While nylon is a common choice for 3D printing because it produces the thin walls necessary for many projects, it requires a high temperature to reach its melting point, which can cause the print to warp. However, the biggest concern is breathing the toxic fumes nylon 3D printing produces.
Nylon is safe to 3D print indoors when using a chamber enclosure to minimize toxic fumes. Since nylon is prone to warping and moisture absorption, using a sealed enclosure with controls for moisture and heat helps lessen those problems, too.
So, let’s talk about nylon filament and the dangers it presents for 3D printers. This article will cover why you might want to work with nylon when making 3D prints and models and how to reduce the risk of breathing toxic fumes when 3D printing with nylon filament indoors.
What Happens if You Breathe 3D Printing Fumes?
In 3D printing, the processing of plastic and other materials emits fumes known as volatile organic carbon (VOCs). The printing process releases these tiny particles as gasses when the plastic heats at high temperatures, generally above 200º C (392º F).
Since 3D printers work by melting plastic or nylon filaments, they lay each layer down on the plate. One print job sometimes takes hours, if not days. During this prolonged period, the printing process emits particles and by-products into the air.
If you breathe in 3D printing fumes, you may irritate your respiratory system or harm vital organs. Breathing fumes that contain VOCs can cause health issues like bronchitis, asthma, and even cancers.
These particles are small enough to enter the respiratory system and then travel to the heart, skin, and other organs.
What Fumes Occur in 3D Printing?
The fumes that arise from 3D printing can vary according to the filament you use. So, let’s look at the fumes produced from printing the three most popular filament choices– nylon, ABS, and PLA:
- Nylon. When nylon heats up in the 3D printing process, it produces a VOC called caprolactam. If you breathe in caprolactam, you may experience burning and irritated eyes, nose, throat, and skin. Exposure to high levels of caprolactam can cause dizziness, confusion, headaches, and possibly seizures.
- Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS). ABS emits a gas called styrene. Styrene can cause dizziness, drowsiness, headaches, and malaise.
- Polylactic Acid (PLA). PLA is a biodegradable polyester made from cornstarch or sugarcane. Often used to make medical implants and food packaging, PLA is a popular choice for 3D printing. PLA emits a chemical called lactide. While lactide is a non-toxic chemical, there is not enough research to understand the long-term effects of breathing lactide.
How to Safely 3D Print With Nylon Indoors
Are 3D printer fumes toxic? Yes, but you can take precautions to protect yourself from poisonous filament fumes. Because 3D printing can take hours, exposure to toxic fumes is more likely when you print for a while in an enclosed area.
There are several ways to mitigate the risk of nylon printing fumes. When you implement precautions, you can 3D print with nylon indoors.
Here’s how you can protect yourself from nylon fumes during 3D print jobs:
- Operate your printer in a well-ventilated environment. Ideally, vent the printing emissions out of a window or door with a fan.
- When printing indoors, seal your 3D printer in a box or chamber to contain fumes and stabilize the nylon’s cooling temperature.
- Utilize a quality air cleaner to reduce the tiny particles in the air.
- Install an air quality monitor to track the status of your air quality.
- Use nylon filament from a reputable manufacturer.
- Understand that the highest fume emissions happen at the beginning of a 3D print.
- Use the lowest possible temperature to ensure a successful print.
- Keep the workspace clear of dust and dirt to minimize particles.
- Consider purchasing a low VOC (volatile organic compounds) 3D printer.
When you need to use nylon for a 3D print, employing the precautions listed can help to reduce the breathable emissions.
Since nylon offers better UV resistance than plastic, the model will be more durable and long-lasting. Nylon is also resistant to weather, enabling it to withstand temperature extremes well.
No thermoplastic can match nylon’s fatigue resistance and durability, making it perfect for printing gears, hinges, and other parts for mechanical applications.
Why 3D Printers Use Nylon
Since plastic is so readily available in various forms, why would 3D printers use nylon for models? Nylon is ideal for 3D printing applications, just like other manufacturing processes. Nylon offers limitless geometries, customization options, and low cost.
Nylon applications in other manufacturing contexts are:
- The automotive industry makes door handles, radiator grills, and intake manifolds.
- The textiles industry produces food packaging and fishing line.
- The electronic sector uses nylon to make switch housings and insulators.
- The sporting goods industry makes skateboard wheels and ski bindings.
- The manufacturing industry produces connecting gears and rollers.
Benefits of Nylon in 3D Printing
One of the reasons nylon has become popular for 3D printing is that it has properties like ABS plastic. Still, nylon is more resistant to chemicals than ABS plastic and produces a smoother, more durable material.
Nylon benefits include:
- Flexibility and durability that form thin walls for 3D parts.
- High melting point and abrasion resistance make it perfect for prints like interlocking gears.
- In healthcare where 3D artificial organs help doctors understand and prevent organ failure.
- Creating porous pills that allow for a high medicine dosage in one tablet that dissolves and digests quickly.
While nylon has clear benefits for 3D printing applications, it has one serious drawback. When using nylon to print indoors, the fumes from printing are toxic.
Nylon is safe to 3D print indoors as long as you protect yourself from fumes. In any 3D printing environment, having an air quality monitor and plenty of ventilation is wise. However, it becomes necessary when printing with nylon since its VOCs are toxic.
In addition, creating a chamber for your 3D printer can dampen the fumes and contain them, protecting you from inhaling harmful chemicals.