Techs by Steve "Brewdude" Garn: Gas Poisoning


Steve Garn has been a family friend since the turn of this century. Duane and I met Steve, a.k.a "Brewdude", and his son Chad, during the 8th Smoke Out East. They were always smiling and eagerly helped stranded riders out with no hesitation. We have crossed paths numerous times and value their friendship. If you read The Horse Magazine, American Iron, etc. you’re aware of Steve’s tech articles. Steve and I freelance for The Horse Magazine and understand the importance of cross-promotion. Steve was looking for other venues to share his knowledge, and I wasn’t going to bypass this great opportunity. It might seem odd that Brewdude’s first ChopCult feature is a blast from the past, but we believe it’s worth revisiting. Gas poisoning is a sneaky bastard that affects many. Here’s Brew’s firsthand account. Please take a moment to read and share. Thanks!


By Steve “Brewdude” Garn



Many of you might have read this before or heard about this, but I wanted to give you an update on this article. The original article was in American Iron, November 2009 issue and also The Horse, issue 132 (August 2013), had an updated version.


Over six years ago I was welding some aluminum that was heavily pitted. The part was very dirty with grease, and I usually cleaned parts with carb cleaner. It was a rush job and the local country store, which usually has carb cleaner, was out, so I bought some brake cleaner. My routine for cleaning was to wipe off as much as I could and then spray on some cleaner and wipe off the remainder of the dirt and grease. After doing this, I would then preheat the area with an acetylene torch to get rid of any of the remaining solvents, thereby eliminating the chance of a flashback fire. To get rid of any fumes, I had the shop doors open, and an exhaust fan is running.


1. Danger Use ONLY as Directed

This piece was heavily pitted, and my preheat routine had gotten rid of all the brake cleaner…I thought! As I was TIG welding, everything was going smoothly until I came to a heavily corroded pitted area. A couple of drops of brake cleaner were still in a deep pit, and as I came too close to it, a small puff of white smoke popped up. I almost passed out. I crawled outside and sat in the fresh air, and after a few minutes went into the office. I checked out on the computer all the warnings on the brake cleaner that I used. While doing this, my left side went to shaking for about 10 to 15 minutes. I found out later that it was a seizure.



On the can it had this warning: “Vapors may decompose harmful or fatal corrosive gases such as hydrogen chloride and possibly phosgene.” After reading about hydrogen chloride, I started researching phosgene. The active chemical in this brake cleaner is tetra-chloroethylene. When this chemical is exposed to extreme heat, along with the argon-purged (used in TIG & MIG welding) environment, it produces phosgene. Phosgene gas can be fatal with a dose as little as four parts per million: basically a small puff of smoke. Because it is a nerve agent, the symptoms can be delayed from 6 to 48 hours. According to the websites, there is no antidote for phosgene poisoning, and if you do survive, there are many chronic health issues. All in all, I was severely sick for six days, and then I got worse and had to be admitted to ICU. My symptoms were dizziness, confusion, mumbled speech and I could hardly walk. My O2 level was very low, my sugar levels out of control, I was experiencing vertigo, and I was in pain. Many tests were performed. I learned that I had some lung damage, kidney damage, sinus damage and some nerve damage.



After six years, I am doing much better, but I wanted to pass on some information. I now know that different cleaners with chlorides and those without chlorides do have very harmful fumes. Recently, I have noticed that many of the cleaners now have a better warning and label systems, but if you don’t read them, it really won’t help you or family members that may be in your work area. Take the time to look up the chemicals and please take the precautions to keep everyone safe.


Did you know that if you use chlorinated brake cleaners to clean your carb or throttle body that the process of combustion and heat can result in hydrogen chloride or possibly phosgene? It is also dangerous to spray brake cleaner onto hot brake rotors, which could result in dangerous fumes.


So, what do I use now? I mainly try to use soap and warm water which works most of the time but does take a little longer. If needed, I will use an aerosol cleaner, but I will not use any that have chlorides in them. I also read the safety labels in full, and if I have any doubt, I will research on the internet. This is serious because everyone that works on their motorcycles has many cleaners, lubes, and paints in their garages. Please be careful and please pass this info on!


I would like to welcome Steve to the ChopCult family and am looking forward to working together. Kindly check out Steve's website and give him a follow on Facebook and Instagram.



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Commented on 6-8-2015 At 06:57 pm

As an auto tech for 30 years I learned about this along time ago during gm tech school. It still amazes me when I see people using brake cleaner to clean carbs and try to get engines started. I ALWAYS walk the other way when I see this. Freon can and will produce the same effects when burned. Your Very lucky to survive. This has been known to kill entire shops of techs.

Commented on 6-8-2015 At 09:55 pm

Wow! I'm glad to have learned this, I didn't realize choke/carb & brake cleaner were that different, I usually just grab whatever.

Commented on 6-8-2015 At 10:03 pm

Wow! I'm glad to have learned this, I didn't realize choke/carb & brake cleaner were that different, I usually just grab whatever.

Commented on 6-9-2015 At 02:54 am

Glad you shared Steve. Hopefully saves one of us from a terrible experience.

Commented on 6-9-2015 At 03:16 am

Good lord, It's a wonder i'm still alive.I been using brake cleaner for 25 years for cleaning everything from carbs to pistons. i also have used it to clean almost every thing i have welded for the same amount of time. And i have made my living most of my life doing both.
Guess you never really know how lucky your life has been until you red something like this

Commented on 6-9-2015 At 11:12 am

I read this thread in the JJ and thought Steve was dead! Glad to hear you're ok Steve!

Commented on 6-10-2015 At 09:25 am

I read this article back when it was first published and its given me nightmares. Anytime im welding now and i see any white smoke im certain ive just poisoned myself.

Commented on 6-10-2015 At 10:35 am

xbrooklynx i'm in the same boat as you...since i read it 1 year ago i'm scared to death to inhale smokes that comes out when i weld...funny thing thing is i got poisoned while welding galvanised steel..i add a metal taste in my mouth for about 2 weeks

Commented on 6-10-2015 At 12:09 pm

btw, Phosgene was (and is ) a chemical warfare agent..

From wikipedia: "This colorless gas gained infamy as a chemical weapon during World War I where it was responsible for about 85% of the 100,000 deaths caused by chemical weapons."

Used in WW11 by the Japanese against the Chinese, on emperor Hirohito's

In other words, phosgene probably already killed the grandfather-or greatgrandfather-of somebody on Chopcult... and if you're not careful it'll come back for you...

Commented on 6-10-2015 At 01:26 pm

Good article glad CC is revisiting some of these. Sure as hell has me looking at the cans!

Commented on 6-11-2015 At 08:28 am

Wow, that's some scary stuff. I usually, like a lot of other people apparently, just grab whatever can of cleaner is closest, no matter what I'm cleaning. Seems like its time to separate my chemicals now.

Commented on 6-11-2015 At 06:23 pm

you can buy non-chlorinated brake cleaner which is actually the majority of what is on the market now. But I usually use acetone to clean before tig welding.

Commented on 6-12-2015 At 09:25 am

holy crap, really glad I read this. never paid much attention to what I was cleaning metal with.

Commented on 6-15-2015 At 02:43 pm

Eye opening advice. Putting this into practice and telling all my friends.

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