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How to Choose the Best Respirator for Spray Painting

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Buying the correct respirator is important for your health.

Buying the correct respirator is important for your health.

Should You Wear a Respirator for Spray Painting?

Protecting your lungs and eyes while spraying any paint or primer is extremely important. All paints contain harmful chemicals that can cause cancer and serious health problems if you don't protect your body from vapors that remain in the air while spraying.

Why do you need a mask?

Spraying primer is the worst of all, especially oil-based primer which produces thick vapor that lingers in the air long after application. Wet lacquer is also very toxic. The fumes can make you sick if you're directly exposed to the volatile organic compounds. Being exposed to heavy fumes from paint, even only for one hour, can cause dizziness, confusion, headaches, and nausea. If you can smell or taste the paint through your mask, the mask is either fitted wrong or you're using the wrong cartridge.

You should always wear a respirator, not a dust mask, even if you're only spraying paint one time for a small project.

Will a dust mask work to block paint fumes?

Never wear a dust mask when spraying paint. Dust masks are great for protection when sanding wood, but they won't protect you from heavy paint and primer fumes.

The Best Respirator for Spray Painting

The best respirator to use for spray painting is one compatible with cartridges designed to protect you from paint spray. These are usually chemical, or organic vapor cartridges, and they provide the best protection against harmful fumes from paint.

Chemical cartridges are usually pink in color and have a built-in HEPA filter to protect your lungs more. The 3M brand, the industry leader, has always been my personal preference for PPE (personal protective equipment). I wear one of their respirators when I spray and even when I roll walls.

Some masks are designed to allow protective pre-filters to be placed over the top of the cartridge to extend its life and add more protection. Keep in mind that cartridges, once removed from their sealed packaging, continually filter air 24-7 until they go bad, so they should always be stored in a sealed bag, and cartridges should never be worn longer than the time frame recommended by the manufacturer. I never open new ones until right before use.

Full Face vs. Half Face Respirator


The two most common types of masks for painting are the half-face and full-face styles. The full-face, as the name implies, covers your whole face to prevent any exposure to airborne paint particles. These are great because they protect your eyes too, but they're not always the best choice for spraying paint. When spraying and rolling ceilings, the face shield gets covered in paint pretty fast, requiring frequent cleaning to be able to see through it, but for painting walls this isn't a problem.

You can buy face shield covers for full-face masks, but you still need to replace them at an additional cost, or continually wipe the paint off of them while you're spraying paint overhead- otherwise, you lose visibility.


Another common respirator to use for spray painting, and the one I use most often for spraying cabinets, is a half-face mask. I use the 3M 6000 series (half-face) mask, paired with safety goggles. You can use a variety of 3M filters and cartridges with this mask, making it a versatile option, and it's reusable. This mask is held onto your face with two connecting straps that are adjustable for comfort and fit. These come in three sizes.

Buying mask filters and cartridges together in one box will usually get you a lower price than buying them individually. Always replace them within the recommended time frame specified by the manufacturer. To get a proper seal, always shave facial hair before use.

Your lungs aren't the only part of your body you need to protect when spraying paint. Your eyes and skin are equally important because chemicals in the paint can be absorbed through both if you don't protect them. I always wear safety glasses, rubber gloves, a mask, and a spray suit, to keep paint overspray off of my clothes and skin.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2018 Matt G.