How to Choose a Respirator

Springtime implies home improvement around these parts—the kind of home improvement where we’re sanding, staining, refinishing, peeling and painting everything that we couldn’t get our hands on during the winter months.

The common dust mask has always been my BFF in doing most of these projects (good ventilation and eye protection are also a must depending on what you’re doing), but this year I’ve been doing my research, and instead of spending another $5 on a 3-pack of thin cotton dust masks, I’m going heavy-duty.

Here’s the low-down on why:

The dust masks I’ve always bought and used are good for a myriad of purposes: dusting, sweeping, pollen, the light-duty dust mites. I’m guilty of the “better this than nothing” mentality. What they don’t do, though, is protect my lungs from the more intense projects I find myself undertaking: the insulating, sanding, sawing, staining and spray painting. Never mind that I can get a pack of 50 dust masks for about $12 at any big box store—if they aren’t protecting us from what we need protecting from, it hardly seems worth it.

How to find the best respirator for your DIY project.

To improve upon my simple dust mask, I began looking into higher quality respirators. For the kind of common household work and projects that I undertake, here are two that I decided upon. Hopefully knowing more about the differences in respirators will help you too!

A short step up from my simple dust mask is this respiratory shield with an exhalation valve. Similarly made of cotton (read: not washable and needs to be replaced more frequently), this mask is OSHA and NIOSH N95 rated and equipped to better seal around your face while providing an exhalation valve right on the front to help with cooler, easier breathing. I am happy with the fit, but still can’t wear it easily without fogging up my current eye gear. It will help to protect my nose/mouth/lungs while sanding and sawing wood, cutting and sanding drywall, and installing fiberglass insulation. I paid $4 for mine.

Respirator with exhalation valve for sawing, sanding, and installing insulation

I went for one more step up on the lung-health too, also choosing a respirator specially recommended for users of paints and pesticides. Its cartridges and filters cover me when it comes to preventing the inhalation of the spray paint molecules, and would be favorable for use when I’m spraying areas around my house for spring insects or mid-summer surprise beehive attacks. Priced at $30, it’s a longer-term investment that can last for a long time with proper care, since you can swap out the cartridges and filters themselves inexpensively and keep the face frame for years. A few options I found were for sale at our local Home Depot; check out this product and this product if you’d like to compare.

Comfortable fit with this painting and pesticide-rated respirator.

There are other respirators that filter airborne chemicals with even more precision—consider them if you are looking to do home maintenance involving acidic cleaning agents, ammonia, or lead and asbestos, as masks meeting those filtration needs must meet OSHA and NIOSH P100. You can find respirators suiting this bill for not that much more money.  I found a few multipurpose models starting at just $40, with pricing going up as high as $200.

61 Responses

  1. Magenn says:

    I could have used one of these when I was installing my Magenn Tubular Skylight! Dust all up in my lungs.

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About Emily Fazio 


I caught the home improvement bug at an early age, and now I'm a full-time DIYer living in Rochester, NY. The projects I cover on my blog Merrypad range ...

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