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I do a fair bit of soldering (lead-free). Is breathing in solder/flux/paste fumes actually going to harm me?

Are cheap fume extractors worth buying?

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13  
Fume extractors are worth every penny IMO. Smoke goes in - no smoke comes out - and the best bit is that the air smells clean. Get the cheap Maplins one for £15. :) –  Mr. Hedgehog Nov 3 '10 at 9:09
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@Mr. Hedgehog - That comment should really be an answer. –  Kevin Vermeer Nov 3 '10 at 21:33
    
@reemrevnivek - The reason I left it as a comment was because it didn't directly answer the question being asked (just his sub-question). But yeah, you may be right. –  Mr. Hedgehog Nov 4 '10 at 9:05

9 Answers 9

up vote 38 down vote accepted

They aren't very good for you. Some people can become sensitized to flux fumes, especially from the older rosin flux used in cored solder, and get breathing problems:

Controlling health risks from rosin (colophony) based solder fluxes

The no-clean flux isn't as bad.

I once felt quite ill after assembling about 30 boards that I had to do myself as my distributor wanted them very quickly.

Breathing out whilst you are soldering each joint helps a lot, if you don't have fume extraction.

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Breathing the fumes is not good for you. With the additional flux required to get good SMD solder joints there are more fumes.

I just bought a Weller WSA350 smoke absorber. It was $50 new. A three pack of filters is pn WSA350F. This works OK. A unit with a stronger fan would be better. After a few hours of soldering there is a fair amount of white powder on the carbon filter. The fan looks like a standard 5" boxed fan so I may try getting a more powerful one.

When the weather is good I have cross ventilation so I put an exhaust fan in the window near my bench.

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At the very least, put a fan near your work area to blow the fumes away from your face.

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Fume extractors are worth every penny in my opinion. Smoke goes in - no smoke comes out - and the best bit is that the air smells clean.

If you're in the UK, get the cheap Maplins one for £15.

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My first reaction to your question was, yes the fumes are going to harm you. My second was to conduct some quick research.

Amazingly, as I quote next, Lead-Free Solder inhalation can lead to pneumonia and a 24-48h flu.

INHALATION: Inhalation of dusts and fumes may cause irritation of the upper respiratory tract. Inhalation of freshly formed metal oxides may cause metal fume fever, a brief (24-48 H) flu-like illness. Inhalation of tin oxide may cause pneumonia.

According to the MSDS from Weller on some of their non-lead solder.

You can guarantee this must be a frequent event or the company would not be disclosing this in such a cavalier manner.

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The original question specifically asks about fumes from lead-free solder. –  Amos Nov 3 '10 at 17:45
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Non-lead and lead-free solder is same thing? –  Boris_yo Sep 19 '11 at 18:30
    
@Boris_yo I think yes, this is same thing. This is metal alloy not containing lead (Pb). All this mess with lead or non-lead solders comes from EU, where we can't use lead because its toxic, but we can put pure lead into river or lake while fishing :D –  Kamil Jun 29 at 9:47
    
So lead is toxic but pure lead is not? What toxin does non-pure lead contain that makes it toxic? –  Boris_yo Jun 30 at 6:19

You could always try building one. I've been meaning to one of these days, but I haven't done a whole lot of soldering recently. Googling turns up a bunch of people that have done this before in different ways.

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Yes, but it all about exposure time.

If you solder 8h per day and 5 days per week your exposure is quite high and the odds of side effect if you don't ventilate it away is quite high.

On the other hand, if you solder a couple of prototype boards now and then, and you don't directly inhale the fumes the amount of chemicals is probably not that high.

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I've been soldering daily for 35-odd years and the only time I do anything about fumes is if I'm doing a production batch, when I stick a 4" fan at the side of the bench to blow air across, which is as effective as extraction, and doesn't get in the way. Unless you are allergic or find it annoying I wouldn't worry too much unless you're doing it continuously all day. I do find the flux in LF solder significantly more irritating, which is another reason I rarely use it.

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All solder fumes can cause occupational asthma and other health problems (leaded and lead-free) if used for long periods at a time.

The best solder wire contains something called Rosin that helps the solder flow when hot. This causes asthma if you are over exposed and is irreversible. Other solder wires that are Rosin free cause other health problems and are rubbish to solder with.

Invest in a good extractor, not a cheap one. Trust me, it's not worth the risk and I'm talking from experience. I have occupational asthma from solder fumes containing Rosin (colophony) after my job as an RF Development technician. I was employed in that position for 18 months only and am now registered disabled with lung damage after being challenge tested at the Royal Brompton Hospital in London.

This thread is old but I thought i'd post it in case anybody new reads it.

Download the safety data sheet from the internet for the solder wire you are using and read the hazards before using it.

I had no previous lung problems before that job, I was physically fit, 6' 5" tall, 17 stones and I was 38 years old at that time. I had no idea how damaging those fumes could be. Like cigarettes, the fumes can also be invisible to the naked eye, but are more damaging. If you are doing a lot of soldering make sure you take a lot of breaks and get some fresh air inside you as well as having a decent extractor that sucks well. Position the extractor hose directly above the area you are soldering and make sure it is working properly before going anywhere near the area being soldered. You should be okay if you do that. If you don't have an extractor then stick to about 10 minutes of soldering a day and then get plenty of fresh air inside you afterwards and you should be okay. Hope this helps.

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