Side Effects of Welding Galvanized Steel

Welding Galvanized SteelGalvanized Steel

The process of welding galvanized steel is commonly found in the metal fabricating industry.  Many welders usually weld galvanized steel at some point in their career; and in doing so they may experience galvanize poisoning or metal fume fever.  Galvanize poisoning is a condition that results from the over exposure to zinc oxide.  Zinc oxide forms when the steel’s galvanized coating evaporates from the high heat used in welding.

Galvanized steel is iron with a coating of zinc.  When the galvanized steel is hot-dipped the zinc has a chemical reaction with the base metal and forms a corrosion resistant coating.  This results in the outer layer of the metal have a coating of pure zinc while subsequent layers change in composition until you reach the iron base metal.  In the outer layer and iron base metal, zinc oxide can be found in different percentages of zinc to iron.  The zinc oxide that is found on galvanized steel shares the same chemical attributes as the white powder that is used by lifeguards to protect their noses from becoming sunburned.

Proper Preparation

Whenever you are working with galvanized steel it is important that you take the necessary steps when prepping the metal before welding.  If you have properly prepped your metal before welding, you will help reduce your exposure to zinc oxide fumes.  While prepping the base metal will remove the majority of the zinc from the surface of the metal, the possibility of some galvanizing while welding may occur.  A common sign of galvanizing is the appearance of yellowish-green smoke. Other signs are a white powdery particles in the air, and a white residue around the weld.  If exposure to large quantities of the yellowish-green zinc oxide fumes occur, you may experience galvanize poisoning, or metal fume fever as it is sometimes called.  The severity of your symptoms depends on the amount of time of exposure to the harmful fumes.

Galvanize Poisoning

Symptoms of galvanize poisoning can be similar to flu symptoms.  The onset of symptoms typically begin shortly after exposure to zinc oxide and may include a mild headache and nausea.  If you have a more severe case of exposure, your symptoms will be consistent to those you experience when you have the flu.  A moderate case of exposure will result in symptoms including chills, shaking, a slight fever, vomiting and cold sweats.  If you begin to experience any of these symptoms you should immediately stop working and get some fresh air.  In severe cases the symptoms may be so bad that you will have to go home until they subside.  The most severe cases of galvanize poisoning can result in death. If you feel that your symptoms are worse than ever before, you should seek medical attention at once.

Galvanize poisoning is often short and your symptoms should begin to lessen within four hours of exposure.  You should be completely symptom free within twenty four hours.  If you experience a stronger exposure, you may still be experiencing symptoms up to forty-eight hours later.  We recommend upon exposure that you drink milk in order to quicken your recovery.  The calcium in milk helps remove the zinc build-up from your body.

How To Avoid

To avoid overexposure to galvanize fumes, you should have proper ventilation and avoid direct contact with zinc oxide fumes.  Welders who have many years of experience also recommend drinking milk before, during and after welding galvanized steel to lessen your risk of galvanize poisoning.  You may also want to purchase a welding hood fit for welding galvanized steel.

Picture Source: www.thefabricator.com

Resources for Welding Galvanized Steel

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42 thoughts on “Side Effects of Welding Galvanized Steel”

  1. Kim Cutright says:

    I want to purchase my son a welding helmet that is best for welding galvanized steel. The fumes make him sick and he is new to the trade. It is going to be a present so I don’t want to ask him which is best. Any suggestions?? thank you so much for your help. kimmy

    1. Gary sims says:

      A speedglass helmet with the air filter on a belt that pushes fresh air to inside the helmet. They are expensive but we’ll worth it. The helmet is one of the best on the market

      1. Andy says:

        Thanks
        I will get one too
        It is a terrible thing to get I have welded gal for years, then last week I brought it all on again
        Andy

        1. Corne says:

          Hi guys where in SA can I buy the speedglass helmet that you are talking about

    2. Jesse says:

      Don’t weld it. It’s terrible. I welded it for a year and now have severe throat and intestinal damage.

    3. Industrial Trade Engineers says:

      This shouldn’t really be a shocking lesson. Anyone should know NOT to breathe any fumes AT ALL. I’ve been welding for 34 years and ive held my breath most of that time. Whatever you do, don’t breath the fumes, Galvanized steel, stainless steel, mild steel or any of it. That’s fair warning. When you’re in you’re 20’s you think nothing will bother you but when you get a little older 30’s, 40’s, 50’s you’ll feel like shit. I was fortunate to listen to my dad and never breath the crap. If you think it wont bother you, you’re not being a tough man hero, you’re being a dumbass that has no business welding, much less on an industrial jobsite.

      1. Bill says:

        LOL, holding your breath doesn’t work when it takes an hour at each location. Get a fan and direct the fumes away from you. If your in an enclosed area a respirator, smoke eater or supplied air system is necessary.

        1. Pro fitter says:

          I dont think so. I have been welding for 30 plus years and holding your breath and slowing your breathing down does work. If you get a good technique going as you finish your weld you time it step out of the zone take small breath and avoid the largest portion of the smoke it does work. Having a fan pointing twards your area but not at the weld zone works to.
          I have welded titanium. Aluminum. Stainless. Manil ca minil. Inconel. Steel. Cast iron. AR plate. Alloys of everykind. The worst is the inert gases because they are heavier then oxygen and wont come out of your lungs unless you stand on your head and breath for 30 seconds every night after work!
          I am 50 yrs old and still can out run outwork most 20 year old men. Which these days aint saying much really !!

    4. Matt Simlick says:

      Check out clean space! There’s no belt or hoses to get caught on and it fits under most welding hoods

    5. Welderman says:

      The best way is to run a 7010 rod fast along the weld line and burn the galvanized area off. You’ll get clean metal to weld on and you won’t have any fumes or jumping pieces of molten metal running down your body if you do overhead welding. But alway set a fan to blow any fumes of any metal you weld.

      1. Nunya says:

        Hey, i just stumbled on this page n the comments seem to help kinda. But im a year into the trade n i just recently started welding galvanized I-beam supports. Any suggestions on how fast i should run the 6010, lets say, per inch? And what i should turn the heat up to? I tried using 6010 n holding it for a second or 2 in the spots where the coating is n tried whipping it

    6. Welderman says:

      I meant 6010 rod

  2. Baker's says:

    Typically, a welding helmet will not protect someone from dangerous fumes, unless the helmet has a respirator that comes with it. The best way for your son to be protected from welding fumes is to use a respirator (personal mask/filter) and to weld in an environment where there is a constant flow of fresh air.
    Here are some options for respirators: https://www.bakersgas.com/respirators.html. I hope that helps!

    1. R Hesse says:

      3M do a great air fed reactive welding helmet not cheap but worth it.

  3. Jay says:

    Whenever you are working with galvanized steel it is important that you take the necessary steps when prepping the metal before welding.

    1. Weld god says:

      Your a ding

  4. Wayne says:

    Thanks I was going to mig some galvanized but your wonderful info changed. My mind thanks

  5. Jason Griffin says:

    Welded a little over an hour today on some gal for some good ole sand mine fab work. 6 hours later I’ve taken a Goody’s powder for the headache, glass of milk for the stomachache/nausea. Still feeling pretty poorly even after eating supper. I will prep my future projects a lot better next go round. Another lesson learned at the academy of hard knocks.

  6. Douglas says:

    The speedglass helmet works , makes its own fresh air positive pressure in hood to keep smoke out , never be sick again , but get your pocket book ready. What is your health worth , just the cost of doing business in your career.

    1. Welderman says:

      And is tax deductible

      1. Matthew odum says:

        *was

  7. Sam Matkin says:

    Good advice thank you. I’m rethinking my small project to better protect myself.

  8. Chris says:

    I weld with galvanized sheet primarily. I choose galvanized because I hate rust. I don’t attempt to remove the zinc coating before welding and I generate a lot of fumes but have never had flu like symptoms. On a side note I drink a lot of milk so maybe that has something to do with my ‘immunity’.

    1. Jose says:

      Your immunity is a mirage. You are inhaling zinc oxide, as well as chlorine gas every time you do it. Wear a respirator, or expect a painful shitty early death!

  9. Jason says:

    Last Thursday I was fabricating brackets from scrap galvanized. About 6 hours. 96 degrees outside. “I’m sure this didn’t help”. I prepped the metal but still had a lot of fumes. I was welding outside and thought I’d be in the clear. Got the headache bonus and vomiting. Couldn’t keep anything down. Friday went to the clinic and got two bags of iv fluid installed, then to mc d’s and smashed a few burgers. This is serious stuff gentlemen.
    Wish I’d known about the milk. Lessons learned the hard way are the most memorable.

  10. Cultus says:

    Best off using a flap sanding disk on a grinder and grind it about an inch away from your welds , doesn’t take too much time and prepares the welds better anyway, plus galvanized near your welds seriously weakens the weld and should allways be removed even if you dont care much about safety!

  11. Walker says:

    I weld galvanized sheet metal 6-4 Mon-Fri. I wear a half-face respirator and even though sometimes feel a little queasy, I have not ever had a fever or vomiting due to fumes. $30 at Home Depot.

  12. Russell Hanson says:

    After welding gal. Yesterday for 8 hrs I was sick all the next day . Coughing ..diareah …and fluish I got some milk quickly it helped . I recommend the 3m fresh air speedglass.and make sure the bottom is sealed up . It’s no fun !

  13. Ricardo leyva says:

    Grind or sand it back, wear the 3m low profile respirator, (fits under the helmet) and have a extractor or fan going. This is serious business.

  14. Jean says:

    Does OSHA require wearing a respirator that has been fit tested, while welding galvanized? I was under the impression you only had to wear the respirator if welding in a confined space. Someone here lately has said differently and I want to be compliant.

  15. lorenzo says:

    in a confined space osha requires an extraction of fumes too or air being supplied from outside.

  16. Jack says:

    Use a certified respirator with organic and inorganic particulate ratings, and use a fume extractor, or set up a shop vac overhead your work with a hose for the vacuum’s exhaust running outside. Definitely wear a respirator, zinc oxide fumes will kill you! Don’t take chances. My uncle died in his 30’s from welding on galvanized steel without a respirator.

  17. Hank A Ezell says:

    I’ve been the only one welding galvanized steel for 12 years,because I was good at it.I’ve been let go of my job,because after awhile I slowed down.I’m not allowed to prep anything.And all the galvanized welding area was jammed into a corner.I would crack a window,which my dumbass high on supervisor would close it,and tell me not to open it again. He was nowhere nor anyone else close not even remotely.I never had any ventilation whatsoever, I’m not sure what to do now,because I am a 3rd generation welder.They would just look at me as I was choking,coughing,and balls of sputom would come flying out of everywhere. It got worse in the winter.

  18. Bethann Lafferty says:

    Very much thank you guys for the info.
    I was going for a weld test this coming Wednesday workin galvanized sheet metal.
    Definitely a pass for me.

  19. J Bradley says:

    Sorry about the spelling mistakes on my memo. Hope you guys can clean it up before yo post it?

  20. J Bradley says:

    Thank you,

    I have been working on a home project requiring both plasma cutting and fillet seem wed. This is using 3/16 inch Hot Dipped diamond deck plate in a “sub-basement.” Weld length seems were 16 to 24 inches. Over-all cut and welds exceeded six (6) feet. Both 6011 and 6013 rod were used at 125 amp setting.

    I recalled a warning a friend noted about zinc toxicity. With six 24inch box fans running full on high for both fresh air and exhaust, the process effect was exactly as noted in your posting. The white zinc burn-off was expected; though not expected to be as abundant as it actually was.

    After donning an aggressive particle mask. The surface zinc was removed by grinding. Then it was prepped by a “V” notch grind. Even with the above noted precautions the proximal ( one to two inches of seem on both sides) burn-off of the zinc, on the back side of the seem was profuse. Much of the white residue clung on the back-side to the parent metal and dusted off during wire brush clean-up. On completing the wed-up a visible greenish brown residue on the particle mask was obvious. Even with these precautionary steps the physical effects, though short lived (over night), were noticeable. Your article is good precautionary reading for all those engaging in such welding.

    Regards, J Bradley

  21. Damo says:

    Do not weld galv, Don’t be fooled with the air flow masks , it’s cheaper for companies to buy galv steel etc in bulk to save money ,

  22. James Beem says:

    I build steel stairs from time to time at work.The treads are galvanized.The most I’ve ever felt from welding it was a nasty metalic taste in my mouth.Never felt like I had flu like symtoms.Never vomited from it although felt nauseous a bit.

  23. Josh says:

    Honestly you are most likely not going to be able to control the environment you are welding galvanized in.. I weld galvanized 55 hours a week with little to no protection, and the other four welders I share a shop with would agree that opening the bay doors is fine, but it doesn’t help when you’re welding with your face within 2 feet of the fumes.. you’re gonna breathe that crap no matter what. And the using a fan is actually a bad idea if you’re mig welding since the air from the fan will disrupt the gas flow, resulting in crappy welds. The best thing you can do is use a respirator. However if you’re like me, you won’t be able to stand wearing a respirator all day, and while a dust mask is better than nothing it still fogs your safety glasses within seconds (if your company requires you to where them while welding.) what I do is just drink a glass of milk before work, and eat some cheese or drink milk on lunch. But no matter what you do, if you’re doing a long bead (9”+) just make sure to control your breathing and try to wear a dust mask. I’ve never gotten gal poisoning however I feel like if someone was to get it, they’d be doing what I do everyday. I’m more worried about long term affects.

  24. Josh says:

    Also the people saying “do not weld galvanized” are a bunch of idiots… real welders understand. You can not just tell your boss no.. my job consists of only welding galvanized and stainless steel.. so don’t listen to some idiot that welds maybe 4 hours a week and refers to himself as a “welder” trade and industrial work is always dangerous. And very few welders/fabricators get to choose what they’re working with.

  25. Sean Morgan says:

    I’m 16 and spend most my time my high school’s welding shop and have gotten pretty good over 3 years but about 4 days ago I was welding some galvanized fence posts for a soccer goal all i was using was a dust mask like an idiot and I’ve been having symptoms this whole time nothing seems to help, should I go to a physician?

  26. Kitione Kaivelata says:

    I’m sick ? now. It’s pretty bad, I bloody missed out on drinking milk. Usually do an I guess it helps

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