Best Respirator Mask – Use Only What You Need

Worker with a Paint respirator Mask to Protect Lungs
Finding the best respirator mask gets very complicated very quickly: what filter on what mask? Of the many, many types of respirator for painting, we present some clarity: we’ll order a la carte. Read the short guide below to find the right mask for the job.
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For a short visual summary, jump to the best respirator infographic, or watch our video to see how the system works.

paint respirator mask very used
See how dirty this respirator mask is? Would you like your lungs to be like that?

The Skinny:
Below, we cover the best respirator for spray painting, most toxins in most paints, and a respirator mask for dusk (a one-time mask is below too).

But if you just want the bottom line, grab the same thing I use:

  • the main mask, that straps around your head is the respirator mask itself (these come without filters) and 
  • the filter kit (comes with 3 things: a set of chemical filtering cartridges, a set of outer paper filter and a set of retaining clips).
  • We use all of the above for toxic work: dust, paints, spraying, etc..
  • If unsure about your toxic air, check what toxins you use against the 3M chart linked here.

The cost? The filters last and last if you care for them (see tip just below).

♦ A very important tip: keep the opened filters in an air-tight container(as for food)because they absorb toxins 24/7 which will shorten even the best respirator lifespan. I use 3 layers of baggies for an air seal, plus a backpack for toughness.

Having the best chemical filters on your respirator mask: This is a matter of life and death!

Our top pick below is widely considered to be the best respirator mask.

Painter working with a high-quality respirator mask
Painter working with a high-quality respirator mask

About the mask: We use the 3M Half-Face paint respirator mask, (sizes and more below). It is a workhorse that we consider the best respirator for painting. It’s comfy and stays tight. In 10 years you’ll replace the elastic. Big woop.

About the types of filters: We like to stick with a variable filter system covering all our needs: painting, sanding, spray cans, etc. It is hands down the best respirator for spray painting with airless sprayers (read about sprayers). We always add the paper filter over it (see the kit linked above and combinations explained below). 

♦ The outer paper filter traps latex particles that extends the life of the big dog filter below.

Configurations: Different pollutants are everywhere:  dust, pollen, toxic particulates, toxic vapors, VOCs (read about VOCs), and so on. The comination I use solves all these problems for a painter:

  • Zero dust, high toxins? (high VOC paint, spraying anything, etc): use a chemical filter, save your dust filters.
  • Low toxins, high allergies and dust? (sawing wood, sanding etc): use dusk filters only, save your expensive chemical filters.
  • Both high dust/allergens and toxins? (including latex spray paint) Use paper over cartridge (as with the mask above and the kit linked here).
The best respirator for painting in general is this low-cost mask and combination of excellent 3M filters and it’s not going to break your bank. This is also the best respirator for spray painting as well as brushing oils, etc.


Workers with respirator masks
Workers with respirator masks

Respirator Mask Important Tips

First question: “Full face” or “half mask”? We use the half-mask which means it does not cover your eyes: just your nose and mouth. (See the full face mask below). A full face mask covers your eyes and if you have allergies, that may be best for you. And if you are around a lot of dust or spray, that is for sure the best respirator mask for you.

The 3M Half-Face is always in my tool bag and comes in 3 sizes: Small: 3M 6100 for smaller women, the Medium: 3M 6200 for many regular folks (the mask 6200, not the filter ! 6200), and the Large: 3M 6300( I use large & I’m 6’1″).  They are comfortable and well made and the strap system does not slip off (others makers do).  The plastic halter fits any head. The paint respirator mask itself comes without any filters—see the bullet list below about buying the filters. (Please use these safety glasses as well.

♦ Note that 3M has a filter called “6200” and a mask called “6200”.  Sad!  But what we present all work with all the respirator masks shown on this page (except the disposable).

The 3M (6100, 6200, or 6300) respirator mask can be used with:

  1. A superb chemical cartridge for cancer causing vapors, those nasty VOCs. (3M “Multi-Gas/Vapor” filter).
  2. A decent chemical filter (the 6002 filter, which is not for organics, but ok for bleach, etc).
  3. To either above, you can add-on you can add-on a life-extending a HEPA paper filter on top (lengthens the main cartridge’s lifespan by keeping it from clogging with dust). You need the retaining clip to keep the HEPA filter on top of the chemical filter: easy to change the outer paper as needed.  You only need one retaing clip for life. (PS: These come in a kit: see #6 in the box below).
  4. Use a stand-alone HEPA paper filter (the 3M “p-100” for pollen, sawdust, sanding paint etc). Get a HEPA mask kit for just dust: 12 filters + mask for $50
    Note: HEPA = “P100”

Painting bathroom tipsMy advice: adopt the 3M respirator mask system which can be configured just for what you need.  All of it for just $60?  Haaa! Well worth the expense! This is 35+ years of painting (and painting prep) experience talking.


If you missed it above:
Small: 3M 6100 (many women)
Medium: 3M 6200 (most folks)
Large: 3M 6300 (I’m 6 feet tall and use large.)

One more thing about a high-quality respirator masks…

I have given this as a gift to others. It’s perfect for someone you care about who works around toxins. Tough guys normally think they can just breathe anything, but these toxic anythings often cause cancer: a painter or do-it-yourself-er cannot do without a high-quality respirator mask.

No, I don’t get any money from 3M !!

We just like that 3M filters snap on the mask in a very well thought-out system.

You can watch the video at the bottom of this article to see how the system works together

Best Pick

You only need 2 products the mask and cartridge, but you can use an outer particle filter to greatly lengthen the life of your (more expensive) chemical vapor filter to keep the dust out.

What do I need to buy ?

1- You need the mask (see box above).

2- You need the right filters for the job (see box below)

Different filters for different jobs: we keep on hand all the ones below. We’ll be covered no matter what we are doing, we will not risk our health for any reason!


Let’s buy filters a la carte

Living room recently painted wearing a respirator maskAll of the above can be cleaned with air (not water) and will last for hours.  You can tell when they need to be changed by your inhalations:  the difference between your the one you are using contrasted with a new one.

I’ve written about the dangers of VOCs and there is a lot on the internet if you need more, but the bottom line is: don’t risk your health breathing modern products: use a good respirator mask.

If you clean with bleach, I feel that it’s best to get the one that filters everything including bleach as bleach is really quite dangerous. We know a lifeguard that died from years of adding “chlorine” to the pool.  Good to have it on hand. Also, you know, the coming Zombie Apocolypse.  So, there’s that.

Be sure to keep the chemical cartridges in an air-tight plastic bag as they will absorb toxins 24/7 and slowly degrade if exposed to normal air.  I keep my entire mask in a large bag and out of harm’s way so it gets no holes. The filters last for many years!

Disposable?  All right if you insist.

There is a very good 3M mask shown below, that comes with a vapor filter and promises 8 hours of heavy vapor filtering or 40 hours of light vapor filtering.  But then you throw the whole thing away: seems a shame, but if you really are only going to do one job in your life, well, “you just have one job”. (Place your favorite ‘you had one job joke here).

The best respirator shown below is especially for severe allergies and senstive eyes: If you want to protect your eyes and lungs at the same time, go with the excellent full face paint respirator: the 3M. This is the best respirator for spray painting. No, I don’t get anything from 3M!  I knew a nice lady from Minnesota.  Ah, thank you Sweden.

Paint respirator mask filters: choose the best and keep them in an airtight container or bag as they absorb toxins 24/7


Paint Respirator Mask Guidelines
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2 thoughts on “Best Respirator Mask – Use Only What You Need”

  1. It is good to know that it would be smart to wear a mask when cleaning for long hours with chemicals. I wonder if you can get a mask that doesn’t have any latex. My skin gets really irritated when Latex touches it. So having a Latex-free particle mask would be great.

    • I did some looking for you… But first, I’m wondering if you will be painting with latex paints! Look into some good chemical gloves (I did review some in my tool gifts post)

      You can certainly find the paper variety for particles, but a chemical respirator without latex is difficult. All I found was the company Moldex. They claim that the 1500N95 series, 2200GN95 series and 1700N95 series do not contain latex. From what I can see, these are only for particulates.

      Perhaps line the surfaces that touch your body with the first-aid tape. Careful that you still get a good seal: make the mask very tight and it should work. Good luck.

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