More than ever, with the constant increase in the hazardous chemicals in the environment, the importance of the respirator mask for workers cannot be overemphasized.
This is particularly true for painters exposed to the harmful substances in the paint fog.
Spray painting sounds to be easy and fun for most DIYers. But it actually carries a few dangers as well.
Especially when you are using lots of paints, thinners, and other chemicals for spraying.
Investing in the right protective face mask becomes crucial in this case.
For starters and DIYers who want to paint their house themselves, using a protective face mask like an N95 particulate filtering respirator can be the best option.
Approved by cdc.gov these are not expensive and comes in the form of disposable paper masks attached with two easy-to-fit straps.
The thing you need to remember is they are not effective in adsorbing all the toxic chemical vapors that are emitted while spray painting.
If you want to get the mask with better protection from dangerous paint fumes and vapors you should instead go for face masks with activated carbon.
These can be more expensive to buy but are worth your money.
These types of full-face respirator masks are generally recommended for professional painters who need to deal with lots of chemicals and fumes daily.
Keeping this in mind, make sure to choose the device that is right for you!
What is a Respirator Mask?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a respirator is a personal protective device worn on the face.
It covers at least the nose and mouth to reduce to the barest minimum the wearer’s risk of inhaling hazardous airborne particles, gases, or vapors.
Spray painting respirators are personal protective devices made for painters.
Unlike the face mask, a respirator is a tight-fitting device that creates a seal between the face and the respirator.
The seal filters the air and ensures that minute particles, as found in the paint, varnishes, and solvents, do no gain easy entrance into the wearer.
In contrast, face masks can only prevent large particles and secretions like spit and mucous, which the wearer can generate.
How Does it Work?
There are generally two ways that a respirator works.
First, the respirator seeks to remove the contaminants or toxic fumes from the air entering the wearer.
It is somewhat an air purifier that filters dust, solvents, and other dangerous features produced by the paint fog.
In other words, it ensures the air to inhale by the wearer is unpolluted.
On the other hand, the respirator can supply air to the wearer from outside sources by using the hose.
With that said, respirators are most effective when used with cartridges and filters.
Now, these two functions can only be attained when the respirator sits tight on the face of its wearer.
The right usage of a respirator is as important as choosing the right respirator for a painting job.
It helps to deal with the hazard presented by painting jobs.
Therefore, it is important to have a hazard analysis of the work, environment, and tools to be used.
With that, selection for a respirator can be made based on the hazards present.
Below I will discuss the benefits, types of respirators, and factors you will need to look for in a quality spray paint respirator.
Why You Should Use a Mask When Painting?
Here’s the deal:
Although most modern-day paints are today manufactured with an “Eco-friendly” tag, they still need you to use some sort of solvent chemicals or mineral oils for getting the right finish.
If not eco-friendly, many paints may also contain a high level of toxic fumes, such as Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs).
Plus, the dangerous vapors emitted can compromise your health as they can directly penetrate through your lungs causing various respiratory troubles.
Using a face mask when painting a home is therefore crucial to your safety and health – no matter what type of paint (oil-based enamel or water-based latex) you are using.
Considering the fact that you are using a sprayer for painting and oil-based paints, it becomes even more important to use a face mask or better an equipment which is called a respirator.
This is due to the fact that a paint sprayer works by converting a liquid paint into a fine mist or spray, by a process called atomization.
In the process, the paint particles are atomized and sprayed out of the sprayer at a high speed.
Some of these atomized paint particles while escaping out remain suspended in the air for hours which can enter your lungs via air you breathe in.
As a result, you may experience a problem breathing, after completing your paint project at the end of the day.
When choosing a mask, remember that a cheap one may not offer much protection.
Although it’s a good alternative for smaller projects you should not get tempted to buy them if you have a larger ongoing project to finish.
Types of Respirators for Spray Painting House
While a simple piece of bandana scarf can be the most comfortable and protective device for a DIYer painting her kitchen cabinets, it’s not the best option for professional painters.
Instead, there are various types of respirators, suitable for both the painter and the conditions of the environment where they will be used.
Below are some of the most popular types of respirators commonly prescribed for a painting job.
1- Air-Purifying Respirator (APR)
It is a type of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) that helps workers against contaminated atmosphere related to gases, aerosols, or vapors.
APR usually contains a face visor and two cartridges of breathable air.
This respirator does not supply oxygen, and cannot be used in an environment lacking in oxygen.
2- Full-Face Respirator/Half-Face Respirator
As the names imply, the full-face covers the whole face while the half-face covers only the mouth and the nose of its user.
Both types offer the same respiratory functions, but the full-face respirator offers more overall protection.
Its full-face protection features offer better sealing. It also protects against liquid splash and irritating vapors.
However, it is not the most common choice because it interferes with its user’s sight.
3- Powered Air-Purifying Respirator (PAPR)
It uses a battery-operated blower to force air through the respiratory filter or canister.
It is often chosen when a worker has facial hair or any other facial deformity, preventing such a person from using a mask-to-face seal.
It is generally considered beneficial to industry workers, painting, powder coating, Pharma manufacturing, and even hazmat.
4- Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA)
Also called Compressed Air Breathing Apparatus (CABA) or just Breathing Apparatus (BA).
Firefighters commonly use it.
This device is worn to provide breathable air in an Immediately Dangerous to Life or Health (IDLH) atmosphere.
It uses its own air tank to supply clean air, so there is no need to filter breathable air.
5- Supplied-Air Respirator (SAR)
SAR, also called airline respirator or an air-supplied respirator, is made up of a facepiece.
The facepiece is then connected to an air supply hose.
A pressure system, usually a compressor, is used to deliver air through the hose to the SAR user.
The United States Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) has limited the hose to 300 feet to address possible risks.
How to Wear a Respirator for Spray Painting?
Depending on the type of respirator you choose, the way you need to wear them on your face can be different.
But in most cases, you will need to follow these steps when wearing a disposable respirator mask for painting your home.
- Hold and cup the mask in your hand properly placing the nose piece of the mask at your fingertips
- With the nose piece up, now position the mask under your chin
- Gently pull the top strap over your head and let it rest above your ears
- Gently pull the bottom strap over your head to rest in on the back of your neck, below the ears
When wearing your mask for spray painting, make sure you use both your hands to achieve a secure seal around your nose.
Also, follow the user instructions properly that are included with your respirator mask.
When you are done with the spray paint, it’s important that you follow the steps to remove your dust mask carefully.
- Pull the bottom strap first over your head to remove
- Then while holding the mask in position, gently pull the top strap to remove over your head
Tips and Safety Notes for Using Respirator Masks
Disposable respirator masks are not only useful for spray painting but can be used as a protective device for a variety of other projects as well.
You can use them for sweeping, woodworking, sanding projects, gardening, cutting firewood, fiberglass installation, raking and mowing, and many more.
Regardless of your project, you need to ensure that you use them in a well-ventilated area.
This will help avoid the dangers arising from the concentration of airborne particles in a closed area.
Remember, using disposable masks for severely toxic gases, odors, vapors, oil particulates, or for substances such as lead and asbestos can be hazardous.
If you are dealing with such substances, it’s important to get more advanced protection by using a face respirator that comes with 3M P100 filters (with 2000, 2200, 7000, 5000, or 6000 cartridge series).
Unlike N95 masks, P100 masks are oil-proof and can filter out 99.8% of particles.
These are majorly designed to protect you against lead, asbestos, and cadmium dust.
Few other safety tips you need to follow while using respirator masks include:
- Always read the instructions manual before you use the mask for the first time
- Follow the guidelines carefully to make sure that the mask fits properly while wearing
- When working for a long or around airborne particles, always wear a full-mask respirator
- If not using a full-mask, use a face shield along with your respirator mask that will help in protecting your face
- If you have a circle beard it can interfere with the mask seal, you should choose a mask that is safe to use with facial hairs
Remember, if you accidentally inhale some spray paint mist fumes just take some steam inhalation followed by a short course of antibiotics and vitamin c tablets.
It may take a couple of days for its effect to go completely but if you still face continuous breathing problems it’s good to visit your health care provider.
Merits of a Quality Spray Paint Respirator You Need to Look At
In using a suitable spray paint respirator, the five qualities listed below are very important.
You should check them for sure when buying…
1- NIOSH Approval:
NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) is a US-based R&D group that issues all recommendations for the use of respiratory masks and other products for the prevention of work-related injuries and sickness.
Getting a NIOSH and HEPA rating simply means that the filter has been verified for use in its specified condition.
You can save a considerable amount of money by purchasing a painter’s mask that is not certified.
But I don’t recommend getting them and sacrificing your life, especially if you are dealing with something dangerous like lead paint removal.
The number of times it can be reused is largely dependent on how and how well it is decontaminated and stored.
For as long as it maintains a usable structure and topnotch functions, it can be reused.
With that said, disposable respirators are not designed for repeated use.
Make sure you dispose of the old one carefully and use a fresh one for every new paint project.
3- Filters and Cartridges:
According to OSHA, filters need to be replaced when it becomes dirty or damaged.
A change is also advised if the user has difficulty breathing comfortably (at least every 6 months).
Most respirators today come with cartridges that have indicators to notify users of the need to be changed.
So you need not worry about when it’s time to change them.
4- Size and Fit:
If the respirator is correctly fitted to the painter’s face, they will be better protected from the hazard of their work.
Employers are advised to perform a fit test to determine the make, model, and size of respirators suitable for their employees and jobs.
Alongside all the other features listed above, its user’s comfort is important.
Comfort includes breathing, sight for a full-face respirator, and carrying an air tank as in SCBA.
A face mask or a respirator is an important tool for any home improvement project.
No matter you are working indoors or outside, you should have one for safely spraying your walls and furniture at home.
Regardless of the variety you choose, each respirator comes with its own caution, pros, and cons.
Hence, while considering the general qualities of respirators, going through the limitations and restrictions of individual ones is important.
Some respirators may also require training before use. As regards storage and maintenance, training is really important.
This will help prevent an unused respirator from contamination and a used or contaminated one from spreading its contamination.
In addition to taking prescribed precautions, all contaminated respirators should be cleaned or disposed of properly.
Jack Luis is a semi-retired painter who loved painting his clients’ ideas on their walls.
He had worked as a painter for more than a decade to serve the customers in areas such as Charleston, Mount Pleasant, Beaufort, Georgetown, SC (South Carolina). Today in his free time, he likes to read and write about the newer techniques that are being implemented in his profession. You may read more about him here or get in touch with him here.
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