Don’t Skimp on Safety, Wear a Welding Breathing Mask: A Beginner’s Guide

welder setting up plasma cutter

Welding Buddy Experts

August 25, 2021
prague czech republic

The world is full of hazards, and some are more dangerous than others. Unfortunately, welding is one of the most hazardous professions, with welders at risk of burn injuries or lung damage from welding fumes. In fact, structural iron and steel workers such as welders place 8th in the list of 10 of the most dangerous professions for 2020.

Fortunately for welders across the globe, there are breathing masks designed just for you that can help protect your lungs while you work—but how do you know which mask to choose? That's where this article comes in! We'll cover the different types of welding masks in the market, how to maintain them, and most importantly, how to choose the right welding breathing mask for you!

What Is a Welding Breathing Mask

Dealing with metals and fire is a dangerous profession. Welders must wear the appropriate gear to avoid direct exposure to fire and melted metals. For example, welders can wear the following:

  • Welding cap
  • Safety goggles
  • Leather welding jacket
  • Gauntlet gloves
  • Welding shield or helmet
  • Leather apron
  • Finally, it's important to invest in a particulate filter like a mask respirator.

Welding has dangerous byproducts such as toxic fumes, gas, and micro debris that you can inhale. To avoid breathing air filled with these dangerous substances, welders must wear respirator-type masks.

How These Masks Serve as Respiratory Protection

Wearing a hard helmet can only protect your face from the byproduct of welding. Without masks, your lungs are at risk of major health issues. You need to watch out for two types of welding air particles: welding fumes and welding gases.

Protection from welding fumes

When heating metal above the boiling point, its vapor condenses to particulates that are toxic when inhaled. Welding fumes are inevitable since it is the residue or byproduct of a welded metal.

Dangerous welding fumes are a complex mixture made of metallic oxides, fluorides, silicates, and other varied compositions of oxides. When a welder has long-term exposure to these toxic fumes or airborne particles, their lungs and overall health could be in danger. List of health risks include:

  • Respiratory irritant
  • Metal fume fever
  • Chest pain and breathing difficulty
  • Kidney damage
  • Eye irritations
  • Throat irritations
  • Nausea
  • Siderosis- a rare disease caused by the bleeding of the subarachnoid, the area between the skull and the brain. Long-term exposure to free-iron particulates is dangerous if you have this underlying neural issue.
  • Chronic effects on the nervous system
  • Lead poisoning
  • Bone joint problems
  • Dry throat

Protection from welding gases

Welding gases are formed from welding processes such as shielding gases or gases created by the disintegration of fluxes or the interaction of UV radiation or high temperatures with gases or vapors in the air. Gas such as carbon monoxide can be absorbed into the bloodstream and may have varied effects than fumes. Welding gas can cause the following health effect:

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Muscular weakness
  • Unconsciousness
  • Lung damage
  • Kidney damage
  • Livery damage
  • Chronic nose irritation
  • Chronic throat irritation
  • Chronic bronchial irritation
  • Abnormal lung fluid
  • Emphysema
  • Mental confusion
  • Asphyxiation
  • Dry eyes

If you have similar symptoms that you have assessed are caused by welding hazards, call your physician or look for the nearest hospital and set an appointment immediately.

Types of Mask for Welding

There is no single mask meant to protect you from harmful gases. However, respiratory protective shields made for welding should be the only ones you should consider for major lung protection. Below are some of the breathable welding masks we recommend you to check out:

Elastomeric half facepiece respirators

This mask type covers the lower half of your face, allowing you to pair it with a welding helmet. It is reusable; however, you need to replace the cartridges or filters after a couple of uses. The cartridges vary depending on what you need. Each purpose is dictated by a standardized color system in the USA.

Loose-fitting powered-air face shield

These provide a loose fit and no breathing resistance. However, this face shield is heavier than half masks. You may also need to allocate time to know how to use it properly.

Disposable half-face filtering mask

The disposable respirator offers no maintenance. It's affordable and thin enough to wear under any helmet. It's lightweight; however, you might feel increased heat retention, or it can get stuffy in the long run.

Powered air-purifying helmet

A powered air-purifying respirator or PAPR system uses a battery that powers a blower. The blower pulls air through attached filters, canisters, or cartridges that provide appropriate protection against particles and vapors. It's similar to a loose-fitting face shield except with a hard hat included.

5 Frequently Asked Questions about Wearing a Fumes Respirator Mask

How do I test the breathing mask before buying it?

Before finalizing your purchase with the protective mask you desire, some fit tests may be required. The fit test especially applies to disposable facepieces and elastomeric half facepieces. Check out size charts that are available on the product website to ensure a good fit. PAPR or powered air-purifying respirators don't require a size test.

How long should I wear the welding face mask?

            Depending on the type of welding mask you use, you can either use it for a short time or replace some parts from time to time. It would be best if you replaced the filters on your half-face dust mask.  Additionally, toss away your disposable one after the recommended number of usage.

How to maintain my new welding fumes respirator?

            You should put your protective gear in a clean and moist-free container. You can use a ziplock bag or any air-tight bag that's clean. And the bag that holds the respirator places a desiccant packet. The packet helps absorb additional moisture that may accumulate. Check from time to time for signs of possible mold growth.

What are the side effects of wearing the welding respirator mask?

            There are no known dangerous medical side effects of welding respiratory masks. However, you may feel occasional discomfort with prolonged use. For example, for tight facemasks, you can feel shallow breathing. For heavy air purifiers, you may feel the weight cause neck pain. For selected masks, you may need to trim or say goodbye to your facial hair. But overall, it's advised to take a break when you experience extended bodily pain from using the shield all day long.

When do I throw the mask away?

            Disposable masks may have suggested the number of uses on their packets. If not, you can look up the model of that specific item to know when to throw it away. Additionally, if your PPE's don't serve their purpose anymore, even after failed attempts to fix them, it's best to get a new one to avoid health risks. For example, in the case of a mask for welding, if you can't breathe and feel like you need to make much effort to inhale, you may replace it right away.

Know More about Welding and Welding Equipment

Your welding safety mask is one of the most important pieces of equipment you'll use as a welder. It's what separates your face from harmful fumes and gases that can lead to respiratory problems and even cancer. Finding the right respirator mask can lessen your health concerns at work.

There are several new welding breathing masks on the market, and it helps to do a little research or read the reviews on the listing. In addition, you should consider researching additional safety practices and protective equipment related to welding.

Hopefully, this guide to choosing the right mask will help you in your search to find the best disposable respirator. For more informative content about welding and welding equipment, check out our other articles!

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