The 10 Best Respirators
If you work with paint, resins, fiberglass or hazardous chemicals, or a lot of dust tends to accumulate at your construction site, one of these handy respirators will be an essential tool for keeping your lungs safe while your field of view is unobstructed. Many of our options are designed with anti-fog lenses and replaceable filters, and are comfortable enough for all-day use. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to support our work. Skip to the best respirator on Amazon.
The Air We Breathe
Quarter-mask respirators are usually equipped with special cartridges or cloth filters and they fit over the space between the top of the nose and chin.
Interestingly enough, the design for the face pieces of air-purifying respirators can be disposable, quartered, half-sized, or they can cover the user's face entirely.
Regardless of whether you're a fireman, construction worker, or medical professional, chances are you're constantly being exposed to airborne contaminants like dust, debris, harmful gases, and even viruses. These types of situations provide the perfect opportunity to use one or various types of respirators in order to keep yourself healthy and safe from harm.
While all respirators are characterized by having some type of face piece designed to create a seal between fresh and contaminated air, they fall into one of two major categories, air-purifying and air-supplied varieties.
Air-purifying respirators (APRs) force contaminated air (like smoke or fumes) through a filtering element, through which they are able to remove particles, toxic vapors, or gases, making them appropriate for use in environments with low levels of contamination. Their classifications include negative-pressure devices, that make use of mechanical filters, and positive-pressure units like powered air purifying respirators (PAPRs), which utilize both filters and a motor blower to provide fresh air to the user. Air-purifying units are further broken down into particle-filtering (PFRs) and vapor and gas filtering subcategories. Particle-filtering respirators are specifically-dedicated to removing dusts, mists, aerosols and fumes by creating a physical barrier to block the path of these substances, while vapor and gas filtering devices actually remove more dangerous gases and vapors from the air the user is breathing.
Interestingly enough, the design for the face pieces of air-purifying respirators can be disposable, quartered, half-sized, or they can cover the user's face entirely. Disposable respirators are the type you might use around the house when vacuuming dusty areas or doing a lot of cleaning that would require the use of aerosols to get rid of messes or freshen the air. Quarter-mask respirators are usually equipped with special cartridges or cloth filters and they fit over the space between the top of the nose and chin. Half-mask respirators fit from under the chin to just directly above the nose and are designed to protect users from more volatile chemicals like pesticides, acid gases, and ammonia. They will also leverage multiple cartridges dedicated to filtering out individual contaminants from the air. These cartridges are then disposed of once they've reached their limits. Like their half-mask counterparts, full-face respirators make use of chin-mounted canisters, each with specially-dedicated cartridges for filtering individual contaminants.
Supplied-air respirators are built for environments with low levels of oxygen and in circumstances where contaminants cannot be filtered out by their APR counterparts. They are best for use in enclosed areas with highly-contaminated air, such as hazardous waste sites, and are divided into both the Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) and the Air Line Respirator (ALR) categories. With an SCBA, a separate air tank is carried by the user, whereas the ALR has its air supply located a certain distance away and is carried to the user's face piece by an air hose.
May The Force Of Air Be With You
In most situations, a respirator is going to be used as a preventive or protective tool and not necessarily something you're going to wear for fun, considering its functionality. So, before you start running around and emulating Darth Vader, you need to know what you're doing and what type of respirator will work best for your situation to keep you safe.
Finally, while this might be a no-brainer, ensuring the respirator fits properly and doesn't obstruct your view when wearing it will be an important consideration.
First, one must determine the type of environment in which the device will be used. If you're planning to work in an industrial capacity around a lot of volatile chemicals or in enclosed places with low levels of oxygen, then a supplied-air respirator may be best.
Next, training is a big factor in the proper operation of the device, especially with one that requires the use of dedicated filters or cartridges to eliminate specific chemicals and gases. Learning how to properly install, use, and replace these components can mean the difference between life and death. That being said, chances are that if you work for an industrial supplier or a fire department, you've probably been exposed to at least some type of training for using a respirator properly.
Besides the filters, one must be aware of the specific maintenance and storage requirements for the device they choose. Many respirators require specific conditions for optimal storage, cleaning, and checks to ensure air supplies, straps, and components are up to code.
Finally, while this might be a no-brainer, ensuring the respirator fits properly and doesn't obstruct your view when wearing it will be an important consideration. If you were a firefighter, for example, a purified-air respirator would do you little good if you couldn't see where you were going when trying to extinguish flames or quickly rescue trapped bystanders from a burning building.
A Brief History Of Respirators
The concept of using respiratory equipment to protect one's self from the dangers of pollution and toxic gases was originally pioneered by Gaius Plinius Secundus (or Pliny the Elder) as early as the first century CE. Pliny recommended the use of animal bladder skins to protect Roman mine workers from inhaling lead oxide dust.
By the sixteenth century, Leonardo da Vinci suggested that a finely-woven cloth dipped in water could protect sailors from a toxic powder weapon he had created.
By the sixteenth century, Leonardo da Vinci suggested that a finely-woven cloth dipped in water could protect sailors from a toxic powder weapon he had created. Through the middle of the seventeenth century, most of the early designs for primitive respirators consisted of some type of rubber or rubberized fabric bag placed completely over the head and fastened around the throat with a viewing window, while also accompanied by a tank of compressed air under slight pressure.
The first patented United States air-purifying respirator was granted to Lewis P. Haslett in 1848 for his innovative Haslett Lung Protector device designed to remove dust from the surrounding air using one-way clapper valves and a moistened wool filter. Following Haslett's invention, additional innovations for air-purifying respirators continued to be developed. Such inventions included Scottish chemist John Stenhouse's previous studies around the use of activated charcoal for constructing one of the first practical respirators for firefighters in 1854, and Hutson Hurd's design for a cup-shaped mask in 1879, which became widespread within the industrial workforce where it continued to maintain its popularity through the 1970's.
Following World War One, the military took a large interest in the use of respirator technology to defend against chemical warfare, leading to the development of inexpensive filters made from resin-infused dust by the 1930's. Further filter developments led to their construction from fine glass fibers, which could eliminate more particulate matter without excess breathing resistance.
Although modern respirators are designed with more sophisticated materials than their pre-war counterparts, their fundamental operation remains the same with a forward-facing focus on maintaining both worker and civilian health in times when worldwide pollution levels are increasing.
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