We have recently shown that waste heat from forced-air warming blankets can increase the temperature and concentration of airborne particles over the surgical site. The mechanism for the increased concentration of particles and their site of origin remained unclear. We therefore attempted to visualise the airflow in theatre over a simulated total knee replacement using neutral-buoyancy helium bubbles. Particles were created using a Rocket PS23 smoke machine positioned below the operating table, a potential area of contamination. The same theatre set-up, warming devices and controls were used as in our previous study. This demonstrated that waste heat from the poorly insulated forced-air warming blanket increased the air temperature on the surgical side of the drape by > 5°C. This created convection currents that rose against the downward unidirectional airflow, causing turbulence over the patient. The convection currents increased the particle concentration 1000-fold (2 174 000 particles/m(3) for forced-air warming vs 1000 particles/m(3) for radiant warming and 2000 particles/m(3) for the control) by drawing potentially contaminated particles from below the operating table into the surgical site. Cite this article: Bone Joint J 2013;95-B:407-10.