The Ultimate Guide to Welding Blankets: Safety, Selection & More
Welding is a complex and varied practice, with everything from hobby-level art welding to industrial welding, shipbuilding, and even underwater welding available to skilled tradespeople.
The welding method uses high heat and electric currents, produces spatters of molten metal, and can even cause open flames. While proper welding procedures can minimize many of these risks, there’s always the potential for danger, so adequate safety equipment is essential.
A welding blanket is one piece of safety equipment that can be essential to keep on hand. What is a welding blanket, what is it used for, and what considerations should you give to your selection? Read on to learn more.
What Is a Welding Blanket?
A welding blanket is a large sheet of material the size, shape, and flexibility of a blanket you might put on your bed at home. Unlike a traditional blanket, however, a welding blanket is thick, heavy, and made of heat-resistant, flame-resistant materials, such as fiberglass.
When welding or performing related tasks like plasma cutting, grinding or sandblasting, your work can spray gobbets of hot metal away from a weld pool or cutting surface. These drops of hot metal can be anywhere from 2,000 to 5,000 degrees, capable of lighting other materials on fire, burning the operator, and causing all kinds of damage.
The operator will typically be protected by safety equipment such as heavy-duty gloves, a face shield, and a thick jacket that resists burns.
What about the rest of the environment? What if you’re welding in an area with flammable floor surfaces, furniture nearby, a hazardous materials cabinet, or other items nearby that can’t easily be moved but need protection from fire?
A welding blanket protects the environment around the welding operation from the spatter and heat of welding. The blanket can be laid on the floor to protect it from contact with spatter, draped over items like furniture, gas tanks, or other items that need to be protected, or hung up like a curtain to segment off the welding area from the rest of a workshop.
What’s the Difference Between a Welding Blanket and a Fire Blanket?
You may have heard of a fire blanket and even consider it roughly the same.
After all, a welding blanket and a fire blanket are thick and fire-resistant; are they the same?
A welding blanket is a protective screen that stops sparks and spattered molten metal from burning or igniting other surfaces.
A fire blanket is similar and can be used for the same purpose. However, a fire blanket is often used as an emergency tool to smother and extinguish fires that ignite in a disaster. Cutting off a supply of oxygen to a fire douses itself because it cannot continue to burn; this is especially relevant in cases where fires of many different types can occur, and specific fire extinguishers might not be able to extinguish every kind of fire. Fire blankets are suitable for small-scale fires, often in the home, but can also be used as part of an emergency kit in a workshop.
So: a fire blanket can be used as a preventative or a reactive item; a welding blanket is generally only used as a preventive item.
Can you use a welding blanket as a fire blanket or vice versa? Truthfully, only in one direction. Fire blankets are meant to be single-use blankets to extinguish a fire and be discarded. Welding blankets can serve this purpose. Conversely, a fire blanket is not generally heat-resistant enough to be used as a welding blanket.
What Are Welding Blankets Made Of?
One of the most significant considerations when looking into welding blankets is the materials it is made out of; different materials have different levels of durability, fire resistance, material properties, and safety.
For example, one of the best materials for a welding blanket was highly fire-resistant, soft and supple enough to be woven into the fabric, and extremely easy to work with.
However, over time, it was discovered that the material shed extremely cancerous fibers; it is asbestos, and it has since been banned in virtually every situation. Old welding blankets
may still use asbestos and can be floating around in older shops, so be careful to examine any safety equipment you use and eliminate the ones that can cause health issues.
Other materials that can be used to make a welding blanket include:
- Leather. Leather is safe for softer materials (like wood and human skin), can be fire-resistant, and can be very protective against certain kinds of damage. However, leather is also very expensive, quite heavy, deforms under stress, and can be damaged by oils, solvents, and other chemicals.
- Carbon Felt. Felt is a fiber shredded, carbonized, and pressed into a dense material. The resulting material is resistant to temperatures up to around 1,800 degrees, is mostly safe for skin contact, and can easily be cut to size for various purposes. However, it could be more durable and must be replaced frequently.
- Fiberglass. Also known as glass wool, fiberglass has been melted and extruded into thin, flexible strands to be woven into fibers and textiles. It’s commonly used as insulation due to its heat resistance and insulative properties. However, fiberglass can irritate the skin (the glass strands can break, and tiny sharp shards embed in the skin for a pervasive itching rash), so most fiberglass is coated in something like plastic or silicone to help make it safer for the touch.
- Silica. Similar to glass, silica fabric is safer than fiberglass and has a very high level of resistance to heat shrinkage and damage. However, it’s also quite expensive, so it tends only to be used in industrial settings.
- Ceramic. Ceramics are among the most heat-resistant materials known to man while also being very lightweight and safe for humans. Making a ceramic blanket can be difficult, however, and the resulting blankets are quite expensive. As such, ceramic welding blankets are typically only seen in industrial settings where heavy-duty protection is necessary.
- Vermiculite. Vermiculite is a very useful material that expands when heated to form something with a lot of beneficial properties used in everything from gardening to industrial machinery. It’s very heat-resistant for short periods, so it is most often used for welding curtains and other vertical protection where a spark or spatter will hit, bounce off, and fall away rather than settle on the surface. Welding blankets made of vermiculite are usually made of another material that contains vermiculite woven into it.
- Other materials. Acrylics, black slag, and even aluminum fiberglass can all be used as welding blanket materials and can be found for various niche purposes.
Welding blankets may also have an external coating that helps provide further heat-resistant properties. Coatings can include silicone, neoprene, acrylics, ceramics, and graphite.
Different coatings are suitable for different purposes, some better for horizontal usage and others for vertical curtains.
Five Categories of Welding Blankets
Welding blankets can be divided into five categories based on their intended purpose.
The first category is light-duty blankets. These are meant for relatively low-temperature spatter, heat exposure, and temporary exposure for moments. They’re most useful to drape over items that need protection or hang as curtains for temporary protection around a project. However, they aren’t durable against high heat spatter and prolonged exposure, so a flying gobbet of slag can burn through them or fuse to them. They are usually meant to be used a couple of times and then replaced, as well.
The second, among the more common welding blankets, are the medium-duty blankets.
These are usually coated with a more heat-resistant material like graphite and are usually made of fiberglass.
They’ll resist temperatures up to 1,000 degrees and can resist spatter and typical heat exposure. They are, however, still mostly used in the vertical position to segment off a welding project and protect the rest of a shop or environment and are not suitable for horizontal use.
The third is the heavy-duty blankets. These are often made of vermiculite coated in other materials or woven into fiberglass or silica. They can resist temperatures up to 1,800 degrees and offer longer protection with more durability than lighter-duty blankets. They can withstand heavy spatter, lengthy exposure to heat, and droplets of molten metal, so that they can be suitable for horizontal and prolonged use.
The fourth category, which offers even more protection and long-term durability than heavy-duty blankets, is industrial blankets. These can also be larger and more resistant than other blankets and are meant to be used for an extended period without needing replacement.
The fifth and final category is special-use blankets with specific properties and purposes.
For example, some special blankets are made of very soft materials to help prevent abrading or scratching sensitive materials, and others are very insulative, so they can be used to help cool down a project slower than air exposure would.
Related but tertiary are induction heating blankets, which are used to warm up a project before welding.
What to Consider When Choosing a Welding Blanket
There is much to consider when you’re examining different welding blanket options to purchase something for your manufactory, shop, or outside project.
The four main considerations are:
- Price. Obviously, price is always a consideration. Often, the more expensive a blanket is, the more durable, long-lasting, and flexible it will be.
- Position. Most blankets are meant to be hung vertically to offer protection to everything around a project but the floor. More expensive and resistant materials are needed for horizontal usage.
- Handling. Some materials are heavy. Some are thick and stiff and difficult to move. Some are abrasive or irritating to handle. Picking the right balance between protection and usability is critical.
- Additional resistances. If you want your blanket to be resistant to chemicals, oils, water, or other materials like acids, you will have special considerations in addition to pure heat resistance.
For most welders, a fiberglass blanket will do the majority of the work necessary to protect one’s surroundings from a welding project. That, combined with proper safety, like positioning, will be plenty.
Always make sure that, even if you’re creating a protected space with curtains, you have adequate ventilation for your project. Shielding gasses and metal fumes is no joke.
How Do I Properly Care For My Welding Blanket?
Caring for your welding blanket is essential to ensuring its longevity and safety. You’ll need to perform regular maintenance on your welding blanket to do this. Here are some tips for proper care:
- Clean your welding blanket regularly. You can do this by brushing away any dirt or debris that has built up on the surface of the blanket. It’s also essential to vacuum the blanket from time to time to ensure any small particles are removed.
- Check for signs of damage. Regularly inspect your welding blanket for signs of wear and tear, such as rips, tears, or holes. If you notice any damage, you must replace the welding blanket immediately to keep your workspace safe.
- Store your welding blanket properly. When not in use, store your welding blanket in a cool, dry place away from extreme temperatures and direct sunlight. You should also ensure the blanket is not exposed to moisture or dampness.
- Regularly check for loose threads or fraying. Inspecting your welding blanket for any loose threads or fraying that can lead to further damage is essential. If you notice any signs of wear and tear, it’s best to replace the blanket.
How Do I Use a Welding Blanket Safely?
When working with any welding equipment, safety should always be the priority. Welding blankets are no different. There are certain precautions to take to ensure your safety and that of those around you when using a welding blanket.
First and foremost, be sure to wear the appropriate safety gear when working with a welding blanket, such as protective eyewear and gloves. As the sparks from your welding process can be extremely hot and potentially cause serious harm, you should also wear flame-resistant clothing and shoes. Additionally, if the area you’re welding in is extensive or you’ll be working for an extended period, consider wearing a face shield and respirator.
It is also essential to check your welding blanket for any signs of wear and tear before each use; this includes looking for holes, rips, tears, or weak spots that could compromise its effectiveness. If your welding blanket is not in good condition, replace it immediately.
When laying out your welding blanket, be sure to do so in a manner that leaves plenty of space around the welding site; this will help to protect bystanders from sparks and other hot materials. Additionally, pay attention to the type of surface the welding blanket is on; avoid wooden surfaces whenever possible, as they can easily catch fire. If you are working in an area particularly vulnerable to spark damage, consider adding extra layers of protection, such as a heavy canvas sheet or fire retardant material.
Finally, thoroughly inspect your welding blanket once you are done using it. Pay particular attention to any spots that appear burned or discolored due to contact with sparks or molten metal. If any part of your welding blanket is damaged, dispose of it immediately and replace it with a new one.
Following these simple safety measures when using a welding blanket can help ensure your welds are successful and your workspace remains safe.
Do You Need a Welding Blanket?
Maybe! A welding blanket is a protective item used to protect things like furniture, chemical storage cabinets, other equipment, vehicles, or even the floor from being burned, scorched, or spattered with molten metal.
You will need some protection, depending on what you’re doing. Sometimes, welding blankets are the appropriate kind of protection. Other times, you’re better off using an isolated shop configured to itself be resistant to welding. For example, a concrete floor may be scorched by welding, but you may not care enough to protect it. You only need to protect furniture if you have furniture within reach, and so on.
A welding blanket can be essential for shops with multiple purposes, for travel welding, and for many industrial applications. Reviewing your projects to determine if you need such protection is always a good idea.
Do you have additional questions about welding? Are you interested in renting or purchasing welding equipment? Feel free to reach out; the Red-D-Arc team is here to answer any questions you may have and help guide you toward successful welding.
Whether you need small shop tools and equipment, or full industrial turn-key solutions, we’ve got you covered.