If circuits were living creatures, solder would be the blood cells. Without this valuable tool, many of the luxuries we take for granted (like computers, smartphones and GPS) wouldn't function. For more than a century, lead based solder has been the standard for connecting resistors and capacitors to a circuit. However, a recent rise in environmental concern has the future of lead-based solder in question. It's already illegal in Europe, and it may soon suffer the same fate in the US.
Is Lead-Based Solder Better?
There are many hobbyists and amateur electricians who swear by lead based solder, because they think it provides a better bond. However, a skilled worker can garner quality results from a 100% lead-free solder. Most solders have a 60/40 ratio of lead to other metals, typically tin and aluminum. However, there are completely lead-free options available and their benefits far outweigh any perceived disadvantages.
Benefits of Lead-Free Soldering
- Safety- The threat of lead poisoning has caused this metal's elimination from virtually every phase of modern life. Precautions can be taken to prevent workers from inhaling lead vapors, but lead-free is a safer option. The National Institute for Health (NHI) suggests avoiding lead-based soldering, so there's no debate about which type is more harmful.
- Going Green- Products made with lead-based solder can't be recycled, which creates far more waste. Lead-based solder also contaminates the ground water when it's buried in land fills.
- Global Commerce- Products with lead-based solder have already been outlawed in Europe. Anyone looking to capitalize in foreign markets should be using lead-free.
- Reliability- People may think that lead-based solder is more dependable, but reliable sources at Dartmouth College say otherwise. Lead-based solder has also been outlawed in Europe since 2011, and they have yet to experience any adverse effects.
Why is Lead-Based so Popular
It takes time to become familiar with 100% lead-free solder. It molds differently, and it may take a day or so for you grow accustom to the change. However, there is no credible data to suggest lead-free is any less reliable. Even if it did bond better, choosing lead-based solder over lead-free is like replacing the graphite in pencils with lead because it writes better. That one minor benefit is heavily outweighed by the bounty of benefits provided by the safer alternative. In general, people are typically opposed to change, but this is a simple decision to save the lives of those who build circuits and improve the health of the environment.