How to Choose a Respirator or Dust Mask

Various types of respirators and dust masks

Respirators and dust masks come in several styles and types.

Home and garden projects frequently involve exposure to harmful chemicals and toxins – such as paint fumes, solvents, dust, adhesives, pesticides, and caustic cleaning products – not to mention the annual assault from pollen and allergens. In addition to proper ventilation, a respirator or dust mask will go a long way in protecting your lungs and health.

Respirators and dust masks aren’t all the same – there are different kinds to choose from, as well as a rating system for efficiency. At home and around the workshop, either a particulate filter (dust mask) or chemical cartridge respirator are likely to be all you’ll need.

N95 and R95 particulate masks

N95 and R95 particulate masks.

Particulate Filters

Particulate filters, including disposable dust masks, are the most common type of air-purifying device for home use. Particulate filters can be disposable or reusable with replaceable filters. They cover your nose and mouth and provide protection from airborne particles – including dust, mists, liquids, and some fumes – but not gases or vapors.

Particulate filters are rated by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) according to what, and how much, they filter out. The rating have both a letter and number:

    Dust mask cutting grass

    Dust mask for cutting grass.

  • N: Not oil proof
  • R: Oil resistant (up to 8 hours)
  • P: Oil proof (beyond 8 hours)
  • Number: Particulate filters are rated 95, 97, or 100; which corresponds to the percentage of one-micrometer particles removed during clinical trials. A 95 rating means that the filter removes 95% of particles from the air. Filters rated 100 are considered High-Efficiency (HE or HEPA) filters.

What Type Particulate Filter Should I Buy?

The most common rating for disposable dust masks is N95, which will filter 95% of airborne particles that are not oil-based. N95 covers most woodshop dust, allergens, and airborne diseases. Filters for painting are often rated R95, or higher to handle oil-based particles.

If you’re looking for the highest level of protection in the widest variety of situations, go for P100, which will filter out 100% of both oil-based and non-oil-based particles.

When choosing a dust mask, consider:

  • Masks with an adjustable nosepiece offer a tighter fit.
  • Disposable masks with foam face seals will be more comfortable and a little more effective.
  • Masks with an exhalation valve will make breathing easier.
  • For highly toxic particles (such as asbestos), choose a non-disposable mask with sealing gaskets.
Half-mask, dual cartridge respirator

Half-mask, dual cartridge respirator.

Chemical Cartridge/Gas Mask Respirators

Chemical cartridge respirators contain special carbon filtering material that absorbs gases and vapors from the air. The replaceable cartridges are inserted in a mask that seals tightly around the edges to block out unfiltered air. Cartridge respirators may be half-mask (covering only your nose and mouth) or full-face (for protection against chemicals that irritate the skin).

Chemical cartridge filters include:

  • Chemical Cartridge: Block out vapors, but don’t have a separate prefilter to remove particles.
  • Dual Cartridge: Include a replaceable pre-filter for particulates, giving you both types of protection. The particulate pre-filter will be rated just like any other particulate filter (see above).
  • PAPR (Powered Air-Purifying Respirator): Have a battery-powered fan that blows air through the filter to make breathing easier.

What Type Chemical Cartridge Respirator Should I Buy?

To choose the right cartridge respirator, you need to know what toxins you’ll be facing. The cartridges are color-coded for specific purposes (such as organic vapors, ammonia, mercury, or acids). If you don’t know, or if your project it likely to contain small amounts of different substances, choose a dual-cartridge respirator with a multipurpose chemical cartridge and a P100-rated particulate filter.

Spraying insect spray

Wear a protective mask when spraying potentially harmful chemicals.

Guide to Respirators

The following chart will help you decide what kind of respirator you need:

Substance Type of Respirator Rating (if applicable)
Acid Gases Chemical cartridge  
Allergens Particulate filter N95 or higher
Ammonia Chemical cartridge  
Asbestos Particulate filter N100 or HE
Bacteria and Viruses Particulate filter N95 or higher
Bleach Particulate filter N95 or higher
Dust Particulate filter N95 or higher
Fibers (not asbestos) Particulate filter N95 or higher
Insulation Particulate filter N95 or higher
Lead Particulate filter N100 or HE
Mold Particulate filter N95 or higher
Organic vapor Chemical cartridge  
Paint Particulate filter R95 or higher
Pesticides, Sprays Particulate filter R95 or higher
Pollen Particulate filter N95 or higher
Sanding Particulate filter N95 or higher
Welding Particulate filter N95 or higher

Respirator Safety Tips

  • Notice Smells: Change the filter if you notice any changes in smells or taste; or if your throat, nose, or lungs become irritated.
  • Solvents, adhesives, paints, and pesticides

    Wear a protective mask when using chemicals.

  • Breathe Easy: You should also change your respirator if it becomes clogged and hard to breathe through.
  • Keep Dry: Many respirators, especially disposable ones, become ineffective if they get wet.
  • Follow Instructions: Replace filters as instructed on the package.
  • Don’t Reuse: Disposable respirators aren’t meant to be used more than once.
  • Throw Away if Broken: Discard any respirator or filter canister that is dirty or damaged. Replace gas masks if rubber seals are damaged.

Further Information


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54 Comments on “How to Choose a Respirator or Dust Mask”

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  • Official Comment:

    Thomas Boni Says:
    August 21st, 2019 at 1:39 pm

    Hi, Jessika,
    3M has a great hotline for these types of technical questions. You can dial 1-800-243-4630.
    Good luck with your rock-carving project!

  • Jessika Says:
    August 20th, 2019 at 3:25 pm

    I need a mask to protect myself against stone dust. Im going to be carving rocks and i heard that a simple mask is going to let the most dangerous particles get through. What should i get then

  • Official Comment:

    Thomas Boni Says:
    April 9th, 2019 at 9:24 am

    Hi, Maggie!
    We recommend contacting the respirator’s manufacturer or reading respirators’ labels to ensure the product meets your needs.
    3M has a hotline specifically for these types of technical questions. You can dial 1-800-243-4630.
    Happy fertilizing!

  • Maggie Scott Says:
    April 7th, 2019 at 8:06 pm

    What type and number of mask should be used when applying granular fertilizer?

  • Official Comment:

    Thomas Boni Says:
    August 18th, 2018 at 5:20 pm

    Hi, Ellen,

    We are so happy to hear that you enjoy “Today’s Homeowner!”
    If you haven’t already, please…

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    And we always appreciate when our fans tell their friends about the practical home improvement advice they receive from “Today’s Homeowner.”

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  • Ellen Hughes Says:
    August 16th, 2018 at 6:40 pm

    It was nice that you suggested choosing a face mask that has an exhalation valve to make sure that breathing is going to be easier for you. This is something that I will make sure to remember because I’m interested in latex protection mask. My children are prone to allergies, and I want to make sure that they will be protected without making them uncomfortable. Thanks!

  • Official Comment:

    Thomas Boni Says:
    June 27th, 2018 at 12:46 pm

    Hi, Klavs, features home improvement advice from the nationally syndicated TV show “Today’s Homeowner” and its experts.
    We don’t sell construction products on this website, but we encourage checking your local home center for these materials.

    Good luck!

  • Klavs Says:
    June 9th, 2018 at 6:56 am

    Where can I buy it, if I cut a grass with a trimmer?
    Is it possible to ship it to Latvia?

  • Maca Says:
    April 5th, 2018 at 12:35 pm

    I am going to do job with spray paint. What mask is best for that kind of job and also I am going to refinish my wood floors to get shine. Can you please let me know where I can by Respirator.
    Thank you

  • Vaniece Says:
    December 30th, 2017 at 10:05 am

    Hello I am 43 years old been cleaning houses sense I was 18 years old I now have wheezing and am concerned I’ve been damaging my lungs all these years. I do not no what kind of mask/ respirator to by for all the chemicals I use? Could you help me in understanding what kind would be beneficial to me?

  • Teresa Says:
    December 7th, 2017 at 8:20 pm

    I work in an office. There is major reconstruction going on in my building and now in my office as well. There is no place in the building where there is clean air. I purchased N95 Respirators. I will put the Respirator on prior to entering the building. With the understanding that these masks are to be disposed of after use, my question is: When I leave the building for lunch ; if I carefully place it in a plastic container; will it be safe to put it back on prior to re-entering the building? In other words, do I need to use 2 Respirators a day, or will 1 be safe if handled carefully? Thank you.

  • Mike Says:
    November 16th, 2017 at 4:14 am

    What type of mask do you recommend for visiting areas with very high levels of pollution – like beijing or new delhi?

  • Eugene Says:
    August 18th, 2017 at 5:58 am

    We recently bought a 3M 8210 dust mask and the feed is not encouraging; weak straps,very light fiber material and easily rip off nose clip. What recommendations are there for a dusty environment?

  • Paul Weigel Says:
    June 8th, 2017 at 10:21 pm

    I’ve been a painter for 30 years and have always used a double cartridge respirator when doing any type of spraying,whether it be paint,pesticides, can spray paint and anything that might damage my respiratory system. Even if the product says no mask required, wear one anyway. Your lungs,your life. I had asthma since birth. Protect them.

  • mike morphis Says:
    May 20th, 2017 at 12:23 pm

    is a particle mask sufficient for sandblasting ???

  • Valerie Says:
    May 13th, 2017 at 4:08 pm

    Hi i make glass jewelry and sometimes metal. I cut glass and grind use a lap wheel, dremel, kilns, etc.
    What mask should i buy?

    Also i may be using the basement of an old house for a workshop. No idea if there is mold etc there.

  • Tony V Says:
    May 5th, 2017 at 10:36 pm

    I just started my own Lawn Care Business. Every day I am breathing in dust as well as carbon monoxide from my machines. What mask do you recommend?

  • Beth Gill Says:
    March 21st, 2017 at 9:13 am

    In May I started a business. I work with wood. Sanding. Painting (water based)
    Stain and. Polyurethane. I already have respiratory problems working in my shop. Please what mask do I need. ?

  • Sandy Says:
    January 9th, 2017 at 7:15 pm

    I need a respirator that will be good for ordinary dust, dust from tearing down sheet rock walls and ceilings, blown in insulation that contains rodent droppings, mold, and also for chemical odors from paints, cleaning solutions, and whatever else is used in a complete house remodel. I don’t have a whole lot of money to spend, $60 is about what I have. Any suggestions on respirators for me?

  • Diana Clarke Says:
    December 29th, 2016 at 12:12 pm

    Very thorough. But I have one question? Do I need an R95 mask for spray paint that is not oil-based, such as fabric paint? I don’t know about dyes.

  • muzi Sithole Says:
    December 14th, 2016 at 1:16 am


    I got employees working with paper shavings on the bailing machines and these are giving a lot of dust and small particles of paper. Which is the right mask or respirator we can use?

  • BUSI Says:
    September 28th, 2016 at 5:51 am

    I am working for a very dusty environment. we sand old coaches and there is grinding and welding taking place at the same time. the floors are very dusty and we also do painting which most of times is done outside the painting booth. the dust is just too much. I would like to know what kind of dust musk can we use and the painting mask or respirators because the guys double the dust musk that we use they say they are too weak the dust slips through.

  • Frank M Says:
    September 15th, 2016 at 7:27 pm

    I dry and crush many types of hot peppers. Which mask would you recommend. Thanks.

  • paul davis Says:
    August 29th, 2016 at 12:24 pm

    I am a wood carver using power tool bits. They create a lot of saw dust and I would like to know the best mask for me. If is got into air brushing I would like to know the mask for this

  • Monika Says:
    January 18th, 2016 at 12:28 am

    I have question. I’m professional cleaner. Can u please tell me what kind of mask is the best to use in this kind of job ( to protect myself from chemical like domestos and other)?
    I m asking becouse I’m using chemical very often and now I feel this is not good for my health using chemicals without mask.

    Thank You

  • Shimi Godwin Says:
    November 24th, 2015 at 9:14 am

    What type of nosemask is required for sandblasting operation?

  • Susan Says:
    November 1st, 2015 at 7:32 pm

    I have an allergy to gasoline. Can’t pump my gas but I need to. What type of mask should I get? Have asthma, been in the hospital twice since inhaling these fumes. Help!!

  • Bisi Says:
    August 20th, 2015 at 4:09 pm

    Thanks for your saving life information. i want to go into soap making work. what type of mask would be suitable when using NaoH and others chemicals?

  • Robert Says:
    August 9th, 2015 at 4:01 pm

    Hi, i’m a factory worker with a pharmaceautical company. We use the regular disposable nose masks, exactly like the ones nurses use but the sad thing is, our nostrils still get attacked by dusts. I plan to suggest a better and healthier nose mask to the management but don’t what type to suggest. Please help.

  • Official Comment:

    Ben Erickson Says:
    June 25th, 2015 at 4:56 pm

    Hi Amanda,
    The man in the photo is wearing an approved N95 mask. While that isn’t the best choice for spraying pesticides, I checked the Safety Data Sheet for the product he is using (Black Flag Ant and Roach Spray), and it says the following:

    Personal protective equipment: None required
    Hand protection: None required
    Skin and body protection: None required
    Respiratory protection: None required

    You can find the entire Safety Data Sheet at

  • Amanda Says:
    June 25th, 2015 at 3:08 pm

    Re “Wow Says” :
    The picture shown depicts a man using a dust mask when using bug spray? The dust mask is useless for protection against these chemicals!
    YESSS!! I noticed that. Who the heck is editing this page? That constitutes VERY dangerous (visual) advice.

  • Pam Says:
    June 25th, 2015 at 7:35 am

    What type of mask and filter would be best when using lye or other caustics for soap making?

  • Lorenz Says:
    May 15th, 2015 at 1:06 pm

    Are regular dusk masks sufficient to stop Asbestos fiber?

  • Wow Says:
    May 9th, 2015 at 12:32 am

    The picture shown depicts a man using a dust mask when using bug spray? The dust mask is useless for protection against these chemicals!

  • Ellen Says:
    April 27th, 2015 at 8:46 am

    Thank you for the good information. I need a respirator for very strong spray paint-new Rust-oleum brand and this helps me choose the right one. I almost killed my lungs by spraying without one. Paint is great; the smell and fine particles in the air are extremely strong.

  • Ken Says:
    April 17th, 2015 at 7:02 pm

    In your table it says for “pesticides, sprays” to use a particulate filter. But some liquid pesticides are organic vapors and dangerous. Wouldn’t they require a dual cartridge respirator?

  • Jason McGhee Says:
    March 19th, 2015 at 2:46 pm

    I was hoping that you could direct me to one cartridge for half faced respirator that would protect me from both bleach smell, bleach is sprayed from had held spray pump (& not ventilated very good in work area) and from pesticides in same area
    Thank you in advance Jason

  • Rich Says:
    March 4th, 2015 at 1:01 am

    I do a lot of polishing jewelry. Some polishes contain no oil based ingredients and some contain distillates. What kind of mask should I use. The lighter the better.

  • Jackelyn Says:
    February 28th, 2015 at 8:31 pm

    Extremely helpful! Just what I was looking to find out – Thank you!

  • Lunare Says:
    December 29th, 2014 at 7:35 pm

    what mask would be best for mosaic art? This involves hand cutting of stone, glass and ceramic, mixing of grout and thinset cement, plus occasional use of toxic glues. Mainly concerned with the powdery dust from grout and cement.

  • Tony Says:
    December 29th, 2014 at 6:18 pm

    Hello what suitable respirator should i use for airbrushing enamel paints thinned with white spirit.
    Thank you,

  • Shawn Says:
    November 1st, 2014 at 9:26 pm

    Hello, I was wondering what would be the best type of respirator for automotive clear coat application? I will be doing a clear coat job on the entire body after all the prep work is completed.
    Thank you,


  • Sara Says:
    October 25th, 2014 at 8:47 am

    Hello, I use Kaboom spray for tub and shower, also Lysol. Both of them are awfully smelly and make breathing hard for me as I am cleaning, while they do a great, unbelievable job. Could you please guide me of what type of mask I should use to eliminate those odors. Thank you!!

  • bruce Says:
    September 25th, 2014 at 2:02 pm

    Thank you for this info,a practical and easy quick reference guide. I was wondering also if there are parts that signify an air valve or not, or if it is FFP1, FFP2 and FFP3.

  • Kerry Says:
    August 3rd, 2014 at 11:30 pm

    I use household sprays for work, kitchen sprays and bathroom bleach, window cleaners etc. What kind of mask would be the best protection for me? Thanks

  • Margaret gorman Says:
    July 14th, 2014 at 12:41 pm

    I use a lot of households sprays in my jobs, kitchen and bathroom, bleach. Widow shine etc, what kind of protection is best for me?

  • Jill Says:
    May 30th, 2014 at 3:59 pm

    I bought this mask from Lew’s. It smells like glue or chemical. The whole idea is not to breath stuff, but then you have to breath the glue like chemical odor. Returning it to Lowe’s.

  • bill Says:
    May 28th, 2014 at 4:21 pm

    Hello I got a job working at Rona and was wondering what the best mask would be to protect NY lungs from dust thank you

  • Phil Says:
    May 4th, 2014 at 4:03 pm

    Pablo Jimenez said: “I use a particulate respirator (dust mask) for my stone cutting job but I notice at the end of the day, my nostrils are full of dust. What is going wrong?”

    Pablo – what’s probably going wrong is that the dust mask isn’t sealing well enough around your face. They are meant for just the lightest protection – stone cutting makes horrible dust (I’ve cut ceramic, brick and mortar) and it’s going around the sides of the filter when you breath. No matter how much you shape the little metal piece to your nose it will leak. If you’re a stone cutter, you owe it to yourself to get a good quality respirator mask. They’re inexpensive and honestly, breathing in that dust really is damaging your lungs. You can get pneumonia and even emphesema from it seriously.

  • Anne Keeble Says:
    December 9th, 2013 at 11:24 pm

    Where oh where do I buy an r95 particulate filter in a shop in the uk ??

  • pablo jimenez Says:
    September 21st, 2013 at 12:04 pm

    I use a particulate respirator (dust mask) for my stone cutting job but I notice at the end of the day, my nostrils are full of dust. What is going wrong?

  • Glenda Says:
    March 29th, 2013 at 12:03 pm

    I have an old mask for organic vapors left in my husbands dusty, dirty shop.
    Can it be washed and do I need new filters? I have no manual for it.

  • chris Says:
    December 22nd, 2012 at 12:52 am

    what about spray glues? what should i use?

  • DFC Says:
    August 11th, 2012 at 10:22 am

    I bought a 3M R6297-M respirator(mold/lead mask) for working in my 250 square foot open dog run, my question is, are these cartridges appropriate for working in dusty conditions?, and if not, can I replace these existing cartridges with the appropriate ones?, using the same mask? Thanks

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How to Choose a Respirator or Dust Mask