How to Use a N95 Disposable Respirator or Dust Mask

A respirator is a safety device that covers the nose and mouth and helps protect the wearer from breathing in some hazardous substances.  An N95 dust mask is a disposable respirator that protects you from breathing in small particles in the air such as dust and mold.  It is designed to filter out at least 95% of the dust and mold in the air. 

What to Get

Photograph of a Respirator

You should only use an N95 respirator that is certified by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).  Look for the NIOSH logo and the test and certification approval number on the respirator or packaging. Respirators that are not certified by NIOSH may not provide adequate protection to you. Respirators are typically available from your local hardware stores or home improvement centers.

Use an N95 dust mask even if you cannot see the particles, because they may be too small to see. N95 dust masks do NOT protect you against chemical vapors, gases, carbon monoxide, gasoline, asbestos, lead or low oxygen environment.

Who Should Check with a Healthcare Provider First

If you have a pre-existing medical condition, wearing a respirator may make breathing more difficult because you must pull air through the respirator as you inhale. People with known or suspected breathing problems, emphysema, chronic obstructive 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, immediately leave the area, remove the respirator, get fresh air, and seek medical attention if needed.

How to Wear the Respirator

Always read and follow the manufacturer's directions when using a respirator. The respirator must cover both the nose and mouth to keep you from breathing in mold and dust. If the respirator does not have a snug 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. Always use both straps on the respirator to hold it in place to keep air from leaking around the respirator.

How to Make Sure the Respirator Fits

Do a user seal check, including both positive and negative pressure checks, to verify that you have correctly put on the respirator and adjusted it to fit properly.

  • Negative pressure check

    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 your face or eyes, adjust the nosepiece and straps and repeat the positive pressure check.

  • Positive pressure check

    Put your hands over the respirator and breathe out sharply. If your respirator has an exhalation valve (like the one pictured above) be sure to cover the exhalation valve when you exhale. No air should leak out of the respirator if the respirator fits properly. If air leaks out, re-adjust the nosepiece and straps and repeat the negative pressure check.

When to Throw Out the Respirator

As the N95 dust mask gets clogged, it becomes more difficult to breathe. When this occurs, throw out the respirator and use a new one. Discard the respirator if the filter is torn, it is wet or dirty on the inside, or is deformed. A deformed respirator may not fit properly. An N95 respirator cannot be cleaned or disinfected.

Additional Respirator Information

For additional information on N95 dust masks or other types of respirators, you can contact the Bureau of Occupational Health and Injury Prevention 518-402-7900 or 800-458-1158. Also note: if respirators are required for your job, your employer must implement a respiratory protection program that meets Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) or Public Employee Safety and Health (PESH) standards.

Other Related Department of Health Publications

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