Most businesses and enterprises opt to buy laser printers for use in the office as they are capable of handling large volumes of printing, and over the long run, the toner cartridges needed are more cost-effective than inkjet cartridges, and maintenance costs are relatively low. Laser printer toner cartridges also last longer—allowing office workers to print what they need without having to replace cartridges very often. It is important, however, to use the cartridges that are made for the particular laser printer you use, as genuine cartridges last longer and are unlikely to cause any damage to the printer or produce sub-standard printouts.
Toner is a very fine powder whose particles contain carbon, iron oxides, and resin. It is used in printers, photocopiers, and fax machines. Originally it consisted solely of coal dust and was combined with a polymer at a later date to improve performance. That powder is the toner itself - the substance that is melted onto the paper with a laser to form the text and images when you print.
As with all printer cartridges, they need to be replaced from time to time, and if you've ever had to replace the cartridge of a laser printer, which uses a rectangular or oblong shaped single cartridge, chances are you've ended up with some of the toner powder on your hands or noticed some of it dispersing in the air.
Although removing it incorrectly could dump quite a bit of the powder on your hands and clothes, there really isn't anything to worry about when it comes to your health: It doesn't contain any acidic compounds that could burn or irritate your skin, even if you have very sensitive skin and are prone to skin irritation. The best thing to do is just to go wash it off with water and soap. Getting it out of your clothes, however, is another matter entirely!
Is Laser Printer Toner Harmful if Inhaled?
Many people wonder if inhaling or touching this fine plastic powder can do you any harm. Enough people have asked this question to warrant extensive scientific studies. None of these studies recorded any lasting harmful effects either from skin contact of inhalation of the toner powder, especially at the low doses that you would be likely to get into contact with under normal circumstances. As with all substances, toxic or not, it is the dose or amount of it that can make it harmful, not the inherent properties of the substance itself. Briefly inhaling a small puff of airborne toner powder might make you splutter for a couple of seconds, but there really is no need to panic about it.
Laser printer toner cartridges do have to be disposed of in a specific way and cannot simply be dumped along with regular office waste. Many of these cartridges can be refilled and used again, and the physical cartridge itself can be recycled. Most distributors of cartridges will take empty cartridges back, either to be recycled or to be disposed of correctly if it has reached the end of its life. Here, where there are workers who are in a position where they may be inhaling toner powder on a daily basis, there may be a health hazard, but none of the chemical compounds used in making toner powder are toxic by themselves or in combination with each other and is therefore unlikely to cause any more danger than what most of the experience from inhaling vehicle exhaust fumes on a daily basis.
Studies conducted on lab rats confirmed that there are no lasting ill effects of irregular and small amounts of exposure to skin or through inhalation, and none of the studies could find any link between contact with toner powder and carcinogenic effects.
A Couple of Small Precautions to Put Your Mind at Ease
Studies and experience have shown that laser printer toner powder does not seem to have any short- or long-term toxic effects at all. It may cause a little irritation when it comes into contact with the eyes – but then it can easily be rinsed out using an eyewash station or even just a little water. You may still wish to prevent inhaling it or allowing it to come into contact with your skin. The use of gloves or a paper or cloth mask when changing a cartridge will be more than enough to prevent exposure, but beyond that, there really is no danger posed by laser printer toner powder.