Half-Mask vs. Full-Face Respirators: Things You Should Know

Half-Mask vs. Full-Face Respirators: Things You Should Know

Posted by William Kimmell on 5th May 2023

Wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) should be simple, but it can actually get quite complicated. Different types of PPE protect from different things. The degree of their protection may also vary. For example, there are several different kinds of respirators that you can use to protect yourself while working, but they don’t all do the same job. Learn the things you should know about half-mask and full-face respirators.

What Is a Respirator?

A respirator is primarily a piece of PPE that removes contaminants from the air so that you don’t breathe them in. There are many different kinds of contaminants that respirators can help remove, depending on the type. Here are some major ones:

  • Dust and fibers: Solid particles in the air created through mechanical processes
  • Fumes: Solid particles in the air that result from vaporization
  • Mists: Drops of liquid suspended in the air
  • Gases: Molecules that are in a gas state at room temperature
  • Vapors: The evaporated gas forms of molecules that are usually solids and liquids
  • Biological hazards: Bacteria, viruses, and fungi that harm health

In addition to protecting the eyes, nose, and mouth, some respirators also protect the eyes and face. That’s because some contaminants can enter the body through the eyes. Other types of contaminants are dangerous if they splash into your eyes or skin. The bottom line is that some respirators do more than just protect your body’s respiratory system.

Understanding PPE Rating Systems

If you’re following OSHA standards, you need to know that there are rating systems for how effective certain kinds of PPE are. OSHA gives each kind of respirator an Assigned Protection Factor (APF) and a Maximum Use Concentration (MUC) designation. The APF tells you how much protection the PPE offers, while the MUC determines the environment in which that PPE is most effective.

You need to know both numbers when choosing a respirator. That’s because the APF for a certain respirator only counts if you’re using it within its MUC range. If you use a respirator with an APF of 1000 in an environment with higher concentrations of gas, the effective APF may be lower.

Types of Half-Mask Respirators

There are two main types of half-mask respirators. The first is what OSHA calls a dust mask. These are disposable masks that primarily block larger solid particles, such as dust, dirt, and fiber. They can also block minor splashes. The other type is the elastomeric mask, which contains filter cartridges. Since the mask itself is reusable, all you need to do is switch out the type of respirator to get the desired level of protection. Generally, both styles of half-masks have an APF rating of 10.

Types of Full-Face Respirators

There are six different styles of full-face respirators, according to OSHA. The most common is the elastomeric full facepiece, which is a reusable mask similar to the elastomeric half-mask. The main difference is that the full-face version has a clear face shield that completely encapsulates the face, eyes, nose, and mouth. These masks have an APF of 50.

There are too many other kinds of full-face respirators to cover in this short post, and only certain jobs will need to use them. For example, some types of respirators include an SCBA, or self-contained breathing apparatus. These respirators are very powerful because they can totally protect you from the external atmosphere. They also provide you with a clean supply of oxygen in case you’re working in an oxygen-low environment.

Check That Cartridge

The main thing to know about elastomeric masks is that they only work effectively if you’re using the right kind of cartridge. For example, if you want N95-level protection, you can install N95 cartridges in your mask. You also need to clean the mask periodically and replace the cartridge. When using an elastomeric mask, always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning and replacing filters.

Generally, you can clean your mask by removing the cartridges and washing the mask in warm water. Be sure to use a mild soap to avoid harming it. Then, rinse the mask thoroughly and let it completely dry before putting in a new cartridge. Keep your mask stored away from heat and humidity when you’re not using it.

Fit Testing

For most respirators to achieve their full protective potential, the wearer needs to go through fit testing. This is a process that determines whether the respirator fits correctly and doesn’t leak. OSHA has a complex system that governs how to perform fit testing. Usually, the steps are as follows:

  • Choose a mask that fits your face size and shape.
  • Don the mask and wear it for at least five minutes.
  • Make sure no facial hair or clothing gets in the way of the seal.
  • Check the mask’s tightness and position on the face.
  • Make sure the mask doesn’t impair talking.
  • Go through several exercises to make sure the mask stays on properly.
  • Perform odor screenings to ensure filters and seals work properly.

Again, the process for fit testing is complex, and you should follow the complete guidelines that OSHA provides. However, the steps above can give you a general idea of what the process looks like.

Do Respirators Provide Oxygen?

One thing you should know about half-mask and full-face respirators is that elastomeric masks don’t provide oxygen. What that means is that you should only use elastomeric masks in atmospheres that contain safe oxygen levels for human breathing. Otherwise, you could end up suffocating. For a suit to provide oxygen, it must come with an oxygen tank, such as an SCBA system. Basic half-masks and full-face respirators don’t usually have this feature.

Finding Professional Respirators

You can shop for respirators and other safety equipment at TG Technical Services. We carry gas monitors for businesses and parking garages, as well as HAZMAT suits and PPE. Help keep your workplace safe by investing in technology that could save someone’s life.

If you regularly work in hazardous environments, you should consider investing in both respirators and portable gas detection devices. The respirator can keep you from breathing in harmful contaminants, while a portable gas detector can tell you exactly what’s in the air around you. This is especially important for keeping track of how much oxygen is in the air so that you don’t accidentally suffocate. Check out the protective gear on our website today, and let us know if you have any questions.

Half-Mask vs. Full-Face Respirators: Things You Should Know