Finding the right respirator mask gets very complicated very quickly: what filter on what mask? Of the many, many types of paint respirator masks, we present some clarity: we’ll order a la carte. Read the short guide below to find the right mask for the job.
If you expect to do more than just a little sanding, you’ll want to make a modest investment in a mask that has different sets of filter for different needs. This will not cost much in the end: the filters last and last if you care for them. (If you want a disposable, mmmm, ok, we’ll get you one).
This is the perfect gift for someone you care about. 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 quality respirator mask.
A very important tip: keep the opened filters in an air-tight container/bag because they absorb toxins 24/7 which will shorten their lifespan.
A Good Respirator Mask: This is a matter of life and death!
Our top pick below can be configured for any nasty situation.
For painting, we use the 3M 6100 respirator mask, the workhorse. It protects your lungs in any scenario because you can use the right filter for the toxins around you. We like to stick with a variable filter system: we are covered for all needs: painting, sanding, spraying, BREATHING!, etc.
Here’s our breakdown to guide you to the right respirator mask. Have on hand the right filter for the job: filter dust, pollen, toxic particulates, toxic vapors, VOCs etc. Our top pick below solves all these problems:
- Low dust, high toxins? (high VOC paint, spraying anything, etc): use chemical filter, save your dust filters.
- Low toxins, high allergies and dust? (sawing wood, sanding etc): use dusk filters, save your expensive chemical filters.
- Both high dust/allergens and toxins? (including latex spray paint) Use both together!
We recommend a low-cost respirator mask with excellent filters and it’s not going to break your bank.
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 is best for you.
The 3M 6100 is the workhorse—comfortable and well made and the strap system does not slip off (others makers do). The plastic halter fits any head. This paint respirator mask comes without any filters—see the bullet list below about buying the filters. (I own these safety glasses as well, but confess that since I wear glasses, I don’t use the proper ones as often as I should!)
Note that 3M has a filter called 6200 and a mask called 6200. Sad! But what we present all work with either 3M mask.
The 3M 6100 (or 6200) respirator mask can be used with:
- A superb chemical cartridge for cancer causing vapors, VOCs (the 3M 60926 filter)
- A decent chemical filter (the 6002 filter, which is not for organics, but ok for bleach, etc) that you can add a HEPA paper filter on top(which greatly lengthens its lifespan by keeping it from clogging with dust). You need the retaining clip to keep the HEPA filter on top of the chemical filter: you change the paper as needed. (These come in a kit: see the last item in the box below)
- Just the HEPA paper filter ( the 3M 2097 for pollen, sawdust, sanding paint etc). There’s another kit for just dust: 12 filters + mask for $50
Note: HEPA = “P100”
My advice from many years of use: adopt the low-cost 3M respirator mask system which is all 3 listed above. All of it for just $60? Haaa! Well worth the expense! This is 35 years of painting and sanding experience talking.
Most women will use ‘medium’ and men the ‘large’.
Ok, time to shop: Remember, pros wear a respirator mask that can be used:
- just for dust, or
- just for chemical fumes or
3M filters snap on the mask in a very well thought out system. (No, I don’t get any money from 3M !!)
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 for $17
The 3M 60929, 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$9
The 3M 6001 (or 6002) - it is important to use this with bleach and other toxins (see chart below). I write: "FOR BLEACH" on the box, so I'll remember when someday I am cleaning some mold with bleach I can pop it in. (This one CAN be used with dust filter below):
- 3-a THE DUST FILTERS (Part 1): the filter itself: 3M's 5P716 for $14
"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 Clip2 for $7
These hold on to the 6001 and 6002 Cartridges, but not the other cartridges.
- 4- DUST FILTERS FOR USE WITHOUT CHEMICAL CARTRIDGE$7
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 Respirator10 for $28
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$20
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 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).