Today we will look at the most commonly used Respirators across the three most basic categories - Disposable Respirators (Dust Masks); Half and Full Face Respirators; Powered Air Purifying Respirators (PAPR).  It can be hard to know at a glance which respirator is right for you and your team. That’s why we’re here! So you can make the purchasing decision that is best for your work.


When selecting a respirator, there are two main factors to consider: Workplace Exposure and Equipment Compatibility.  First, measure the exposure levels of hazards in your workplace. You can divide that number by the permissible exposure limit set by OSHA. This will give you the APF (Assigned Protection Factor) you should shop for.  You can find the APF for each product in the product literature. Second, consider the compatibility of a respirator with whatever equipment you already use, such as hard hats and safety glasses. For particularly strenuous work, it’s wise to seek out lightweight and streamlined respirator options, which will provide a more comfortable experience.


Disposable Respirators: Also known as “Dust Masks.” This is the most basic type of respirator, and the one most frequently used.  When shopping, you will see a naming convention for each dust mask with a letter and a number, most commonly “N95.” The letter indicates resistance to oil (N = not resistant, R = resistant, P = oilproof).  The number is the percentage of particles that the mask is rated to filter out (95%, 99%, 100%).


Despite their disposability, the higher-rated ones (particularly P100s) are effective for environments containing hazards such as lead and, of course, oil. N95s are versatile enough to be used in home renovations and rescue operations, though you should always assess the risk in your area and tailor your choice to the actual environmental needs.


These are most effective when worn correctly. Be sure the mask maintains a seal against your skin, and that the headband is secure. Some respirators offer more sophisticated headbands than the classic elastic strap, which provides more security and peace of mind. Furthermore, some products also come with an airflow valve that directs exhaled air out of the mask, minimizing heat build-up so the mask can be worn longer.


Half and Full Face Respirators: Also known as “Half Mask” or “Full Face.”  These products may look like a “gas mask,” but the differences are easy to see when compared. Half and Full Face Respirators are for environments where threats are more severe or more specific than a Dust Mask can handle. They consist of a reusable rubber or silicone facepiece that forms a seal against the skin. This piece can be reused, and needs to be wiped clean between uses. There is a wide array of Filters and Cartridges, many of which are specialized for particular protective needs. Full Face Respirators also offer the addition of a shield for eye and skin protection.  You will generally see Full Face Masks used in chemical and substance abatement operations. Cartridges can be found to filter pesticides, ammonia, asbestos, acid gas, and much more.


Half and Full Face Masks are required when the exposure levels have been tested in a workspace, and found to be beyond what a Dust Mask can handle. Remember, Cartridges and Filters do not last forever.  They must be replaced, especially when the user can no longer breathe through easily. Certain Cartridges are “stackable,” meaning they can be combined with other cartridges to filter out combinations of chemicals. Take thorough readings of the chemicals in your workplace to know what Cartridges you need


  • Black-labeled Cartridges are for organic vapors emitted from substances such as paint and thinner
  • White-labeled Cartridges are for environments with acid gas (chlorine, sulfur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, etc)
  • Yellow-labeled Cartridges are for both organic vapors and acid gas, making them the right choice for workspaces that contain both
  • Green-labeled Cartridges are for ammonia and methylamine


Federal standards require that Half and Full Face Masks be fit tested before they are put to use. The fit testing procedure is simple and can be administered easily. Fit Test Kits are readily available, as well as replacement bottles of Fit Test Solution. Spray the solution into the fit test hood while the user is wearing the mask, then make sure the user can taste the solution. Finally, if the mist of the spray does not get through the filter, it is cleared for use.


Powered Air-Purifying Respirators: Also known as “PAPR.”  These are designed for prolonged work in IDLH environments (Immediately Dangerous to Life and Health).  PAPRs are required when the atmosphere is too hazardous for a lower-tier filter. PAPRs feature a self-contained motorized blowing unit that pulls in the polluted air (positive pressure), rather than the user’s breath doing the work (negative pressure). This makes PAPRs ideal for working with particularly hazardous substances, such as silica and asbestos.


PAPRs are considered the gold standard for Respiratory Protection.  By the way, PAPRs do not require the time-consuming process of fit-testing. However, PAPRs are more bulky than Disposable, Half and Full Face Respirators. Some PAPRs offer a low-profile design to provide more room to move.  Certain PAPRs are Intrinsically Safe. And PAPRs can accommodate beards, which many respirators do not. So PAPRs are often a favorite with users who don’t want to shave.


These are the most commonly used Respirators - Disposable Respirators (Dust Masks); Half and Full Face Respirators; Powered Air Purifying Respirators (PAPR).  Knowing which Respirator is appropriate for your workplace is foundational to any Respiratory Protection program. The human body is a precious thing, and it’s tragic to damage it unnecessarily by exposure to hazardous substances or fumes. Take all of the factors into consideration when you’re shopping so you can make the best and most informed choice. If you have any questions, contact us for more information at (800) 637-6606 or visit our website at  Have a safe day!

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