A Prepper’s Guide to Respirator Masks

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by Daisy Luther

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. When performing work that involves fumes: If you are spray painting or using strong chemical solvents, protect your lungs with a P100 mask.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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:

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.

 

A Prepper\'s Guide to Respirator Masks
Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther is a coffee-swigging, globe-trotting blogger. She is the founder and publisher of three websites.  1) The Organic Prepper, which is about current events, preparedness, self-reliance, and the pursuit of liberty on her website, 2)  The Frugalite, a website with thrifty tips and solutions to help people get a handle on their personal finances without feeling deprived, and 3) PreppersDailyNews.com, an aggregate site where you can find links to all the most important news for those who wish to be prepared. She is widely republished across alternative media and  Daisy is the best-selling author of 5 traditionally published books and runs a small digital publishing company with PDF guides, printables, and courses. You can find her on FacebookPinterest, Gab, MeWe, Parler, Instagram, and Twitter.

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19 Responses

  1. Honestly, I don’t have much in the way of preps. But what I do have that I’m glad to have are some basic particle masks with a 3M on it. I don’t know how good it is, but I’ve used them with woodwork and they seem to filter out large particles. Great article as always and looking forward to the next.

  2. Do you know if the CPR masks can be cleaned and reused? I have a couple, BUT, I don’t want to just throw them away after one use.

    1. It depends on the reason you are using them. If it’s just to keep sawdust out of your nose when doing woodwork, you can definitely reuse it. But if it’s due to something contagious or harmful, like a virus or mold, they should be safely disposed of, because you could infect yourself just by touching it then touching your face.

    2. The mask should say. If it is a CPR mask for first aid they are often reusable but many are disposable. For first aid on a stranger disposable is probably better

  3. Hi Daisy,

    This is great information and very timely. I recently spent a fair amount of time researching smoke masks after the London Grenfell Tower fire in London and all the Portugal wildfire deaths.

    There is another product that you may want to consider…. N100 masks will filter out smoke particulates, but not poisonous gases from home or wildland fires…..i.e. fire smoke’s “Toxic Twins” (Carbon Monoxide and Hydrogen Cyanide), hydrogen chloride, HCl, dioxin, etc.

    There is a product that wildland firefighters use and structural firefighters use as back up if their O2 tanks fail. 45,000 US firefighters have used these masks. Tested and approved by the Navy for DOD facilities.
    The same technology is available for non- firefighters—-

    Civilian Smoke Masks by Xcaper.com.

    I made the plunge and bought a fair amount of these masks for under everyone’s beds, evacuation bags, EDC. I feel happy that these masks would really provide us safety to help ourselves and others in the event of house/ hotel fires, wildfires, terrorist event, etc.

    I have no financial gain by sharing my research on this product, I just believe that this is the best product among the various masks I found on the market.

    Here is a video that may help with deciding whether this prep may be useful to your family:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UYPG79fhADs

    I contacted the company before posting this today. They are sold out right now due to all the wildfire in the West, but will be available in 2 weeks

    Best regards,
    Debbie

    1. Hi Debbie & Daisy,

      First Debbie, thanks for all your support in our Xcaper technology. Second, thank you Daisy for designing a website to bring awareness to safety, which is very important. The Xcaper Emergency mask was design after Sept. 11 to help provide time to escape or rescued and a mask that would filter gases and particulates (smoke) all in one that wasn’t hard to wear or put on. The product has a 5 year shelf life unopened. If you just purchase just 1 of our kits your monthly cost for the product over the 5 year time frame is roughly $12 a month, small price to pay for your safety. Yes we are currently “Sold Out” but we are taking back orders and our website should be restocked with product in a couple of weeks. Please stay safe out there and please continue to spread the word about our product. Thanks, Xcaper Industries, LLC.

  4. Daisy:
    Thanks for the great overview on respirators. I use n100 regularly for applying woodworking finish. As a woodworker I keep a variety of dust masks and respirators in a clear plastic tub. If your readers are considering a similar strategy, I humbly recommend extra filters, and a large jar of Vaseline Petroleum Jelly to help make the seal between the mask and face in more serious situations. (E.g.: near fit, not perfect or facial hair. Clear plastic that s are easier to locate in a storage area with a flashlight.
    Again, thanks and keep on prepping!
    Ron

  5. Greetings Daisy ! A good comprehensive summary, very useful and with accurate informations. Please let me add some information. As a RN nurse, I have been trained tp respiratory PPE (long story), and focus my interest on all the topics, collecting infos and training. The accurate knowledge and skills in the field are a must for all preppers, and a majority of inhabitants nowadays. Planning to release an downlable online book within a few months, collecting all the reliable information and experiences I am aware of.
    Greetings again Anita

    There are many different situations in which a respirator mask could be handy – or even life-saving.
    1.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.
    Agree, and yes eyes must be protected by gas tight goggles; but a gas mask is a better choice even for wildfires; for an inside fire, high level of toxic gases including CO, so only an escape mask, hood or a self breathing designed for fire hazard will be proper – bit far more expensive …
    2.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.
    Globally agree – complex issue … A nuclear plant accident is more likely to happen, and is a little easier to deal with.
    3.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.
    Partly WRONG, you never breathe in the virus itself, only the particulate (aerosol or fluids) contaminated, which are far more wider – good news ! – Suits and goggles required, or if coming from outside, you need to change clothes and decontaminate
    4.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.
    AGREE (and goggles for eyes!)
    5.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.
    AGREE – add a suit (and goggles always)
    6.When performing work that involves fumes: If you are spray painting or using strong chemical solvents, protect your lungs with a P100 mask.
    TOTALLY WRONG at the very least an half face mask fitted with AB + P filter, appropriate filter depending on chemical if other than solvents
    7.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.
    AGREE – hopefully limited areas are concerned by such attacks.
    8.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.
    WRONG – P100 + gas tight goggles (or swimming pool goggles), + chemical filter recommanded, full suiting for any decontamination process. Hazard is both in the streets and inside a flat or a building (or subway), overwhelmed by CS gas
    9.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.
    AGREE – gas mask if toxic fumes added (mainly deadly sulfur wich turns acid in your lungs)
    10.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.
    AGREE – full suit and goggles required
    11 added – smog, dust clouds, and son, major hazard in Asia (Russia included).P100 or gas mask, scarves and surgical masks useless.

  6. Daisy, I notice the link to replacement filters only offers 2 pair. Have you ever seen them in bulk? Wondering if they would be lower price.

  7. Thank You very much for this article, it is well researched and full of valuable info and I appreciate all your efforts to inform all of us with valuable prepper info, thanks again !

  8. Just a note, you will not be protected from radiation with a Tyvek suit, goggles and a mask,. you will be somewhat protected from contamination. Radiation is more like light and will travel through your clothing (depending on the type of radiation). Contamination is more like dust particles, these “dust” particles are radioactive, get rid of the “dust” particles and move far enough away, you get rid of the radiation. It is a bit more complex then this brief statement.

  9. Thanks Daisy for another great, thought provoking article! I was wondering though if you or other readers might have suggestions for improvised protective gear in case you are caught without your primary gear in an emergency situation? Thanks again!

    1. Hi Miss Kitty – I have some DIY patterns and instances to share, you can find some in my FB page albums and in my You tube channel (playlist) – Feel free to ask for more (email or contact) ! A lot to learn from all the long term civilian defense training in East Europa. Easier to make a good protection against particles and infectious hazard, a little more difficult against gases… As regard nerve agents or no oxygen atmospheres, forget, indeed. Regards and greetings to Daisy for posting this little useful guide

    2. Miss Kitty, the state of emerency and nature of the hazard are the two main points. Immediate emergency ( open air, threat within minutes or less) vs alert and more time to set the gear. smoke, gases, ash, particle pollution, etc. make the difference as well. overloked, in most sutuations y need an eye protection. And in all cases, be trained to breathe with you improvised mask

  10. Although I have some swim goggles in a bag somewhere and a few masks in our house maintenance stuff in the crawl space somewhere…. This article reminds me this is something I should be more mindful of…

  11. Normally I am all about having multiple options. I like having options. I really, really like having options. However, respiration protection is one area where I have found that one can have too many options.

    Often times getting respiration PPE on in a timely manner can be the difference between being able to function and becoming a victim and burden on others. I decided years ago that have a large variety of respiratory protection could delay me getting the proper one donned.

    First I had to decide which was the most appropriate. Then I had to try and remember, under stress, where that particular option was located. Then I had to get it out. And hopefully could remember how to put that one on quickly and get it adjusted.

    Also, where some of the options are significantly less expensive than others that provide better protection for many things, to me, tying up money in five or six different options, and having only a few of each, for a given amount of money available did not make sense to me.

    So I decided to limit the options a little bit (But I do still have options. Did I mention I really, really like having options?).

    My disposable mouth/nose mask of choice is the P-100. It is the most expensive of the type, but it works for everything the N and R series do, as well as what the P-95 and P-99 do.

    I would much rather have a dozen of the P-100 than 5 N-100, 20 N-95, 10 N-99, and then a couple each of P-95, P-99, and P-100 masks. Because if I misjudge the situation and choose the wrong one, or cannot find the one I need in the time I have to go through the kits looking for that ‘right’ one, or am working in the dark or with impaired vision, I may wind up being worse off than not having a mask because I think I am protected when I am not.

    Ergo, the P-100 for particulates without dangers from gases.

    If there is any chance of there being any type of gaseous element that could get through the P-100 I use a full face respirator with cartridge mounted blower and locate it on my belt or slung over a shoulder, with a hose connecting the cartridge to the respirator.

    I cannot afford a commercial PAPR (Powered Air Purifying Respirator) but the blower unit that attaches to NATO style cartridges works quite well, though I do not like it when the cartridge is on the mask. I prefer to use the hose and carry the weight of the cartridge and blower on a sling or on my belt.

    I use this system for a couple of reasons. First and foremost is that I have a weak diaphram and it is very difficult for me to get enough air pulled through a purification cartridge without assistance. Second is that my lungs were damaged when I was young and suffered through a case of Whooping Cough. So my breathing capacity is a bit low, anyway.

    Thirdly is vanity, I suppose. I have had a beard most of my adult life and I do not want to shave it off. While there are methods you can use to get a resperator to seal to the face even with a beard, it is difficult and time consuming, and not always completely effective.

    With a PAPR or the blower system I use there is positive pressure in the mask which blows anything outward that might otherwise be pulled through my whiskers into the mask if I was not using the blower.

    Plus, even when I used a respirator when I was much younger and did not have a beard, I was very difficult to fit. It gave the trainers fits to try and adjust the masks so there were no leaks. And even when I could get through a fit test, I was only able to wear the respirator for a shy 15-minutes before it had to come off. I simply could not get enough air, and that was without the cartridge in place during fire fighting training.

    Given these facts, I decided a long time ago to use a blower.

    The third type of breathing protection I keep is a reusable cloth mask. It is primarily for the dust storms we get here in the high plains, and the smoke from the fires that have been prevelant the last several years. Even no more than what the disposable mask are, I go through a bunch of them during a bad fire season. The washable type save me money, and seem to work better, anyway.

    With three choices, all of them kept handy, I feel much more secure and do not have to worry about keeping several items sorted and getting the right one at the right moment in a timely manner.

    Just my opinion.

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