LAST UPDATED: October 12, 2019
Best Face Masks: Protect Yourself From Air Contaminants
Protect yourself from breathing polluted air with these face masks
The Review Team
How We Decided
The Drive and its partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links. Read more.
PUBLISHED ON October 12, 2019
The air is filled with all sorts of pollutants that are potentially harmful. It gets worse when your job requires you to deal with harmful pollutants, such as when you’re woodworking, metalworking, auto detailing, and performing other forms of mechanical work. Our buying guide will help you find the best face masks for safety and health in polluted workspaces.
Why Trust Us
All of our reviews are based on market research, expert input, or practical experience with most products we include. This way, we offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.
Benefits of Face Masks
- Safely perform potentially harmful tasks. You should wear personal protective equipment such as a respirator mask when you're removing mold, spray painting, or are in a smoke-filled environment. It also provides good respiratory protection if you expect to encounter a lot of toxic dust.
- Protect your eyes and face. The best respirator masks include a particulate filter, provide a tight seal, and keep harmful chemicals and vapors from damaging the sensitive areas on your face.
- Breathe better. Some people are more sensitive to air contaminants than others, but it's a good idea to wear a high-quality, reusable respirator when you know you're going to be exposed to potentially harmful elements in the air, such as wildfire smoke or earthquake rubble.
- Prevent illness. When you're exposed to dust, fumes, gases, or vapors, it can be potentially harmful to your health. The right particulate respirator will ensure that the wearer’s respiratory system is not adversely affected by these contaminants.
Types of Face Masks
Air-Purifying Respirators (APRs)
APRs remove contaminants such as dust, mist, and metal fumes by absorbing the gases and vapors through a cartridge or canister. These types of respirators fit snugly against your face and come in several types: mouth bit respirator, quarter-mask, half-face mask, and full-face mask. Full-face masks cover everything from above the eyes to below the chin. All of the products in our review are APRs.
Supplied-Air Respirators (SARs)
SARs use an air tank, air compressor, or air line to supply clean air to your body. These respirators have either tight or loose-fitting respiratory inlets. Half- or full-face respirators use tight-fitting inlets. Hoods or helmets that cover the head or neck and rubber or fabric side shields have loose-fitting inlets.
With its headquarters based in Saint Paul, Minnesota, 3M has been around since 1902. The company launched as Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company and initially focused on mining for a mineral to make sandpaper and grinding wheels. The company currently produces more than 60,000 different products. One of its top face masks is the 3M 7503 Half Facepiece Reusable Respirator.
American-based MSA has been around since 1914. The company develops, manufactures, and supplies a variety of safety products to protect people and infrastructures. Its products are used by the military, construction industry, and fire services. One top product is the MSA Advantage 200 Half Mask.
Honeywell, based in Charlotte, North Carolina, designs products related to many areas, including safety and security, energy efficiency, and clean energy. Its technologies are used in homes, cars, and manufacturing plants. One popular product is the Honeywell 5500 Series Half Face Mask Reusable Respirator.
Face Mask Pricing
- Under $30: The type of respirators in this price range can be used for a variety of tasks, including painting, sanding, welding, smelting, construction, abatement, and mining. They tend to be lightweight, made with silicone facepieces, and are usually easy to clean. Disposable respirators are cheaper than reusable ones.
- Over $30: At this price point, you will find high-end respirators that are much more durable than their less-expensive counterparts. They resist distortion and have minimal dead air space. They typically include contoured sealing flanges and advanced cradle suspension systems to provide optimal comfort.
The best respirator fits tightly and does not leak. This feature is largely dependent on the type of materials that are used in manufacturing. The facepiece can be constructed of several types of materials, depending on the brand and the type of mask. This includes silicone, neoprene, and natural rubber. The canister is typically made of styrene plastic, which is very durable.
Another important feature on a face mask is its durability. This is directly related to the type of material that is used to make the mask. If you want a reliable respirator, you need to look for a product that is long-lasting. Many high-end face masks contain silicon rubber, which provides a tight seal and is very dependable.
The better a respirator fits, the more comfortable it will be. It should be secure, and there should be no gap between your face and the seal. Keep in mind that while respirators are tested by the manufacturers, not every person has the same size head nor the same facial features. As a result, not all masks will fit you the same way. Therefore, look to see if the product is adjustable for a comfortable fit.
Consider why you are buying the face mask and what type of contaminants you need to ward against. Note the toxicity levels of these particular contaminants to make sure the half facepiece respirator or full-face respirator will stand up to them. Other things to take into consideration include length of exposure, contaminant concentration, and your sensitivity to the contaminant.
- Cartridge Ratings: The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) assigns ratings that are used on filter cartridges. For example, an N95 respirator filters at least 95 percent of all airborne particles but has no resistance to oil, while a P99 respirator filters at least 99 percent of airborne particles and is strongly resistant to oil. The letters AG mean a respirator is approved for acid gas filtration, while an OS respirator can be used for organic vapor filtration.
Best Face Mask Reviews & Recommendations 2020
If you're looking to buy the best face mask that will protect your lungs from dust, chemicals, paint, mold, and other pollutants, look no further than this mask. It has scooped the top number on our list because of its superior construction. 3M has been making quality face masks for many years now and this respirator attests to the company’s competency.
What we love about this face mask is it's made from advanced silicone material and feels soft on the face. The material also makes it very durable. 3M's proprietary CoolFlow valve helps make breathing easier. The face mask has been designed with comfort in mind and meets all government safety standards. It provides respiratory protection for chemical or pollutant concentrations up to 10 times the Permissible Exposure Limit.
However, it does have a few downsides. For starters, you have to use both of your hands when releasing the buckle. It also doesn't come with filters and cartridges, so you have to buy them separately.
Having a respirator close by means you have one less thing to worry about in case of a wildfire or a disaster. When used properly, this 3M reusable respirator captures inhaled particulates, vapors, and gases. It is NIOSH-approved for industrial and occupational use. The government agency has tested and approved the face mask for use with specific filters, cartridges, and supplied air systems.
The reusable respirator can be disassembled, cleaned, and reused and comes with a reclosable storage bag. When you use it with the approved cartridges and filters, it protects you against concentrations up to 10 times the Permissible Exposure Limit. The cartridges have a unique design and help improve visibility and balance. This face mask can be used in a variety of applications. It feels gentle on the skin and is comfortable to wear.
However, the plastic and rubber smell it produces when new may put you off. It may also get dislodged when you sweat and it doesn't come with filters.
If you are constantly exposed to fumes, non-toxic dust, common airborne irritants, and non-oil-based particles, get this mask. Its active carbon filters quickly filter dust and air particulates. The mask's ear loop design ensures it doesn't slip off easily from your face. Its hook and strap are fully adjustable for a secure fit and ensure the mask fits easily without fuss. The adjustable nose clip seals the mask around the nose to prevent any fogging. It also ensures you stay comfortable as you work.
This BASE CAMP face mask features mesh fabric that allows for better airflow. It keeps your skin cool at all times and you can wear it for long periods in warm weather. The dual one-way airflow vent gets rid of condensation and keeps the mask's interior dry. The filter is replaceable and you can wash the face mask and the valves when they get dirty. BASE CAMP gives you eight filters and two valves when you buy this face mask.
However, it is worth noting that the mask is not ideal for every face size, so it's important to check its measurements and to also measure your face. Some users have also complained about it not being durable.
Whether you want a mask you can use for a home renovation project or one that will protect you in the event of a wildfire or another disaster, this one is perfect. It is made using medical-grade rubber and covers your face, boosting your safety. It features a KN90 filter element that effectively blocks harmful gases and dust. The mask is hypoallergenic, easy to clean, and durable.
The soft texture of this mask ensures you stay comfortable even when you wear it for long periods. Its mesh headband protects your head and hair, creating a perfect seal and reducing the wearing pressure. You'll find it easy to breathe when wearing this mask as it uses a dual filtration system to minimize breathing resistance. However, for your safety, be sure to use the correct cartridge to avoid breathing in toxic gases.
This face mask has undergone a series of laboratory tests to ensure it is of high quality. It can be used in a wide range of applications. However, when new, it has a rubber smell so you must air it out before wearing it. Also, you may have a hard time replacing the filters because none of the instructions are in English.
This is one of the best masks for long-term wear because its design gives you room to breathe. In addition, its edges don't push against your cheeks. The mask is made of advanced silicone material for added comfort and durability. Its patented 3M CoolFlow valve makes for easier breathing. Its dual-mode head harness is easily adjustable for either drop-down or standard mode.
The face mask is color-coded to indicate the size: large, medium, or small. It is NIOSH-approved and has been proven to filter certain airborne contaminants. It ensures that you don't breathe in vapors, gases, and particulate hazards. It can be used in a variety of applications, including construction, painting, welding, and pharmaceutical. When you're not using it, you can adjust the head harness to drop down.
This 3M face mask feels soft on the face thanks to its advanced silicone material. It is easy to use and to clean. However, it must only be used with 3M filters, cartridges, and supplied air systems. Also, the manufacturer doesn't give instructions on how to insert the filters.
A full face mask fits your face more securely and is ideal for long-term wear. It offers a higher level of protection because you can use it in different hazardous environments. The PT-100 Full Face Gas Mask features dual-activated charcoal filters and a full face impact-resistant lens. It is ideal for those who work with chemicals and other toxic substances. Applications include agriculture, construction, welding, chemical cleanup, laboratories, and metallurgy.
This face mask will protect you as you do the dirty work. It quickly filters out dust, grime, dirt, and filth. It does double duty: It supplies clean air for you to breathe and protects your face from flying debris. You should get it if you are frequently exposed to industrial vapors or chemical agents. It is a powerful shield against dangerous gases and strong odors. The mask is made from high-quality silicone and seals your face securely and comfortably.
You'll love the fact that this mask comes with a one-year factory assurance and a 100 percent money-back guarantee. It is ASTM E2952-17 tested.
However, it has one major issue. Its filter tends to pop out of the holder very easily, putting you at risk. The mask is also not compatible with some 3M filters.
This half-facepiece respirator is built in such a way that you can uncover your mouth and nose without having to take it off. Its One Hand Touch Drop Down mechanism allows you to easily put it on and take it off when moving in and out of areas with contaminants. Its adjustable head harness makes for a comfortable fit.
The proprietary 3M CoolFlow valve makes for easy exhalation, keeping you comfortable for longer. The mask features a resilient silicone face seal for enhanced comfort, stability, and durability. It creates a soft but firm seal and does not lose its shape in high-heat environments. It is compatible with welding and grinding shields and offers a wide field of view. The 6502QL Half-Facepiece Reusable Respirator offers users respiratory protection in harsh working environments.
However, it only protects you against airborne contaminants when used with approved 3M cartridges and filters. It is also not meant for consumer use and is only ideal for industrial and occupational use.
If you're looking for a comfortable, easy-to-use disposable mask that will protect you from everyday air pollutants, we recommend the Powecom KN95 Face Mask. It offers protection against droplets, dust, and air particles and has a filter efficiency of 99.2 percent. The face mask is included in the FDA Emergency Use Authorization List. We love its compact design and its flexible elastic ear loops which make it comfortable to wear for long periods.
The Powecom KN95 Face Mask requires minimal setup. Its flexible metal fastening strip creates a good protective seal. The mask will protect you from non-toxic solid particulates, non-oil particles, dust, and PM2.5 smog. Its vertical folding design and lightweight structure make it easy to store and carry.
However, we feel it’s worth mentioning that this mask does not offer protection against harmful gases. And because it is a disposable mask, you'll have to spend more money getting replacements. It can also get ruined if you store it in an area with a temperature over 40 degrees Celsius. Additionally, it is not suitable for people with a respiratory abnormality.
This face mask is ideal for cycling, running, woodworking, and even travel. It has five-layer carbon activated filters that protect you against 95 percent of air particles. It is made with nylon mesh and is ideal for use in both cold and hot climates. Two ear loops ensure the mask tightly seals your mouth and nose for enhanced safety. The manufacturer has used Velcro for a better fit. The adjustable nose clip ensures that the mask does not fog up your glasses.
This multifunctional face mask offers great protection and is ideal for sports and outdoor activities like mowing, construction, and woodworking. You can use it every day and its filter can work for five to seven days before requiring replacement. Its dual one-way valves and mesh fabric minimize air resistance without sacrificing filtration.
This face mask is well-ventilated and allows heat and moisture to easily escape. It is breathable, so you can wear it for long periods.
However, a few things don't please us. The mesh fabric is very thin and quite porous and may not filter germs or viruses. The mask is also very small and does not fit larger heads.
- In addition to wearing a face mask, consider installing air filters in your garage or auto repair shop if the air inside is compromised with airborne contaminants. It will significantly reduce respiratory-related problems.
- Face masks may not be effective for people with facial hair. The hair prevents the mask from making a tight seal with the face, and dust particles may sneak into the cover.
- You should always travel with your face mask in case you find yourself in places with excessive pollution. Select a compact design that can fit in your bag or glove box.
Q: Can a face mask keep me safe from smoke fumes?
A: Only if it's designed to filter smoke, or carbon, particles. An ordinary face mask may not do much to protect you from inhaling smoke fumes. However, a respirator may help you breathe more comfortably and give you enough time to get to a safe place in case you are caught up in a fire.
Q: How often should I replace a face mask?
A: You should replace a dust mask every year or after about six months with frequent use. A respirator should be replaced every two years. Consider replacing it sooner if you notice reduced filter performance or if it’s no longer a snug fit.
Q: How do I know that a face mask is effective?
A: You can place both hands over the mask as you breathe in and out to test for any leaks. The mask should bulge out slightly when you exhale and collapse a little when you inhale. Also, look at the inner side of the mask. If you notice any dirt or dust particles, then the mask isn’t very effective.
Our pick for the best face mask is the 3M Large Half Facepiece Reusable Respirator. It's comfortable, makes a tight seal, and you don't have to rebreathe a lot of your own air because it has a low dead air space.
If you are looking for a cheaper face mask, consider the 3M Half Facepiece Reusable Respirator.