How to Choose the Best Respirator for Spray Painting

Updated on April 4, 2019
Matt G. profile image

Matt is a professional painter and freelance writer, sharing his knowledge, house-painting tips, and product reviews.

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. The fumes will make you sick if you're directly exposed to them. 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. These are great to wear while 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 these 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 has always been my personal preference for PPE (personal protective equipment).

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 Respirator, or Half-Face?

The two most common types of masks for painting are the half-face and full-face style. The full-face, as the name implies, conceals your whole face to prevent any exposure from airborne paint particles. These are great, but not always the best choice for spraying paint. When spraying ceilings, the face shield gets covered in paint pretty fast, requiring frequent cleaning to be able to see through it, but for walls and ceilings, this isn't much of 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.

You can usually buy mask filters and cartridges together at a better price, instead of buying them individually at a higher price. 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. Chemicals in paint can be absorbed through both your eyes and skin if left unprotected. I always wear safety glasses, rubber gloves, mask, and a spray suit, to keep paint over-spray 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.


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