Ironing plastic bags this toxic?
December 7, 2007 12:44 PM   Subscribe

You can make an interesting "fabric" (tutorial here) by ironing plastic bags together but I am pretty sure that doing this releases molecules of Something Bad into the air that I am then breathing. Am I right? Do I need a respirator?
posted by tingting to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
That's pretty neato and I'll have to try that! The tutorial you linked to does say "Don't forget to open a window when you do this to avoid potentially brain-damaging fumes." I'm not sure what those fumes are, but generally when I do crafts involving heat and plastic or chemicals I try do it near an open window. You probably won't die, but it doesn't hurt to be safe.
posted by Metroid Baby at 12:52 PM on December 7, 2007

You are melting and not burning the plastic, which is good news for you- there are worse fumes when you burn, but I don't think melting is completely safe either. A well-ventilated place would probably be the best environment for this.

Now let's sit back and wait for someone to come in with better science.
posted by rmless at 12:55 PM on December 7, 2007

Response by poster: woops, thanks Meteroid Baby for pointing out the warning in there (read the tutorial ages ago).

I was doing this with open windows and a fan in the summer. Quebec winter however does not lend itself to an open window, and that really is what prompted my question.
posted by tingting at 1:02 PM on December 7, 2007

You're using polyethylene bags, right? I think that's reasonably safe. You can find MSDS info on the web for the polyethylene sheets the bags are formed from; a typical entry is this one:
INHALATION: Inhalation of process fumes and vapors may cause soreness in the nose and throat and coughing. “Nuisance dust” such as polymer dust typically exhibit no significant health effect when they are reasonably controlled. Exposure to high concentration of dust may cause slight irritation by mechanical action.
The main risk seems to be that if you get hot molten plastic on your skin then it'll burn ya. Taking the usual paranoia of MSDS into account, I'd say that fusing polyethylene sheets with an iron is pretty safe if you use common sense. Use as much ventilation as is practical, stop if it irritates you, and so on.

(If you're using some other kind of bag, like polypropylene which I think is also a common bag material, then all bets are off, but all the old grocery bags I have lying around here are HDPE, high-density polyethylene.)
posted by hattifattener at 1:28 PM on December 7, 2007

Why not just do it outdoors and hold your breath during ironings?
posted by JJ86 at 2:17 PM on December 7, 2007

I don't know if anyone else remembers these things, but when I was a kid we had this craft set that included these small beads that were made of polyethylene. Anyways, you arranged the bead into a pattern on a little pegboard, then you ironed the backside with a piece of parchment over it in order to fuse the beads together and create a coaster-like device. I figure is they put that out on the market then there must not be too much danger with the inhalation of small amounts of polyethylene fumes.
posted by goHermGO at 3:52 PM on December 7, 2007

Best answer: I've tried to do this. I had lousy luck, and mostly ended up with strips of slightly harder plastic full of holes. But I did it inside with no windows open, and while there was a slight odor, suffered no ill effects. Other than the frustration of not managing to reproduce their results.

You wouldn't be releasing any actual polyethylene into the air, nor do I think you're actually oxidizing the polymer - my guess is that you're heating the LDPE past its glass transition temperature, and when it cools it partially crystalises; it's possible you may be releasing solvents that were trapped in the polymer while it was being made, but I don't think it would be in large enough amounts to be worrisome.

Good luck! Let us know if it works for you; maybe I'll try it again even!
posted by solotoro at 4:11 PM on December 7, 2007

PS: IAAC, IANAPC (I am a chemist, I am not a polymer chemist) - though I did do some synthesis of polyethylene-type stuff in grad school.
posted by solotoro at 4:12 PM on December 7, 2007

goHermGO: Those are Perler beads.
posted by O9scar at 10:47 PM on December 7, 2007

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