You’ll be buying dust masks expecting that it’ll protect you from any airborne particle be it solids or liquids. Airborne particles are grouped in three categories. i.e. dust, mists, and fumes. Not all can protect you from all. Most can’t protect you from any oil-based specks of dust, fumes or gas.
Why is dust mask such big of a deal? Cause some of the airborne particles are that dangerous. Even inhaling wood dust might lead to a medical emergency, let alone all those radioactive and toxic chemicals.
Now then, how to know which one to choose? I’ll be discussing the basic aspects and facets that are fundamental to all others. Also, be taking you for a spin through most of the significant variations.
Importance of Dust Masks While Woodworking
It sucks to wear a dust mask until you can find the best dust mask for woodworking. But there are a lot of down dangers that you’ll be facing if you are not wearing one.
Regardless of what you are doing with a wood, cutting, sawing, sanding. Wood dust will be there always. They can and are smaller than you can see with a naked eye. They can as small as about 100 microns. They can and will lead to sinus infection if you stay unprotected.
You might be thinking that I’ll wear ‘em only when I am like cutting or sawing. Alas! They remain to be floating in the air long after you are done cutting or sawing or anything that might produce wooden dust.
If wood dust didn’t sound dreadful enough to you up until this point then. Here are some facts about ‘em. They are super bad for our respiratory system. Least they do is make us a cough or sneeze. They’ll cause allergies, make asthma worse. Lastly, they might even lead to nose, lung or sinus cancer.
Here’s a story from a guy on the internet.
This other day he was sawing and sanding without the mask on for just about ten minutes or so. You can’t imagine what it led to. He had been coughing for half an hour straight non-stop. Felt like his body was falling apart.
Just when he thought that everything was alright after a couple of days, he found that he has become a victim of a sinus infection.
He was never seen woodworking without the best dust mask for woodworking I could lay my hands on.
Guide to Buying the Best Dust Mask
It’s always tough to choose among various choices. And you’ll be lost if you don’t know what to look for and are constantly facing new features that might or might not need.
So, here’s a basic algorithm for you to follow when you are choosing dust mask and want to get the best dust mask.
Always notice the number of straps on the mask. The single strap is never enough to hold the mask tightly to your nose, face or chin. There’s always gaping holes while you are using them.
Two strap masks are the more logical, preferable and most sought-after ones. Both of the straps together hold the mask tightly and comfortably in place. At times if you feel the need to take off the mask you won’t have to take the mask off. Why? Cause removing one strap will do the job and with the other strap it’ll hang on to you.
The probability of having gaping holes while wearing two strap masks is greatly reduced.
How good of a filter a dust mask is, can easily be determined by it’s European Standard or NIOSH rating. If you don’t know already how to do it or what I am talking about, check out the previous section where I’ve talked about “Basic Types of Dust Masks”. You’ll get a complete idea.
If you’re thinking about buying one that ain’t NIOSH approved or rated by the European Standard then it would be better to check out the reviews. Also, check to see if there’s anything about the filter on the manufacturer’s specification.
NIOSH approved masks and the ones rated by the European standard gives greater breathing resistance. These sorta masks usually come with Exhalation valve and reduce the breathing resistance.
So, I’d say it’s better to have one with an Exhalation Valve.
Besides, you’ll appreciate having an exhalation valve if you have to wear safety glasses or prescription glasses. Valves will keep moist air from fogging your lenses.
Having gaping holes is a major concern while wearing dust masks. Almost all the time these are found on the nose area.
Nose Clips or thin metal strips on the nose is used to seal this gap. The metal is to be pressed to shape up to your nose. Eh Voila, you have a contoured and custom fit mask.
Taking a look at the reviews or picture or manufacturer’s specification will let you know if the mask comes with Nose Clip or not.
Disposable Vs Reusable
Disposable ones are cheap and you’ll never have to worry about damaging them. Besides they get the job done. But have a very limited service life. That’s why it’s cheap.
Reusable ones might come with an exchangeable filter system or not. But they provide the service as the disposable ones but with a non-specific service life. You can use it as long as you don’t damage it.
Best Dust Masks
1. 3M 8661PC1-A Home Dust Mask, 5-Pack
Cheap, disposable and comfy.
Features and Benefits
Manufactured to be used in and around the home. By this I mean they’ll just prevent everyday dust, weeds, pollen grain, grasses etc. (you get the idea) from being breathed in. So, it’s just good for cleaning your house and a bit of gardening.
It’ll fit perfectly on you and the steel strip on the nose makes it even better.
If you’re thinking about painting or using aerosols or spraying insecticides in you garden wearing this then it’s an absolute NO NO.
It ain’t approved by NIOSH. So, don’t be a fool to use it for professional works.
2. SAS Safety 2985 Non-Toxic Dust Mask Box of 50
Shapes to your face.
Features and Benefits
Does good what it’s supposed to do, protecting you from pollens, household dust, grass you name it. But don’t expect it to protect you from paints or aerosols.
Feel like a custom-tailored mask, judging from the way it fits on to the face. Especially because of the metal nose piece. It helps out a lot if you have to wear spectacles or googles.
The space on the inside of the mask is sufficiently spacious. The tip of the mask’s about 2 inches from the back. Speakin’ of numbers the mask itself is about 5 x 5 inches.
Sighs……Just like the last one, it ain’t NIOSH approved. Not a good idea to be using these in the heavily polluted environment.
The thing that keeps bugging me about these are the rubber bands. The break off easily.
Some folks are complaining that it smells like talcum powder and it’s unbearable.
3. Universal 4528 Non-Toxic Disposable Dust Masks
Features and Benefits
Being about 12 cm to 5 inches these masks weighs just about 1/7th of a pound. As advertised these ARE lightweight, it’s in the numbers!
Even the size is perfect not too big for you to give a hard time wearing your spectacles or googles.
Has a soft metal nose piece like every other mask till now to provide a contoured fit. That’s what makes this mask definitely one on the list of best dust masks for woodworking.
A pack of 50 always comes in under 10 bucks. And since it’s super cheap, you’ll never have to think about damaging it or sth. You can just throw it away at the end of the day.
Non-woven filter material makes the mask super comfy. Your facial features will not be uncomfortable or anything.
Rubber straps are long-lasting. Doesn’t get loose even if you’re using it for a long while. More importantly, it’s stapled real nicely with the mask. So, no chance of it coming off anytime soon.
The Universal 4528 masks are meant to protect the users only from non-toxic disposable dust and not any chemicals. Be aware before using it any labs or industries.
Rubbers straps might be good but it’s a wee bit too small for some users. The band just don’t seem to get over the head for these people.
4. AMSTON N95 Disposable Dust Masks – NIOSH-Certified
Expensive but worth every penny.
Features and Benefits
By far it’s the first mask on the list which is NIOSH approved. Not only NIOSH but also FDA approved. All these stamps on its forehead will make you think it’s the best mask for woodworking but let’s dig deeper.
Only those particles which are about one-millionth of a meter i.e. 1/1,000,000 of a meter will be able to pass through these. Almost zero chance of any wood or sawdust to pass through these.
It’s not just for wood or sawdust. It’ll protect you from anything that comes to mind gardening cutting, mowing, grinding, mowing, anything that comes to mind.
How much of a filter is it? It’ll reduce 95% of any non-oil-based particles to about 0.3 microns. That’s how good the N95 is!
It’s adjustable, it’s flexible, it’s soft. Combine all of these and you get that contoured, custom and comfortable fit feeling.
This good of a mask would definitely not miss out on the metal nose-clip or nose-piece whatever you like to call it. So, having that reduces the chance of havin’ any holes for unfiltered air to get in by tenfold.
Amston Tool Company did indeed put in quite the effort for designing this mask. They even came up with dual elastic band straps.
Remember that I’ve been ranting about all those being subpar for professional use. You didn’t make a mistake when you thought that this one is up for that.
You’ll have no problems whatsoever with breathing with this mask on. Even the low-profile design helps with wearing other PPEs such as helmets, goggles, ear muffs you name it.
Not for Petites. There’s like a 50 50 chance that it might not fit you. One of my pals about 5 feet, the mask leaves a gaping on the downside. No matter of up she got it, it remained as it is.
Some are saying metal piece presses a little too hard on the nose while they are wearing it. Cause a bit of a disturbance too. At times it doesn’t bend properly so that it’ll keep a gap.
5. 3M 8210PPB1-A-NA Plus Particulate Respirator
Easier to breathe with.
Features and Benefits
Dual stretchable headband straps ensure that there’ll be no gaping hole in between the mask and the face. To top it off the adjustable nose piece is there to shut down the most hole prone zone by adjusting the mask to your face.
The filter’s a bit high tech, the advanced electrostatically filter media takes ease of breathing to a whole another level. This tech’s proprietary, you’ll find it in no other masks.
I’ve talked about the metal nose piece hurting users, remember? Well, this one’ll not have that issue since it has a soft interior foam pad on this place.
A lot of people are allergic to natural rubber latex. The designer kept that in mind so any whose allergic to that won’t have anything to fear about.
This is one of those N95 masks. Which means that it’ll filter 95% of the airborne particles. But not can’t do anything with oil. Which also means that this is NIOSH approved.
This one’s extremely useful for medical purposes. It can reduce the breathing in of a number of bacteria. Tuberculosis is one of them. Many surgeons prefer these over regular surgical masks.
It’s recommended to be used only in NON-HARMFUL environments like sawing, grinding sweeping etc. you get the idea by now.
Just like the previous one you might have issues with your head fitting into the mask for the same obvious reason. Wouldn’t like to rant about it again.
6. Comfy Mask – Elastic Strap Dust Mask By Breathe Healthy
Reliable, affordable, comfortable and last but not the least “REUSABLE”.
Features and Benefits
These reusable masks come in 11 different colors. All at the same price. Made in the USA, if you’re into American stuff.
The elastic head straps make it usable for all adults of all sizes. So, no issues like the last two.
The fabric makes the mask extra special due to its moisture-wicking aspect. Makes the interior less hot and the mask more breathable.
When you think of washing this then the thing that comes to mind is the mask getting dirty. But it’s washable. So, no tension.
It’s good at doing its job i.e. filters nuisance dust, spores, allergens etc. The fascinating thing about this is that the fabric is made from cotton blend with some sort anti-microbial. Thus, kills of germs!
Bummer that it gets a bit damped in hot weather. Then it gets a bit hot and humid then.
After a short while, the elasticity of the elastic band starts to decrease. This makes the maskless fitting and might ruin the whole purpose of wearing it.
Basic Types of Dust Masks
A couple of different institutes classified dust masks in a couple of different categories. Let’s have a look, shall we?
Per European Standard EN149
European standard rated dust masks to be in three different categories. These have been categorized depending on the filter penetration limit. I’ve talked about each one of them briefly.
FFP1 Dust Masks
These filter the air enough to be used while sanding, drilling or cutting. Up to about 80 percent of the airborne particulates are obstructed by the FFP1 rated dust masks. Which makes it good enough to handle four times the Occupational Exposure Limit (OEL) or the Assigned Protection Factor (APF).
Even after all these, FFP1 rated dust mask provide the least protection among the FFP rated dust masks. And are not at all recommendable for protection against toxic particles.
These masks pack the least amount of filter material thus giving the least resistance for breathing. So, these don’t need or have exhalation valves.
These are only good for protecting you from dust like coal dust, brick dust, cement, pollen, gypsum limestone, and these sorta dust. Also, good enough against oil-based dust and aerosols
FFP2 Dust Masks
These are much better filters than the FFP1 as the filter material is better and thicker, hence the greater breathing resistance and exhalation valves.
Filters on these are good enough to filter medium quantity of dust or even mists. Will even protect you in environments 12 x OEL or 12 x APF. Some of ‘em have an extra layer of the charcoal layer to protect the user from ozone and goes by the name of welding dust masks.
FFP2 rated dust masks specialize in protecting the user from cotton, granite, brake, lead and softwood dust. Can even clean up toxic dust, metal fumes, and water or oil-based fumes.
Can filter up to about 94 percent of the airborne particulates with an inward leakage of less than 8 percent. Yet it’s not the best.
FFP3 Dust Masks
As per the European Standard, these are the best. FFP3 rated masks are bound to purify the inhaling air to an extent where 99 percent of the airborne particulates are obstructed. Inward leakage is less than 2 percent.
If and FFP3 fits on to you perfectly it’ll keep you from harm’s reach of toxic and carcinogenic particles including radioactive particles, bacteria, viruses, and asbestos.
Nuisance Dust Masks
These are far inferior to be FFP rated. Definitely not something to be considered a respiratory protective equipment.
Are only good enough to keep those regular everyday dust i.e. nuisance dust from breathing in?
As per the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
Many of you might already know it by the acronym NIOSH.
In 1995 NIOSH decided and started giving testing certificates. It was to create a standard for respirators. Basically, for the general mass.
Under the part 42 of section 84 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) i.e. 42 CFR 84 NIOSH classified respirators in three different series. Um talking about the N-Series, R-Series, and P-Series.
Each of the series then is grouped into three subgroups considering the parameter as efficiency. These are the 95, 99, and 100. Those labeled as hundred are actually certified to have an efficiency of 99.7 percent or greater but never 100. Nothing’s 100 percent efficient
N-Series is particularly for it’s NOT being able to filter out oil. But it’s good enough against fumes, liquids, solids that particularly DON’T have oil in them.
What are these good for? The most common thing that you need to be protected from and these can protect are iron ore dust, flours, dust due to metal grinding, wood pollen and any non-oil-based particulates.
As I’ve already told these are again grouped into three sub-categories N95, N99, N100. Among all of these the N95 is the most popular and most commonly used.
The thing about N-series dust mask or respirators is that these will have a service life of indefinite period as long as it’s not damaged or you feel to be having problems breathing with it on.
Its stronghold is that it can protect you from the only thing that N-Series can’t, it’ll resist both solid or liquid that may contain oil.
But why is the N-Series more popular? It’s because the R-Series mask has a service life of only 8 hours.
It’s capability and features are similar to that of the R-Series but differ in service life.
When oil aerosols are present they are to be used as long as it’s recommended by the manufacturer. Otherwise, it can be used until it’s damaged somehow or you’re facing resistance while breathing.
By this time, you’ll have known about the types and ratings of a dust mask. Besides as I’ve reviewed all of the best dust masks for woodworking. I’ve not only been stuck with a POV of woodworking but also have gone through sufficient other aspects of dust mask’s use.
Talked about which one to buy for the carcinogenic environment and which one for radioactive. Which can and can’t protect you from oil-based particles.
Which filter is better than which and how efficient each is, can be known as a fact. You’ll not have to be taking another man’s word for all of these.