How to Choose a Disposable Respirator

choosing the right respirator

Disposable respirators, also known as filtering facepiece respirators, offer protection against air-borne particulates and mists. These are probably the most popular type of air-purifying respirator – they are readily available, lightweight, comfortable, and are appropriate for most common applications.

Particulate respirators are rated by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) according to what they filter out and how well they filter. These ratings include: N95, R95, P95, N99, R99, P99, N100, R100 or P100. The number 95, 99, or 100 indicates the percentage of filtration efficiency. For example, a 95 rating means that the filter removes 95% of particles from the air.

N-Series respirators are not oil proof. They are used in particulate environments free of oil aerosols.

R-Series respirators are oil-resistant. They are used for oil and non-oil particles with time use limitations specified by NIOSH.

P-Series respirators are oil-proof. They are used for oil and non-oil particles with time use limitations specified by manufacturer.

Before you can select the right disposable respirator, you must determine the following:

  1. The types of contaminants for which the respirator is being selected, and exposure time. If working around oil, you must use an R- or P- rated respirator.
  2. The concentration level of the contaminant(s). Do not use disposable respirators for particle concentrations that exceed 10 times the OSHA PEL or applicable occupational exposure limit, whichever is lower.
  3. Whether the respirator can be properly fitted to the wearer’s face. Beards and other facial hair may prevent a good seal between the face and the sealing surface of the respirator.

Disposable respirators are most effective when there is a good seal between the respirator
and your face. To obtain a good seal, always follow all directions provided with each
respirator model.

There are a few other things to keep in mind when choosing your disposable respirator.

  • Are you going to be in a hot or humid environment? Respirators with an exhalation valve will make breathing more comfortable.
  • Masks with  molded foam face seals and adjustable nose pieces offer a tighter fit and can also offer more comfort.
  • Disposable respirators protect against small amounts of nontoxic contaminants. More extreme hazards, like asbestos, require a non-disposable respirator with replaceable filters, that fits tightly over the face.