Installing insulation, staining furniture, or just painting an interior wall all have one thing in common—they emit fumes or particles that can enter the lungs.
Even wood dust caused by sanding or sawing is considered a hazard by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
To breathe easier when tackling any DIY project, purchase and always use an approved respirator. Around the house, comfort masks are acceptable for certain non-toxic activities such as removing rubbish or cleaning gutters.
However, when working with materials that release fumes or particles, use a respirator that is approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) or the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA).
Respirators Needed for DIY Projects
Several different kinds of respirators can be found at hardware stores and home centers:
- The regular comfort mask, or dust mask, should be used for routine chores, such as the aforementioned tasks or when raking leaves and sweeping the basement or garage.
- A sanding and fiberglass insulation respirator should be used for light wood sanding, plaster sanding while preparing a surface for painting, working with insulation, or handling minor body repair on a car.
- The paint and odor respirator should be used whenever working with any kind of paints, stains, and finishes. These include water-based, or latex, products and any that contain a chemical base.
- Respirators for more serious woodworking (building or refinishing furniture) and welding when building or repairing household items are needed in the home shop. Some manufacturers actually call this kind of mask a woodworking and welding respirator.
- For chores that may require a higher level of protection, use a respirator with a dual cartridge that blocks large particles and protects against fumes but also filters and traps smaller airborne particulates.
To be effective, a respirator must be properly worn and maintained. Here are some tips to follow:
- Anyone with a history of respiratory problems, including asthma, should first check with a physician before using the respirator or tackling the project.
- Cartridge-type respirators come in several sizes. Purchase the one that fits snugly. Return a respirator that doesn’t form a tight fit around the nose and mouth. Change cartridges with the correct replacement parts at regular intervals, depending on manufacturer advice, conditions of use, or frequency of use. Discard disposable respirators such as dust masks and painting/sanding respirators when they clog or wear out.
- All work areas require ventilation even when a respirator is used. Open windows to reduce the chances of exposure to hazardous fumes.
- Between uses, store a respirator in its original packaging or in an airtight package. This will keep it in good condition until the next time it is needed for a DIY project.