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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

30 Models Considered
8 Hours Researched
2 Experts Interviewed
178 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best auto-darkening welding helmets

Auto-darkening welding helmets offer all the usual eye and face protection that welders need, with one major improvement: the lens you look through isn’t permanently dark, so you can check your work without taking off the helmet.

Although auto-darkening welding helmets have been around for a while, they’re still frequently misunderstood. How they work, how safe they are, and how fast they react are all common questions. And rightly so, with the safety of the welder’s eyesight at stake!

BestReviews was set up to answer those kinds of questions so buyers have the information they need to make an informed choice. We’ve been looking at all the latest models so we can help you pick the best auto-darkening welding helmet for the way you work. The result of our research comes in two forms. If you’re ready to buy, our recommendations showcase a variety of top models. For those who would like more detail, we’ve compiled the following comprehensive buying guide.

welding helmet1
Auto-darkening welding helmets are activated by exterior arc sensors. Cheap models might have one or two. Better helmets have four, offering increased protection. Should one or more sensors fail, the helmet still darkens as normal.

Key considerations

How it works

As you probably know, the lens on standard welding helmets is simply a piece of dark glass. On auto-darkening models, that glass is replaced by a liquid crystal display (LCD). When an electrical current passes across the display, the crystals darken.

That means when the helmet is turned off, the welder can see through the lens relatively easily, meaning you don’t have to remove your helmet to look at your work. This is particularly beneficial when starting the weld, because you can see what you’re doing without risking your eyes by leaving the helmet up or having to fiddle around in the dark! Sensors on the outside of the helmet detect the moment the arc is struck, and everything goes dark in a fraction of a second — so fast your eyes are protected instantly.

If your auto-darkening welding helmet has replaceable batteries, they should last a year or more. It’s worth keeping some spares on hand, though. You know they’ll run out in the middle of an urgent job!

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Features

There are lots of different models on the market, so to help you choose the best we need to look at function, convenience, and comfort.

Function

Darkness: The darkness of the welding lens is defined by a shade number. 

  • 0: This is clear glass. 
  • 2 to 4: Even when off, most LCD lenses are not clear. They usually have a resting shade of between 2 and 4. 
  • 4 to 5: These shades are for grinding. On many helmets, going from welding to grinding mode is via a single button.
  • 6 to 9: These shades are for less-intense light, like when oxy-fuel welding. 
  • 9 to 13: Although at first some auto-darkening models were a fixed shade (commonly 10), almost all can now be adjusted between 9 and 13.
  • 14: This is the darkest shade. It’s only used for carbon arc welding, so it’s quite rare. 

Speed: Lenses darken at varying speeds. Entry-level helmets might react in 1/10,000 second. Top models are as fast as 1/25,000 second. However, speed isn’t everything. In some cases, you might want to reduce sensitivity. If you’re working in close proximity to other welders, their arcs might set off your lens. You might also want to vary the speed for different types of work, such as when tack welding in short bursts. A few of the very best models offer these features.

Solar-powered: Solar-powered auto-darkening welding helmets are popular because they save on batteries, but there are a couple of misconceptions about them. First, these helmets still have batteries, but they’re usually just used for backup (or initial start), so they last much longer. Second, these helmets don’t actually need sunlight. The solar cells are powered by the UV light generated by the welding arc. In all other senses, these helmets operate exactly as non-solar models.

Convenience

Lens size: This has a big impact because it defines the area you see. The lens itself is quite expensive, so it can be quite small on cheap auto-darkening helmets. Better models have larger areas, giving you not only a better view of the work but also a degree of peripheral vision. 

Optical clarity: This also needs to be taken into consideration. Low-cost lenses may show mild distortion at angles and under different lighting conditions, whereas high-end models will be near perfect. EN379, the European standard, is often quoted. You can check actual ratings online.

Flip-front: Traditional welding helmets were mostly the flip-front type, because welders needed the protective hood out of the way to examine their work. While it’s not strictly necessary with the auto-darkening type, most welders still prefer this feature. In most cases, the whole front lifts up, but a few are designed like motorcycle helmets in which just the lens portion lifts up. Some also have a protective clear visor underneath. It’s a matter of personal preference, but some find the latter more convenient, particularly if you’re moving around a lot as you weld.

Controls: Shade and other controls are mounted either externally or internally. External controls can obviously be operated with the helmet on, but they’re then exposed to the working environment, which can lead to grit and dirt getting into them and reducing their working life. Internal controls are largely protected from this, but you need to take the helmet off to make adjustments.

Battery: All auto-darkening helmets have a battery. Though no longer common, some can’t be changed — they are charged in situ. The life expectancy of these helmets is about five to seven years, after which the only option is a complete replacement. 

Most helmets now have replaceable lithium batteries, which last a year or more. This type of helmet, if undamaged, has been known to last over a decade. Some helmets have an auto-shutoff to save battery life if you forget to turn it off. An alarm tells you if the battery is running low, so you won’t try to use the helmet without the auto-darkening function.

welding helmet2
DID YOU KNOW?
The auto-darkening lens was invented by Swedish company Hornell International in 1981 and first introduced on the Speedglas helmet. They’re now part of 3M. Though much has changed, the Speedglas brand is still sold today.
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Comfort

Adjustment: All auto-darkening welding helmets have a degree of adjustment for fit. On low-cost models this is usually a ratchet knob at the back of the head, much like you find on hard hats. Some have quite a complex harness to spread the load of the helmet.

Ventilation: More advanced models offer venting to get rid of the air you breathe out and prevent fogging inside the helmet. 

Ear protection: It’s possible to find models with built-in ear protection

Brow band: It’s nice to have a browband to soak up perspiration, too.

Weight: A lighter helmet is always going to give you less neck-ache at the end of a long day, especially if you frequently have to change the angle of welding so your head isn’t upright.  Modern plastics and fiberglass composites are much lighter than older metal helmets, which are now quite rare. However, you need to be careful. In reducing the weight, some helmets can go too far and lose structural strength. It’s difficult to assess without holding the helmet, but checking owner feedback online can be a good indicator. If there are numerous complaints about a particular model being flimsy, you probably want to look elsewhere.

Size: Don’t forget that you want as much physical protection as possible from your helmet, so your face and neck don’t get burned by spatter. A compact model might look like a good idea, but it isn’t always best from a safety point of view.

Having a solar-powered lens doesn’t mean you have to do your welding outdoors! It gathers the necessary light from the welding arc.

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Auto-darkening welding helmet prices

Inexpensive: The cheapest auto-darkening welding helmets are in the $30 to $40 range. Shade shouldn’t be a problem, but these usually have a relatively small lens, lack much comfort adjustment, and can be quite fragile. That said, many people who don’t weld regularly find them perfectly adequate.

Mid-range: Most amateur welders and quite a few pros will find what they’re looking for between $50 and $120. You have lots of choices, wide apertures, multiple sensors, and good fit. There are lots of funky graphics, too! Care is needed, though, because some of these can still be quite heavy.

Expensive: The very best auto-darkening welding helmets cost anywhere from $250 to $350. These are light but strong, with plenty of adjustment for the perfect fit. They have high sensitivity, excellent optics, and even touchscreen control. It seems like a lot of money when some people will spend just a tenth of that, but if you’re wearing one for most of the day, it is worth the investment.

welding helmet3
Lighter fiberglass and plastic helmets tend to be more comfortable, but they need to be treated with a little care. The thinner material can be prone to cracking if dropped.

FAQ

Q. Is there a safety standard for auto-darkening welding helmets?

A. In the United States, all welding helmets should conform to ANSI Z87.1+, which states that auto-darkening helmets must provide infrared (IR), and ultraviolet (UV) protection even when not darkened. However, the standard is voluntary, and auto-darkening helmets don’t need to comply to be offered for sale. Needless to say, we strongly recommend only buying a helmet that conforms to the standard.

Q. A lot seems to be made of auto-darkening speed. Is it really that important?

A. If you’re a hobby welder, it’s probably not an issue. If you’re welding day in, day out, then the cumulative effect of a slower darkening speed could have an impact in terms of personal comfort. Fatigue and headaches are recognized side effects. Many professionals choose faster helmets for that reason. Having said that, as mentioned above, there are also helmets that can be deliberately slowed down, so personal preference plays a part.

Q. Does my auto-darkening helmet need any maintenance?

A. Not much. There can be a fair amount of dust and grit in welding environments, so it’s a good idea to wipe down your helmet with a damp cloth. A dirty lens is going to affect visibility. If an ordinary cloth doesn’t clear the particles, you can try an optical lens cleaner or the wipes used for computer and TV screens. As a last resort, try a soft-bristled brush (a soft toothbrush, for example). On most helmets, the batteries will need replacing eventually.

 

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