The custom screen printing industry has grown over the past five years. Over the next five years we expect that the industry will continue to grow modestly, benefiting from continued acceleration expected in consumer spending and disposable income growth. But are the screen printing fumes that are put off when our custom apparel is created harmful?

Can screen printing fumes be harmful?

Yes, they can be.

The truth is, screen printing utilizes a variety of volatile organic compounds (VOC), including chemical solvents, inks, lacquer thinners, and much more during the printing and washing process. Exposure to the fumes emitted by common screen printing products can ultimately cause a myriad of health issues, from minor sinus irritation to respiratory problems to even cancer.

How to protect against the harms of screen printing fumes

That said, whether you are screen printing at home or in a large print shop, there are ways to properly shield yourself.
Here are 3 ways to carefully protect yourself against the hazards of screen printing…

1. Know Your Ink

There are several different types of ink commonly used in screen printing, each of which contains its own unique set of properties, pros, and cons. Knowing those properties can help you protect your shop from any potential negative ramifications when it comes to your health or that of your employees.

The options for ink are varied, and each presents their own challenges. When working with these types of ink in a confined space, it is crucial to enact proper safety measures in order to reduce or even eliminate health risks. Here are a few steps to take, as noted by a 2009 study performed by the Center For Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

2. Managers Taking Measures

It is recommended that screen printing shop managers take new measures in order to protect their employees and business from screen printing fumes, such as:

  • Investigate replacing solvent-based screen printing inks with others alternatives that have low or no solvents.
  • Provide employees with properly fitting respirators when using chemicals like inks or acetone when screen printing or screen washing.
  • Provide screen printing employees with chemical protective gloves.
  • Require the use of eye protection and chemical protective gloves when employees are working with chemicals, inks, and other hazardous materials.
  • Provide proper storage and disposal containers for chemical compounds, lacquer thinner, and other solvents in a flammable safety area.
  • Train employees on the proper procedures for disposal of chemicals or chemical-soaked items. This includes cleaning towels which may release evaporative solvents.
  • Do not permit more than a one-day supply of lacquer thinner or screen inks to be stored in the same work area.
  • Require the use of bonding cables to electrically connect containers of flammable or hazardous liquids when pouring from one container to another.
  • Complete regular personal protective equipment training and hazard assessments.
  • Implement a comprehensive respiratory protection program, including opening windows and utilizing respiratory masks when dealing with chemicals.
  • Label all chemical containers with identity and hazard warning information.
  • Most importantly, improve ventilation in the screen printing area.

3. Fume Extraction Options

Because there is little to no air movement or ventilation in screen printing workspaces, harmful solvents can often be found in the air. Simple fixes for this could be to simply open a window near the screen printing work area, turning on a fan at or near the window, and using proper respiratory protection.

There are other ways to streamline screen printing fumes extraction. These fixes will make the air in these screen printing shops much safer and cleaner. For instance, you can install a proper ventilation system. This will create a peaceful work environment that is free and clear of harmful fumes, solvents, and other toxins in the air.

Screen printing fumes education

Like so many industries and products, there can be both harmful and safe ways to create and use. We recommend educating yourself on any new material or product you come into contact with in order to keep yourself healthy and safe.