Cadmium Solder

The post this evening about metal fume fever


has me thinking about another issue that I’d really like some answers
to. What about cadmium in solder? I know that the majority of gold
solders contain cadmium - but what about the silver solders?

I’ve always used the hard silver wire solder from Stuller thinking
that it did not contain cadmium. If you look in their metals catalog,
on page 63, they show notation next to the “Easy Wire” that notes it
contains cadmium. Well, since I rarely use Easy, I wasn’t concerned.
I use the hard silver solder wire every single day. The other day, I
got another package of solder and happened to look at the order
sticker on the package. In small print it states “contains cadmium”.
This really surprised me and concerned me as I use heavy amounts of
this and all this time, and I was under the impression that it did
not contain cadmium - as their catalog suggests.

As I would much rather use solder that doesn’t contain cadmium for
my heavy production use, I contacted Rio Grande and ordered some of
their hard silver solder wire that is cadmium free.

I really want to know the dangers of this chemical. I do have proper
ventilation, but am still concerned now that I found out I’ve been
using this heavily and it contained cadmium.

Hi Catherine;

I stopped using solders containing cadmium a few years back. At
first, it seemed it was more difficult to make the solder flow, but
either it was my imagination or I’ve gotten used to cadmium free
solders. In any case, I find I can do anything I need with them. It
hasn’t been as easy getting away from the fluoride bearing fluxes
(reputedly carcinogenic) and I still resort to them when the going
gets rough. Whatever you’re using, you should have some kind of
ventilation for your soldering area, even if it’s only a muffin fan
sitting on your bench pulling the fumes away from your face.
Cadmium, from what I’ve heard, in large enough doses can cause severe
brittleness in bones, but in smaller doses, it’s a known carcinogen.
My philosophy is, there’s no way you’re going to live these days
without being exposed to many kinds of toxins and carcinogens, but
that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to eliminate them wherever you
can. Who knows which little bit of what is going to be the molecule
that tweaks some bit of DNA and starts a tumor. Could be we have the
beginnings of cancers all the time and our body takes care of it,
but there’s a point at which the immune system becomes overwhelmed.

David L. Huffman

Cadmium Solder AND Flouride fluxes…

Cadmium in solder and fluorides in fluxes can kill you. I am proof
of that.

In 2001, I took a job to silver solder three thousand parts made of
stainless steel. At a dollar a joint it was an easy way to make a
healthy chunk of money in three days…

At that point in time I had been metalsmithing for over 30 years,
and I DID know that cadmium and fluorides were not healthy for you.
I HAD separated out most of the old solders that we used way back
when, and changed over to solders with no cadmium or much lower

When it came time to do the job, I decided on a Friday, Saturday,
and Sunday. By the end of Friday I was running low on solder. I
rummaged around and found another spool of 5 ounces in the back of
the safe that contains my raw materials. Finished the job.

This was done under a fume hood, but the hood was an overhead model.
My face was within 10 to 12 inches of the work at all times. I was
using a paste fluoride flux - because that is/was the best flux to
get the silver solder to flow well on stainless.

Some of the errors that almost cost me my life (and may yet, someday
in the future) are as follows:

  1. I was in a hurry. 

  2. I didn't check to see exactly what I had on hand to do the
  job before I  started. 

  3. I did not personally properly label the solder and put it
  in an envelope  or plastic zip lock. Date of purchase,
  supplier, manufacturer, and alloy. 

  4. I did not have proper ventilation for that particular kind
  of a job. I  am now constructing a hood that pulls the fumes
  BACK instead of up. 

  5. I probably could have taken more precautions - including a
  face  mask, researching for a fluoride free flux, setting up
  the entire job outdoors, using  a fan, etc. 

  6. I'm sure that some of you can add in here? 

Almost exactly one year later I was diagnosed with cancer. After
undergoing three surgeries, radiation, and chemotherapy - which
also almost killed me twice - I began the slow recovery. After a
year, still not working at the bench, I started pottering around in
the shop, mostly cleaning up, organizing, repairing, sharpening,
and maintaining everything I’d accumulated over 30 years.

We had just moved a couple months before the cancer was diagnosed,
so it took months of doing this for a few hours each day, to get it
done. This was my “therapy” so to speak. It forced me to learn to
compensate for the loss of use in my right arm. This had been caused
by the removal of a nerve that controls the muscles that allow you
to lift your arm up to the side.

While cleaning out the safe for the first time in probably 20 years,
I found many things I’d forgotten I had, and other bits and pieces
on the floor of the safe. Amongst them was a scrap of paper. It was
the manufacturers label that had fallen off the 5 ounce spool of
silver solder. As you have probably guessed, it said it was
manufactured in 1969, and contained a large percentage of cadmium.
This was allowed back then.

About three months after all of the surgeries and therapies, I
attended my first Orchid dinner in Tucson in 2002. Though I have
been a member of this group since it began - I never seemed to find
the time to do much more than participate in the forum… Marta
Irwin and Glenda Dixon made that possible, by seeing to it that I
got there and back. (By the way, I met both Marta and then Glenda
because of Orchid.)

I don’t remember much of the dinner, I was still pretty wrecked by
the chemicals and drugs - but that was when I made up my mind that
I was going to survive. I weighed about 138 pounds when Hanuman
first met me. (Once upon a time I weighed around 180 - 190 - now I
have settled at 160) Little by little I have gotten back to the
bench, though I doubt that I will ever be able to work at it full
time. I can, however, still teach a few workshops every year… and
participate in this forum.

The majority of my work has always consisted of hand engraving and
stone setting. I found that I could not do that very well with the
new disability. After giving it some thought, I started
experimenting with various methods to support my arm while
engraving or stone setting. What I have come up with is a moveable
arm rest combined with a sling suspended by a cord and spring from
the ceiling. It took a while to find spring that had just the right
tension, and allowed me enough movement.

Still not an ideal arrangement, and doesn’t allow me to engrave or
set stones more than a couple of hours at time. At the end of about
two hours the sling tends to reduce too much of the blood
circulation. It is also still pretty cumbersome even after using it
for a couple years now. It does however, encourage me to think
through a job thoroughly, make sure that everything I need is
within reach, and I don’t waste any time once I put the sling on!

This experience with cadmium bearing solder and fluoride flux, plus
the combination of errors on my part has changed my life forever.
Don’t get lazy, don’t assume anything, and don’t get complacent that
what you’ve been doing all your life won’t hurt you. Take the
responsibility to KNOW what you are working with! If you have ANY
doubts at all that what you are using is as safe as you can make it

  • DON’T do it! And please, stay the hell away from cadmium and

Brian P. Marshall
Stockton Jewelry Arts School
Stockton, CA USA


Not all solders are created equal as you have found out Gold does
not necessarily have to contain cadmium. The secret is in the
binders for the paste solder.

Silver also does not need cadmium to make it “work” This is a lot
of the old formulations that have not been changed in years.
People now are starting to realize the a heavy metal such as
cadmium can cause lung problems when working with it every day.
Newer formulations in silver solder will also work as a cadmium
free product.

Why leave yourself open to additional hazards if you do not need to
have that happen and can get cadmium free products. Go for the
organic binder in paste solders. Cadmium free.

Beth Katz
Paste Solder and Powder Solder for Jewelers and Metalsmiths
(Cadmium Free)

Hi David et al,

My postdoctoral research (a long time ago) was on cadmium toxicity
at the cellular level. I could only conclude at the time that its
risks associated with using it greatly outweighed its benefits. I
also recall that males appeared to be more vulnerable than females
with respect to chronic (low level) toxicity. One reason why smokers
may wish to consider giving up cigarettes is that tobacco appears to
concentrate this element.



Your story is a great warning to all of us. I wish you all of the
best for your future. Get as healthy as you can and keep on going.


Joel Schwalb

Does anyone know what is used to replace cadmium in solder? Is it
FAR less dangerous that cadmium, or just less dangerous? I have been
using cadmium free solders for years, but take the same precautions
as I would with cadmium.


Douglas Zaruba
33 N. Market St.
Frederick, MD 21701
301 695-1107

Indium is usually used in place of cadmium to lower the melt
temperatures of karat gold solders…Stuller has a full line of both
cadmium bearing solders and cadmium-free solders…

James Gilbert
Stuller Metals

Hello Orchidians,

Thanks Brian Marshall for sharing your experience with using cadmium
solder and fluoride flux. Nothing brings a lesson home better than a
true story. I really admire your tenacity and determination!

This brings a question for the group. Does anyone know the date when
solder manufacturers made cadmium-free solder? It would be useful
in that anything made before that date should be put in
the refiner’s container immediately. Take it out of play, so to

Judy in Kansas, who is relegating those little scraps of solder left
from her college days to the refiner’s container tonight!! Yup,
I’ve still got a couple strips.

Douglas, I have been told that the element indium is used to replace
cadmium in gold solders, While Indium also has health risks it does
not volatilize nearly as easily as cadmium, therefor it is
significantly safer, although ventilation is still important.



My understanding is that Indium is less harmful than Cadmium, but is
not entirely safe and it is important to have the same ventilation
available that one would have if one were using cadmium solders. I
know a lot of metalsmiths who think that the cadmium-free solders are
totally safe, and I have never seen any warnings associated with
cadmium-free solders.


Douglas Zaruba
33 N. Market St.
Frederick, MD 21701
301 695-1107

My understanding is that Indium is less harmful than Cadmium, but
is not entirely safe and it is important to have the same
ventilation available that one would have if one were using cadmium
solders. I know a lot of metalsmiths who think that the
cadmium-free solders are totally safe, and I have never seen any
warnings associated with cadmium-free solders. 

Proper ventilation should be employed for all solder applications,
regardless of cadmium/indium content. Cadmium has received much
publicity and attention, due to case studies demonstrating that it
can promote cancer over a period of time. While indium has not
received the same level of attention (yet), proper ventilation and
apparatus is recommended when using cad-free solders as well.

In the solder section on page 103 of the previous Swest
Findings/Metals Catalog, I inserted a warning stating to “use proper
ventilation with all solders instead of fooling yourself by using
cadmium-free solders”.

I will add similar warnings in the 2006 Stuller Metals Book.


James Gilbert
Stuller Metals

Hi Doug,

While Indium is a common replacement and is far safer (just look at
the MSDS TLV’s) it is not “safe”. Neither is the copper, zinc, or
silver at least in theory or in California. My informal research
found that jewelers do not even approach the temperatures required
for indium to boil off or form the InO6 form that is so very toxic.
3000+ F to get the most dangerous form of indium combined with

Of course no metal vapor is good to inhale. Not gold, not platinum.

Another common cadmium substitute is tin. PMWest uses a patented
indium/gallium blend to make plumb solders in platinum gold and

So, cadmium substitutes include tin, indium, gallium and in the old
days silver.

“Cadmium level” ventilation may be excessive for cad free solders.
Of course the cleaner your air the better.

One of our past employees was tested for all these metals. He did not
show hazardous exposure to any of the above despite twenty years
working for us, and he was making solders in big quantity with a
torch and ordinary ventilation for a factory. This is a far higher
level of exposure than using solder.

I hope this gives some confidence to all those cad free solder users
out there.

Daniel Ballard