In any dangerous workplace setting (say a construction site, for example), protecting yourself from immediate dangers is often the priority. Covering your head with a helmet will shield you from falling objects. But invisible and non-immediate risks shouldn’t be overlooked. Some worksite hazards may not threaten you in the short term, but they can present serious health challenges in the long run. Paramount among these kinds of dangers are any toxic airborne particles you might breathe in. Having a quality respirator mask is essential for those on a job site.
There are a few different kinds of masks, and the quality standards are set by the National Institute For Occupational Safety And Health (NIOSH). The work of NIOSH is aligned with but distinct from its better-known sibling organization, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The classification system features a letter followed by a number, such as “N95.” Masks with an N-rating will protect against particles that do not contain oils. R-rated masks are somewhat protective from oil-based pollutants, and P-rated masks are the most protective. The following number relates to the percentage of particles the masks block out; typically, you’ll see 95 or 100.
Even if the most physical part of your job is clicking a computer mouse, it can still be worth investing in a respirator mask. Respirator masks can be a valuable addition to an emergency kit. Recent wildfires in places like California and Australia may leave some concerned about the dangers of breathing in smoke. Paper N95 masks — the ones that look like surgical masks — can help filter out some of the toxic particles, but you’ll need to ensure that it’s a secure fit. Plus, masks are very helpful for hobbyists like woodworkers. So whether you need a mask as part of your emergency kit or you use one every day on the job, these are the ones to get.
1. GVS Elipse P100 Dust Half Mask Respirator
This pick from GVS is a good value because it includes a half-face mask as well as filters and replacement filters. It has a P100 rating, which is the highest rating for personal respirators. That means it’ll protect against oily particles and all manner of dry particles. The masks are designed to be lightweight and offer a contoured fit to the face, without obstructing the wearing of safety goggles.
Pros: P100 rating, which is the top rating for these kinds of masks, making it suitable for working with all manner of hazardous materials. Comfortable and lightweight, easy to wear without obstructing safety googles.
Cons: Doesn’t let out moisture very well, and can cause eyewear to fog up.
2. 3M Rugged Half Facepiece Reusable Respirator
From Command Strips to tape and reflective materials, 3M makes some of the best industrial and home equipment. This extends to their safety equipment, like this half-face respirator mask. This mask has a silicone lining, which provides secure coverage around the chin, nose, and sides of the face in addition to being more comfortable than harder materials. The low-profile design means it’s compatible with welding masks, and an exhalation valve allows breathability without limiting protection. It’s worth noting that this mask is not the respirator itself. You’ll need to purchase cartridges and filters separately, which 3M also supplies. But as a baseline mask, this is a great and affordable pick.
Pros: Trusted 3M quality, secure fit, allows exhalation to prevent the mask from getting too moist. Quick latch allows the mask to open without having to remove it from your head completely.
Cons: Only includes the facepiece, does not come with filters or cartridges. However, 3M has plenty of offerings that you can choose from Amazon.
3. 3M Aura Particulate Disposable Respirator Cool Flow Valve
Another option from 3M is this affordable pack of disposable masks. It’s a 10-pack of masks, making it a good value for the cost. It has an N95 safety rating, meaning it’s suited for tasks like sanding, sawing, woodworking, and any other kind of application where a lot of dust might get kicked up. The adjustable nose-piece helps ensure a secure fit, and 3M’s proprietary Cool Flow valve allows for natural exhalation, making for more comfortable wearing over extended periods.
Pros: Comfortable for long term wear, value pack includes 10 masks, suitable for woodworking and as an emergency kit.
Cons: Might be a tight fit for some.
4. 3M Dual Cartridge Respirator Assembly 3M 07193, Large
Another pick from 3M is this disposable mask. It has the look of reusable masks, but the organic vapor filters are not replaceable, so it will need to be discarded once the filters are used up. That makes it rather wasteful, but it can still be a good pick for someone who needs a mask to use a handful of times and doesn’t anticipate needing one in the future. The filter is rated P95, meaning it will block out oily particles in addition to dust. It can be a good option for those using spray paint, as well.
Pros: Affordable disposable mask with a P95 rating, protecting the user from 95% of oily and dusty particles.
Cons: Cartridges are not replaceable, making it better suited for one-time or short-term use rather than as a primary respirator mask.
5. Bielcor Dust Mask Respirator
An affordable disposable pick is this option from Bielcor. It’s rated N95, making it suitable for working in various conditions with hazardous but non-oil based particles. The mask spots a soft, metal clip which allows for tiny adjustments for a bitter fit. If that sounds uncomfortable, don’t worry — the inside of the mask features soft padding, so you’ll be comfortable and protected.
Pros: Affordable 20-pack of disposable N95 filters, comfortable fit and an adjustable metal nose-clip for a contoured fit.
Cons: No exhalation valve.