We should all probably stop cutting acrylic

As we know, every time we cut acrylic the whole room smells after we open the lid including the plastic itself for at least 24 hours after, even if we leave the exhaust running. So to try and work out how bad it really was, I bought a Dyson to combat the VOC’s in the room.

My workshop is in the basement in a room that it approx 80sq/ft or 8m2, so pretty small. After cutting acrylic (no smell during the cut) it took the Dyson almost 16 hours to scrub the air back to normal running at full speed of 10. This was a small cut that takes 4 minutes.

Here is a study on how bad it really is:
Characterization of Emissions from Carbon Dioxide Laser Cutting Acrylic Plastics

If it is just me and other peoples VOC’s are normal, let me know

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I’m not sure what your set up is like but I vent directly outside through a dedicated dryer vent. I have an external fan which I can run independently of the Glowforge, so the entire system is under negative pressure all the time. When I cut anything, acrylic or wood or paper or anything otherwise organic that will actually emit VOCs, there is zero smell.

I don’t have an air quality meter to back it up with numbers but it passes the smell test, which is good enough for me.

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In the 5+ years I’ve had my GF, I’ve never experienced that. If you haven’t already done so, you might try a good external fan as @evansd2 mentioned above.

Good luck!

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I mean, sure, but only if we also stop driving in cars…

The world we live in as modern humans means exposure to pretty terrible pollutants that want to kill us.

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When I first cut acrylic in a laser, I found conflicting studies on the toxicity of the cutting byproducts but, it looked like it was difficult to create dangerous levels even in industrial settings. I’m pretty conservative about that, though. Better to be overly cautious than injured.

I usually vent outdoors, occasionally to the filter if I think it is going to bother a neighbor enjoying their garden. I have an inline fan that moves more air than the stock GF fan. I leave that running with the lid closed for awhile (usually at least 10 minutes) after cutting acrylic before opening the lid.

I have a HEPA air cleaner in the studio and an air quality monitor at the entrance. The monitor is set to alert for particulate or VOCs over a certain level. I haven’t seen an alert for cutting acrylic since before I switched to an inline fan. I rarely notice much smell from cutting acrylic unless I hold just-cut pieces up to my face.

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We should all probably stop cutting wood. I’m far more worried about soot particulates than I am about PMMA fumes.

Here are the important excerpts from this paper:

  • “the exposure and associated health effects to PAHs from CO2 laser cutting have not been evaluated”
  • “Exposures and health effects related to NPs produced from CO2 laser cutting have yet to be evaluated.”
  • “Regardless of where the MMA was produced, it can be concluded that the gas emissions released by the laser cutter were not at a concentration high enough to cause concern under the studied operating conditions”

There’s no conclusion about health effects of laser cutting acrylic since, as they note, it has not been evaluated.

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Here’s some information about acrylic resin. https://www.epa.gov/sites/default/files/2016-09/documents/methyl-methacrylate.pdf

Basically, it’s an irritant. The minute quantities released by laser cutting are probably nothing compared to being around the liquid resin. It’s not a known carcinogen (unlike almost everything else on this planet), so if it’s ventilated well enough to not make your eyes or lungs burn, I wouldn’t worry too much.

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High winter winds recently have cleared the air a lot more than normal but you can keep an eye out with this as what is just happening anywhere in the world with the ability to see a bit of past and future at any elevation even zoomed into your neighborhood using your computer’s geolocation seeking particles or chemicals as well as normal weather stuff but it certainly puts the numbers into perspective.

Since Glowforge at that time had not come out with their filter I ended up buying one of these that will clean a busy casino of smoke and smells where you could not see across the room otherwise (a friend actually recognised mine).

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So yesterday I decided to do a test based on this article. I ran two tests with the Dyson right next to the GF lid, the room was ok during the cut which was only 2 minutes long. I opened the lid 1 minute after the cut was finished and left the room. With about 20 seconds the Dyson ramped up from a speed of 1 to 10 with a VOC Rating of very bad, as in the picture up the top. I went back in, removed the acrylic and put it outside (the ventilation fan was still running). I waited until the VOC went back to 0.

I then repeated the test but at the end waited 10 minutes with the fan running and lid closed. I put on some gloves, only opened the lid far enough to remove the item. VOC was at 0 the whole time. I then held the item up against the Dyson’s sensors and within seconds the Dyson ramped up to full speed showing very bad VOC’s.

So it looks like even the items themselves are realising VOC’s following the cut, hence my hands always smell. I’m wearing gloves from now on and letting and letting it air for a few hours after the cut.

Video: Dropbox - Video 3-2-2024, 12 37 49.mov - Simplify your life

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It’s acrylic, I wonder if washing after the fact would reduce the VOCs?

In general whatever you’re cutting it’s good policy to remove your masking and then immediately eject masking from your workspace, as the masking itself usually has a fair amount of smell coming from it at that point. I always attributed to residue deposited on the surface of the material during the cut.

If you’re using the dish soap trick I would think that washing it would remove all of those residues and also cool the material enough that it’s no longer emitting VOCs and accelerated rate. It’s worth trying anyway.

If conventional wisdom is right here, then your tray will be absolutely coated in residues, and so it’s going to be a major source of VOCs. If you have particularly strong sensitivities it may be that you’ll need to run your exhaust fan or room filter on the lowest setting most of the time if not constantly.

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Since you have an inline fan have you considered leaving it running at all times when you’re are doing laser work? I find that’s the most effective for me.
Most materials, not just acrylic, continue emitting VOCs and smells for several days.
If I have the time I usually like to leave pieces outside my workspace for a while.

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This is how my setup works. I turn on the external fan when I turn on the machine, and turns it off when I turn off the machine - but is on 100% of the time in between.

When cutting something extra nauseous I’ve been known to leave it on even after the laser is off - and come back later to turn it off. As it’s almost silent it’s not a big issue.

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Lol that’s three of us in a row that said “run the fan all the time”. I think that’s officially consensus.

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but you can only do it if you’ve installed an external fan…and some people still haven’t done that! Silly people.

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Yep, I also run my fan the entire time. I will run it at 3/4 full speed (AC Infinity S6) for the cut because full is too much and then will turn it town to 1/4 and leave it there for the entire time I am there, cutting or not.

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Same here - my fan is external and its control is not directly accessible from my shop, so I use an iot plug to control it remotely. I use the same type of plug for my GF and assigned them to a group called “workshop.”

I can turn everything on/off with one command, or individually if I need to run the fan longer. :sunglasses:

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I’ve run with an external fan longer than most though it is barely adequet so I use the built in fan as well. However, the external fan runs 24/7 .

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If you’re really worried, I’ll be happy to take your Glowforge off of you to ease your mind. Haha Just Kidding :smiley:

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