Three best respirators

Allen Foster

Anything that comes between your skin and the respirator will prohibit a safe seal.

One breath is all it takes to allow toxins unrestricted access to your bloodstream. It doesn't matter if you're working an eight-hour day in a dusty factory or you just want to touch up that ding on your car with some spray paint, you need a respirator. And sometimes just covering your mouth and nose isn't enough. When you're engaged in an activity such as welding, your eyes need protection, too.

Although there is quite a bit you need to know before purchasing a respirator, that information can be provided succinctly. After reading through this brief guide, you'll have a firm grasp on how these masks keep you safe from harm and what you should look for when shopping for one.

Considerations when choosing respirators

Respirators are classified in terms of what they protect and what they protect you from.

Half-face respirators: These respirators cover your mouth and nose, offering protection from dust, airborne particulates, and vapors that aren't hazardous to the eyes. Half-face respirators provide unobstructed vision. Some are specifically designed to be worn beneath a welding mask.

Full-face respirators: These respirators protect your eyes as well as your respiratory system. They can fog over and are much more cumbersome than half-face masks. If you're using materials that can damage your eyes, safety goggles or a full-face respirator are your two options.

Filters: Filters protect against airborne particles that are considered low hazard. They're effective against such undesirables as dust, mold, asbestos, and bacteria. Filters are rated on the percentage of particulates they remove from the air and if they're oil resistant.

Cartridges: Chemical cartridges clean the air of chemicals and fumes to make it safe for breathing. These are effective when working with substances such as spray paints and solvents. Different cartridges are designed for different uses. Be sure the type of cartridge you choose will be effective in your particular situation.

SCBA: In more extreme situations where filters and cartridges are not enough, such as firefighting, a self-contained breathing apparatus is needed to supply clean air. These devices require special training to use and maintain.

Respirator prices: The main difference in prices comes down to whether you need a half-face respirator or a full-face one. Most decent half-face respirators cost between $20 and $60. For a quality full-face model, you'll pay between $150 and $200. Disposable masks are available for just a dollar or two each. High-end self-contained breathing systems can cost significantly more than $200.


Q. Do respirators come in different sizes?

A. Some companies make general sizes like small, medium, and large, while others depend on adjustable straps to provide a good fit. There are no sizing standards, so if you can't obtain a proper fit from one manufacturer, try a different one. Settling for a model that only forms an okay seal could adversely impact your health.

Q. How do I know if a respirator fits properly?

A. A fit test is the best way to check if your respirator is right for you. Place both hands on the mask and breathe in and out, paying particular attention to how the air is entering and exiting the mask. If any air is leaking in or out around the edges, it does not provide a safe seal for your facial structure. You should perform this test every time you put on your respirator.

Respirators we recommend

Best of the best: 3M Full-Facepiece Spray Paint Respirator

Our take: High-quality, reusable full-face respirator that can be used with spray paints and pesticides.

What we like: Offers both eye and respiratory protection. Reusable facepiece, two face shield covers, two organic vapor cartridges, and four P95 filters. The mask offers wide visibility and provides a tight seal on most users.

What we dislike: If you wear glasses, you might have trouble getting a proper seal.

Best bang for your buck: Safety Works Multi-Purpose Respirator

Our take: Lightweight, multi-purpose respirator that protects against toxic dust, most paint fumes, and pesticides.

What we like: Meets OSHA and NIOSH requirements. Flexible mask and adjustable straps are effective in forming a good seal on a wide variety of head sizes.

What we dislike: Not durable. Care must be taken to not damage the straps when using.

Choice 3: Miller Electric Half-Mask Respirator

Our take: Affordably priced half-mask respirator that's suitable for most dust and vapors.

What we like: Comes with P100 filters already installed. Features easy-to-use turnbuckles for quick filter changes, four-point adjustable straps, and large exhaust valve that reduces heat buildup and user fatigue.

What we dislike: Slim, low-profile design doesn't fit beneath all welding masks.

Allen Foster is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.

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