Buying Guide

Types of Respirator Masks

Types of Respirator Masks
A side by side photo of a man and a woman wearing different types of respirators.

There are two main categories of respirator mask: disposable and reusable. Disposable respirators are commonly referred to as particulate respirators or dust masks. They are sold in the half-face styles and are used for protection against airborne particles. Reusable respirators are available in both the half-face and full-face styles and can offer protection against airborne particulates, gases, fumes and vapors. 


Most DIYers looking to buy a respirator are doing so for a specific job. This might be something simple like a one-time sanding project or painting around the house. Professional contractors may need respirators for more high-risk jobs that include handling chemicals or hazardous materials like lead paint and asbestos.


Two side by side photos of a person wearing a dusk mask versus a respirator.

Paper dust masks are designed to reduce exposure to solid particles like dirt, silica and pollen. Dust masks are not National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)-approved disposable filtering facepieces. Dust masks are not true respirators and do not offer protection against hazardous dust, gases or vapors. If the dust mask does not have a valve in the front and is made of paper instead of non-woven polypropylene fiber, it’s not a respirator. These simple masks can be worn during activities like mowing, gardening, sweeping and dusting.

True dust respirator masks such as N95 respirators are designed to protect the wearer from airborne particles and from liquid contaminating the face. They filter at least 95% of airborne particles such as dust, mists and fumes. These masks are approved by NIOSH because they effectively block out particulates down to .3 microns and large droplets won’t pass through the barrier. N95 respirators do not protect against oil-based particles. 

Paint and Odor
A paint fume respirator mask on a white background.

A paint fume respirator mask is designed to help block fumes and exposure to common chemicals found in household paints. They’re also suitable for light sanding, drywall installation, rust removal and fiberglass installation.

Sanding and Fiberglass
A fiberglass respirator mask on a white background.

Paint and odor masks can help with basic jobs, but for heavy-duty sanding and working with fiberglass dust, a fiberglass respirator mask is preferable. They’ll also help protect against smaller particulates found in materials like pressboard that can cause irritation to the throat and lungs when inhaled. 

A mold respirator mask on a white background.

A mold respirator mask should have a P100 classification by NIOSH. These respirators are best when used when working on heating vents or ducts, popcorn ceilings, automotive brake linings or pipe insulation. 

An asbestos respirator mask on a white background.

An asbestos respirator mask should also have a P100 classification by NIOSH. P100 respirator filters, also called HEPA filters, block at least 99.97% of airborne particles and are strongly resistant to oil. Typically, asbestos removal is performed by professionals. If you are doing construction on an older home, wearing a respirator rated to block asbestos fibers is a good idea. 

Gas and Vapors
A N95 smoke respirator mask on a white background.

These include smoke respirator masks and help protect against harmful gasses and vapors found in chemical-filled and industrial environments. Gas and vapor respirators require specially-fitted cartridges and typically do not filter out airborne particles.

A respirator mask on a white background.

Combination respirators are effective for a wide range of tasks. They are a great mask for spray paint, solvents, gasses and vapors. Many models also protect against fiberglass and sanding-related particles. The drawback is that combination-style respirators can be heavy and require specific respirator cartridge types for proper function.

Respirator Ratings
A disposable respirator mask with its ratings visible.

Respirators are rated by NIOSH, which is a division of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The ratings for gas mask filters are as follows:

R Ratings are oil-resistant.

R95: Filters at least 95% of airborne particles

N Ratings are not oil-resistant.

  • N95: Filters at least 95% of airborne particles
  • N99: Filters at least 99% of airborne particles
  • N100: Filters at least 99.7% of airborne particles

P Ratings are oil proof.

  • P95: Filters at least 95% of airborne particles
  • P99: Filters at least 99% of airborne particles
  • P100: Filters at least 99.7% of airborne particles

Understanding Cartridges for Respirators
Pink respirator cartridges on a white background.

Basic dust masks and one-time use respirators for things like lead abatement are simple to use. The packaging will typically indicate what these respirators are for, and they do not require replacement cartridges. More powerful half-mask respirators and full-face respirators are often fitted with removable, replaceable cartridges to provide the required protection. Most models will tell you what they’re designed for right on the packaging, but a color-coded system implemented by OSHA makes finding the right cartridge simple. 

  • Black filters protect you from organic vapors like solvents in paint and gasoline.
  • Orange filters provide protection against fumes, dust and aerosol mists.
  • Blue filters provide protection against carbon monoxide.
  • Yellow filters protect against gasses and vapors.

New respirators may or may not come with the appropriate cartridges. Check before buying and ensure you get the right type of cartridge for the job.

Choosing the Right Size Respirator
A man wearing a respirator mask.

Choosing the right respirator for your task or work environment is essential. If your respirator is not the right size for your face, it won’t provide adequate protection, even if you’re using a heavy-duty full-face model. Use these tips to pick a respirator that’s the right size so you get the maximum amount of protection possible: 

  • Check that the respirator covers both your nose and mouth when positioned properly.
  • Ensure that you’ve got a secure fit. A loose-fitting respirator that moves around on your face won’t provide the ideal amount of protection.
  • Consider an adjustable respirator. Simple adjustments can provide a more comfortable and effective fit.

Still confused about which respirator might fit you? Try a size medium respirator first. About 80% of the adult population can effectively wear a medium respirator. 

The Home Depot carries an assortment of PPE equipment. Get the right protective gear to get your project done safely. Use The Home Depot app to order what you need for delivery or curbside pickup.