Protection after a flood, during a fire, volcano or industrial work
Respirators are a basic form of protection against harmful particulates. Their purpose is to stop the human body from inhaling harmful agents into the body. But when would you use it, and when do you need a full-face or half-face respirator? Let’s take a look.
Difference Between Respirators and Gas Masks
Respirators are generally referred to as gas masks as they perform the necessary functions of a gas mask. They filter out harmful particles, vapors, and gases that would otherwise be consumed in the airways and cause harm to the body. However, full-face respirators or gas masks provide the added level of protection of having coverage over the rest of the face, so that harmful chemicals that might attack the eyes, or be absorbed through the eyes, can be stopped.
The difference between respirators and NBC/CBRN gas masks is that respirators are not classed and approved to filter particles that might result from a nuclear, biological weapon or chemical weapon (NBC) scenario. If you are purchasing a respirator or gas mask for the purpose of your work in industrial fields or household projects, you may benefit from using a respirator with a quality filter as they are much more cheaper and are less cumbersome than NBC or CBRN gas masks.
What would you use a respirator for?
There are a number of circumstances where you might want to use a respirator as facial and airway protection. In these circumstances, there is no need to have a CBRN/NBC gas mask (although one would still filter out these particles) but instead, you can use a respirator which is far cheaper, and just as effective for these circumstances.
It is important to note that the major difference between when to use an NBC or CBRN gas mask or to use a respirator is the ‘threat to life’ test. If the hazard is ‘Immediately dangerous to life or health (IDLH) 2’ then an effective gas mask should be worn. If the hazard is ‘Not immediately dangerous to life or health’ then it can be assumed a respirator with positive pressure and a chemical cartridge will suffice.
Having a respirator for fires and volcanic ash – The first instance you might have seen respirators used is in disasters such as volcanoes or wildfires. In both of those instances, the air becomes full of ash and can be harmful to those that breathe it in without wearing protection. Studies show that certified masks (N95 or higher) were highly efficient at filtering ash from a volcano, and the same applies to areas where there is thick smoke from bushfires and wildfires.
Toxic fungi spores after a flood – It is also recommended to use a respirator during the cleanup of a flood (N95 mask or higher). Flood conditions often leads to the growth of fungi and spores which can cause severe illness when inhaled. This can be from rotting wood, waste, rotting debris, or basic mildew and rust. Respiratory protection is a must when working in flood recovery.
Projects or industrial work – Respirators should also be used when you are working in situations that involve activities such as chemical clean-up, chemical handling, chemical splash, chipping, chiseling, cleaning, furnace operations, grinding, laboratories, machining, masonry, painting, pouring/casting, sanding, sawing, and welding. These activities and their related industries may expose workers to harmful particles that are consumed through the unfiltered air. This is where a respirator would be appropriate personal protective equipment.
Now that we know why and where you would use a respirator, let’s take a look at the six best respirators available.
Six Best Respirator Mask Reviews
|3M Full Facepiece Reusable Respirator 6900
|3M Cartridges 6000 Series
|3M 6000 Half Facepiece
|3M Rugged Comfort Quick Latch Half Facepiece
|3M(TM) Respirator AssemblyHalf Facepiece 6291
|P100 Particulate Filters
|3M Half Facepiece Reusable Respirator 7500
|GVS SPR457 Elipse P100 Half Mask Respirator
|GVS SPR321 Elipse P100
1. 3M Full Facepiece Reusable Respirator 6900
3M have been developing protective-wear for more than a century, and they are the manufacturer responsible for the majority of top-selling full-face and half-face respirators for trade, lab, and chemical workers that may be surrounded by hazardous particles. This 3M Full Facepiece Reusable Respirator 6900 is their top-selling respirator which offers full-face protection in environments where eye and facial protection are paramount. This NIOSH-approved respirator helps provide protection against certain airborne contaminants while still allowing for a wide field of view and wearer comfort. The large lens provides a panoramic field of view, allowing the worker to see better, increasing both the wearer’s safety and productivity. All sizes of this lightweight facepiece weigh 2 pounds or less, which enhances comfort and promotes better worker compliance in wearing respiratory protection.
The respirator is reusable comes and can be recharged with numerous 3M particulate filters, gas/vapor cartridges and supplied air respirator systems, allowing for specialized use with multiple applications. The full-faced respirator also comes with a 3M Cool Flow™ valve which is designed to release hot, humid exhaled breath quickly, helping to prevent the unpleasant build-up of heat inside the facepiece. With the Cool Flow valve, this respirator can be worn for long periods of wear, especially where conditions are hot, humid, or physically demanding.
The use of this mask is suitable in activities such as chemical clean-up, chemical handling, chemical splash, chipping, chiseling, cleaning, furnace operations, grinding, laboratories, machining, masonry, painting, pouring/casting, sanding, sawing, and welding. Industries in which this facepiece are commonly used include agriculture, construction, general manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, and primary metals.
Important features and specifications
- Lightweight design at 2 pounds
- Silicone face-seal for comfort and durability
- Wide field of vision for safety and practicality
- Can be used with both negative and positive pressure systems
- Durable face shield provides a high-impact level for face and eye protection
- 3M Cool Flow Valve provides cool, dry comfort to make breathing easier
- Center adapter directs exhaled breath downward to reduce fogging
- Provides respiratory protection from a variety of gases, vapors and particulate hazards at concentrations up to 10 times the Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL)
2. 3M 6300 Series Half Facepiece Reusable Respirator
The 3M 6000/6300 half facepiece reusable respirator offers reliable and convenient respiratory protection in various situations, helping provide protection against particulates according to NIOSH approvals. It provides reliable, convenient respiratory protection when combined with particulate filters or cartridges (such as organic vapor/acid gas cartridges) or dual airline system. As a half-face respirator, it provides respiratory protection from a variety of gases, vapors and particulate hazards at concentrations up to 10 times the permissible exposure limit (PEL).
This respirator is comfortable to wear and provides a good fit, so long as you manage to get your sizing right. For a 5’2″ female, a small size should be worn to ensure that there is not break in the mask’s seal while talking or smiling. If you are 5’6″ the medium size is a better fit. It should be noted that the nose bridge on this version does bump glasses up, so if you are wearing them remember that it won’t always be a perfect fit with prescription glasses or safety glasses. The straps on the back of this mask allow it to be adjusted to the right size of your face and head, and once you have the right fit, it can be very comfortable to wear the mask for long periods. This respirator also uses release valves to make sure that the mask does not get too humid, causing excess sweat and smell.
3. 3M Rugged Comfort Quick Latch Half Facepiece Reusable Respirator
3M’s Rugged Comfort Quick Latch Half Facepiece Respirator provides respiratory protection in harsh, dirty environments against airborne contaminants when used with approved 3M cartridges and filters. The facepiece combines comfort, durability, and stability with a firm, lightly textured silicone face seal and strong body construction. The quick latch design offers an easy, one-hand touch drop-down mechanism for putting the facepiece on and taking it off while moving in and out of contaminated areas. The quick latch also eliminates the need to remove a hardhat or face shield when lowering or raising the respirator.
When properly fitted with a good face seal and used with approved 3M cartridges and filters, this respirator helps provide respiratory protection at concentrations up to 10 times the Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL). While being the lightest silicone 3M facepiece, it is still rugged enough to withstand long hours, extreme conditions and high-heat working environments. Two innovative design features have been built into the 3M Rugged Facepiece: a special valve cover that helps to direct exhaled breath and moisture downward and 3M’s proprietary Cool Flow Valve that helps to make breathing easier by reducing heat and moisture, and an adjustable head harness assembly featuring long-lasting polyester/spandex straps that stretch and conform to the individual who wears the respirator. For sizing, a medium is suitable for an average size of 5’7″.
This facepiece is compatible with all 3M bayonet-style filters and cartridges, including 6000 Series Cartridges and 3M 2000, 2200, 7000 or 5000 Series Filters, to help provide respiratory protection against a variety of gases, vapors, and particulate hazards according to NIOSH approvals. This filter compatibility helps to make the respirator highly versatile for many workplace environments and a variety of jobs where respiratory protection is required.
4. 3M(TM) Half Facepiece Respirator Assembly 6291
The 3M Half Facepiece Reusable Respirator Assembly is NIOSH approved for environments containing certain oil and non-oil based particles and helps provide protection in a variety of applications including welding, brazing, torch cutting, metal pouring, soldering, and exposure to lead asbestos, cadmium, arsenic, and MDA at concentrations up to 10 times the Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL). It is remarkably comfortable, soft, and lightweight, and features easy-to-adjust head straps. The swept-back design of the cartridges helps improve balance and visibility and has easy-to-adjust head straps allow for a customized fit to the user, however, unlike the other 3M respirators, these respirators seem to need an extra size up, so if you are a male that is around 5’7″ you would need a large.
When used to capacity, cartridge replacement is optimal. The included cartridges can be removed and replaced with new P100 Filter/Cartridges or other NIOSH approved 3M™ 2000 or 2200 Series Filters or 6000 Series Cartridges. The respirator can also be disassembled, cleaned, and reused quite easily.
You might also be interested in reading about what is the best way to clean a military gas mask.
5. 3M Half Facepiece Reusable Respirator 7500
The 3M Half Facepiece Reusable Respirator 7500 provides protection against particulates and a wide variety of gases and vapors as well as provide respiratory protection at concentrations up to 10 times the Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) when used with approved 3M cartridges and filters. The reason why this specific respirator was made was to deal with comfort issues that many people were having, so 3M designed this respirator out of silicone keeping the hard contact points soft and flexible against the face.
3M’s 7500 respirator uses an advanced silicone material that provides a softer feel on the face which especially helps those that have difficulties wearing a respirator with comfort and need to do so for long periods. A unique adjustment design helps reduce pressure points on the face for even more comfort. This respirator also uses a cool flow valve that helps make breathing easier and can offer cooler and drier comfort for the wearer. The head harness may be adjusted to drop down when not in active use, which allows respirator to be removed without taking off a hard hat. The exhalation valve cover directs exhaled breath and moisture downward while helping protect the valve area from debris while also making for easier cleaning.
The sizing of these works similar to most of 3M’s respirators, with a medium fitting a 6′ male, while a small is suitable for a 5’4″ female.
- Advanced silicone material for comfort and durability ensuring no hard contact points
- Uses a 3M Cool Flow Valve provides cool, dry comfort to make breathing easier
- Head harness uses a dual mode which is easy to adjust and fits in either a standard or easy drop-down mode
- Exhalation valves are direct exhaled breath downwards to stop moisture in the respirator and fogging
- Quick release harness for when you want to drop down the respirator from the face
- The skirting uses a very soft silicone allowing the respirator to form an airtight, yet comfortable, face seal.
GVS is a global leading manufacturer of filters and components for applications in the Healthcare, Life Sciences, Automotive, Appliance, Safety, and Commercial & Industrial Filtration. This is their answer to comfortable and practical respirator wear.
The P100 Elipse Half Mask Respirator differs to most other respirators on the market as it is designed to fit the contours of the face, coming in two sizes (S/M and M/L). It uses large elastic-type bands to pull the respirator to the face without lacking in comfort and uses a soft design to ensure that it fits the contours of any large features the wearer’s face may have. It has a low profile design will allow users to have a wide field of view and does not interfere with other PPE such as safety glasses, sanding shields, welding hoods and prevents filters from getting bumped or snagged while doing overhead work. The mask is NIOSH 42 CFR 84 P100 approved and meets other worldwide respirator standards to ensure it protects against dust and fumes containing such substances such as micro-organisms, marble, gypsum, titanium oxide, soapstone, rock wool. wood, detergents, textile fibers, spices, salts, feed, coal, silica, asbestos, mold, bauxite, zinc, iron ore, iron, graphite, kaolin, zinc, manganese, lead, chromium and more. Elipse respirator is a reusable half mask and intuitive design allows the filters to easily be interchanged. Mask comes ready to use with two P100 filters.
How To Choose The Best Respirator
What is the purpose of the respirator?
The first thing you need to think about in order to make an informed buying decision when it comes to getting the right respirator for you is what do you actually need it for? How a respirator is used is completely up to the individual that wears it.
As mentioned in the top of this post, you should consider wearing an N95, 99, or 100, respirator if there is ash in the air from a fire or volcano, as well as during a cleanup of a flood where fungi spores may be present.
You might also be working in situations that involve activities such as chemical clean-up, chemical handling, chemical splash, chipping, chiseling, cleaning, furnace operations, grinding, laboratories, machining, masonry, painting, pouring/casting, sanding, sawing, and welding. Or you might work in an industry such as agriculture, construction, general manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, and primary metals. These activities and industries may expose workers to harmful particles that are consumed through the unfiltered air. This is where a respirator would be appropriate personal protective equipment.
In order to find the right filter cartridge for your respirator, you need to identify the chemical you are working with and purchase the appropriate cartridge as seen in the color code below. Remember that most of the cartridges have a pink top which means they are a P100 particulate filter cartridge (HEPA).
Do you need a respirator for pesticides?
You will know if you need to use a filter for pesticide use by looking at the warning label of the pesticide that you are using. Modern labels will list a respirator with a specific NIOSH approval number. More often than not the label will specify what type of filter you need (particulate, organic).
Do you need a full-face mask or can you use a half-face mask?
Does the warning label on the substance you will use identify that contact with the substance may cause skin or eye irritation? If so, you should choose to use a full-face respirator to protect the face and the eyes from irritation or chemical burns. If it does not, you may consider using a half-face respirator.
Do you need a respirator that filters dusts, mists or fumes?
If you are unsure as to whether you will be working with dusts, mists or fumes that might be harmful to your body, check the label of the chemical you are working with. If you do require one of these, the cartridge filter would require a thin pre-filter, which you can purchase with your chemical cartridge filter.
Some replaceable filters also have a dust, mist, and fume internal filter as well as the chemical component.
What particulate respirator do you need?
The following situations will require the following rated filters:
- Dust situations require an N95 filter
- Highly toxic dust or metals require an N100 or P100 filter
Will you be working with harmful gases or vapors?
If you will be working with harmful gases or vapors you will require a chemical cartridge-style filter. These filters are specifically made for dealing with gases and vapors as they use specially treated activated carbon to adsorb certain gases and, or, vapors.
You might also be interested in reading about how to clean CBRN masks to keep you ready for any situation.
Respirator Frequently Asked Questions
How do I know if my respirator fits?
Once you have put your respirator on, you should conduct what is commonly referred to as a ‘fit test’.
- Block the exhalation valve with the palm of your hand.
- Gently exhale and hold for about 10 seconds.
- Check to see if the facepiece is bulging slightly.
- If the facepiece remains bulging and there are no air leaks between your face and the facepiece, your respirator fits properly.
- If you do detect leaks, readjust the straps and check again for a proper fit.
Do I need to shave to wear a respirator?
Facial hair will affect your ability to create a seal with the respirator on your face. In order to create a recommended seal, it is advisable to remove facial hair.
Over to you…
Choosing the best respirator is choosing the mask that does what it needs to during its intended use ultimately keeping you safe. One respirator or gas mask that may be good for one will not be for another. With that in mind, the above points should help in determining and narrowing down the best respirator for you.