Particulate Respirators: A Guide to When and Why You Should Wear One

Particulate Respirator

Particulate Respirators should always be used around dust-producing activities.

Particulate respirators are protective devices that purify the air you breathe, guarding your lungs from small, potentially hazardous particles.  Depending on your activity — home improvements, arts and crafts, gardening, or on the job — contaminants such as dust, pollen, vapors, sprays, mold spores, etc. may be in the air all around you.

Protective, disposable particulate respirators use either one or two straps to form a tight seal around your nose and mouth.  Because these respirators only cover half your face, unless you are also wearing safety goggles, they should only be worn when the contaminants in your environment are non-toxic to your eyes and skin.

When Should You Wear a Particulate Respirator?

 For Do-It-Yourself Projects and Dirty Chores
A respirator should be worn every time you engage in dust-producing activities, such as sanding, spray painting, sweeping, grinding, etc.  Using a power saw for a do-it-yourself project, like building or tiling, is a perfect example.  Another is winterizing your home with non-rigid insulation (the pink fluffy kind) you must avoid inhaling.  Times you may run into contaminants while doing common outdoor chores include fertilizing your yard and garden, mowing, and blowing leaves.  A respirator can make breathing safer and more comfortable when tackling these dusty, dirty jobs.

  • For Disinfecting Your Home
    Another useful time to wear a respirator is when noxious odors from bleach-based household cleaning products irritate your nasal passages and sinuses.  Read labels carefully.  Anytime a label says, “Avoid breathing vapors or mist,” always wear a respirator.
  • While Pursuing Your Art
    Artists, artisans, and hobbiest are another group of people who often work around dust, fumes, sprays, and mists.  Art supplies, such as charcoals, paints, chemicals, and any number of other potentially hazardous materials make wearing a particle filter mask important for lung protection.  Potters, for example, are at risk of inhaling harmful clay and glazing dust, so should always wear a respirator.
  • For Protection from Allergens
    Allergy protection is a common use for particulate respirators as well.  Allergy sufferers can avoid breathing airborne allergens that lead to sneezing, itchy eyes, scratchy throats, and the respiratory distress of asthma.  In the spring and fall, people are often doing large cleanup projects just as seasonal pollen and mold spores are at their worst.  At these times, an inexpensive and effective respirator can provide great relief.
  • In Emergencies
    Knock on wood that you never need a particulate respirator for an emergency, but should you ever, it’s wise to have at least one for every member of your family in your emergency kit.  Dust, smoke, ash, and mold spores often fill the air after earthquakes, fires, tornadoes, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, etc., and these harm lung tissue.  Adding respirators to your emergency kit offers you and your family valuable protection in uncertain, rapidly-changing conditions.

Wear-Time and Correct Fit
To be effective, respirators should be worn throughout your exposure to contaminants. If the respirator becomes difficult to breathe through or is damaged, immediately move to a non-contaminated area and replace it.

Beards, facial hair, or anything else that prevents direct contact between the face and the edge of the respirator will reduce its effectiveness. It’s also important to understand that using a respirator will not prevent contaminants from entering your body through your skin or eyes.  If additional protective gear is required, such as gloves, safety glasses, safety goggles, or other protective clothing, be sure to outfit yourself appropriately.

Always refer to the time-use restrictions in the users’ manual to determine how long a particulate respirator can be worn before it needs to be replaced.  Respirators with filters must have the filter replaced whenever it is damaged, soiled, or creating breathing problems.  Check the outside of the filter before each use.  If it’s damaged or soiled, throw it away.  Replace the respirator if the mask tears or when the straps have lost their elasticity.

How to Achieve a Proper Fit Every Time:

  • Cup both hands in front of the mask.  (But do not push on the mask.)
  • Inhale deeply.  Make sure the mask collapses slightly towards your face.
  • If the mask is drawn in, and no air is leaking in around the edges, you have a proper fit.
  • If you do not have a proper fit, readjust the straps or reposition the respirator.
  • Repeat the test until you have a proper fit.
  • Always read the users’ manual for other specific fitting instructions.

Protect your lungs from harmful particles in the air while at work or while engaged in your favorite activities.  Wearing a respirator is vital to your health and continued enjoyment of hobbies.  Don’t let lung damage take your breath away.  Protect yourself every time and breathe clean air.

Denise Cripps About Denise Cripps

CEO, CFO, President, Vice President and Social Chair of the Cripps Family Board, Denise enjoys the challenge of keeping her writing career on track while managing a mostly-sane family of five, including a dog and a rat. Denise likes her books promptly returned, her vegetables organic, and her wine in alphabetical order on the rack. Other interests include fun with family and friends, reading and writing, traveling far and wide, listening to NPR as many hours a day as possible, movies and music, cooking and nutrition, moving (dancing, yoga, hiking, exercising), and petting chickens.