How to Avoid Microplastics Inhalation While 3D Printing

How to Avoid Microplastics Inhalation While 3D Printing

by Aden Tate

As the world of 3D printing becomes increasingly ubiquitous, more and more people will need to learn how to avoid microplastics. Undoubtedly, 3D printing has been one of the most valuable inventions in the past several years. The implications of what can be done here - from providing easy access to healthcare equipment in impoverished areas to printing houses – are enormous. As Thingiverse gradually fills up with more and more great blueprints, there becomes less reason not to delve into 3D printing.

However, the thing about 3D printing is that the high heat necessary to melt those plastic filament spools can release microplastics into the air. Nobody wants to inhale plastic for many reasons, giving all the more reason for proper respiratory protection while 3D printing.

What are some of the lessons we need to pay attention to here? Why should we consider respiratory protection while 3D printing? What steps do you need to know to avoid microplastics in your body? Read on.

Table of Contents

  • 01

    What’s the Problem?

  • 02

    Why You Don’t Want Plastic in Your System

  • 03

    Inhaling Plastic: Why Respiratory Protection is a Must with 3D Printing

  • 04

    How to Avoid Microplastics While 3D Printing

  • 05

    Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the Problem?

Anytime somebody turns on a 3D printer, the machine will heat up. This isn't a problem, but ultrafine plastic particles become aerosolized as the nozzle extrudes melted plastic.

While most aerosolized microplastics from 3D printers seem to be in the 27 – 116 nanometers range, anything below 100 nanometers is considered an ultrafine particle. And in some instances, these aerosolized plastics can even be less than 2.5 nanometers.

Remember that because we're about to have an anatomy lesson here.

Within your lungs are little grape-like sacks called the alveoli. This is where gas exchange occurs inside your body, allowing oxygen to enter the bloodstream as carbon dioxide escapes. If you breathe larger dust particles while working on a home improvement project, many of these will get trapped in the nose, pharynx, and throat.

But those aforementioned ultrafine particles?

They like to go all the way to the alveoli.

Once there, they quickly interfere with the gas exchange your lungs were created for. An inflammatory response kicks into gear when this happens, headaches can be generated (because you're not getting enough oxygen), and you can also develop cardiovascular issues.

It's just not a fun time.

And this is standard fare with any ultrafine particle that enters your lungs. What we want to look at today is if other health consequences directly result from inhaling plastic.

The answer? Nothing pleasant.


3D printing is technically called 'additive manufacturing.' This is when something is built by slowly adding layer after layer of a substance, such as this LEGO gas mask found on the Thingiverse app.

Why You Don’t Want Plastic in Your System

After the term "microplastics" was coined in 2004, it quickly became a hot topic within the scientific community. After the issue was raised to the public, studies came from every direction showcasing the potential adverse health outcomes of getting plastic into your body.

Here are a few problems that science has identified with microplastics finding their way into the human body.

Microplastics in toothpaste. (Image courtesy of Dantor at Wikimedia Commons.)

Problems with Estrogen

The chief complaint with ingested and inhaled plastic is how it can disrupt the endocrine system. Within the human body, the endocrine system is the part that is responsible for the release and regulation of various hormones, including testosterone and estrogen.

When plastic enters the body, it often acts like estrogen. Numerous studies have documented this over the years, showing how this can cause delayed puberty in boys and early puberty in girls.

It's tricky to avoid this because almost everything about plastic causes it to behave this way. For example, benzotriazole UV stabilizers are a substance that is commonly added to plastic to keep it from disintegrating when exposed to sunlight. It disrupts the endocrine system.

Or take BPA.

Known as bisphenol A, this is commonly used in plastic to make it strong and shatter-resistant. However, it also leeches estrogen-like chemicals.

After these abilities were widely publicized in the early 2000s, many people turned to BPA-free plastic, thinking this would be a safer alternative. Unfortunately, studies routinely show that BPA-free gear still contains estrogen-like chemicals.

(Image courtesy of Hteink.min at Wikimedia Commons.)

In some cases, what has been substituted for that BPA is more potent estrogen than the original BPA.

It's hard to get away from these types of effects when it comes to plastic.

The point is it doesn't matter what type of filament you purchase for your 3D printer; if you're generating aerosolized microplastics, you're generating aerosolized estrogen-like chemicals. Don't want estrogen-like chemicals in your body? Then you need to know how to avoid microplastics while 3D printing.

But it's not just the hormonal disruptions that we must consider here…


Plastics are everywhere worldwide, and it is almost impossible to escape their presence 100%. One study on 20 human lung samples found the presence of plastic particles and fibers in 13 samples, and other studies found even higher percentages.

We see some disturbing health trends nationally, a large part of which is due to microplastics finding their way into the body.

The more you can avoid getting them into your system, the better.

Infertility Issues

One of the ways that this endocrine system disruption plays out is through the development of infertility issues.

The rate of infertility throughout the United States has skyrocketed over the past 50 years. While many variables are at play here, one of the chiefs is the increasing amounts of plastics finding their way into the human body.

While some health conditions, such as an infection, are easily fixed by pushing the red button (e.g., giving an antibiotic), infertility is more of a machine. There are many cogs at play, they all matter, and it's hard to pinpoint just what is going wrong sometimes.

We know that decreased testosterone, diminished sperm quality, reduced sperm count, increased miscarriage rates (by up to 80%), and other issues only hurt the outcome.

And increased levels of plastic in the body are associated with all of these.

Even if you're not looking at having a baby anytime in the now or future, there are other great reasons you want to avoid inhaling plastic.

Let's take a look at some of the primary reasons why.

Inhaling Plastic: Why Respiratory Protection is a Must with 3D Printing

Aside from the long-term and endocrine issues that can come from inhaling plastic, several direct respiratory problems are also gradually linked to 3D printing.

One study on employees at 17 companies that regularly utilized 3D printing within the workplace found that 59% of those surveyed reported some form of respiratory symptoms such as cough, runny nose, or itchy throat at least once a week.

Fifty-nine percent.

This same study also found that the more hours these employees worked at these facilities, the greater their chances of having respiratory issues, such as asthma or allergic rhinitis.

While the research encompassing the health effects of 3D printing and microplastics is still relatively young (3D printers just came out not too long ago), there is at least one bonafide report of asthma being directly caused by regular 3D printing.

When you combine that with the knowledge that fully 22% of those impacted workers from the above study reported being diagnosed with asthma, it seems that there are the beginnings of a causal link being built.

It's not just the issues related to endocrine-disrupting chemicals that you have to consider here. There are potentially immediate health consequences of inhaling plastic that you need to be aware of if you spend a lot of time close to a 3D printer. If you're doing a lot of 3D printing, you must know how to avoid microplastics.

So, let's tackle that subject directly next.

How to Avoid Microplastics While 3D Printing

Maintaining one's health while engaging in regular 3D printing is not hopeless. Thankfully, one can take several steps to better protect their lungs as much as possible while pumping out a print or two.

Here are some of the best practices for good health regarding 3D printing.

Wear a High-Quality Respirator

One of the most straightforward steps that can be taken to protect one's lungs and endocrine system from inhaling plastic is to wear a high-quality respirator. When printing out projects all day, there's no getting around the need to occasionally get up close and personal with a printer to fix a jam, refill filament, or remove prints.

When this happens, your best bet is to wear a respirator as you enter the area. This will allow you to perform whatever maintenance you need to accomplish on the machines without sacrificing your health.

We recommend the MIRA Safety Tactical Air-Purifying Respirator (TAPR) system for this. This half-face respirator will allow unimpeded vision while simultaneously helping to protect your lungs against inhaled microplastics.

With the TAPR system, we recommend using MIRA Safety ParticleMax filters. These P3-rated filters trap 99.9995+% of viral and bio particulates (most viruses average 100nm in size).

Remember that most microplastics are several micrometers, and one nanometer is smaller than one micrometer.

This means if you can trust our filters to protect you from viruses (and you can), you can most certainly trust our filters and respirators to protect you from inhaling plastics.


You could use the MIRA Safety NBC-77 filter to protect yourself against inhaling plastic while you're close to a bunch of 3D printers for any length of time. One of the added benefits of using the NBC-77 would be that it also protects against volatile organic compounds released during the 3D printing process.

Use All Manufacturer Enclosures While Printing

Many 3D printers on the market come with an enclosure that seals off the heated nozzle and baseplate from the outside environment. Ideally, this enclosure will actually seal airtight. Many of these enclosures don't, but that is ideal.

If your machine has one of these enclosures, keeping it closed throughout the printing process is a great way to protect yourself from inhaling plastic.

One study found that 100 minutes after a print had finished, aerosolized levels of ultrafine plastic particles dropped to what is considered baseline levels. This means it may be probable that if you wait 100 minutes after your print to lift the enclosure and remove the print, the ultrafine plastic particles may have settled.

Given that the CDC states using enclosures with a metal 3D printer dramatically reduces one's exposure to metal powders, it stands to reason that the same principle should apply to plastics. Keeping the enclosure down while waiting after a print (when feasible) could significantly reduce your chances of inhaling microplastics.

Only Print in Well-Ventilated Areas

We've noted before here at MIRA Safety how wide open spaces greatly reduce one's risk of inhalational threats. Farmers have fewer lung issues working with hay in open fields than in enclosed barns because the levels of dangerous substances cannot build up to very high concentrations.

The same principle applies to 3D printing.

If you can do your 3D printing in a vast open warehouse, you will inhale much less plastic than the man working and printing in an enclosed office. The same amount of microplastics will be released in each case, but the amount of air they can disperse through is markedly different.

(Image courtesy of Jonathan Juursema at Wikimedia Commons)

Just like it's easier to move through a crowd of 100 people when they're spread over an acre of land than it is to move through that same crowd when they're all stuffed inside of a restaurant, so your lungs encounter fewer microplastics when there is more room for the cloud to disperse through.

Spend the Majority of Your Time a Safe Distance from the 3D Printer

Aside from working in a well-ventilated area, one also needs to be vigilant about spending as much time as far away from the 3D printer as possible. This works on the same principle of diffusion. A man working with a circular saw will be coated with much more sawdust than the man standing across the room.

The closer you are to the source of generated microplastics, the better chances you have of inhaling plastic. So if you've found many cool things to 3D print, go ahead and print them, but try to keep your distance throughout the printing process.

(Image courtesy of You don’t want to work right beside a 3D printer if you can help it.)

PLA May Be Safer than ABS

Some studies suggest that Polylactic acid (PLA) may be a safer type of filament than Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS). For example, one study which examined several health variables after exposure to printing with the two types of filaments showed an increased inflammation marker (nitric oxide) amongst those who were printing with ABS.

Those printing with PLA did not show this same inflammation marker. The researchers suggested this increased inflammation was likely due to increased eosinophilic activity within the lungs. Eosinophils are an essential part of white blood cells and the immune system.

It bears to reason that if the immune system gets kicked into gear after exposure to aerosolized ABS plastic, but it's not doing the same for PLA, then PLA may be safer.

(That all being said, another study found that PLA consistently generated more ultra-fine particles than did ABS, meaning PLA has a better chance of finding its way into the alveoli of your lungs – where gas exchange happens.)

Does the Color of Filament Matter?

There is some indication that the color of the filament used plays a role in the number of microplastics released into the air. One study found that red ABS filament produced more ultra-fine particles than the color blue. We need more research here to give any conclusive answers, though.

(Image courtesy of Libraries Taskforce at Wikimedia Commons.)

Final Prints

Outside of drinking water, microplastics are something that only some people think about daily. Given the ever-growing body of evidence that we're seeing showcasing all of the potential threats of this ubiquitous threat, however, this is something that more people need to be aware of.

If you are regularly involved in 3D printing, you, in particular, need to start taking steps to protect your lungs (and the rest of you) from inhaling plastic. By following the above advice, you'll be able to mitigate a significant amount of your risk while bringing the files of Thingiverse to life.

What are your thoughts on all of this? Let us know in the comment section below.

Frequently Asked Questions

Aside from the endocrine system disruption, are there other reasons 3D printing could be dangerous?
If 3D printing can be dangerous, why do so many people do it?
Why don’t we have more definitive data on the long-term health effects of 3D printing?
Which foods contain the most microplastics?
Can you detox plastic from your body?
What are the symptoms of microplastics in the lungs?
How toxic is breathing in plastic?
Do microplastics cause brain damage?
Where do microplastics come from?
How to avoid microplastics in water
How to avoid microplastics in food
What to do after inhaling plastic fumes
How to measure microplastics in water