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How Long Do My Respirator Filters Last?

Posted by PK Safety Team on Jun 30th 2021

Being able to breathe without inhaling dangerous particulates and vapors is crucial to respiratory safety. Many workers using respirators for jobs involving construction, often wonder how long their respirator filters last before they should be replaced. The actual answer is “it depends,” but that’s because much of it is relative to the environment in which they are being used. While different filters have different capabilities and limitations, the filter or cartridge change frequency is a judgement call, which makes you the best able to determine when that is. The useful life of filters and cartridges isn’t fixed or standard, but there are two factors to consider: the filter and the charcoal layer. 

Filter Efficiency

Respirator filters work by trapping dust and particles in the fibers like a strainer. These filters can trap a large amount of particulate matter before it gets into your lungs. When it first starts to get clogged up, you probably won’t notice much of anything, but eventually it’s going to get harder to draw a full breath. If you have to work really hard to get some air through your mask, it’s time to replace your filters. The relative concentration of particles in the air have a large effect on filter life. On the plus side, filter become more efficient as they load up.

Charcoal Layer

Certain models of pancake-style filters will also have a thin layer of charcoal pressed inside. Activated charcoal works like a sponge that absorbs smells and organic odors. However, like a sponge, it has a maximum capacity: once the filters have soaked up everything they can, some of the odors you’re trying to block out will start to get through. If you can smell or taste what you’re trying to filter, it’s time to change your filter. 

Respirator Filter Recommendations

Different jobs require different kinds of respirators and filters. Some are more specialized for particular jobs or for blocking out specific particles and odors. Here are a few bestsellers with 5-star reviews.

3M filters and cartridges are a customer favorite, but the 3M 2091 P100 Particulate Filters feature extra fine filtration that traps all but the most minuscule particles. These filters fit on the 3M 6000 Half Face Respirator and the 3M 7500 Respirator, as well as the 3M 6000 Full Face Respirator. HEPA filtration is rated to remove 99.9% of particles 0.3 microns and larger. This includes most welding fumes (burnt metal), toxic dusts like asbestos and lead, and folks with allergies to many environmental dusts.

Respirators, Cartridges, and Filters from PK Safety

We’ve been helping workers stay safe and breathe easier in workplaces across the country for decades. Keeping our customers well-equipped with gear and knowledge is something we take pride in, and we’re always here to help. Our website is always available with helpful information, and if you’d like to get in touch with one of our safety experts, you can call 800.829.9580 or use our online form.