Which Filters are Best For Automotive Work and Spray Painting?

Folks often ask us which respirator to use for spray painting and automotive body work. There are some good options out there but the type of filter and respirator mask will depend largely on the kind of work you do, and how often you are doing it. The only safe solution for urethane paint is pulling clean air from a remote spot and that requires an airline respirator system like the Allegro 9200-01 System. But let’s talk about basics first.

What Respirator Should I Wear When Doing Auto Body and Spray Paint Work?

For instance, if you are sanding Bondo, grinding or doing other body work that is likely to create particles in the air, a standard 3M 2097 filter will grab everything down to 3 microns (that’s 99.9% of all airborne contaminants) and keep it out of your lungs. The 2097 also has a thin layer of charcoal to absorb low-level odors. For flying particles and some organic vapor you don’t need a big expensive system.

And you’ve got lots of different options as to what type of respirator you can attach those 3M filters to. There are inexpensive options such as the 3M 6000 Half Facepiece Respirator for under $12. Of course, if you are doing this type of work every day, or working on a project that will take a significant amount of time, especially the painting, you are going to want something more comfortable and with a better seal like the 3M 7500 series silicon mask.

The most basic complete cartridge filter set-up for (non-urethane) spray painting is going to be the 3M 6001 cartridge with the 5P71 pre-filters and 501 retainers. Made of soft silicone, the 7500 series of mask is non-allergenic and super comfortable to wear for a long day in the shop.

Again much of the paint used on car finishes will be urethane paint because of the smooth finish it provides. Almost all of the commercial car paint contains isocyanates which are particularly nasty. Isocyanates cannot be filtered by activated carbon filters so additional measures need to be taken for protection against this hazard.

One more quick note on filtering options – Positive Air Pressure Respirator (PAPR) systems such as the 3M GVP-PSK Paint Spray System are a step up from regular respirators. These are highly mobile and push air up to the mask with a small fan instead of the wearer having to pull the air through the respirator cartridges. It makes it easier to breathe, and there is no fear of having the fumes or particles sucked into the mask as you work. Like the 6001 Organic Vapors cartridges, this system will handle most solvent-based paints, but it isn’t going to work with paints containing isocyanates, at least not in a measurable, long-term way.

The real solution is an airline respirator. Instead of filtering the ambient air, systems like the Allegro Full Face Mask Airline Respirator System pump air from a clean atmosphere through a hose to a full face mask. It’s a little more work moving the hose around, but less weight on your hips compared to the PAPR systems, and of course a much higher degree of safety because as long as the area the pump is set up in has clean air, the worker has clean air.

Lungs aren’t the only things that need protection. Protective eye-wear should always be worn, or a full-face mask such as the Moldex 9000 Full Face Respirator. Full-face respirators are great (and predictably more expensive) because they keep the paint and fumes away from your eyes and face. You can also keep paint out of your years and hair by wearing an inexpensive spray sock.

So there you have it, the long answer to the question of which respirator is best for automotive work and spray painting.

Thanks for reading. Please feel free to comment or ask questions.

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9 comments on “Which Filters are Best For Automotive Work and Spray Painting?
  1. Thelma says:

    Working in this industry really requires a mask because according to study sprayers are 80x more inclined to develop asthma than a worker in other environment so this is the reason why using mask is mandatory.

    • Justin says:

      Thanks for the comments Thelma. Masks are definitely mandatory in the industry. But there are lots of car enthusiasts working in their garages using substandard respirator equipment. Hopefully this post will help them find the right products to avoid damaging their lungs.

  2. good tinging guys. so well done!!!!

  3. The Allegro kit is great, especially if you our often in an enclosed shop during the winter months like our shop. I’m glad that you mentioned that and have since tried it out and liked it. Many of my older employees do have breathing problems after years of using nothing or weak hospital masks.

    • Administrator says:

      Thanks for commenting Steve. The Allegro kit always gets solid reviews. Glad it’s working well for your shop.

      PK Safety Supply

  4. Diego says:

    Wait so if I dont have an air respirator where I work what shoud i use ? I’m just start painting

    • Justin McCarter says:

      Hi Diego,

      You should take a careful look at the material safety data sheet (MSDS) for the products you are spraying. While regular respirators with cartridges can filter out a wide range of harmful chemicals, they can’t reliably keep out the isocyanates, and that’s scary stuff. Since isocyanates can cause so much long term and irreversible damage to your body, and since it can’t be kept out for any length of time with standard activated carbon respirators, an airline system is really the only reliable protection. If you’d like more information about those systems, please give our customer service folks a call at 1-800-829-9580.

      Hope this helps.

      Stay safe!

      PK Safety

  5. Wendy H says:

    So how does the airline system work for asthmatics ? My son is currently enrolled in the auto body program at our local college and loves it; Aceing every class. He has asthma and for some reason none of us thought about that fact when he enrolled. They are now getting into the painting part of the coursework and he went to the doctor for qualification. The doc said he shouldn’t be in this line of work at all so David is heartbroken. Is the airline respirator the answer that would allow him to continue in a line of work he loves? Please advise asap. Thanks for your assistance.
    Wendy H

    • Justin McCarter says:

      Yes. This could be an answer. It takes air from a clean environment and delivers it to the user. You might want to consider a system like the Allegro 1-Person Airline Respirator. It’s a positive pressure system that doesn’t require the user to work hard to pull a breath. The clean air is pumped to the mask.

      It’s amazing to us that more autobody workers don’t use this type of system all the time.

      Hope this helps. Please give a call if you have more questions. 1-800-829-9580.

      Best regards,

      PK Safety Supply

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