size of the room. All Air Purifiers are rated for a maximum room size. This maximum room size is calculated on the basis of the air purifier running on top speed with regular ambient conditions.

Since you are running a 3D printer which can produce unusually high amounts of air pollution in a short time, it is a good idea to get an air purifier rated for rooms larger than your actual room. Getting an air purifier with 20% over-capacity is a good idea. This will ensure that the pollutants produced by your 3D printer are quickly and efficiently taken care of by.

So for example if you are getting an air purifier for your room which is of 120 square feet size, it might be a good idea to get an air purifier rated to clean rooms as large as 1.2 * 120 = 145 square feet.

There are of course multiple other criteria to consider when getting an Air Purifier for your home. A good place to start when looking at air purifiers for your 3D printer is to ensure that the Air Purifier has both HEPA and Activated Carbon filters. The second thing to ensure is to get an air purifier that is rated for a room area slightly larger than your own.