For a short visual summary, jump to the best respirator infographic.
The Skinny: if you just want the bottom line…
- 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).
- Us painters use all of the above for toxic work: dust, paints, spraying, etc. See options a la carte, below.
- Zombie Apocalypse? For a full face mask, we show 2 choices. Protect eyes and lungs from: particulates only which includes MOLD…or one that does that and more: a chemical + particulate full face respirator. Brains. Br-aa-ii-nn-ss.
- If unsure about the right filter for your toxin exposure, check the 3M chart linked here (pdf). If exposure levels are not known, a fresh air system is recommended.
The cost? Happy surprise. So reasonable. 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 2-3 layers of baggies for an air seal, plus a backpack for toughness. See video at bottom.
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.
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.
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. The full face mask discussed below 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 also called 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 (other 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).
From 3M: The 6100 (small), 6200 (med.), or 6300 (large) respirator mask can be used with:
- The absolute best chemical cartridge for cancer-causing vapors—those nasty VOCs. (3M “Multi-Gas/Vapor” filter, see the 60926 in the chart at the very bottom). This filter has a non-replaceable HEPA paper filter over the cartridge (cannot be removed).
- A decent chemical filter (the 6002 filter, which is not for organics, but ok for bleach, etc). Yes, the filter and mask have the same number.
- To #2 above, 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 retaining clip for life. (PS: These come in a kit: see #6 in the box below).
- 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 dollars.
Note: HEPA = “P100”
My advice: adopt the 3M respirator mask system which can be configured just for what you need. All of it for just 60 bucks? Haaa! Well worth the expense! This is 35+ years of painting (and painting prep) experience talking.
One more thing about a high-quality respirator mask…
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.
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
1- THE BEST CHEMICAL CARTRIDGE FOR THE MONEY:
2 filters for less than 20 bucks: 3M's 60926, which filters VOCs-carcinogenic organics (see chart below) and has the paper "Hepa" filter built in. (Hepa is aka 'P100'). You cannot change this Hepa filter that is INSIDE the cartridge and you cannot add an outer paper filter. But this is the single best filter that you can get outside of the military! ( I herby admit that do cheat and tape a HEPA filter on the outside to extend the lifespan of the cartridge! They need to give us this option! ).
2- A GOOD CARTRIDGE FOR LESS NASTY VAPORS
Less than 10 dollars. The 3M 6002 ( not the mask 6002 !! ) See chart below for what toxins are filtered. (This one CAN be used with dust filter below)
3-a THE DUST FILTERS (Part 1): the filter itself: 3M's 5P71
6 filters for less than 15 dollars. "Hepa" aka "P100" paper filter is excellent for allergies and dust. Note that there are many chemicals in many types of sawdust (from composite "wood") and this will do the trick. USE ALONE OR ON TOP OF THE 6001 OR 6002 CHEMICAL CARTRIDGE. Requires the clip in part 3-b, below.
3-b THE DUST FILTERS (Part 2): the clip 3M's 501 Retainer Clip
2 filters for less than 8 bucks. These hold on to the 6001 and 6002 Cartridges, but not the other cartridges.
4- DUST FILTERS FOR USE WITHOUT CHEMICAL CARTRIDGE
Less than 8 bucks. The 3M 2097, which is just for sanding, sawing or pollen, not made for vapors even though it says "Organic Vapor Relief".
5- BUDGET OPTION: 3M Particulate Respirator
10 filters for less than 30 dollars. For dust only, at less than 3 bucks each, use this paper mask with an exhaust valve so your breath will not fog up your glasses, (safety or prescription), and if you don’t wear glasses, they are better than the old-fashioned paper mask with no exhaust valve. But they are less effective than the filter/mask combinations mentioned above.
6- GET THE SYSTEM IN A KIT
Kit for less than 20 dollars. This has #2, #3and #4 on the above list. This has a good chemical cartridge, the filter also called 6001 for most nasty things (see chart below) and the outer dust filter and clip in one product: easy to get a good system in one place. Each respirator kit contains 1 pair of 6001 cartridges, 1 pair of 501 retainers and 2 pairs of 5P71 filters
All 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 for allergies, dust, and sensitive eyes: 3M’s Mold Remediation Respirator If you want to protect from most organic vapors at the same time, go with the excellent full face paint respirator: 3M’s 7162. In our view, this is the best respirator for spray painting. No, I don’t get any money from 3M! I knew a nice lady from Minnesota. Ah, thank you Sweden.
High-quality respirator: HEPA filters for all particulates including pollen etc (allergies and asthma)