How To Be Sure Your Auto-Darkening Welding Helmet Works

An effective welding helmet is as essential to the process of welding as any other piece of equipment. The extreme brightness of welding can cause an injury called “flash burn.” Using proper eye protection minimizes a welder’s risk of injury.

Auto-darkening helmets automatically adjust to the bright light of a welding arc, saving welders from having to raise and lower the mask to do other tasks. This added convenience means welders are more likely to use them as directed.

However, auto-darkening helmets don’t darken until exposed to bright light. How can you be sure yours works before you use it?

How Auto-Darkening Helmets Work

Swedish manufacturer Hornell first introduced Auto-darkening helmets under the name of Speedglas in the 1980s. Today’s helmets are equipped with light sensors to detect different levels of light. These sensors trigger filter shades that automatically darken the lens in response to a welding arc’s bright light, protecting the welder’s eyes.

A welding helmet must be too dark to see through in normal lighting conditions if it’s going to provide adequate eye protection. Welders have to raise and lower traditional welding helmets repeatedly to work when not actively welding. If they forget to lower the helmet before welding, they could suffer burns.

“Flash burn,” also sometimes called “welder’s flash” or “arc eye,” is like a sunburn on the tissue of the eye. While the condition generally isn’t severe and reverses itself, it can lead to eye infections and blindness. Consistent use of proper eye protection is essential to preventing this type of injury when welding.

Auto-darkening helmets lighten and darken in response to light, meaning welders don’t have to raise their helmets in between welds. Raising the helmet less often creates less opportunity to forget to lower it again and reduces neck strain from repeated adjustment. 

Do Auto-Darkening Helmets Go Bad?

There are several reasons why a new or old auto-darkening helmet may not work as intended. For example, the lens may be dirty, and the dirt may obstruct vision no matter how well the sensors and shades are working. The shades may react faster or slower than expected or darken too little or too much. Adjustment of the helmet’s settings can fix most of these issues by adjusting the helmet’s settings.

The sensors and filters in auto-darkening welding helmets require a little bit of electricity every time they’re used. Most auto-darkening helmets use batteries to power these functions, which can lose power over time. If the batteries are dead, won’t be any power to adjust the shades, and the welder will be unprotected.

If a welder relies on her auto-darkening helmet to protect her eyes from the bright light of a welding arc, she may be injured if her helmet stops working unexpectedly. It’s crucial to ensure that an auto-darkening helmet works effectively before every use. Doing this will minimize the risk of eye injury. 

How To Test Your Auto-Darkening Welding Helmet

If you want to be sure your eyes will be safe before you strike up an arc, here’s how to test an auto-darkening welding helmet. Depending on the resources you have available, you may use one or more of these methods to ensure your auto-darkening welding helmet works as expected.

Test # 1 – The Sun Test

A burn caused by a welding arc is very similar to sunburn because the sun and the arc are similarly bright. Because your auto-darkening helmet responds to changes in light intensity, it will also react if the sensors are exposed to direct sunlight.

Put on sunglasses, grab your helmet, and go outside. Hold your helmet, or set it down, so that the lens is pointing toward the sun. Then, look at the lens. You should be able to tell at a glance whether the auto-darkening lens is clear or dark. 

If you can’t tell by looking at the lens’s exterior, put the helmet over your sunglasses. Turn your face toward the sun, but do not look directly at the sun with your eyes. Look to a corner of the helmet, and with your peripheral vision, determine whether the lens has darkened. It should be obvious. If it’s not, your helmet isn’t working. Try one of the fixes above.

Test # 2 – The Remote Control Test

Your helmet’s sensors respond to both ultraviolet (UV) and infrared (IR) light. Many remote controls (like the one for your television) use IR frequencies to control the device. Not sure if your remote is an IR remote? Press a button and look at the front of the remote – the part you point toward the TV. If you see it light up at all, it’s an IR remote.

Now, point the IR remote toward your auto-darkening welding helmet. If the lens darkens, then it’s working as expected. If not, try another test or one of the fixes above.

Test # 3 – The Arc Test

You should only do this test if you’re reasonably confident that your helmet is working already, as it’s a literal trial by fire. You could also try this test while wearing a standard welding visor and holding the auto-darkening helmet in front of you for added safety. 

Then, strike up an arc. If you’re wearing a standard helmet and holding the auto-darkening helmet in front of your face, even the arc should look somewhat dark because the combination of helmets will double the darkening power. If it doesn’t get any darker, then your auto-darkening helmet requires troubleshooting. 


Welding helmets are essential equipment. Auto-darkening helmets can make your work more efficient by saving you from having to raise and lower your helmet while you’re working. To ensure it’s working before you put it to use, you can use one of the methods above. If it’s not working as expected, try one of the troubleshooting tips recommended here. 

Safety should be your top priority. If all else fails, it’s time to buy a new auto-darkening helmet. In the meantime, use a standard helmet to keep your eyes safe.

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