Shop Tips: Respirators vs. Dust Masks

This week, Frank explains the difference between a dust mask and a respirator, and shows us the proper way to put them on. It’s a simple yet essential tip–safety never takes a vacation! Post your own shop tips in the comments below!

Shot by Joey Fameli
Edited by Adam Isaak

Comments (14)

14 thoughts on “Shop Tips: Respirators vs. Dust Masks

  1. It’s worth mentioning you can get particulate-only filters for the 3M respirator that Frank has, if you do a lot of sanding or grinding, but don’t use many solvents/paints/chemicals.

    Also, its good to test the seal of your respirator when you put it on. This is simple, just cover the two filters with your hands, and breath in. If you can get air through the sides, or the exhaust valves are leaking, you need to address that. If the seal is good, the respirator should press into your face when you breath in and the filters are covered.

  2. I will echo the above comment that fit is very important, and also mention that most half-face respirator manufacturers produce them in various sizes, so it’s important to get one that is sized correctly for you. I won’t tell anyone they *must* shave their face, but generally speaking in industrial applications you are required to be clean shaven where the mask meets your face for it to make a proper seal.

    Re: lifespan of the cartridges, if you’re using just a simple P100 (particulate) filter for the mask, the lifespan is based on the dust conditions and the duration of use and will simply become clogged over time, putting stress on your breathing. For the organics, they are dependant on the duration of use and the concentrations they are exposed to – read the packaging and always err on the more conservative side!

  3. Even though it’s overkill for basic particulate work, I only run a respirator in my shop simply because it’s more comfortable than the paper dust asks. I prefer the convenience and comfort of a single breath protection item and as with most safety equipment, the more comfortable it is, the more likely you are to use it.

    I’ve also found there are lower profile respirators that will fit under other head gear such as face shields or welding helmets.

    Frank mentioned his upcoming spray booth for air brushing and what not. Besides painting, one option would be to construct a chemistry lab-style fume hood. I made this one several years back using many of the techniques Adam demonstrates in making his Blade Runner blaster shooting case (plywood, glue, staples and duct tape):

    The structure is just 1/2″ ply, and the blower is a high CFM bathroom fan ducted out the basement window. The fan unit is the black rectangle sitting on top of the plywood chimney. The front door had a lexan window, and a tape hinge at the top. A pair of magnets at the bottom held it closed but allowed me to flip up the door as desired. I used this hood to make a lot of small fiberglass parts in the basement without fumigating our house. You can’t see it in this photo, but in front of the outlet for the fan, there was a slot sized to accept two HVAC filters, which did a great job catching overspray from paint.

    The bathroom fan pulled with so much pressure that if I put the lower section of masonite door in place, the suction alone would hold it in place no problem.

  4. I got my wife a Respirator because she likes to do rattle can art. And she wanted to continue that while pregnant. I got good use out of it when a pineapple in a bag got left on the counter waaaaay to long. It liquefied itself (it was behind some other food so we didn’t notice). Since it was buried and didn’t have any movement to disturb it we didn’t notice. When I was cleaning the counter off I moved it and went straight to the sink to dry heave like I’ve never heaved before. I couldn’t go in the kitchen without wanting to throw up. So I donned that Respirator and that thing saved me. It filtered out everything. Magic.

  5. One thing you didn’t mention is your beard. From what I’ve read, having a beard makes a respirator largely useless (can’t form a seal on your cheeks). Though I suppose you could use the testing method mentioned by Avadon. If you want to be serious about it though, you should look at respirators that offer positive air flow.

  6. The two most important things I’ve learned about respirators is that the silicone ones are infinitely more comfortable than all others, and I’ve only personally worked with one adult human being who genuinely needed anything smaller than the “large” models 3M produces in either half-face or full.

  7. I use that exact same respirator for my job. I’m an automotive painter. Our 3M Rep. that does our annual fit tests says the general life span of the charcoal filter is suggested to be around 24 hours of exposed paint time. It is suggested during storage to separate the charcoal elements from the mask itself and the dust filter to get the longest life out of them. For me I generally just swap each out every two weeks.

  8. If you can smell or taste it, either the mask doesn’t fit or it’s time to change the cartridge.

  9. I make kitchen knives and work with alum oxide belts that
    are sometimes wet as well as buffing/polishing wheels/ using brass/ copper/
    steel on high speed machines and have learned a few things:

    1- always have cross breeze if possible (winter can get
    cold) to re – move as much particulate as possible.

    2- Electric home HEPA air filters are around and can be
    bought used at times. Run it as much as possible in shop. I also run a HEPA 20
    x 16 duct filter taped on a box fan, which works prime.

    3- I use special 3-M acid/gas filters which I recommend for welders or anyone
    heating up solvents/chemicals/glues.

    4- Lastly – eyes and ears. I burned tons of coal and the dust was tremendous.
    Hence years ago, I became intolerant to dust in my eyes. I now use an eye cup
    when I work. I use filtered water to rinse my eyes ‘prophetically’, throughout
    a production run and make sure I put my head back and blink said eyeball. I
    always use it after finishing for the day for sure.

    I switched to a $105 full face mask (3M 6800 full face – AVOID chinese knock
    offs). They are on ebay all the time. Think about size of mask. I use medium
    and am a large man. If you have a half-mask use an easily found eye lens that
    will stop dust from getting in your eyes. I used to use clear ski goggles with
    masking tape on the foam. These work only with a side breeze as they will fog
    up.
    **I also use at the end of the day a NETI pot. This unit is the best
    thing I have ever found. Even with protection, in the last 20 years I have
    removed pounds of dust and dirt from nasal passages with this simple 2 minute
    salt water nasal flush. See vids on you tube and get a pot today !!

    5- Lastly- ear protection. I used to use foam plugs and ear
    muffs but switched to books on tape (MP3 player and buds) and now enjoy good it
    while making my work.
    You may not die from dust/gas exposure but eventually you will get allergic or
    intolerant reactions to working with your materials.
    Easier in the long run to protect your senses.

  10. I’ve worked in places without gear. Never again. Blowing black carcinogenic snot for days sucked.

    GREAT content from Frank. I’d be down for a further trip down the shop safety rabbit hole as I’m sure techniques have evolved greatly and left me behind.

  11. I use those as well. Replace regularly too.

    **I also use at the end of the day a NETI pot. This unit is the best
    thing I have ever

  12. Hello

    As mentioned, beard = over pressured mask, (fan or hose)

    Stay safe! All of you guys are great inspiration!

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