by Joost Nusselder | Updated on:  August 25, 2022
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In metallurgy, a flux (derived from Latin fluxus meaning “flow”), is a chemical cleaning agent, flowing agent, or purifying agent. Fluxes may have more than one function at a time. They are used in both extractive metallurgy and metal joining. Some of the earliest known fluxes were carbonate of soda, potash, charcoal, coke, borax, lime, lead sulfide and certain minerals containing phosphorus. Iron ore was also used as a flux in the smelting of copper. These agents served various functions, the simplest being a reducing agent which prevented oxides from forming on the surface of the molten metal, while others absorbed impurities into the slag which could be scraped off the molten metal. As cleaning agents, fluxes facilitate soldering, brazing, and welding by removing oxidation from the metals to be joined. Common fluxes are: ammonium chloride or rosin for soldering tin; hydrochloric acid and zinc chloride for soldering galvanized iron (and other zinc surfaces); and borax for brazing or braze-welding ferrous metals. In the process of smelting, inorganic chlorides, fluorides (see fluorite), limestone and other materials are designated as “fluxes” when added to the contents of a smelting furnace or a cupola for the purpose of purging the metal of chemical impurities such as phosphorus, and of rendering slag more liquid at the smelting temperature. The slag is a liquid mixture of ash, flux, and other impurities. This reduction of slag viscosity with temperature, increasing the flow of slag in smelting, is the original origin of the word flux in metallurgy. Fluxes are also used in foundries for removing impurities from molten nonferrous metals such as aluminum, or for adding desirable trace elements such as titanium. In high-temperature metal joining processes (welding, brazing and soldering), the primary purpose of flux is to prevent oxidation of the base and filler materials. Tin-lead solder (e.g.) attaches very well to copper, but poorly to the various oxides of copper, which form quickly at soldering temperatures. Flux is a substance which is nearly inert at room temperature, but which becomes strongly reducing at elevated temperatures, preventing the formation of metal oxides. Additionally, flux allows solder to flow easily on the working piece rather than forming beads as it would otherwise. The role of a flux in joining processes is typically dual: dissolving of the oxides on the metal surface, which facilitates wetting by molten metal, and acting as an oxygen barrier by coating the hot surface, preventing its oxidation. In some applications molten flux also serves as a heat transfer medium, facilitating heating of the joint by the soldering tool or molten solder. Fluxes for soft soldering are typically of organic nature, though inorganic fluxes, usually based on halogenides and/or acids, are also used in non-electronics applications. Fluxes for brazing operate at significantly higher temperatures and are therefore mostly inorganic; the organic compounds tend to be of supplementary nature.

I'm Joost Nusselder, the founder of Tools Doctor, content marketer, and dad. I love trying out new equipment, and together with my team I've been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with tools & crafting tips.