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I am soldering using lead-free solder for about 1 hour a day with a solder fume extractor that has a carbon filter that looks like the image below. The place of soldering is in a building with commercial-grade ventilation, but without the ability to open windows.

This source claims solder fumes to consist of 95% particulates and 5% gases, while this other source claims 99.5% particulates and 0.5% gases.

Considering the effectiveness of the carbon filter, the possible composition of the fumes, and location, would this setup be considered safe?

enter image description here

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    \$\begingroup\$ You should be aware that solder fumes, even those from leaded solder, don't contain any lead. The fumes are entirely from the flux. That said, they're still not great stuff to breathe--it's just not lead as many people seem to think. \$\endgroup\$ – Hearth Feb 2 at 3:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ If you are at a company then I would recommend it. Workers comp is way more than some silly air filter. When I'm soldering at home I use the tried and true breath out while its smokey. On the plus side blowing on the joints cools it slightly faster as well! \$\endgroup\$ – Parker Feb 2 at 3:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ Well, me poor hobbyist's life does not matter that much, so all these years I do high lead soldering without any filter: What type of solder is safest for home (hobbyist) use? - @Russell McMahon, EE SE, Asked 9 years, 5 months ago Active 1 year ago Viewed 69k times electronics.stackexchange.com/questions/19077/…. BTW, I always appreciate Keynes saying: "In the Long Run We Are All Dead: ftadviser.com/european/2019/09/25/…. Cheers. \$\endgroup\$ – tlfong01 Feb 2 at 4:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Hearth The flux in lead free solder (SAC types at least) is far more aggressive than that in leaded solder which makes the use of an extraction fan even more desirable. \$\endgroup\$ – Peter Smith Feb 2 at 12:23
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That "filter" doesn't really do anything. The fan however disperses the fumes, which are then ideally vented out by the HVAC system without reaching harmful levels. How safe that is depends on how much air exchange you have and the volume of fumes you're generating.

Edit: I'm surprised this is controversial, but those "charcoal filters" are worthless at removing particulates, which are the primary component in solder fumes. Take a look at the particle size that will fit through them:

enter image description here

Those millimeter-wide gaps are literally thousands of times too large to remove the sub-micron particulates generated by soldering. Activated carbon is more helpful at removing gases, but again, the surface area is negligible and most gases will pass through without ever encountering any surface at all because the filter is simply too thin. If you have one of these, you are depending on the HVAC system to exchange fumes for fresh air. There is a whole EEVBlog episode going over this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ffaiKZMU0Lw

This isn't just my opinion either. Here is a quote from a study evaluating activated carbon foam filters for solder fume extraction:

Activated carbon filters in the form of foams, used with the simpler type of cleaner, had negligible filtration efficiency against either particulates or vapours and would, therefore, offer no protection against any hazardous component of the fume.

Measurement of the Performance of Air Cleaners Against the Particulate Element of Rosin-based Solder Flux Fume

If you can't get access to that ventilation and are going to be generating any serious fumes, then you need a HEPA filter. Otherwise you're just blowing the same particulates in a circle and then breathing them in.

Those generic HEPA filters Dave Jones talks about in the EEVblog videos are relatively inexpensive and they're generally effective (will remove smoke and the order of burning flux from a room), can actually remove particulates, and the filters are interchangeable if you want to buy a name-brand or certified replacement filter rather then trust the generic parts. If you can't work in a well ventilated space, they (at a minimum if not something better) are worthwhile.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Have you ever used one of these? The filters may not be perfect but they're extremely effective. It's definitely not just dispersing the fumes. \$\endgroup\$ – pericynthion Feb 2 at 3:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ @pericynthion Yes, I use one regularly. And no, they provide negligible filtration. Check the EEVblog video I linked, or just look at one. They have very little surface area and almost no ability to trap particulates, unlike a HEPA filter. \$\endgroup\$ – user1850479 Feb 2 at 3:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ @pericynthion See edits. \$\endgroup\$ – user1850479 Feb 2 at 4:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ @user1850479 Does the visible smoke contain most of these particulates? From what I observe, white smoke comes in from the intake side, and no visible smoke goes out the outtake side. Would that mean the filter had actually captured most of the particulates? \$\endgroup\$ – plu Feb 2 at 5:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SilentAxe The risk from particulate matter is not uniform, so that reasoning is not correct. The paper shows 100% penetration of particles smaller than 1.5 microns, while filtration above 10 microns (which would pose much less risk) is better. That paper is saying that no filtration at all occurs of the most harmful particles, while some small amount of filtration happens on the least dangerous. A good analogy would be that you get a 20% raise, but only on the days you don't work. \$\endgroup\$ – user1850479 Feb 2 at 14:57
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In this case, "Safe" is speculative. If you want an absolute level of safety, you want a fume hood or extractor(Could be built into a window with PC fans I would note similar to a drop in air conditioning unit). Carbon filter units like that are the next best option for when a proper extractor is not an option. You would have to specifically analyse the unit in question(how often carbon sheets are changed, quality, total thickness, air flow rate per area) to know exactly what made it through the filter.

As far as different distributions of particulate and gas, there are different alloys of solder and types of flux and soldering temperatures that could account for the distribution, so both of your sources are probably right. If an extractor isn't an option for you and you don't fully trust your engineered unit, it's a very simple device that would be very easy to overbuild. Add a hepa filter, increase carbon filter quality/thickness, make it easy to change and use high static pressure fans to compensate for the additional restriction. How much there was to gain from this would depend on the original engineering, but it's an easy and cheap project.

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I use one of those, and the ONLY benefit is that it keeps the fumes and resin plume from rising up into my nose & mouth whilst soldering.

I realize the OP doesn't have this option, but for other readers: I run a 4-inch PVC flexible dust/woodworking tube from the vent to the closest window.

enter image description here

(Image from Amazon, "Ultra-Flex-Clear-Vue-PVC-Hose")

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    \$\begingroup\$ You could go full chem lab and make a semi enclosed fume cabinet with an induced draft to the outside to do your soldering in. \$\endgroup\$ – ratchet freak Feb 2 at 11:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ Can we ever escape dave@eevblog? \$\endgroup\$ – Kartman Feb 2 at 12:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Kartman Whats wrong with Dave? Should we be cautious with his videos? \$\endgroup\$ – maple_shaft Feb 2 at 15:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ratchetfreak yup, that's what the potting folks use in production \$\endgroup\$ – P2000 Feb 2 at 16:53

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