3M Respirator Selection (Guide) Explained: Which Is Best For Virus Protection?

To get the customers more informed and aware of what they’re buying, the company 3M ensured to provide a Respirator Selection Guide. However, to a regular customer, the selection guide can be confusing and overwhelming.

The reason for that lies in the fact that the selection guide features all sorts of chemicals and technical explanations which may require extensive knowledge on the subject. There is also the sole respirator selection explanation, which is more simple but still possibly confusing.

That is why in the following paragraphs we’ll try to simplify the 3M Respirator Selection Guide and make it easier for you to go through it and find the information you need. So, let’s get started right away!

The 3M Respirator Selection Guide

The company 3M sells all sorts of respirators. They are usually built and designed to protect from chemicals as well as harmful particulates, including oily mist.

The 3M Respirator Selection Guide provides respirator selection criteria for harmful particulates and chemical compounds. But, to get a clear picture and a better understanding, we’ll start by explaining the 3M respirator selection first.

The company classifies its respirators according to whether the mask pulls in air through cartridges or filters, or whether the mask pushes the air to the facepiece. Those are commonly known as negative-pressure and positive-pressure respirators.

Negative-Pressure Respirators

3M N95 Particulate respirator mask
Image Source: Terry Cralle, RN
  • Disposable respirator masks or filtering facepieces (N95-P100 series)- the disposable respirators protect against airborne particles and mist that can affect workers as well as the general population. The company 3M offers a range of NIOSH-approved disposable filtering facepieces. The company ensures the masks provide not only protection but also comfort and increased wear time. For more information about the 3M filtering facepieces make sure to check out their Disposable Respirators Catalog.
  • Reusable respirator masks – the reusable respirators are designed to meet the needs of work environments and settings. They are built to protect against airborne particles as well as gases and vapors, but also maximum comfort and a wide field of vision. They are generally lightweight and have excellent fit and head harness assembly system. For more information about the 3M reusable respirators make sure to check out their Reusable Respirators product offer.
  • Half-face respirator masks – the half-face respirator masks belong to the reusable respirators group. However, these respirators cover only half of the face, or to be more precise, they cover the nose and the mouth. They usually offer a wide field of vision and are suitable for goggles and safety glasses.
  • Full-face respirator masks – these respirators are reusable as well. However, instead of covering only the nose and the mouth, the full-face respirators cover, well, the whole face. To be more precise, they cover the nose, the mouth, the eyes, and the majority of the face. This enables the respirators to provide the needed protection without the use of safety glasses, which can surely be convenient.

Note: You can buy the 3M reusable respirators on Amazon or check them out at the official 3M website (but you might be able to purchase them directly from the 3M website).

3M 6200 half mask respirator or gas mask with antivirus filters
Image Source: Terry Cralle, RN

Positive Pressure Respirators

  • Tight-fitting respirators – these types of respirators are reserved for first responders, law enforcement, military, and health care professionals. The respirators are used in case of natural disasters or acts of terrorism. The respirators must be fit-tested before use, and users need to perform seal check every time they wear a tight-fitting respirator.
  • Loose-fitting respirators – these respirators use a blower instead of lung power to draw air through the filter. This allows the user to breathe more naturally and with ease while working in hot or humid environments. The loose-fitting respirators feature a hood or helmet, covering the whole face, head, neck, and shoulders.

Characteristics Of 3M Negative-Pressure Respirators

Respirators Series

The respirator series and particulate filtering levels are indicated by letters and numbers. The 3M respirator series, according to their guide, include as follows;

  • N-series – these respirators or filters are not resistant to oil aerosols. They can be used only against solid or liquid airborne particles.
  • R-series – these respirators or filters are resistant to oil aerosols, but they can only be used against oily mists or oil-based liquid aerosols up to 8 hours (continuous or intermittent use).
  • P-series – these respirators or filters are resistant to oil particles and aerosols. NIOSH recommends the manufacturer establishes time-use limitations. In that regard, 3M recommends these respirators to be used up to 40 hours of use, or 30 days, whichever occurs first.

Filtering Efficiency

The filtering efficiency of 3M respirators is rated just like with other respirator manufacturers; using numbers 95, 99, and 100. This means that respirators with these respective numbers can provide filtering efficiency of 95%, 99%, and 100% against airborne and hazardous particles.

For the 3M loose-fitting respirators or the PAPR filters, the filtration efficiency provides at least 99.7% filtration against all particulates. The filtering efficiency for these respirators is referred to as HEPA or HE (High-Efficiency Particulate Air).

Gas And Vapor Cartridges

NIOSH has a color-coding system to help users identify the correct equipment for specific requirements, needs, and hazard settings. For example;

  • Black label – suitable for organic vapors from solvents (such as those in paints and thinners)
  • White label – suitable for acid gases (such as chlorine, hydrogen, sulfide, and sulfur dioxide)
  • Yellow label – suitable for both organic vapors and acid gases
  • Green label – suitable for ammonia or methylamine

Note: We recommend you check out the 3M Gas and Vapor Cartridges on Amazon. They are currently available, but because of the high demand, might not be available at the time of article publishing.

Coronavirus Application

The 3M company is deeply committed to supporting the public health and the government response to the COVID-19 pandemic. That is why the company has ramped up its production of appropriate COVID-19 masks, which either belong to the N-series (N95, KN95), or are cup-shaped, flat fold, valved, and unvalved masks.

These masks provide the same filtering efficiency and protection against viruses and other harmful particles just like other, NIOSH-approved masks. Let’s take a look at the masks and where you can purchase them right now;

  • 3M Valved N95 Respirator Mask – this mask currently has the highest demand on the market and may not be available on Amazon at the time of article publishing. It is NIOSH approved and provides 95% filtration efficiency. The valve helps reduce heat build-up and ensures easier breathing. It also features stretchable headbands, adjustable nose clip, and a lightweight, comfortable design.
  • 3M Respirator Mask N95 CupShaped Unvalved – this mask is also high in demand, so at the time of article publishing, it may not be available. The mask has all of the N95 mask specifications and filtering efficiency. However, it is cup-shaped and doesn’t have a valve. Nevertheless, it is designed to provide comfortable wear and fit and features cushioning foam around the nose. Even though it has a tight seal, the mask ensures easy breathing, but also exceptional protection against the virus and other particles.
  • 3M Flat Fold Particulate Respirator Mask – this mask is high in demand, so at the time of article publishing, it may not be available. The mask has low breathing resistance and excellent filtering technology. It is designed to fit various face shapes and sizes and has an innovative chin tab. It fits very comfortably and prevents heat build-up. Some flat fold 3M masks feature a valve, while others don’t. Either way, the mask is suitable against virus protection as well as protection against other harmful particles.

The 3M Respirator Selection Guide

The 3M Respirator Selection Guide
Image Source: Terry Cralle

Respirator masks may not be able to protect against all the hazardous particles and contaminants that are present in the environment or at the workplace. That is why the 3M company came up with a special Respirator Selection Guide including the chemical names and appropriate respirator types suitable against the listed chemical names.

In the following paragraphs we’ll list out some of the most prominent chemical names mentioned in the guide and the 3M respirators one should use for proper protection;

3M N95 Respirator Mask (some of the chemical names mask can protect the users from):

  • Acetamide – derived from acetic acid, and used as a plasticizer and industrial solvent
  • Acetylsalicylic acid (Aspirin) – a common drug used for pain and fever treatment
  • Aluminum metal and insoluble compounds – used in personal hygiene products, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and food additives.
  • Ammonium chloride – this is an inorganic compound of white crystalline salt; solutions of ammonium chloride are mildly acidic
  • Boric acid – acidic hydrate used for its antiseptic, antifungal, and antiviral properties
  • Coal dust – a fine, powdered form of coal created during mining, transportation, or mechanical handling of coal
  • Flour dust – a hazardous substance which, when inhaled, can irritate the respiratory tract and cause allergic rhinitis and asthma among bakers and millers
  • Paraffin wax fume – a chemical petroleum hazard that can cause serious irritation of the respiratory tract and the eyes
  • Sodium – highly reactive metal that can cause a range of health effects due to extended exposure
  • Wool dust – hazardous textile dust that can reach sensitive lung tissues and cause damage if one is not protected
3M N100 Respirator Mask (some of the chemical names mask can protect the users from):

  • Arsenic – a naturally present element that is highly toxic in its inorganic form; cause of arsenic poisoning if one is not protected
  • Cadmium and compounds – naturally occurring toxic metal; workers can be easily exposed to it at the workplace, and poisoning can have effects on kidneys and well as the respiratory system
  • Lead – naturally occurring element that can be highly toxic and cause fatal conditions
3M P95 Respirator Mask (some of the chemical names mask can protect the users from):

  • Asphalt fumes – petroleum products used in road paving and concrete work that can cause throat and eye irritation, skin rash, lung irritation, cough, etc.
  • Coke oven emissions – the emissions contain carcinogens and can cause serious health effects if one is not protected; the emissions contain arsenic and cadmium
  • Diese fuel – exposure to diesel fuel can cause respiratory issues, nose, throat, and lung irritation, cough, nausea, etc.
  • Glycerine mist – high glycerine concentration can cause irritation of the respiratory tract if inhaled, and if swallowed can lead to lung damage and even death

Note: the Respirator Selection Guide contains more chemical names and suitable respirators for protection. Apart from the 3M N95, N100 and P95, there are also R95 respirators, AG (acid gas) respirators, OV (organic vapor) respirators, SA (supplied air) respirators, etc.

The list in the guide is very extensive and includes every single chemical name that the 3M masks can protect you from. So, for more information, make sure to check the guide itself as well.

Where Can I Buy A 3M Mask?

  • 3M Amazon Shop – here you can find an array of 3M products. You can buy all sorts fo masks, individual or in packs. Even though some of the products tend to be sold out regularly, they are restocked regularly as well.
  • Cardo Medical – here you can buy all sorts of 3M masks in packs or cases with over 100 masks. This is surely suitable for a larger or more stable supply of masks for workers, healthcare providers, first responders, etc.
  • Clinical Supplies USA – here you can find a variety of 3M masks and products. The masks are available in larger packs and are currently on sale. The site offers free shipping and was featured in respectable news sources as a credible 3M supplier and seller (The Wall Street Journal, Finder, Business Insider, Rolling Stone, etc).

Final Words

This has been a simplified and summarized version of the 3M Respirator Selection Guide. We hope it’ll help you understand the guide better, understand the respirator masks, and their protective efficiency.

For more detailed information make sure to check the very guide as well as the 3M official site. There you can find their full product offer, alongside detailed product descriptions and use recommendations.

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