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What Face Mask Is Best for Wildfire Smoke?

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Besides the huge damage it can cause, wildfire also pollutes the air through the smoke it produces. Many parts of the United States are experiencing dangerous levels of air quality caused by the smoke of wildfires. So protection is absolutely essential. People are using all sorts of items, from bandanas to full-face gas masks, but which one is best for wildfire smoke?

First, let’s take a look at the types of masks available out there:

  • Surgical masks – these are simple pieces of paper or other materials that are worn loosely across the nose and mouth. They do not filter the air and their only purpose is to stop droplets of liquid entering or exiting through the mouth and the nose. They are only used to prevent infections getting transmitted between patients and medical staff. So when it comes to wildfires, they are simply useless
  • Respirators - they offer protection against particles in the air, and they form a seal around your face. They are designed to stop small particles such as dust, smoke, coal, flour, wood, pollen, pet hair, dander and others.  The popular N95 dust masks are also respirators

types of face masks

  • Gas masks – they are similar to respirators, but they have something extra. Besides filtering particles, they are also filtering various types of gases. They usually have filtration cartridges that should be changed on a regular basis, once they become filled with toxins
  • PAPR-s (Power Air Purifying Respirators) – while gas masks are using the person’s breathing to draw air through the filter media, PAPR-s have a battery that runs a fan that propels the air through the filtration devices. So they are similar to gas masks, just that they are better for those suffering from a condition that restricts breathing. The device takes some of the extra strain of the lungs
  • SCBA-s (Self Contained Breathing Apparatus) – besides all of the protection offered by the previous devices, these ones also supply oxygen. They are heavy and expensive devices that come with large oxygen tanks of at least 30 pounds, and they are only used by professionals such as firefighters.

How To Choose The Best Mask for Wild Fires?

Unless you are a firefighter, you won’t need a SCBA, and unless you have respiratory conditions, you won’t need a PAPR either. You should definitely avoid surgical masks or bandanas, as they do not offer any protection, and the particles of smoke, dirt and other bad substances will enter your lungs. What you should use is a respirator or a gas mask.

N-95 Respirator Masks

They are cheaper and easier to use than gas masks, so they are usually the best solution for wild fires. Depending on the density of the smoke, it is important to choose the right kind, as you will find more types available. The N95 masks are the most common, and they can filter 95% of the particles of 0.3 microns. You will also find N99 masks (which filter 99% of the particles) and N100 masks (which filter 99.97%).

The “N” in the name refers to the fact that the mask is not oil resistant. This applies for blood, automotive fluids or other substances that may splash on the mask, but it’s not the case for wildfires. So N masks should be fine.

The other types are R masks (oil resistant) and P masks (oil proof). They are also available in multiple versions, based on their filtering capabilities. So the P100 mask is the strongest of all, and can filter 99.97% of particles, while also being oil proof. But higher numbers and oil-resistant ratings are making it more difficult to breath, so for wild fires the N95 masks are the best.

Definitely avoid masks that do not have any rating or do not have the NIOSH approved mention.  The initials come from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, so it’s important to use a mask that has been approved by them. It is also crucial to have a tight seal between the mask and your face, so make sure to trim your beard and get a mask that can be fitted. There are special masks designed for children and pets, so do not try to use a regular one. Some respirators also have a valve in the center, which allows CO2, heat and moisture to vent.

Gas masks are more expensive and need separate filtration cartridges. They are usually recommended to people with asthma or other respiratory issues. So for most people, N95 masks are the best choice for protection against wildfire smoke. Visit our store and choose your mask today!



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