Breathe Easy: A Guide to Dust Masks for Future Auto Painting Professionals

Protecting your lungs is one of the most important safety precautions you can take when working in an auto body or custom paint shop. When paint, clear coats, and primers exit a paint gun’s nozzle in a fine mist, auto painting professionals can be exposed to fumes and harmful chemicals. These can cause dizziness, nausea, and even long-term damage to professionals not wearing the proper protective gear. And since the air in most body shops contains a lot of dust and fibreglass particles, which can irritate the lungs and cause infections, it should come as no surprise that safety precautions must be taken in this line of work.

If you’re planning to pursue an auto painting career, you will learn just how important protective masks can be to safeguard your health. You will also learn that protective masks come in a variety of types—while some are designed to filter dust and small particles, others protect from poisonous fumes and chemicals.

Read on to learn about a few types of protective masks, and find out how you can make sure you’re using the right one.

Auto Painting Pros Know Disposable Dust Masks Protect Against Particles

Disposable dust masks, also referred to as particulate filters, are among the most common types of dust masks out there. They cover your nose and mouth and are typically held in place by straps that go over the back of your head. Once you start working in an auto body shop, you’ll find that wearing a disposable mask will protect you from airborne particles like dust and mists. It can also protect against liquids like paint, as well as some fumes. However, these masks do not protect against strong gasses and vapors.

Disposable dust masks are typically rated according to what and how much they filter out. You’ll find this information on the packaging:

  • N: Not oil proof
  • R: Oil resistant
  • P: Oil proof

Particulate filters are also rated 95, 97, or 100; which corresponds to the percentage of one-micrometer particles they keep out. A 95 rating is the most common type you’ll find, where the filter protects against 95 per cent of particles in the air. Filters rated 100 are considered High-Efficiency (HE or HEPA) filters.

Auto painting pros wear disposable dust masks when there are no strong chemicals involved.

Auto Painting Experts Use Cartridge Masks When Working With Chemicals

Chemical cartridge masks will protect you from strong fumes when you’re performing certain automotive painting duties. For instance, if you’re working with a heavy clear coat, or a paint remover that contains ammonia, a chemical cartridge mask will effectively protect you from any harmful chemical exposure.

Chemical cartridge masks are generally made from hard plastic, silicone or rubber, which seals tightly around the edges of the nose and mouth. They have single or dual cartridges on the sides where charcoal filters must be inserted to keep particles and vapors out. Auto painting experts recommend replacing the filters approximately every two weeks. These types of masks also come in full-face versions to protect the skin when working with abrasive materials or liquids.

Cartridge masks have replaceable filters used to keep toxic fumes out.

How to Select the Right Mask for An Auto Painting Job

In order to choose the right mask, you’ll need to know which chemicals you’ll be working with for a particular painting job. For some jobs, a good-quality disposable dust mask will work well. Remember to make sure that the rubber straps on these masks fit comfortably around your head, and that they are not too loose or too tight. Many brands sell disposable masks in different sizes, and some even come with foam strips along the upper edge so that they rest comfortably on the bridge of your nose. Auto painting experts know that disposable masks aren’t meant to be used more than once or twice, so don’t forget to toss yours once it’s used up.

Chemical cartridge masks usually come in small, medium and large sizes, so you may have to try out a couple to find the best fit for you. These work best for professionals using products that contain abrasive vapors, or heavier paints, such as those containing metal flakes. Remember to change the filters regularly, and always replace chemical cartridge masks if the rubber seals around its edges are damaged.

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