There are some misconceptions that are going around about the overall safety on working with EVA foam (floor mats) that I would like to address. EVA foam is the material that most of us have been using to make armor and cosplay props, after it exploded in popularity with some amazing prop makers utilizing it.
The process of heat-forming it with a heat gun or oven can be dangerous, and basic precautions should be taken.
Sadly, a close friend of mine, Victoria Frias, learned the hard way. When using a heat gun inside an enclosed area for armor forming (her living room), her two birds died from the resulting fumes.
Victoria explains: So be safe and work outside. Don’t put yourself, your family, or your pets at risk. Ever since the bird incident, I work outside and wear a respirator. I know people who bake or boil foam, sintra, etc and that can be dangerous too. You have to worry about fumes and dangerous residue on your items. So just always be extra cautious when doing things.
I’ve learned a number of cosplayers that use foam for costumes, from novice to professionals, are not using safety precautions. And a lot of folks learn from each other, so bad habits are easy to spread. Be safe, when heating up foam (or other items, like Victoria mentioned!)
Use a respirator.
Don’t risk breathing anything in! Your health is more than worth the cost. A simple painter’s face mask wont protect from the fumes; use a respirator with the right filter. Replace filters as needed with time.
Cosplayer Melissa Russell adds: Make sure you check the respirator to see if it is certified for the appropriate fumes. A paint mask from Home Depot will not protect you from spray paint or resin fumes.
This PDF lists which respirators protect from what chemicals.
Additional tip from @rondodog: Also, store your respirator in a zip-lock bag: it can absorb residual chems in the air into the mouth-side.
Get safety equipment that fits you properly.
They DO make respirators and other items that range in different sizes (from petite to large adult). I use a smaller mask, and Allen uses a larger mask.
Use proper ventilation.
It is recommended to heat-form EVA foam outdoors, or in a well-ventilated room that has access to outside air via an open window or door with good air circulation.
Keep your pets (and small children!) safely away.
Pets, big and small, are especially susceptible to the fumes from heat-forming EVA foam. If you have a family member or friend hanging out, give them a respirator as well.
When Allen is working on something with fumes or toxic dust, and I drop in to chat or ask a few questions, I throw on my own respirator. Even though I’m not directly on top of the given project he might be working on, I value my own health and would rather throw one on to enter the work space than breathe in a ton of junk.
Refrain from using your oven.
Using an oven can speed up your work, but it’s always safe to keep toxic fumes away from your living area and your family (and where you cook your FOOD!). We recommend getting a used oven to use solely for EVA foam, and keep that in an area that you can ventilate.
Other safety methods.
My good friend Smoldering Flame adds not to forget this with other cosplay materials. Thoroughly research if a given project requires a respirator, safety goggles, even gloves! If two prop makers have different opinions on the safety factor- err on the side of caution, and use safety precautions.
We also use a lot of sintra (more heat-forming concerns there), spray paint, resin, resin-fiberglass, etc.. We try to make sure we’re well equipped for each case, in terms of safety. If we’re out of disposable gloves for a project, for example, the run to the store overrides our impatience to finish the project.
Include a safety budget
If you need advice on where to get affordable, but reliable, safety equipment, or have a question on what you might need to stay safe for a project, shoot me a message on Facebook, I’m happy to help!
Additionally, if you have a strong voice in your corner of the cosplay community, please stress the importance of safety to friends, cosplayers you meet, and at panels at conventions.
These basic tips can save you a lot of unneeded pain and suffering in the future. Stay safe, and cosplay on!
If you want to discuss EVA foam safety, I have a thread on FB here.