General Question

Ltryptophan's avatar

Can the long term health effects of oxy-acetylene welding be minimized/eliminated?

Asked by Ltryptophan (10836points) January 20th, 2011

I understand that oxy-acetylene welding has some side effects. I want to minimize them as much as possible.

I was thinking I should wear separate clothes to weld, and keep them in a plastic bag, and keep that bag in a duffle bag. Then I could change in and out of those clothes whereever I weld.

Then I was thinking a decent inexpensive breathing filter, a hat, a mechanic suit, etc.

Anything else?

Is this unnecessary? One can never be too careful right?

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6 Answers

WasCy's avatar

What health effects are you talking about, specifically? I’ve been around all kinds of welding and cutting operations for most of my professional life, and other than breathing fumes and avoiding hot slag, burns from handling hot materials, flash of the eyes and eyestrain, not to mention the obvious problems of working with compressed oxygen and flammable gases and electricity… clothes get dirty and burned, but what’s the major concern there?

lillycoyote's avatar

Unless you’re using the torch on something that could release toxic fumes I don’t see that there would be a problem, not problems additional to normal safety issues when using such things, at least not to my knowledge. You should always take certain safety precautions whenever you are doing something like this… do you have a welding mask, one of those face cover things, at least safety glasses? I’m a big believer in safety glasses. What are you welding… that’s what matters, I think. You should be able to search and find the OSHA recommended protective equipment for the kind of welding you are doing and follow those recommendations.

thorninmud's avatar

All forms of welding will cause metals to vaporize. Some of that ends up in your lungs, some gets deposited on skin and clothing (oxy-acetylene actually does this less than arc welding because it uses lower temperatures and so it boils off less metal). How dangerous that is depends on the metal. This is why you don’t want to weld anything that’s zinc plated (galvanized) or—especially—cadmium or beryllium plated. And never weld painted metal.

One nice thing about gas welding is that you can get by with goggles instead of a full helmet, which means that you could wear a respirator if you want. Gas welding can generate an unhealthy amount of carbon monoxide (which the respirator won’t catch), but that shouldn’t be a problem if you keep your flame balanced. Good overall shop ventilation is very important, but you can’t have strong air currents wafting across your workpiece or it will screw up your shielding.

Changing your clothes at the end of a session is a good idea, to minimize skin absorption. And there are hand soaps that are formulated specially to remove metals.

Ltryptophan's avatar

@Grainger I was able to pick up a few safety items that gave me confidence: goggles(they look like sunglasses); overalls; fogless polycarbonate face mask; welders hat; welders respirator; ear plugs(racket where I learn); plastic bag to keep everything; duffel for the plastic bag.

@thorninmud do you know the name of any of those soaps?

WasCy's avatar


I’m not so sure about “vaporizing” metals; arc welding wouldn’t be so useful if it was actually vaporizing metal in the joints that the welder is trying to fill (or it would be more of a cutting operation than welding – such as plasma-arc cutting, for example, in which metal is concurrently melted and blown away by the arc). The temperatures are certainly high enough, but the shielding prevents the vaporization and atmospheric loss of metal you’re concerned with. In shielded metal arc welding, submerged arc welding and metal inert gas (mig) welding the shielding flux does generate a lot of smoke, but it’s not ‘metal’ (other than in the strict chemical sense that carbon and other elements, for example, are ‘metals’). And tungsten inert gas welding (tig) doesn’t even have a flux cover; that’s a process that heats metal to the melting point and adds compatible filler metal under the shielding gas. Again, no ‘vaporization’ of the metal.

You’re right that oxy-acetylene welding uses less heat than any of those processes, though, and has no shielding flux or gas for the welder to be concerned with.

And you’re also correct that the contaminants that can be found in metals, especially during the cutting process, and most especially when plasma-arc or acetylene torches are used, can put a lot of unwanted elements in the air. It’s especially helpful to wear a respirator for cutting operations. During normal welding operations, the welder would prep the joint area by grinding or machining to ‘clean’ base metals, unless the weld area is covered by a compatible coating (such as red oxide primer) that is designed to be welded through with no adverse health or mechanical drawbacks.

Finally, while no one wants to breathe any welding fumes that they don’t have to, breathing the fumes from ‘normal’ welding of galvanized steel is not particularly harmful.

thorninmud's avatar

@WasCy There is vaporization (study).

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