Respirators are a type of personal protective equipment (PPE) worn on the face. They remove contaminants from the air using cartridges, filters or canisters. Whether you’re taking on a major paint job, dealing with potentially dangerous chemicals like lead or doing daily tasks like sanding and woodworking, choosing the right type of respirator mask will help you breathe easy.
There are many types of masks. Choosing the correct model is essential for safety purposes. This guide will explain the different types of respirators available, including single-use and multi-use options. Read on to learn about the best respirator mask for paint, mold and more.
There are two main categories of respirator mask: disposable and reusable. Disposable respirators are commonly referred to as particulate respirators or dust masks. They are sold in the half-face styles and are used for protection against airborne particles. Reusable respirators are available in both the half-face and full-face styles and can offer protection against airborne particulates, gases, fumes and vapors.
Most DIYers looking to buy a respirator are doing so for a specific job. This might be something simple like a one-time sanding project or painting around the house. Professional contractors may need respirators for more high-risk jobs that include handling chemicals or hazardous materials like lead paint and asbestos.
Paper dust masks are designed to reduce exposure to solid particles like dirt, silica and pollen. Dust masks are not National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)-approved disposable filtering facepieces. Dust masks are not true respirators and do not offer protection against hazardous dust, gases or vapors. If the dust mask does not have a valve in the front and is made of paper instead of non-woven polypropylene fiber, it’s not a respirator. These simple masks can be worn during activities like mowing, gardening, sweeping and dusting.
True dust respirator masks such as N95 respirators are designed to protect the wearer from airborne particles and from liquid contaminating the face. They filter at least 95% of airborne particles such as dust, mists and fumes. These masks are approved by NIOSH because they effectively block out particulates down to .3 microns and large droplets won’t pass through the barrier. N95 respirators do not protect against oil-based particles.
A paint fume respirator mask is designed to help block fumes and exposure to common chemicals found in household paints. They’re also suitable for light sanding, drywall installation, rust removal and fiberglass installation.
Paint and odor masks can help with basic jobs, but for heavy-duty sanding and working with fiberglass dust, a fiberglass respirator mask is preferable. They’ll also help protect against smaller particulates found in materials like pressboard that can cause irritation to the throat and lungs when inhaled.
A mold respirator mask should have a P100 classification by NIOSH. These respirators are best when used when working on heating vents or ducts, popcorn ceilings, automotive brake linings or pipe insulation.
An asbestos respirator mask should also have a P100 classification by NIOSH. P100 respirator filters, also called HEPA filters, block at least 99.97% of airborne particles and are strongly resistant to oil. Typically, asbestos removal is performed by professionals. If you are doing construction on an older home, wearing a respirator rated to block asbestos fibers is a good idea.
These include smoke respirator masks and help protect against harmful gasses and vapors found in chemical-filled and industrial environments. Gas and vapor respirators require specially-fitted cartridges and typically do not filter out airborne particles.
Combination respirators are effective for a wide range of tasks. They are a great mask for spray paint, solvents, gasses and vapors. Many models also protect against fiberglass and sanding-related particles. The drawback is that combination-style respirators can be heavy and require specific respirator cartridge types for proper function.
Respirators are rated by NIOSH, which is a division of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The ratings for gas mask filters are as follows:
R Ratings are oil-resistant.
R95: Filters at least 95% of airborne particles
N Ratings are not oil-resistant.
N95: Filters at least 95% of airborne particles
N99: Filters at least 99% of airborne particles
N100: Filters at least 99.7% of airborne particles
P Ratings are oil proof.
P95: Filters at least 95% of airborne particles
P99: Filters at least 99% of airborne particles
P100: Filters at least 99.7% of airborne particles