Author of Be Ready for Anything and Bloom Where You’re Planted online course
A respirator mask is a prep that is potentially lifesaving, doesn’t cost a lot of money, and is oft-overlooked in the prepper world. Some folks like to invest in gas masks (which, of course, are irreplaceable during certain types of disasters) or they forget about respiration altogether.
The importance of something that can help you breathe without sucking harmful particles or vapors into your lungs cannot be overstated. After all, in the prepper’s adage of 3, air comes first:
3 minutes without air
3 days without water
3 weeks without food
I recommend keeping disposable masks on hand. They aren’t just for people whose budget is tight. Disposable masks can be used in many different scenarios in which a gas mask may not be practical.
It’s interesting to note that in China, the particulate levels due to pollution are so high that many people won’t leave their homes without donning a protective mask. (source)
Classifications of masks
A major question when purchasing respirator masks is which kind to get.
There are many different classifications, but today, we’ll discuss 3 popular types: the N, R, and P series masks.
The letter in the classification indicates the resistance of the mask to oil.
- N – is not resistant to oil
- R – is resistant to oil
- P – is oil-proof
Then there are numbers, generally between 95 and 100. The number indicates the percentage of potential leakage.
- 95 – filters out 95% of airborne particles
- 99 – filters out 99% of airborne particles
- 100 – filters out 99.97% of airborne particles
The type of filter you need depends on the type of threat you are facing. I don’t spend money on anything less than 100 series filters unless it is for something very minor, like working with sawdust. These will screen out the smallest of particulates and because you never know what type of disaster you’ll be facing, it seems to me the best idea to filter out as much as possible.
If you’re only getting one kind, get the P100 type because this will be resistant to just about any threat. It comes in a reusable ($16.95 at the time of posting) and disposable ($8.21 apiece at the time of posting) version. If you get the reusable type, be sure to stock up on replacement filters.
10 Reasons Why Preppers Need Respirator Masks
There are many different situations in which a respirator mask could be handy – or even life-saving.
- Evacuating from a fire: Having lived in wildfire country for the past few years, my vehicle kit contains swim goggles and N100 masks for everyone. In the event of a fire, the goggles will protect our eyes from the smoke, and the respirator mask will help us breathe despite the ash and smoke. These would also be helpful bedside during a house fire.
- In the event of a nuclear strike: If a nuclear strike were to occur, as I’ve written before, it wouldn’t automatically be a death sentence if you are outside the initial blast zone. If you must travel to get away from the radioactive aftermath, wearing gear like a P100 mask, goggles, and a Tyvek suit will provide some protection from radiation.
- During a pandemic: If an airborne contagious illness is spreading, you can prevent inhaling the virus with an N100 or P100 mask. It all depends on the size of the virus (this information will generally be available from the CDC. Ebola, for example, is .02 microns, so the protection of a 100 series mask is essential.
- During search and rescue: After a building collapse, many dangerous particles will be floating through the air. A huge number of first responders and people working at the WTC on 9-11 ended up with multiple myeloma, a cancer of the blood. Thousands of people have fought off the cancer, only to have it reoccur repeatedly. (source) During search and rescue after any type of structural collapse, after an earthquake, for example, protect your lungs from the toxic debris floating through the air. An N-series mask will work in this situation.
- When performing work that involves particles: Protect your lungs with the appropriate masks if you are doing any type of work in which dust particles are prevalent. For concerns about sawdust, for example, an inexpensive N95 mask will suffice. If you’re cleaning up an area in which rats have been present, you’ll need to be concerned about hantavirus, and an N100 is in order. Particles from welding can be very small, also necessitating an N100 mask.
- When performing work that involves fumes: If you are spray painting or using strong chemical solvents, protect your lungs with a P100 mask.
- During a chemical attack…sort of: A P-100 mask may provide some protection during a chemical attack, but some weaponized gases will also absorb into your body through your skin. As well, unless you are expecting the attack and already wearing the mask when the chemical weapon was dispersed, it’s unlikely that you’d be able to get your protective gear on before the damage was done.
- During a riot: Of course, I always recommend avoiding large angry crowds, but if for some reason you’re in the midst of one, be prepared for the opposition to use a method like tear gas to disperse the crowd. Only a P-series mask will help in this situation.
- After a volcano: This seems like a far-fetched scenario, but with all of the recent seismic activity at Yellowstone, the possibility of a volcanic eruption isn’t totally out of the question. One of the biggest risks if you survive the eruption is breathing in the volcanic ash. An N-series mask will protect your lungs.
- Working in an area with mold: Mold spores can be a cause of severe chronic illness. If you’re working in an area in which mold is suspected, an N100 mask will protect you from the spores.
What are some good respirator masks?
If you are going to add respirator masks to your preparedness supplies, practice putting them on. If you are in a situation during which you need them, seconds may count and there won’t be time to be bumbling around.
Below, you can find links to some of the respirator masks that I recommend:
- Reusable P100 Mask and replacement filters
- N100 mask
- N95 mask (this is a 30-pack)
- Child-sized N-95 mask (2 pack)
- Family-sized N99 (This has adjustable straps and weight guidelines for ordering – some sizes will fit children. Here’s a calculator to convert kilograms to pounds)
In most situations when you’ll need a mask, safety goggles will also be necessary. Get the kind with an elastic band around the back and rubber around your eyes to ensure a good, snug fit. In a pinch, you can use anti-fog swim goggles.
What protective respirator masks do you keep on hand?
Do you have any type of protective respirator devices? If so, what type do you use and why? Please share your knowledge in the comments section below.