How to Use a Disposable Respirator


A respirator is a safety device that covers the nose and mouth and helps protect the wearer from breathing in some hazardous substances.

N95 Respirators

These respirators are only used for protecting you from particulates in the air (mold, dust) and NOT for protection from chemical vapors, gases, carbon monoxide, low oxygen, gasoline, asbestos or lead. Different types of respirators are available for these atmospheric hazards. All approved respirators have NIOSH N95 printed on them.

Photograph of a Respirator
  • How it Works

    A particulate respirator filters particles out of the air as you breathe. Use the respirator even if you can't see the particles because they may be too small to see. The N95 respirator is designed to filter out a minimum of 95% of the airborne particles.

  • If you Have a Pre-Existing Medical Condition

    Wearing a respirator may make breathing more difficult as you must pull air through the respirator as you inhale. People with known or suspected breathing problems, emphysema, chronic obstruction pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, or cardio/pulmonary problems should consult with their physician before using one. If at any time during use of the respirator you experience headache, nausea, dizziness or have difficulty breathing, leave the area and remove the respirator.

Wearing the Respirator

Always read and follow the manufacturer's directions for your respirator. The respirator must cover both the nose and mouth to guard the wearer from particulates in the atmosphere. If the respirator does not have a tight fit it will not work properly. Correct fit of the respirator requires contact with smooth skin. It will not work properly for people with beards or facial hair. Even one-day beard growth has been shown to let air leak in.

Checking to Make Sure It Fits

Always use both straps on the respirator to hold it in place to keep air from leaking around the respirator. Do a user seal check to verify that you have correctly put on the respirator and adjusted it to fit properly. To check the respirator-to-face seal, place both hands completely over the respirator and inhale sharply. Be careful not to disturb the position of the respirator. The respirator should pull into your face. If air leaks around the nose, readjust the nosepiece. If air leaks at the respirator edges, work the straps back along the sides of your head. Redo the user seal check. Then put your hands over the respirator and breathe out sharply. No air should escape. If your respirator has an exhalation valve (like the one pictured above) be sure to cover the exhalation valve when you exhale. If the respirator fits properly no air will leak out of the respirator. If air leaks out re-adjust the respirator and exhale again covering the exhalation valve.

When to Throw Out the Respirator

As the respirator becomes clogged, resistance to air flow increases and it becomes more difficult to breathe. When this occurs the respirator should be discarded and a new one used. Also discard the respirator if it gets wet; is deformed (because it may not fit properly); is dirty on the inside part next to your nose; or the filter is torn and will not filter the air. This respirator can not be cleaned or disinfected.

Additional Respirator Information

Respirators are typically available from your local hardware stores or home improvement centers. For additional information on respirators or other types of respirators you can contact the Bureau of Occupational Health 518-402-7900 or 800-458-1158. Also Note: If respirators are required for use at your job or volunteer role, they must be part of an overall respiratory protection program by your employer or sponsor organization that meets OSHA/PESH standards.