I’m a big proponent of wearing a respirator in the shop. Dust collection systems are never perfect so it’s important to protect our lungs whenever it’s feasible. There are lots of respirators on the market but I have always used 3M. There are two common models I usually see: the 7500 Series and the 6500QL Series. The only difference I can discern between the two (other than the fact that they have different valves) is the fact that the 6500QL Series has a quick release latch that allows you to drop the mask for a quick conversation or a sip of coffee without completely removing the device. As a result, the 6500QL Series is my preferred model. Both models accept the same filters and cartridges. Incidentally, if you’re having trouble deciding what size to buy, I can give you one data point by letting you know I wear a Large.
There are three things you need to do to keep your respirator in tip-top shape.
How often you replace your filters really depends on usage. Mine are replaced roughly every six months or when I begin smelling things I’m not supposed to smell, such as finish fumes or dust odor. I’m not sure how much it helps, but I often keep my organic vapor cartridges in a ziplock bag between uses. I guess I’m hoping that keeps the activated charcoal fresh for a longer period of time.
Below are some helpful links to replacement filters. Keep in mind, when you buy the mask you can usually but it in a kit that comes with the organic filters and the particulate pre-filter that goes in front of it.
The inside of your mask can get pretty gross. The mask takes on oil from your skin and is constantly exposed to hot moist breath. When you’re not using the mask, it collects airborne dust as well. I recommend washing your mask and valves at least once a month using warm soapy water. I like to use a soft bottle brush (leftover from my baby bottle-washing days) to get into all of the nooks and crannies.
Many folks can go many years before having to replace valves. I was actually surprised to see how bad mine were. I’m not so worried about the discoloration as I am about the wavy shape. Because that mask spent most of its life in the hot dry Arizona desert, I’m guessing that’s the reason it deformed so badly. Dry air, heat, and rubber usually don’t get along. Now that I’ve replaced the valves, it should be interesting to see if they last any longer in Denver. If you need 3M replacement valves check out the links below. But make sure you shop around. They can be tricky to find individually and most times they’re sold in bulk.