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Guide To Laser Cutter Fume Extractors: Safety, Selection & More

An image showing the toxic fumes released by a laser cutter

Guide To Laser Cutter Fume Extractors: Safety, Selection & More

Although laser machines themselves don’t produce fumes during operation, the material being processed usually always does, in the form of airborne contaminants.

It’s essential to have these fumes removed from the working area and either out of the building or into a self-contained fume filter.

We’re often asked about the differences between our standard extraction to atmosphere and the various options for a dedicated fume filter system.

Why Do I Need A Fume Extraction System For My Laser Cutter?

An image showing CO2 laser cutter smoke on a black background

The fumes generated during laser cutting include a variety of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other hazardous substances, such as formaldehyde and acrolein, which can have serious health implications.

Chronic exposure to these fumes can lead to respiratory diseases, allergic reactions, and even long-term lung conditions.

When using a CO2 laser cutter for materials like MDF, laser cutters produce not only produce VOC fumes, but also fine particulate matter that can be extremely harmful if inhaled.

MDF is particularly concerning because it is made with formaldehyde-based resins, which, when cut, release formaldehyde gas—a known carcinogen—into the air.

Installing a fume extractor significantly reduces the risk of inhaling these dangerous particles and gases, safeguarding everybody’s health.

Compliance With Regulations

Most sectors require you to adhere to strict air quality and occupational safety standards, which will likely always include effective fume extraction.

Failure to comply with these regulations can result in hefty fines and potentially, business closure.

A robust hazardous fume extraction system ensures that your operations stay within legal requirements while protecting your workforce.

Extractor Vs. Fume Filter: Preventing Fumes from Causing Harm

As standard, all of our machines, including CO2 laser cutters and fiber laser cutters are supplied with an extraction fan unit and two lengths of flexible hosing.

One hose is installed between the machine cabinet and the extraction fan. The other hose is installed between the extraction fan and the interface to the outside world.

This is typically a hole in an exterior wall together with a louvred or flapped cover plate on the outside to prevent rain and moisture from entering the extraction system.

This is known as ‘extraction to atmosphere’ and looks similar to below.

When To Use a Fume Extraction System

If the layout of the room or building is not suitable for extraction to atmosphere, you will need to consider a self-contained fume filter system to deal with all the toxic fumes.

These fume filter systems do not need to ventilate the laser fumes to the outside world. Below is an example of one of the BOFA fume extractor systems we sell.

A fume filter typically uses a combination of a HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) pre-filter and a combined filter which contains activated charcoal. The HEPA filter captures the airborne particles in the extracted air and the charcoal filter removes the aroma.

According to the U.S Environmental Protection Agency: HEPA air filters can theoretically remove at least 99.97% of dust, pollen, mold, bacteria, and any airborne particles with a size of 0.3 microns (µm) (source).

The result is extracted air, which is safe to circulate within the room. For this reason, we use fume filters to demonstrate our range of laser machines at exhibitions.

They are often selected for larger premises such as schools and universities where it may not be possible to extract through an exterior wall.

Introducing BOFA Filter Systems

An image of the BOFA International air filter showcase

HPC Laser works directly with the global lead in fume extraction technology, BOFA International. BOFA International is a global leader in fume extraction technology, providing innovative solutions for industrial, laser, electronics, and printing industries.

Our working relationship with BOFA means we supply laser cutter fume extraction filter systems and filter replacements at an excellent price.

As with all air filters, BOFA filter cartridges need to be changed once they are saturated.

Most BOFA filter units produce an alert once the pre-filter is saturated enough with harmful particles to affect airflow. Once the carbon filter is saturated an increase in fume aroma will be noticed. This indicates that the filter needs to be changed.

Some models of BOFA fume filters have an additional VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) sensor. This activates an alert when it is time for the carbon filter to be changed.

A diagram showing the various phases of a HEPA filter in action

Image courtesy of PranaAir

The time taken for the filter cartridges to require changing varies significantly depending upon machine use and the particular materials that are being processed.

For example, MDF produces a high concentration of dust and airborne particles.

This fills the pre-filter cartridge much faster than acrylics which are typically low on airborne particles and have much higher levels of volatile organic compounds which will saturate the carbon filter.

Some materials such as HPC’s laser plywood is particularly well suited to laser cutting. It is designed to produce excellent results whilst keeping smoke and fumes to a minimum.

How To Choose A Fume Filter For Your Laser Cutter

Selecting the right fume filter for your laser cutter is crucial to maintain safety, compliance, and efficiency in your operations. Here are the key criteria to consider when choosing a fume filter:

1. Material Compatibility

Ensure the filters are suitable for the materials you commonly cut with your laser. Different materials emit different types of fumes and particles. For example, cutting plastics or MDF can release more harmful fumes than metals.

Laser engraving or marking generally produces less fumes than laser cutting, so a smaller fume extraction system can be used, such as the BOFA AD Access system.

2. Filter Efficiency

Look for a filter that effectively captures both particulate matter and gases. High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters are recommended for particulates, while activated carbon filters are effective for gases and VOCs.

All of our BOFA fume extractors have both HEPA and carbon filters built-in.

A banner ad to shop the HPC range of fume extraction systems.

3. Airflow and Suction Power

The fume filter must have sufficient airflow to match the output of your laser cutter. This ensures all fumes are captured directly from the cutting area and prevents them from escaping into the workspace.

4. Operational Noise Level

Consider the noise level of the fume extraction unit, especially if your laser cutter is located in a shared space or a facility with noise restrictions.

5. Maintenance Requirements

Evaluate how easy it is to maintain the fume filter. Regular replacement of filters and cleaning are necessary to keep the unit functioning effectively.

Our range of BOFA fume extraction systems are designed with ease of use in mind, so it’s extremely easy to replace filters when needed.

6. Regulatory Compliance:

Ensure the fume extractor meets local and industry safety standards and regulations to avoid legal issues and to ensure workplace safety.

Materials To Avoid Cutting With A Laser Cutter

An image showing PVC pipes which should not be cut with a laser cutter

You can cut most types of plastic with a laser machine without any issues, except PVC.

This material emits chlorine when heated, a very hazardous substance that is likely to damage components within your machine.

More importantly, it can be damaging the health of those in the immediate vicinity.

If you are in doubt about the suitability of materials to cut with a laser machine, please always contact the material manufacturer for advice.

Summing Up

Installing an effective fume extraction system when extraction to atmosphere is impossible, is not just a regulatory formality—it’s a critical component of operational safety and efficiency in any setting that uses laser cutters.

By choosing the right fume extractor, you can ensure that your workspace remains safe, compliant, and productive, protecting both your team and your investment.

Always consider the specific needs of your operations and the types of materials you work with to allow you to select the most appropriate fume extraction solution.

If you would like to speak to a member of our friendly team about suitable fume extractors, please feel free to use the live chat on the website, email us at sales@hpclaser.co.uk or call us on +44 (0)1422 310800

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I use my laser cutter without a fume extraction system?

If you cannot extract your fumes directly outdoors, a laser cutter without a fume extraction system can be extremely dangerous. It can lead to hazardous air quality issues, health risks, and non-compliance with serious safety regulations.

What are laser cutter fumes made up of?

Laser cutter fumes consist of a mix of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), particulate matter, and potentially toxic gases like formaldehyde, which are released when materials such as plastics, metals, and wood are cut.

Why are BOFA filters so effective?

BOFA filters are highly effective due to their advanced multi-stage filtration system that captures both particles and gases, significantly reducing the release of harmful contaminants into the workplace environment.

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