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Leaded or Unleaded Solder?

Discussion in 'Electronic Basics' started by phaeton, Feb 18, 2005.

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  1. phaeton

    phaeton Guest

    In the opinion or study of this ng, how much of a concern is lead-based
    solder to the health of the hobbyist in normal use and care?

    Is lead-free solder more difficult to work with, or otherwise inferior
    in the end-result?

    Are lead-free solders expensive and/or hard to acquire? Just as toxic
    (but in different ways?)

    Has anyone set up any sort of a "fume hood" or other "fume removal
    system" at their soldering station? (I plan on doing this with some
    computer case fans, some dryer hose and maybe some PVC, but am i just

    Thanks for the discussion.:)
  2. (my opinions follow)
    There is no dangerous fume given off by tin lead solder when heated
    enough to produce circuit boards. The risk is from ingestion. Wash
    your hands after work, before eating. Don't eat while you work. The
    trend toward lead free solder is about ground water contamination in
    land fills, not about worker safety.
  3. Chris

    Chris Guest

    If I could add a few more opinions:

    Lead free solder is definitely more expensive than standard solder, and
    typically harder to obtain. I've found its wetting ability to be
    somewhat inferior to Sn-Pb, so it generally requires a somewhat more
    aggressive flux. From a hobbyist perspective, more attention must be
    paid to prepping the surface to be soldered. Properly wetted, formed
    and cooled solder joints with either solder will be perfectly OK.

    If you have kids or pets, be sure to solder in an area where they don't
    go, or if that's not possible, make sure to keep all loose flecks of
    solder contained where you can clean them up. Kids are always putting
    everything in their mouth, which is exactly where you don't want solder
    to go. Lead has insidious long-term effects on kids, and the
    substitute metals are even more toxic.

    Some people are hyper-sensitive to flux fumes, and I've heard of people
    who've developed allergies after continued exposure to concentrated
    fumes. From a hobbyist perspective, mounting a medium-sized (4") line
    voltage fan behind your work space and having it blow away from you
    should be sufficient to keep from inhaling concentrated flux fumes.
    But you also don't want too much air cooling of solder joints. Too much
    breeze will result in uneven cooling. It's kind of a balance between
    too little airflow and too much. Putting a ventilation fan right on a
    cooling solder joint is almost as bad as blowing on solder joints to
    cool them (an ugly newbie mistake).

    Unless you have respiratory problems, are working at this full time in
    an enclosed space, or are using a particularly nasty flux, it shouldn't
    be necessary for most fluxes to vent the fan exhaust to the outside.
    Try just using the fan by itself and see what happens. But first go
    online to read the MSDS on the flux you use. Material Safety Data
    Sheets can be a PITA to keep track of, but they are pretty
    straightforward about hazards and problems, and are made to be read by
    intelligent people. You can download them from the manufacturers'

    (On a personal note, when I solder at home, I usually use Kester "44"
    63-37 eutectic tin-lead with a 4" 120VAC fan about 8" or so behind by
    workspace, and no venting to the outside. Works fine for me.)

    Good luck
  4. Rich Grise

    Rich Grise Guest

    It's over-hyped by a factor of about a million. The risk is negligible.
    You might get lead poisoning if for the first seven years of your life
    you subsist primarily on lead paint chips, or if you lived in ancient
    Rome, where all the water came through lead pipes, but as far as soldering,
    you face more of a risk from inhaling flux fumes. (which is still almost

  5. Gary Helfert

    Gary Helfert Guest

    I've found 60/40 tin/lead solder is the easiest to work with. Most of the
    fumes are from the flux/rosin used. The issue of lead might be a concern if
    you are soldering drinking water lines in your house. I think this is over
    hyped though.
  6. Bob Masta

    Bob Masta Guest

    I used to know a toxicologist who had done studies on this.
    He claimed that the smoke was indeed hazardous and that
    one should at least use a vent fan. I've forgotten what the
    hazard was, but I don't think it was lead.

    Anyway, I've been using lead-based solder for decades
    and there's hardly anything wrong-wrong-wrong-wrong-
    with me!

    Best regards,

    Bob Masta

    D A Q A R T A
    Data AcQuisition And Real-Time Analysis
  7. One theory of the demise of the romans was that they were quite fond of
    lead (the word plumber comes from the latin plumbum, which means lead).
    Here is a brief history.

    Here is a fun quote:

    "By the twentieth century, the U.S. had emerged as the world's leading
    producer and consumer of refined lead. According to the National Academy
    of Science's report on Lead in the Human Environment, the United States
    was by 1980 consuming about 1.3 million tons of lead per year. This
    quantity, which represents roughly 40 percent of the world's supply,
    translates into a usage rate of 5,221 grams of lead per American per
    annum: a rate of dependence on lead and lead-containing products nearly
    ten times greater than that of the ancient Romans! According to Jerome
    O. Nriagu, the world's leading authority on lead poisoning in antiquity,
    the comparable Roman rate of lead usage was approximately 550 grams per
    person per year."

    Robert Monsen

    "Your Highness, I have no need of this hypothesis."
    - Pierre Laplace (1749-1827), to Napoleon,
    on why his works on celestial mechanics make no mention of God.
  8. Steve Dunbar

    Steve Dunbar Guest

    Solder used for electronics doesn't normally get hot enough to vaporize any
    significant amount of lead; it's the flux fumes that can be a problem. Wash
    your hands after handling solder to avoid ingesting any lead that may have
    rubbed off on your hands. Using a "no-clean" solder will produce less
    fumes, and should work OK for general use. The no-clean flux is less active
    than normal flux and won't work as well on oxidized surfaces, however.

    At my old job we had kitchen range hoods set up over the solder pots and
    vented outside the building. The only problem was that the landlord was not
    happy about the holes in the wall after the company shut down the plant and
    moved out.
  9. Bob Eldred

    Bob Eldred Guest

    The push to use unleaded solder has little to do with its toxicity to the
    user. Used correctly and not eaten, it poses little risk to a person doing
    the soldering. The risks associated with lead are in the disposal of
    soldered boards in the millions of TV sets, computers, etc. that find their
    way into land fills with the lead finding it's way into local water tables.
    The use of unleaded solder is to keep lead out of the environment not to
    protect you. Use any kind of solder you like for small quantity, hobby work
    there is no risk to you and your impact on the environment is nill.

    As far as Rome is concerned, the Romans did use lead pipes however the water
    flowed continuously through these pipes into the many fountains, baths and
    other waterworks of the city. They basically diverted streams through their
    pipes and did not impound water or valve it on and off as we do. Each Roman
    used upwards of several hundred thousand gallons of water per day with water
    constantly flushing through the system. As a result, there was virtually no
    accumulation of lead in Roman water. Lead accumulation can occur when the
    volume of water is low and it sits in contact with solder or other sources
    without flushing.
  10. Rich Grise

    Rich Grise Guest

    But then, if it wasn't lead-poisoning-induced dementia, what caused the
    fall of the Roman Empire?

  11. Bob Masta

    Bob Masta Guest

    I vaguely recall a conjecture that lead in wine was part
    of the problem. I think this might have started out with
    lead being used as a seal or something, but it turned out
    that some lead compound added a certain sweetness
    that was preferred.

    Best regards,

    Bob Masta

    D A Q A R T A
    Data AcQuisition And Real-Time Analysis
  12. Treeline

    Treeline Guest

    But 63/37 is easier if you want to better avoid cold solder joints, yes?

    That's great.
    Not so great but interesting URL. Thanks.

    So we are eating about 5,221/453 grams of lead per year, 12 pounds?

    I have a computer which can operate million and billions and trillions but I cannot do this
    calculation simply, grrrrr, I need to find my CALC program....... or better my $1 calculator with
    big buttons.

    That's not that funny and may explain the dumbing down of America, lower SAT scores, too much lead,
    leads to short attention spans and so on down the tube.

    They cannot mean ingestion. I looked through the article. Nah, we'd all be dumber than we are

    They mean use, like in electricity. In any case, one can get a blood test.
    Good. It wasn't lead that led to the downfall of the Romans but this leading hypothesis.
  13. phaeton

    phaeton Guest

    Thankyou everyone for your responses!

    I had a feeling that the risks were low, i supposed i just needed some
    reassurance. :-D I'll be sure to wash my hands afterwards, etc.
    Fortunately i don't smoke anymore, and i used to fire up the Marlboro
    absentmindedly a lot.

    I still may build a small "fume removal system" just because my bedroom
    is so very small, and i think that solder fumes stink :eek:P I will build
    a small manifold that sits on the windowsill (and the window closes
    down on it and seals) so i don't have to worry about permanent holes or
    landlord grief.

    Looking at the order processing rate at Futurlec, by time my order
    shows up it may be summertime anyways, where I can move out to the
    garage, heh....

    Thanks again..
  14. Bob in PHX

    Bob in PHX Guest

  15. Fred Abse

    Fred Abse Guest

    Lead acetate ("sugar of lead").
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