House painting is something that millions of homeowners do every weekend. From interior wall painting, kitchen cabinet painting to painting the exterior of their homes.
Sadly though, many people do not understand the potential dangers of paint fumes and particles and therefore do not take the necessary precautions with paint masks and paint respirators.
In this post, I am going to not only show you my favorite picks for the best painting masks and respirators for popular painting projects, but I will show you the dangers of breathing in VOCs and paint particles, how to care for your paint respirator and even a few other tips to keep yourself safe.
Note: For this article, I will only be discussing filtering masks and Air Purifying Respirators (APRS), not SARs as they are considered professional equipment.
Paint Respirator Index
- The Best Paint Masks and Respirators
- The Damaging Effects Of Breathing Paint Fumes and Particles
- How Do Paint Respirators Work
- Keeping Your Respirator In Top Working Order
- Other Safety Gear We Recommend
The Best Paint Masks and Paint Respirators
Before I show you my picks for the best masks and respirators, I want to quickly discuss the difference between a paint mask and a paint respirator.
A paint mask is to prevent airborne particles from entering your respiratory system, it is small, cheap and disposable after a few uses. Some masks can even help eliminate paint smells while wearing them.
A paint respirator (as we are discussing today) is a type of mask designed to prevent the wearer from inhaling dust particles, microorganisms, fumes, vapors, and gases. A respirator provides a much larger amount of protection to the wearer.
The Best Paint Respirators For Painting
A painting respirator is necessary for a lot of different occasions and not necessary for a few as well.
For me, I like to use a respirator any time that I am spraying paint. This keeps not only organic fumes out of my respiratory system but small paint particles as well.
I also like to use a respirator any time I am using a high VOC type paint (such as an oil or lacquer). Personally, I don’t use lacquers any more these days and I am using oils less and less.
I don’t use a respirator if I am using a ZERO or low VOC paint while brushing and/or rolling a project. If I am using a normal paint and have good ventilation, I also will skip a respirator.
For most DIYers, this 3m disposable half mask is the perfect protection for those times when you are spraying paint. Since most home owners don’t spray that often, a disposable mask such as this is perfect.
This paint respirator will protect against organic vapors (VOCs) found in paint and the pre-filters will filter out dust particles.
This mask is good for 8 hours of heavy filtering or 40 hours of light filtering. If you can start to smell vapors, it’s time for a new mask. You should also use the mask by the suggested expiration date and throw away after it has expired.
Once the mask has been used the recommended time or it is past its expiration, the carbon pores in the cartridges will become less effective at filtering organic compounds from the air.
This mask is perfect for latex paints, oil-based paints and protecting against sanding dust from drywall and wood.
If have more than an occasional need for a respirator, this 3M Respirator with replaceable cartridges is perfect as you only have to replace the cartridges and not the mask.
If you plan on doing a lot of spraying, have a very poorly ventilated area, or will have paint falling into your face while painting (such as painting a ceiling), then the 3M Full Face Respirator is my favorite mask.
I enjoy this mask because of the protection it provides my eyes and helps me avoid getting paint on my face while painting.
It filters out VOCs and dust particles and has replacement cartridges so you can use this mask for years.
TIP: Make sure to purchase protective film for the facemask so you don’t have to scrub the paint off the shield every time after you paint. This can cause your shield to get dirty, scratched and cloudy over time.
This mask is great for painting any oils and lacquers that have potent fumes that can hurt your eyes. It is also perfect for most spraying applications, especially those above your head. Finally, I like it any time I am rolling above my head (such as ceilings) as it helps keep my face clean and my eyes paint free.
You can buy 3M’s Full Face Respirator at Amazon.
The Best Paint Masks For Painting and Dust
Paint masks are perfect for any dust creating project such as sanding walls before painting, sanding drywall and sanding old paint. They are also great for people sensitive to paint smells (even with low VOC paints).
General Sanding & Dust: 3M Cool Flow Valve Paint Mask
The 3M Cool Flow Paint Mask is the perfect cheap, disposable mask for sanding, general dust, and work.
This mask is made for sanding non-harmful materials (you’ll need a different mask for sanding lead-based paints) and blocks 95% of airborne particles.
The breathing valve helps keep the mask and your face cool and comfortable while working. It allows your exhaled air to easily escape and closes while you breathe in to force air filtration. If you’ve ever worn a dust mask for a long period, you’ll know that they can get really humid and uncomfortable very quickly.
You can buy the 3M Cool Flow Paint Mask at Amazon.
General Sanding and Odors: 3M Latex Paint and Odor Paint Mask
The difference with this mask vs other painting masks is that the mask has a layer of carbon on the exterior of the mask that actually helps filter out a lot of airborne odors.
This mask is perfect for anyone who is sensitive to paint smells and wants to help reduce basic smells while painting.
If you want 100% air filtration, you will need one of the paint respirators listed above.
The mask has a 95% filtration rating of airborne particles.
You can buy the 3M Latex Paint and Odor Paint Mask at Amazon.
The Damaging Effects Of Breathing Paint Particles and Fumes
The main reason most people don’t properly protect their respiratory systems when painting is that they don’t understand the long term effects that breathing in paint fumes and paint particles can have on them.
Breathing in VOCs
VOCs, otherwise known as Volatile Organic Compounds, are organic chemicals used in paints (among other things) for their high evaporation rate (they help paints dry quickly). For the purpose of this article, I’m leaving their explanation and use basic.
Different VOCs have different effects on the human body and the severity of these effects is going to depend on the length of exposure and the repetitiveness of the exposure (painters being exposed for long amounts of times for many years have the most risk).
Short term effects are (but not limited to) eye, nose, dizziness, headaches, fatigue and throat irritation.
Long term effects include (but not limited to) liver damage, kidney damage, central nervous system damage, and long term causes of cancer.
By this simple list, you can see that breathing in any amounts of VOCs is just not worth the risk when a simple cheap painting respirator can protect you.
Breathing Latex Paint Particles
Breathing in latex particles can be harmful in a few different ways.
First, if you are spraying paint, tiny droplets of wet latex paint get into the air and go into your respiratory system. These bits of latex actually build up in your lungs and are believed to cause long term damage.
Second, latex paint contains silica, which is known to cause cancer. When sanding, this silica becomes airborne and enters your respiratory system.
How Do Paint Respirators Filter Out Paint Particles & VOCs
Respirators filter the area that passes through their cartridges through a process called carbon filtering.
The cartridges that attach to the 3M paint respirators above (and even the Paint and Odor mask) have activated charcoal inside of them. Each particle of activated carbon has an incredibly large surface area or porous area that is used to trap impurities in the air.
In fact, one gram of activated carbon actually has 32,000 square feet of surface area for gas absorption!
As the organic compounds pass through the carbon filters, they are absorbed into the activated carbon and trapped, allowing only pure air to flow through.
This is why carbon cartridges can typically filter 8 hours of heavy VOCs or up to 40 hours of low VOCs, they actually have a point where the carbon becomes full and is no longer effective.
This is the same process used in water filters and many other filtration devices.
Keeping Your Paint Mask and Paint Respirator in Working Order
Once you purchase a paint respirator, you don’t want to leave it sitting around the home or garge.
This can actually cause the carbon to fill up with moisture and natural air contaminants around the house while it is not even in use.
To keep your painting respirator in good working order for as long as possible either remove the filter cartridges and place them in a zip lock bag or place the entire mask in a large zip lock bag.
This will limit the amount of contaminants and moisture that come into contact with the carbon.
Other Safety Gear We Recommend
Earplugs serve a dual purpose for a painter. One, they protect your hearing, obviously. But a second added benefit is the blog another access for VOCs to easily enter your body.
A paint suit isn’t just for keeping you clean, although it does that very well. VOCs can enter your body by being absorbed through your skin. A paint suit limits VOCs contact with your skin and minimizes your body’s absorption.
As with earplugs, a secondary purpose of safety goggles is to prevent your eyes exposure to VOCs. Although my first choice for eye protection is a full face mask.