Respiratory Basics: N95 vs P100

Leonardo da Vinci did more than paint just the Mona Lisa. He was also a safety pioneer! Seeing some of his fellow artists coughing while chiseling and sanding marble, he had the idea that a piece of cloth dipped in water and stretched over the nose and mouth could make the job safer. He was onto something. Safety masks have become a job site necessity for many different professions and hobbies. If da Vinci had an N95 mask available, I’m sure it would have been his preference.

Da Vinci Used A Respirator

It’s a good thing too, because lungs are delicate and hard to repair. Over the past 300 years or so, advancements in chemistry and industry have continuously caused us to learn this fact the hard way. In fact, we have used tons of chemicals before knowing the myriad of ways these nifty potions turn our bodies into toxic goo. Most of the time, we can’t even see it happening. The majority of airborne particles are between .1 and 5 microns. A micron is one millionth of a meter, which is far too small to see with the naked eye, unless you have some sort of Batman gadget that makes it possible.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), a division of the Centers for Disease Control, determines ratings that allow a person to choose the right mask for whatever job needs to be done.  Here are the major ratings in clear language, along with what each one protects against. Print out this little chart and hang onto it. Also, note what some do not protect against:

Respirator Ratings 101

The “N” stands for the not resistant to oil, of course, and “P” is for “oil proof,” and can help you remember that only masks with a “P” rating can provide ample protection against oil-based particulates.  It is helpful to note that since government agencies determine these ratings, one N95 mask that is more expensive than another will not provide some kind of “better” N95 protection. (Check out some of our N95 masks like the Moldex 2300!) It’s likely the added cost is simply connected to a name brand.

P100 Mask with FilterWith Christmas around the corner, it’s good news that Santa’s sleigh is reindeer powered. (Although if he were allergic to reindeer, an N95 mask would serve him well.) If his sleigh ran on diesel, he might have to cancel Christmas or shave off his trademark beard. (For those of you without facial hair, you can protect yourself from diesel with a P100 filter and a half face mask.) As many a beard wearer learns to his chagrin, facial hair makes a mask essentially useless, so while those with beards look cool and rugged on the outside, their lungs will suffer if they are working jobs that require a mask. This is the time of year when you can appreciate why it matters to stay safe year round. We sell a number of P100 pancake filters (like the 3M 2091) that you can attach to your respirator. 

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