Welding is an integral part of various industries, significantly contributing to the creation of buildings, vehicles, and a myriad of other essential structures and commodities. Despite its critical role, the profession carries specific challenges, most notably the health threats linked to welding fumes.

The intricate blend of possibly harmful metal fumes and gas by-products yielded during welding can instigate severe health complications, ranging from pulmonary diseases to neurological disorders. Grasping the nature of these welding fumes and the appropriate strategies for managing them is critical for anyone in the welding field.

Nevertheless, there are frequent misunderstandings and false beliefs about welding fumes, their dangers, and their control. These fallacies can trivialize the magnitude of the risks, leading to unsafe workplace policies.

In this article, we aim to debunk these myths and reveal the actual characteristics of welding fumes. With accurate information, we can protect those in the welding industry from potential hazards, promoting safer workplaces and healthier workers.

Understanding Welding Fumes

Welding fumes are generated when a metal or welding wire is heated past its boiling point. The metal vaporizes, and small particles are released into the atmosphere (most are submicronic). After these particles cool, they become airborne particulates, forming what we refer to as welding fumes.

These fumes may contain a mix of metallic oxides, silicates, and fluorides. The composition of welding fumes largely depends on the metal being welded, the welding process, and the type of filler materials used. For instance, welding stainless steel may yield fumes with hexavalent chromium (identified as a human carcinogen) and nickel, while welding on galvanized steel may result in zinc oxide fumes.

No matter the welding process or the material employed, efficient management of welding fumes is of utmost importance to safeguard the well-being and safety of welding professionals.

Myths and Misconceptions

Myth 1: Welding fumes are benign.

This misconception is among the most dangerous in the welding sector. As we have highlighted, welding fumes are anything but benign. Some of their components have been identified as posing serious health threats.

Brief or acute exposure to welding fumes can trigger immediate health effects, typically “metal fume fever.” Symptoms comprise a flu-like sickness with fever, chills, nausea, headache, fatigue, muscle soreness, and joint aches. These symptoms generally start several hours post-exposure and persist for a day or two.

Extended or chronic exposure to particular welding fumes can lead to more severe health issues. Regular inhalation of iron oxide fumes, for example, can cause siderosis, a pulmonary disease that can trigger chronic cough and difficulty breathing. Long-term exposure to stainless steel fumes containing hexavalent chromium can increase the risk of lung cancer. Welding fumes with manganese have been associated with neurological consequences akin to Parkinson’s disease.

According to OSHA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, and the CNESST (Canada), inhaling welding fumes could lead to the following health effects:

  • Irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat
  • Dizziness and nausea
  • Breathing difficulties that could result in suffocation or asphyxiation
  • Metal fume fever
  • Lung damage
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Kidney damage
  • Nervous system damage
  • Manganism
  • Chest pain
  • Asthma
  • Bleedings
  • Dermatitis or eczema
  • Kidney disease
  • Bone and joint disorders
  • Siderosis (iron oxide in lung tissue after inhalation)
  • Stannosis (tin oxide in lung tissue after inhalation)
  • Anthracosis (poisoning after inhalation of carbon dust)
  • Berylliosis (poisoning after inhalation of beryllium dust)
  • Accumulation of fluid in the lungs
  • Various types of cancer

Considering these potential health impacts, dispelling this myth and acknowledging welding fumes as a significant occupational hazard is crucial. Only by comprehending the risks linked with welding fumes can we establish the necessary precautions to ensure the safety and health of all welding professionals.

Myth 2: There’s no need for fume extraction when welding in open spaces.

This misconception is widely held within the welding community. It might seem logical to assume that the dangers of fume accumulation in open or outdoor spaces are naturally lessened, thereby eliminating the requirement for fume extraction. However, this is not entirely true.

Yes, open-air settings can help with the diffusion of welding fumes, but this doesn’t guarantee that these harmful particles are entirely eliminated or that welders or other nearby workers won’t breathe them in. Wind patterns, speed, and changes can vary quickly, potentially directing fumes straight at the welder. Furthermore, specific welding processes produce dense fumes that may not disperse rapidly, even in open environments.

Hence, it’s essential to have appropriate fume extraction systems even when welding outdoors. Portable fume extraction devices or on-torch extraction systems, such as fume extraction MIG guns, are particularly suited to such settings. These systems operate at the source, extracting and filtering fumes before they can scatter into the ambient air.

Additionally, wearing suitable Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), including respiratory protective gear, can be required and further lessen the risk of inhaling dangerous particles. The strategy called the hierarchy of control, prioritizes source control (i.e., fume extraction) and involves personal protection for a comprehensive approach to handling welding fumes.

In conclusion, regardless of where welding tasks are performed, proper fume extraction and management should always be practiced to ensure all workers’ health and safety. Moreover, it’s good to reduce the environmental impact of welding activities.

Myth 3: All welding fumes are alike.

The notion that all welding fumes are the same can be a significant misunderstanding in recognizing the hazards of different welding processes. Welding fumes’ composition can significantly differ based on various factors, including the type of metal being welded, the welding process employed, and any filler materials or shielding gases’ makeup.

For example, stainless steel welding can yield fumes that contain hexavalent chromium, a confirmed carcinogen. Conversely, welding on galvanized steel typically results in fumes rich in zinc oxide. Welding on aluminum, or using aluminum filler materials, can generate fumes comprising aluminum particles and ozone. Even within the same kind of metal, the exact alloy composition can alter the fume content.

Different welding methods, from Shielded Metal Arc Welding (SMAW) to Gas Metal Arc Welding (GMAW), Flux-Cored Arc Welding (FCAW), and Tungsten Inert Gas (TIG) welding, can all produce varying amounts and types of fumes. Some processes inherently generate more fumes than others, and using different filler materials and shielding gases can further modify the fume composition.

  • Fewer fumes: TIG, resistance welding, submerged arc, laser cutting
  • More fumes: MIG, MAG, plasma cutting
  • Most fumes: Stick welding, flux cored, arc gouging

Each welding fume type can pose unique health threats. For instance, manganese, often found in steel welding fumes, can lead to Manganism, a neurological condition akin to Parkinson’s disease, while the aforementioned hexavalent chromium is associated with lung cancer.

Therefore, comprehending the risks of different fume compositions is crucial in devising suitable safety measures. Employers and workers must assess each welding task case by case and implement necessary controls and protections based on specific hazards. Air sampling is usually needed to understand the fume’s makeup and associated risks. Bear in mind safety in welding isn’t a one-size-fits-all strategy. It’s a customized approach based on understanding each task’s unique risks.



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Myth 4: Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is sufficient to guard against welding fumes.

While Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) has a role in shielding welders from the potential health hazards of welding fumes, solely relying on PPE as a safety measure is a frequent and dangerous misconception.

The hierarchy of hazard control, widely recognized in occupational health and safety, suggests a series of steps for hazard mitigation. These steps are essential: elimination, substitution, engineering controls, administrative controls, and lastly, PPE. PPE serves as the last line of defense when other measures fail to control the hazards adequately.

Check out our 8-step process to tackle welding fume issues to learn more about a practical implementation strategy.

Engineering controls, including fume extraction systems, are more effective as they aim to remove or reduce the hazard at the source before it can reach the worker. This involves local exhaust ventilation, which captures and removes fumes at the point of production, and general ventilation systems that maintain good air quality across the workspace.

Administrative controls, such as adequate training, safe work protocols, and task rotation among workers, can also effectively minimize exposure to welding fumes.

PPE, including respirators, should be used in tandem with these other controls if necessary. While respirators can help protect against fume inhalation, they should never be the sole measure taken. In fact, they should be the last option considered! It’s also crucial to remember that not all respirators are suitable for all types of fumes, and they must be correctly fitted and worn to be effective.

Myth 5: Standard shop vacs can effectively function as welding fume extractors.

One widespread misunderstanding is that a typical shop vac can serve as an efficient extractor for welding fumes. While it’s true that a shop vac can collect various types of dust and debris, it is not designed or optimized to handle the distinct and dangerous characteristics of welding fumes.

Let’s explore why shop vacs are inadequate substitutes for specialized welding fume extractors:

  • Particle size and filter: Welding fumes are composed of microscopic particles, often smaller than 1 micrometer in size. Conventional shop vacuums are not engineered to efficiently capture and filter these ultrafine particles, which means they can still escape into the environment.
  • Performance: The level of vacuum and airflow necessary for adequate local exhaust ventilation in welding fume extraction, whether through a fume extraction gun or a flexible arm, is far greater than what a typical shop vacuum can deliver. People often make the error of assessing a machine’s suitability based on its maximum airflow. Still, the operational airflow, which accounts for pressure drops in the extractor and filter, is the one that matters. If you want to know more about the required airflow for different fume extractors, we have a blog post on this subject.
  • Fire risk: Certain metals used in welding can produce sparks and hot particles. If these particles are sucked into a vacuum not designed for this use, it can cause a fire within the shop vac.
  • Exhaust: Some contaminants in welding fumes cannot be recirculated even after being filtered. They must be sent outside, but a shop vac is designed to return the filtered air to the workspace.
  • Health and Safety Regulations: Health and safety regulations often mandate Industrial-grade fume extraction systems. Using a shop vac as a substitute could contravene these regulations, resulting in potential legal ramifications.

To safeguard workers’ health, investing in a specialized fume extraction system designed specifically for welding processes is crucial. These systems are built to manage the volume, particle size, and nature of welding fumes, thereby effectively removing hazardous particles from the working environment.

Myth 6: Consuming milk can shield against the damaging effects of welding fumes.

Despite sounding like a piece of folk wisdom, this myth is astonishingly common in the welding industry. The idea is that drinking milk before or after welding can somehow mitigate the harmful effects of inhaling welding fumes, particularly preventing “metal fume fever.”

This myth’s origin is unclear, but it is likely based on the notion that the calcium in milk could interact with heavy metals and aid their removal from the body. However, there’s no scientific evidence to back up this claim.

Relying on milk as a form of protection can create a deceptive sense of safety, potentially leading to neglecting more critical protective measures such as fume extraction. It’s also crucial to recognize that the health risks associated with welding fumes go beyond just metal fume fever.

The Importance of Adequate Education and Training

After debunking these myths about welding fumes, it becomes clear that education is vital in maintaining welders’ safety and health. A well-informed workforce is better prepared to handle the risks associated with their profession and make educated decisions about their safety. Therefore, comprehensive education and training are vital in addressing the dangers of welding fumes.

All workers involved in the welding process should be educated about the potential hazards, including the health risks of welding fumes. This training should cover detailed information about the fume composition generated by various types of welding and their specific health hazards.

Additionally, welders should receive training on fume extraction systems and personal protective equipment. This includes knowing when and how to use these devices, maintaining them properly, and understanding their limitations to avoid complacency and disregarding other necessary safety measures.

Welders should also be trained to recognize signs of welding fume overexposure. Prompt recognition of symptoms like dizziness, respiratory problems, or a metallic taste in the mouth can lead to immediate action and prevent further harm.

Lastly, fostering a safety culture where all workers feel confident to express concerns, ask questions, and report potential safety issues without fear is crucial. Employers should promote open communication about safety and regularly review their safety training to ensure its continued effectiveness and relevance.

Through a strong emphasis on education and training, we can ensure that welders are prepared to perform their tasks and equipped with the knowledge and tools to protect their health and their coworkers’ health from welding fume hazards.


Welding, a crucial process in many industries, poses significant health risks due to welding fumes. These hazardous fumes can cause everything from acute respiratory irritations to chronic diseases like lung cancer and neurological disorders. Sadly, this topic is often clouded with myths and misunderstandings, which can downplay the dangers and encourage unsafe working conditions.

In this article, we aimed to dispel some of these common myths, from the unfounded belief that welding fumes are harmless to the flawed reliance on shop vacs for fume extraction and the erroneous notion that milk can protect against welding fumes. By debunking these misconceptions, we want to provide welders, employers, and all those involved in the welding industry with accurate information, encouraging safer practices and healthier workspaces.

However, addressing these myths is just the starting point. Safety in welding demands an ongoing commitment to education, training, and implementing suitable safety measures. This includes consistently using appropriate fume extraction systems and compliance with the latest safety regulations and guidelines.

Our ultimate goal is to ensure that everyone in the welding industry is not only prepared to perform their job but also armed with the knowledge and tools to safeguard their health and the health of their colleagues.

Any Questions?

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