Buying Guide

Types of Respirator Masks

Respirators for Every Job

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 material like lead paint and asbestos. 


Here are a few common respirator styles you can look for based on your needs:

  • Dust -. A respirator mask for dust is designed to reduce exposure to solid particles like dirt, silica and pollen.
  • Paint and odor -. A mask for painting is designed to help block paint odors, pollen 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 - Paint and odor masks can help with basic jobs, but heavy-duty sanding and fiberglass respirators are preferable for long-term or large projects. They’ll also help protect against smaller particulates found in materials like pressboard.
  • Gas and vapors - These include smoke 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.
  • Combination .- 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.
  • Mold - .Respirators for mold protection should have a P100 classification by NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health). 
  • Asbestos - Respirators and asbestos masks should also have a P100 classification by NIOSH.  
Respirator Ratings

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

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

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 mouth and nose when positioned properly.
  • Ensure that you’ve got a secure fit. A loose 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. You can also stop by your local Home Depot to try a simple fit test before you buy.

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