The 10 Best Respirators
This wiki has been updated 29 times since it was first published in June of 2015. Protect your lungs from paint, resins, organic vapors, gases, and other hazardous substances by donning one of these full-face or half-mask respirators. Our models are suitable for use at construction sites and other industrial working environments. Many are designed with anti-fog lenses and replaceable filters for all-day use. Always comply with local employee safety laws and regulations. When users buy our independently chosen editorial recommendations, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
September 25, 2020:
We've removed the Breath Buddy, SAS Opti-Fit, Stanley RST-64027, and Miller Half Mask models due to availability concerns.
Newly added this year are the Honeywell North 7600 Series and Honeywell North 7700 Series, the former of which delivers a 200-degree field of vision, threaded cartridge connectors, and five-point adjustable head strap while the latter option can be used in multiple configurations that include being paired with its optional backpack adapter for painting and welding projects.
We've included the Trend Stealth APF10, which uses pleated filters behind protective grilles to remove contaminants as small as 0.3 microns. Both this option and the Parcil PT-60 have low profiles so they can be easily paired with safety goggles and face shields without compromising the dependability of their seals. While I've never considered a respirator to be a fashion statement, there is a benefit to using one with a compact design such as these, especially if you're going to be working around harmful chemicals in tight spaces.
Finally, the Ranksing ST-AX has been added for its medical-grade rubber construction and double-valve design for expelling moisture and heat.
July 04, 2019:
Regardless of whether you're working around paint, dust, or other airborne biohazards, having proper respiratory protection from these things is paramount, especially when having to work in dangerous environments as part of your job. For that reason, I wanted to maintain as versatile a selection of respirators as possible to cover any eventuality or job situation.
For example, the upgraded 3M Ultimate FX uses its patented Cool Flow valve for easy breathing as well as for preventing heat and moisture from building up inside the face piece. I kept the Breath Buddy BBPBP001 in a high spot for its practical applications, low price point, long-lasting particle filters, and the fact that it comes with a pair of protective safety glasses. I decided to add the 3M Rugged Comfort for its convenient quick-latch design, making it easy to flip the face piece up and down, depending on your surroundings, while the low profile allows the mask to easily accommodate grinding and welding shields. The SAS Opti-Fit is a dependable option, thanks to its 5-point harness and scratch-resistant lens. Despite its compact size, the Miller Half Mask is still a relevant choice due to the wrap-around spark guard. I added the Parcil PD-100 for its sound-repeating diaphragm for ensuring clear communication in loud environments. The Allegro 9901 has a sturdy silicone construction and high-impact polycarbonate lens for easy viewing. Finally, the Safety Works SWX00320 boasts a rear-entry airflow and hygiene cover, both of which serve to repel dirt and keep the seal intact at all times.
Avon FM53 While it may be slightly more robust than most standard construction site respirators, the Avon FM53 is a technologically-advanced mask platform capable of being used as both a positive-pressure self-contained breathing apparatus and negative-pressure air-purifying respirator without the need to change components when switching between these two operating modes. It is even powerful enough to provide protection against traditional chemical and biological warfare agents and select toxic industrial materials. This one is also equipped with an electronic communication port for integrated voice projection and radio communication in the field. avon-protection.com
The Air We Breathe
Half-mask respirators fit from under the chin to just directly above the nose and protect users from more volatile chemicals like pesticides, acid gases, and ammonia.
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 viruses. These types of situations necessitate use of one or various types of respirators 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 and 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 can remove dust, 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 that a 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 a 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 protect users from more volatile chemicals like pesticides, acid gases, and ammonia. They will also leverage multiple cartridges to filter 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 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. 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, you 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 within 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 and 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 fire department, you've probably been exposed to at least some type of training for using a respirator properly.
Besides the filters, you must be aware of the specific maintenance and storage requirements for the device you 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 as a protective measure against pollution and toxic gases was originally pioneered by Gaius Plinius Secundus (or Pliny the Elder) as early as the 1st century CE. Pliny recommended the use of animal bladder skins to protect Roman mine workers from inhaling lead oxide dust.
Further filter developments led to their construction from fine glass fibers, which could eliminate more particulate matter without excess breathing resistance.
By the 16th 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 17th 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, which was 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.