Laser Cutter Ventilation Systems: Remove Laser Cutter Smells & Fumes
Setting up a laser exhaust system is crucial to your health and that of your laser engraving machine. It prevents potentially harmful particles from entering the air you breathe and helps remove debris that gathers in the machine. Without a working exhaust system, the air quality in your workspace will drop immediately, smells will start to gather and fill your home, and medical issues can be exacerbated. Depending on the material you’re lasering, laser cutter smells and toxic fumes can enter your lungs, causing disease, suffocation, or even death. While OMTech laser machines are beginner-friendly and can fit inside your home, never forget: these are industrial-size lasers with various hazards, and safety must always be your priority.
The best laser engraving exhaust system is one that quickly removes all smoke and odors to the outdoors, runs quietly, and does not create a hazard for neighbors or second-story dwellers. A suitable laser cutter ventilation system is also essential because smoke that lingers inside your machine can dirty the mirrors and focal lens and lead to optical damage.
In this article, I will teach you how to set up your laser exhaust system and give you some examples of various setups so you can find one that works best for you. Whether you're working in a garage, insulated shed, or a room in your house, having an effective laser exhaust system is crucial for your DIY laser projects, your health, and your laser machine.
Vocabulary Check: Laser Engraver Exhaust Systems
Before we help you learn how to set up a laser exhaust system, please review these important laser engraving terms:
Laser Exhaust System – The exhaust system is responsible for removing engraving debris (gasses, smoke, fumes, and airborne particles). This system is made up of multiple individual components, including (but not limited to):
Exhaust Vent – The physical vent where your laser exhaust exits the building or structure.
Exhaust Port – The physical port located on the laser engraving machine where the exhaust will exit the machine. Note that the 130W & 150W machines have two exhaust ports.
Internal Fan(s) – The built-in exhaust fan inside the laser, located at the exhaust output port(s). This fan pulls out gasses and airborne debris from the worktable, sending it through the duct and out your vent or to your fume extractor.
Inline Fan – An inline exhaust fan for laser cutter is a separately purchased accessory that is added to the laser exhaust system to aid in fume extraction. To maximize efficiency, this is installed as close to the exhaust vent as possible.
Exhaust Duct – The physical hose connecting the laser machine’s exhaust output port to the inline fan or exhaust vent.
Fume Extractor — An external machine that sucks dirty air in, passes it through a series of filters to remove the debris, and releases clean, healthy air back into the same room. Laser cutter fume extractors are necessary for confined workspaces with no exhaust vents.
Planning Your Laser Exhaust System
If you have already purchased your laser, you might know exactly where you are putting it. If you don’t, these instructions will help you weigh your options.
You’ll want to position your laser engraving machine as close as possible to your exhaust vent. Many laser engraver users simply use a window or door as an exhaust vent. For some, an existing hole in the wall, such as a dryer vent, serves perfectly.
You’ll want to keep the number of corners or ‘elbows’ to an absolute minimum and reduce the length of the duct between the laser machine and your exhaust vent as much as possible. This will help reduce the airflow and pressure — the contaminated air and odors will be expelled from your workspace much faster if they have less distance to travel. The internal laser cutter exhaust fan will have much less air to move, helping it perform better and remove laser cutter smells before they reach your nose.
Take note of your laser workspace and ask yourself some of these questions.
Where is your laser engraving machine located?
- Residential neighborhood or industrial workplace
- Dedicated workshop
- Climate-controlled shed
- Bedroom or office room
- Apartment building
- House or condo
Find a suitable laser exhaust vent:
- Is there a window I could use to vent my laser machine?
- Can I open the window, door, or garage every time I run my laser engraver?
- Am I able to drill a hole in the wall?
- Are the neighbors too close to my laser exhaust vent?
- Are there second-story rooms above my laser cutter exhaust vent?
- Is there an AC unit or other air intake near my exhaust vent that could suck the exhaust back into my building or a neighboring building?
Now that you have had some time to think about it, here are some options for your laser cutter ventilation system based on your workshop situation.
How to Setup a Laser Engraving Exhaust System
This Laser Engraver Exhaust System Setup Guide is intended to complement the instructions in section 3.6 of the OMTech Manual. Review the complete manual before starting your setup.
Standard Setup - Exhaust Vent to the Outdoors through a Window or a Door
If you have a window near your laser, you can actually measure the opening and then use your laser to cut out a hole, fit to size the tubing that you have. You will need to figure out a way to properly seal it shut, especially if you live in a colder climate. In that case, you might want some kind of foam insulating panels to keep the cold draft out.
Another option if you choose to vent out a window, is you can actually purchase an adjustable window dryer vent. This helpful vent will fit into your window frame and make a temporary (or permanent) exhaust exit. Plus, you can take it down and close the window when you’re done working. In order to begin setting up your laser engraver exhaust system, following the instructions in section 3.6 of the OMTech Manual and reference the OMTech Installation Guide.
Last but not least, if you have your laser near a door, you can simply stretch your tubing out the door. This would probably be OK for the short term, but again an open door can lead to some unwanted downfalls such as the potential for wildlife to enter your workshop. Not to mention, in colder weather it’s less than ideal, unless your area is heated.
Kyle’s DIY Laser Cutter Ventilation System
OMTech user and Demo Room Host, Kyle, simply opens up his garage door and puts the exhaust tubing underneath. He is currently refining his workspace, so it’s a great solution to allow him to work before he completes his ideal laser exhaust setup.
Laser Exhaust Vent to the Outdoors through the Wall
If you do not have a window or door near your machine, the next option to consider is drilling out a hole to vent the exhaust outside. This option is more for someone who is a homeowner and has a bit more experience with the building structure.
There are a few factors to consider, depending on your location. Wiring and plumbing feed through the walls, so you need to make sure the wall area is safe for the cutout. There are special detection devices you can use that will alert you. A specialty stud finder may also be of use, as some can apparently detect metal in wires and piping. Once you can confirm the area is safe to cut, you will need a tool that will allow you to drill/ cut a hole out of your wall.
In my case, my Dad was familiar with the building of our house and my brother is also an electrician, so the cut may have been an easier time for us than for others. He ended up using an auger bit to cut the hole.
Bill’s DIY Laser Exhaust System
"The laser cutter ventilation system I have right now is a 6-inch duct running out the side of my house with a dryer vent. I use the AC Infinity 6-inch inline fan for laser cutter. It is held to the side of the machine with heavy-duty magnets. If I were to do it again I would move the fan closer to the exhaust point. I just haven’t got around to doing it yet." - Bill, OMTech User and Demo Room Host
Laser Fume Extractors
Lastly, one of the more expensive options would be to purchase laser fume extractor for laser cutting. Venting to the outdoors may not always be an option, so if you find yourself in one of these situations and wish to purchase a laser machine, make sure you keep in mind that laser cutter fume extractors can be an expensive add-on.
For people who work in a confined space and cannot use a window/door or cut a hole in the wall, a specialized fume extractor for laser cutters will allow you to use your laser safely indoors.
What is a Laser Fume Extractor?
A laser fume extractor is like a vacuum cleaner attached to a laser exhaust filter that removes airborne particles — it sucks dirty air in, passes it through a series of specialized filters to remove the debris, and releases clean, healthy air back into the same room.
Laser cutter fume extractors come in different sizes depending on the size of your laser machine’s workbed. You will need to change out cartridges and filters to maintain it if you work with your laser often. You will need to check the shelf life of the filters you use as well. Some may need replacement every thirty days while others may be every six months, depending on your use. There are also various methods of making a DIY laser exhaust filter or DIY fume extractor, but these can create breathing hazards in your workspace.
OMTech actually has a bunch of options for laser fume extractors if you are looking for one. Make sure that you are looking at one that is compatible with your laser machine. The fume extractor’s hose should attach directly to your laser where you would normally run your exhaust tubing.
Extra Laser Exhaust System Tips
Now that we have a rundown of different options you can use for your laser exhaust, let’s talk about some other important tips that should be considered.
- Seal every seam and joint in your metal ducting to eliminate air leaks. You can use a caulk-like sealing compound and/or special aluminum tape, both available at your local hardware store (usually found near the ducting equipment). A good sealant will dry hard and remain flexible to make a dependable seal. Apply the tape around each seam, connection point, and elbow.
- Air intake - Air that is leaving the room must be replaced with fresh air coming into the room (also called make-up air). On your machine, you can open the front pass-thru door to create extra air intake. Also, ensure there is a second open window or door (besides the exhaust exit point) for air to enter the room.
- AC Units - Check around your exhaust exit point for any other air intake points. Your laser exhaust can potentially be drawn back into the building (or a neighboring building) by an air conditioner or fan system.
- You can also upgrade your inline exhaust fan for laser cutter. Adding a stronger version that can achieve greater CFM will provide faster and more powerful airflow.
- If you are finding the air quality is heavy (especially if your laser is in a dusty area and/or a woodshop), some people have had great success by keeping an air purifier running. I actually keep a blanket over my machine when not in use as it is located in a dusty woodshop.
- When working with strong materials like acrylic, wearing a respirator can be helpful short term for smelly jobs. There are some days when I am on an acrylic roll and I need to load job after job and don’t always have the time to wait 3-5 minutes for the smell to dissipate outside.
- Sometimes allergies and asthma can develop over time and there are some individuals in the laser community who have had reactions to certain types of woods or materials. If you notice you are having a harder time breathing and/or suffering from allergy attacks, please make sure to get yourself checked before you continue any laser work.
- If you are using an AC Infinity Laser Cutter Exhaust Fan, you will want to make sure that the tubes are attached tightly. If they are not tight enough, you might get some seepage which defeats the purpose, or the tubes might pop off.
Hopefully, this article has helped shed some light on why it is important to not only have a working laser engraver exhaust system in place, and how to design an efficient laser exhaust system. Make sure that you are always aware of your surroundings. Fumes from laser exhaust are dangerous— never ignore strange smells and always quickly seek fresh air if you think your health is in immediate danger. Remember to open a window and turn on a fan if odors are present.