When using a respirator or N95 facemask on the job, you will need to replace your respirator filter or cartridge from time to time to make sure your respirator is working properly. At PK Safety, we get this question quite a bit, “When do I change my respirator filter?” The truth is that there is no one right answer. The lifespan of your filter or cartridge depends on how often you’re using your respirator, the target substance, and the conditions of your work environment.
Use these tips to avoid wearing a worn-out or expired respirator filter, so you and your team can breathe easy on the job.
To Each Their Own
There is no set life on respirator filters and cartridges. It largely depends on what you’re trying to filter out of the breathing zone. Filters work like a strainer, trapping particles out of the air you breathe through them. When it fills up with debris, it’s time to replace your filter. On the other hand, cartridges work like a sponge as they absorb hazardous vapors from the air. Once the granulated charcoal granules have absorbed all they can, the vapors start passing through.
Let’s use the 3M 60926 Multi-Gas P100 Cartridge as an example. It pairs the charcoal-filled multi-gas cartridge with a P100 filter. The more dust particles you inhale through the respirator, the faster the filter will fill with dust and the sooner you will need to replace it. For the chemical cartridge position, the more chemicals make it into the filter, the shorter the lifespan of the filter.
When a filter gets clogged with dust and other debris , you will find it is harder to breathe. There is less room for air to move through the filter and into your lungs, and so the breathing resistance increases. This would be a good time to replace the filter.
As the cartridge portion becomes exhausted, it no longer blocks the smell of solvents and other chemicals. As you notice strong odors that weren’t there before, it’s a sign that it’s time to replace your cartridge.
When replacing the 3M 60926 Multi-Gas P100 Cartridge, the charcoal-filled multi-gas cartridge and the P100 filter are locked together, so you will need to replace them both at the same time.
It’s also important to note that a respirator only works as well as it fits. It won’t work if it doesn’t fit your face properly or if there is any facial hair between the mask and your face. Debris and toxins could easily slip inside the face mask, taking the path of least resistance around the filters and cartridges. Make sure to properly size your respirator before using it.
Monitoring Your Work Environment
If you and your team have a habit of working in areas with high concentrations of dust and other airborne particles, you will likely need to replace your filters and cartridges more often than you would if you were working in a less hazardous work environment. If the air quality starts to deteriorate over time, you will need to replace your filters more often than you’re used to. Bring along an extra set of disposable filters just to be safe.
OSHA requires employers to provide a schedule for replacing respirator filters and cartridges, so their workers have an idea of how soon they will need to switch them out. Use experimental tests, mathematical models, and the manufacturer’s recommendations when setting a schedule for replacing your filters.