Respirators play an incredibly important role in worker safety by preventing exposure to potentially harmful air contaminants such as dusts, fumes, gases, smoke, and vapors. But in order to work effectively, respirators must be in good condition – and for reusable respirators, that means receiving regular cleaning and maintenance.
How to Properly Clean Your Respirator
Manufacturers recommend that you clean your respirator after each use. While it may be tempting to use cleaning wipes, this method isn’t sufficient and should only be used in the interim, like after a quick break or lunch.
To properly clean your respirator, follow these steps:
- Remove the cartridges and filters. Do not wash them, as they should not become wet or damp.
- Clean the facepiece. Immerse it in a warm (not hot) cleaning solution and use a soft brush to scrub it until clean. While adding a neutral detergent is fine, never use cleaners containing lanolin or other oils.
- Disinfect the facepiece. Soak the clean facepiece in a suitable disinfectant solution, such as quaternary ammonia disinfectant or dilute sodium hypochlorite. Rinse the facepiece in fresh, warm water and allow it to air dry in a clean area.
- Inspect the respirator components. Before reassembling the respirator, inspect every part to ensure it’s free of damage or deterioration. This includes the facepiece, inhalation and exhalation valves, head straps, plastic parts, and cartridges and filters.
- Reassemble the respirator. Store in a clean, dry place away from contamination when not in use.
These steps do not apply to disposable respirators, which should simply be thrown away after each use. If you are sharing a respirator with other employees, it’s particularly important that the respirator be cleaned following this process after every use.
(Learn the Key Components You Need to Have in Your Respiratory Protection Program.)
Keeping Your Respirator Sound: A Checklist for Regular Maintenance
Beyond regular cleanings, it’s critical to conduct ongoing maintenance for your respirator. Primarily, this involves inspecting the entire respirator to look for damage, wear, or deterioration. Consider the following checklist as you inspect your respirator.
- Holes, tears, or cracks
- Stiff rubber/silicone
- Cracks that may result from the respirator bending
Inhalation and exhalation valves
- Both must be present
- Exhalation valve cover present
- Cracks or tears
- Breaks or tears
- Stretch straps to test elasticity
- Fasteners present and functioning
Cartridges and filters
- Cracks, dents, or holes
- Replace filters if coated with paint or other material
- Ensure correct type of filter and cartridge for identified hazard(s)
Replace your filter and cartridge regularly according to a predetermined "change-out’ schedule." Date all cartridges and filters when you put them in, and never use one that is an unknown age.
- Work involving fast movement or heavy labor requires more air to move through the filter and results in a shorter service life
- Low concentrations of contaminants increase service life
- High humidity (above 85%) decreases service life by about 50%
It’s fine to conduct simple maintenance, such as replacing a valve or clamp, by yourself. For more complicated repairs, however, it’s important to delegate the work to a qualified person. Often, the manufacturer will do this work.
Tips for Extending the Life of Your Respirator
Don’t handle your respirator with dirty hands. You spend time cleaning and disinfecting your respirator, so wash your hands prior to handling it.
Never stretch your respirator over the top of a hard hat. This can warp the facepiece and stretch the straps, affecting its fit and effectiveness.
Do not fold your respirator (unless it’s made to be folded). Folding creases the filter and can affect its ability to form a proper seal on the face.
Store your respirator in a sealed bag. This stops the cartridges from absorbing contaminants when not in use and keeps the respirator clean and free of dust.
Always use the correct cartridge and filter. Using the incorrect cartridge or filter can not only limit the life of those components, but can cause health issues. If you’re not using the right parts, you may not be protected from the hazards in your workplace.
If taken care of properly, respirators can last a long time. Filters, on the other hand, must be changed fairly regularly according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. If you have further questions about how to clean, inspect, or maintain your respirator, don’t hesitate to reach out to a qualified professional or to the manufacturer.