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  Respirator FAQ

3M 7000 Series half and full facepiece respirators 3M 5000 Series half facepiece respirators 3M 6000 Series half and full facepiece respirators

What is a particulate respirator and what is a NIOSH-approved N-95 respirator?
A respirator is a personal protective device that is worn on the face, covers at least the nose and mouth, and is used to reduce the wearer’s risk of inhaling hazardous airborne particles (including dust particles and infectious agents). Particulate respirators are also known as “air-purifying respirators” because they protect by filtering particles out of the air as you breathe. These respirators protect only against particles—not gases or vapors.


Respirators that filter out at least 95% of airborne particles during “worse case” testing using a “most-penetrating” sized particle are given a 95 rating. Those that filter out at least 99% receive a “99” rating. And those that filter at least 99.97% (essentially 100%) receive a “100” rating.

Respirators are also rated as N, R, or P for protection against oils. This rating is important in industry because some industrial oils can degrade the filter performance so it doesn’t filter properly. Respirators are rated “N,” if they are not resistant to oil, “R” if somewhat resistant to oil, and “P” if strongly resistant (oil proof).

How important is respirator fit?
Both the CDC and WHO emphasize the importance of using a fit-tested respirator and that fit testing be performed prior to the first use to determine if an acceptable fit and seal can be achieved. In order for a respirator to work correctly, there must be a proper seal between the respirator’s sealing surface and the wearer’s face during the entire time you are exposed. If a respirator does not seal properly to the face, airborne hazards can enter your respirator through any leaks large enough to let them in. It is very important to always follow the donning instructions and do a user seal-check or fit-check each time a disposable particulate respirator is worn. A good fit can only be obtained if the face is clean-shaven in the area where the respirator seals against the face. Hair from beards and mustaches or anything that prevents the respirator from directly touching your skin can prevent a proper seal. Many medical facemasks, not approved as respirators, do not seal tightly to the face and thus do not prevent leakage around the edge of the mask when the user inhales. In the workplace, a government standard sets requirements for fit testing of respirators.

How do I clean my respirator after use?
Disposable respirators should not be cleaned. After use, dispose of the respirator. Use respirator cleaning pads on reusable respirators.

Can disposable respirators be shared between people?
No. Disposable respirators should never be shared.

Besides a respirator, what other type of personal protective equipment (PPE) is recommended for health care workers and those who are involved with disease control and eradication activities?
Disposable gloves, protective clothing, shoe covers or boots, and safety goggles should also be worn by eradication workers. Disposable PPE should be properly discarded, and non-disposable PPE should be cleaned and disinfected. Hand hygiene measures (wash hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand gel) should be performed after the removal of PPE.

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