A PPE respirator half face mask and ear protection equipment lie on a wooden carpentry workbench.
Trade Talk

3 tips to choose the best respirator mask for the job

In the pro trade industry, there are numerous potential breathing hazards on any given jobsite. Whether you’re a plumber, builder, HVAC contractor, painter or insulator, protecting your lung health is essential. Discover the two main types of respirator masks and how to find the right one to protect you no matter what you’re doing on the job.

How to choose the best respirator mask

Workplace hazards factor into why failing to properly use respiratory protection continues to land on OSHA’s top 10 safety violations year over year. Below are some personal respirator basics to help you pick the right respirator protection and breathe better on every job.

1. Know the types of respirator masks available.

According to OSHA, there are two main types of respirators, atmosphere-supplying and air-purifying.

Atmosphere-supplying respirators

Areas that have contaminated air or have limited or no oxygen require this type of respirator. Occupations that require this type of respirator could include industrial plant workers, municipal road pavers and surfacers, hazardous material response professionals and welders and pipefitters.

Air-purifying respirators

Air-purifying respirators, which filter contaminants out of the air as you breathe, are the type commonly used by trade professionals. Air-purifying respirators fall into three main categories:

  • Particulate respirators: Use this type of respirator when working around heavy amounts of dust, dirt and non-toxic vapors, such as when sanding wood or hanging fiberglass insulation. The N95 mask is a commonly used respirator in this category, rated to filter 95% of particulates from the air.

  • Gas and vapor respirators: Use this type of respirator when working in areas that have high levels of gases and vapor in the air, such as on construction sites during the painting application process.

  • Combination respirators: These respirators are dual purpose and filter the air from both particulates and fumes. For example, you should use a combination respirator on construction demolition sites as both dust and fumes could be present.

Pro tip: Gas and combination respirators require chemical cartridges to filter toxic fumes. Cartridges are labeled using an industry-wide color coding system to indicate which gases or vapors they are capable for filtering. Scroll to the chart at the bottom of the page to guide you to the right cartridge.

Using the right type of respirator is not only important for your personal safety, but can also help you comply with legislation that limits worker exposure to silica dust.

2. Determine the respirator fit you need.

OSHA categorizes respirator fit between two distinct categories: tight-fitting and loose-fitting. The respirator fit you need will depend on the air quality in a work space.

If the air is contaminated by toxic substance or is lacking oxygen, then it is said to be immediately dangerous to life or health, or IDLH.

Tight-fitting respirators

  • Must be worn in areas that are determined to be IDLH

  • Are required by OSHA to be fit-tested by a qualified tester the first time it is worn and at least once annually after that

Loose-fitting respirators

  • Can be worn in areas that are not determined to be IDLH

  • Do not need to be fit-tested according to OSHA requirements

3. Consider respirator mask size and seal.

A respirator must be the right size in order to create a seal around the face. This is especially true for tight-fitting respirators.

Because all respirators fit differently, employers must provide a range of different respirator sizes and models for their crew in order to comply with OSHA regulations. Several things that can compromise respirator seal, including:

  • Eyeglasses and safety goggles

  • Beards and facial hair

  • Facial piercings

  • Dental gear

  • Facial structure

Be sure to inform your crew about things that can impact respirator seal and enforce compliance on the jobsite.

Find the right respirator cartridge for different gases

Type of contaminantCartridge color
Organic vaporBlack
Acid, ammonia and organic gasesBrown
Carbon monoxideBlue
Ammonia fumesGreen
Acid gases and organic vaporsYellow
Acid gasesWhite

Find your respirator mask at Ferguson

When you know the type of job you’ll be doing, finding the right respirator mask gets easier. Protect the health and safety of yourself and your crew with our selection of respiratory safety products.