What are particulate respirators?

Particulate respirators are protective devices that purify the air you breathe. Common activities such as home improvements, arts and crafts, and gardening, as well as many workplace activities involve contaminants (e.g., dust, pollen, vapors, sprays, mold spores, etc.) that may be in the air all around you. Particulate respirators essentially guard lungs against these small, yet potentially hazardous, particles.

Protective, disposable particulate respirators use 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 eyes and skin.

When should you wear a particulate respirator?

According to OSHA, millions of workers are required to wear respirators in workplaces throughout the United States. Many at-home activities also warrant protection from air-born contaminants. Here are some of the most-common applications for wearing a particulate respirator.

During Any Dust-Producing Activities

Wear a respirator every time you engage in dust-producing activities such as sanding, spray painting, sweeping, grinding, etc.  Examples of such activities include the following and can be found both in the workplace and at home.

  • Using a power saw for building or tiling
  • Working with non-rigid insulation (the pink, fluffy kind)
  • Fertilizing the yard and garden
  • Mowing and blowing leaves

When Working with Chemicals

Wear a respirator when with chemicals such as bleach-based household cleaning products that irritate nasal passages and sinuses. Read labels carefully.  Anytime a label says, “Avoid breathing vapors or mist,” wear a respirator.

During Many Artistic Activities

Artists, artisans, and hobbyist often work around dust, fumes, sprays, and mists.  Art supplies such as charcoals and paints contain any number of other potentially hazardous materials. Potters, for example, are at risk of inhaling clay particles and glazing dust. Wearing a particle filter mask is essential for lung protection and can help ensure enjoyment of your favorite activities for a long time.

To Protect from Allergens

Allergy sufferers can avoid breathing airborne allergens that lead to sneezing, itchy eyes, scratchy throats, and the respiratory distress of asthma by wearing particulate respirators. In the spring and fall especially, seasonal pollen and mold spores are usually at their worst. Fortunately, an inexpensive particulate respirator can provide great relief.

In Case of an Emergency

Hopefully you’ll never need a particulate respirator for an emergency, but it is 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 valuable protection in uncertain, rapidly changing conditions.

Which one should you wear?

Particulate respirators, says the CDC on their Respirator Fact Sheet, are the simplest, least expensive, and least protective of the respirator types available. The commonly known “N-95” filtering facepiece respirator, worn by many healthcare workers today, is one type of particulate respirator.

“Individuals wearing certified N95 filtering facepiece respirators can screen about 95% of airborne particles if fitted correctly.” (UC expert on aerosol studies explains performance of respiratory devices)

The following are examples of the N-95 particulate respirators.

While knowing what they are and when to wear them is certainly important, knowing how long you should wear a particulate respirator as well as how to achieve the best protection and fit from one is essential.

How long should you wear a particulate respirator?

To be effective, wear respirators throughout exposure to contaminants. Move to a non-contaminated area if the respirator becomes difficult to breathe through or damaged. Be sure to replace the respirator before returning to the contaminated area.

In addition, follow these tips for making sure any respirator you use is working properly.

  • Always refer to the time-use restrictions in the users’ manual to determine how long a respirator can be worn before it needs replaced.
  • Remember that 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. Replace if soiled or damaged.
  • Replace the respirator if the mask tears or when the straps have lost their elasticity.

What is the best way to wear a particulate respirator?

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

How can you achieve a proper fit every time?

Knowing you should wear a particulate respirator is only meaningful if you wear them consistently and properly. Follow these steps to help you do this.

  1. Cup both hands in front of the mask.
  2. Avoid pushing on the mask.
  3. Inhale deeply, making sure the dust mask collapses slightly towards your face.

You have a proper fit if the mask is drawn in and no air is leaking in around the edges. If you do not have a proper fit, readjust the straps or reposition the respirator. Repeat the above steps until you have a good fit, and always read the users’ manual for other specific fitting instructions.

Protect your lungs from harmful particles in the air both while at home and at work. Wearing a respirator can be vital to your health. Don’t let preventable lung damage take your breath away.