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How Does A Welding Helmet Actually Work? Is It Even Needed When Welding?

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Injuries to the eyes account for one-quarter of all welding injuries.  That’s not entirely surprising since welding poses a triple threat: debris, light, and chemical fumes.  But a combination of safety glasses and the right helmet can eliminate a great deal of the risk to your eyes.

Dangerous debris

Although you hear a lot about the danger posed by light, about half of welder eye injuries are caused by flying debris during grinding.  Many find welding helmets to be a hassle, so as soon as the welding is paused, up goes the helmet, leaving the eyes with no physical barrier against airborne fragments of slag.

The fix for debris

The best way to protect against this kind of accident is to wear safety goggles or glasses in addition to the welding helmet.  Even with the helmet up, your eyes are safe from airborne scraps and slivers.

Blinding light

Another quarter of eye injuries are caused by the ultraviolet light generated by the arc, giving rise to the label “arc eye.”  Also known as a flash burn or welder’s flash, this is just like a sunburn you’d get on your skin except it’s on your cornea, the clear protective coating on the outside of your eyeball.  Looking at the arc does the same damage as looking directly at the sun and causes the same injury.  Much more painful than a regular sunburn, arc eye does usually heal itself in a few days and only rarely causes long-term vision problems.  Flash burn only takes a few seconds to happen so even a quick weld poses a danger to the eyes.

The fix for light

The best way to protect against arc eye is to wear the proper welding helmet.  Choose a shading level based on what kind of welding you’re doing – different types of welding require more or less shading protection.  Shading levels are ranked 9 through 14, with 14 being the darkest.  Remember, though, that a shade that merely looks darker to you does not necessarily offer greater protection – you need to check its rating.  Some helmets offer the ability to change the rating manually, to correspond to your current project, and others, known as auto-darkening, will automatically adjust the shading for you.

Harsh fumes

Chemical fumes and visible smoke are also generated by welding.  These pose a danger to your respiratory system, but metal fume and gas by-products can also cause stinging and burning of the eyes.

The fix for fumes

The best way to protect against chemical irritation of the eyes is to work in a properly ventilated area, whether that’s outside or under a ventilation hood.  Safety goggles can also offer a physical barrier that reduces the amount of contaminated air that comes into contact with your eyes.


Accidents and injuries are less likely in a setting in which safety comes first.  Your eyes are a sensitive and crucial body part.  Welders intent on preserving their eyesight will be sure to wear both safety glasses or goggles and a properly shaded helmet for every single welding job.

About the Author Adam Harris

Hi there! My name is Adam and I write for HealthyHandyman. I have a great passion for writing about everything related to tools, home improvement, and DIY. In my spare time, I'm either fishing, playing the guitar, or spending quality time with my beloved wife. You'll also often find me in my workshop working on some new project!