The Ultimate Gas Mask Guide
Gas masks and respirators. We've all seen them in movies and TV shows, and some of you have seen or needed them on the job to varying degrees.
But most people don't have a clue how to use one, when or why to use them, or what type to get.
Let's clear up some of the misconceptions and make sure that you can make the right decisions for you and your family and make sure you don't waste money or worse, get the wrong stuff!
BTW If you buy anything from the links we provide on this page we might get a small percentage of the sale. For more info click here.
Why Do You Need a Gas Mask or Respirator?
Breathing is important, right? You can last about 2 minutes without breathing before you pass out, and then you are in real trouble.
There are a huge amount of reasons why you and your family would need gas masks or respirators:
- Smoke from building or wildfires
- Particulates launched during natural disasters, like earthquakes
- Biological outbreaks or attacks
- Chemical or Nuclear attacks
- Riot agents like pepper spray or tear gas
Anyone who lives in a multi-floor building, city, or an area that suffers from wildfires needs to have one that will protect against smoke inhalation at the very least.
If you spend time underground in subways, it might not be a bad idea to have one either, fires do happen!
(Although carrying a gas mask around with you whenever you ride the subway might be a little odd...just saying)
There are four main types of threats we can use a mask or respirator to protect against:
How do They Work?
Gas masks and respirators are essentially filters. Filters remove particles. Particles of the nasty stuff floating around you don't want in your lungs or bloodstream.
Think of a vacuum cleaner and the bag. The bag collects all the dirt but the air passes through it nice and clean. Same concept.
To filter out gasses, the filters use something absorbent which attracts and captures chemicals as they pass by.
As it turns out, no, not so easy. Not all filters are created equal, as we will see later on. If you want to filter out the really nasty stuff, you're going to need serious gear. A wet handkerchief or your shirt over your mouth isn't gonna cut it.
Types of Respirators and Masks
There are several different kinds of models, with varying functionalities and degrees of protection:
- Dust masks Inexpensive, easy to find, good for cleaning around the house or light construction work.
- Surgical masks Designed more to keep things out of the wearers mouth, like blood from a patient, or keep the doctors own germs from contaminating a patient.
Are either of these useful for our purposes? There are some robust dust masks that are worthy of consideration, but surgical masks are not going to adequately help protect your lungs.
- Respirators Easy to find in a big box store, and some offer protection from noxious gasses in addition to particulates.
- Escape hoods Single-use masks designed to be used for things like escapes from a burning building, last anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour.
We're getting warmer here. There are some good respirators out there. They don't protect your face, which could be a problem with certain serious exposures. Escape hoods are cool...when someone else buys you one. They can be on the expensive side. If you live in a high-rise building they are a good investment, especially if you have children.
Do you get them? Yes, you start here if you have nothing. We will discuss them further later on and help you decide what works for your situation.
- Full Face Gas Masks This covers a wide gamut of mask types, and is a bit of a simplification but for our purposes is appropriate. What you will most often see is NBC or CBRN masks. NBC is Nuclear, Biological and Chemical. CBRN means Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear.
Now we're getting to the good stuff. This is about as serious as you can get without having a scuba tank on your back. If your funds allow it, this is where you want to wind up: with a high-quality mask and lots of filters to go along with it.
Gas Mask vs. Respirator
Ok, so what is the difference between a Gas Mask and Respirator and when would you prefer one over the other?
As we saw, a Gas Mask is full-face protection that, when using the proper filter, will protect against vapors, gases, and particles. They offer the best levels of protection for the passive types of masks (un-powered or without an air tank.) These are for when things are really funky, and you need the best protection you can get.
A Respirator is what you get from the hardware store, and depending on the kind they can protect against low levels of particulates, bacteria, and sometimes gasses. Since they are cheap and easy to pack it is a smart idea to have them stashed around where they are easy to get to: put a couple in your car, in your emergency survival kits, around the house.
Which do you chose? Ideally a combination of both.
Respirators can be an inexpensive way to provide basic levels of protection against common threats while Gas Masks will be what you'd need when things go really bad.
Respirator Buyers Guide
We'll start with Respirators since they are easy to get a hold of and use, inexpensive, and good for a number of reasons that concern us such as disease, particles and some vapors.
There are two types we will look at: the soft kinds and the rigid half-face with replaceable filter kind
Look for at least N95 or P100 ratings on whatever you buy. These give you the best bang for the buck at around $12-17 each. You'll get at least 99.97% of airborne particles along some aerosol oil resistance (pepper spray, etc.)
Typical Price: $12
Very comfortable and easy to use and store. Use for solid particulates and liquid mists in concentrations not exceeding 10X. DO NOT use for gases and vapors, asbestos,or abrasive blasting. No rated for virus protection. Technical data sheet.
Wear A Mask Now has KN95 masks in stock and is shipping fast.
Half Face Respirators
Beefing up the area around the mouth allows half face respirators to protect against certain kinds of gases, along with the same items the soft ones deal with.
Best Budget Pick:
Typical Price: $14
Provides excellent protection against particulates and a wide variety of gases and vapors when used with the right kinds of cartridges and filters. The head straps are easy to adjust and help keep the mask comfortable. Can't go wrong with this one.
Comes in 3 models based on size: 6100 Small, 6200 Medium, 6300 Large.
Typical Price: $28
If you need to wear your respirator all day or for longer periods of time, then upgrade to the 7500 series. It's more comfortable and durable than the 6000 series.
Comes in 3 models based on size: 7501 Small, 7502 Medium, 7503 Large.
Full Face Respirators
Protecting your eyes as well as your lungs from toxic chemicals and particulates is a pretty smart idea, you might need them too!
Typical Price: $147
If you want full face protection but are not looking for a full on gas mask (like the ones below) rated for CBRN threats, than the 6000 FF series of masks from 3M are the way to go. Price effective and easy to find the filters you need. Also compatible with 3M Supplied Air System and PAPR Systems for next level protection.
Most masks don’t come with the necessary filters or cartridges, so you'll have have to grab some of those as well.
Typical Price: $27 per pair
These filters are your best choice for full respiratory protection from certain organic vapors, chlorine, hydrogen chloride, sulfur dioxide, chlorine dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, methylamine, formaldehyde, or hydrogen fluoride, and non-oil and oil particulate concentrations.
If you want to see the full range of reusable respirators and filters that 3M makes, check out this brochure from them.
Gas Mask Buyers Guide
Once you have gotten a handful of the less expensive options, and are ready to make the investment, it's time to get a real Gas Mask.
Here is what the folks at MIRA Safety suggest you look for when purchasing a mask:
For civil preparedness purposes, you would want a CBRN mask with the following set of features:
Presence of a speech diaphragm
Hydration system compatibility
Compatibility with optics
Whether the rubber is resistant to chemical warfare agents
Fits 40mm 1/7” NATO filter cartridges
Whether there are government and law enforcement agencies currently using the mask. This is an extra indicator of quality.
We should mention here that there is a lot of bad information out there about gas masks, and a TON of inferior product that will fail when you need it most.
Do NOT just buy a random gas mask or filters and think it will work properly. BE VERY CAREFUL.
Best case scenario you lose a little money.
Worst case scenario you need to depend on that mask to save you and your families lives and it fails.
Make sure you ONLY purchase products from well known, reputable companies that are supplying public agencies such as law enforcement or the military.
What to Avoid
A good gas mask is going to cost some money. There is just no getting around it.
You can find inexpensive stuff out there but keep in mind that much of it is old surplus, which means they are very likely expired and won’t give you the protection you have to have.
Here is a list of masks to avoid:
- Israeli Civilian Mask
- Israeli Military M15 Mask
- Cheap Chinese gas masks
- M17 Gas Mask
- Czech M-10-M Protective Mask
- GP-5 Gas Mask
- Canadian C-3 Protective Mask
- Canadian C-4 Protective Mask
- Serbian M1 Gas Mask
Who to Trust
There are a number of reputable companies out there:
Mira Safety, MSA, Avon, Dräger, Mestel and 3M are all manufacturers that you can rely on.
Let's take a look at some of the best models from a few of these for your consideration.
Our Top Choice
MIRA Safety CM-6M Tactical Gas Mask
If you are looking for a lower priced mask but one that still has all the features you would expect for CBRN protection, then look no further than the CM-6M Tactical Gas Mask from MIRA Safety.
Approved by government entities in: The Czech Republic, Norway, Portugal, Chile, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Kuwait, Latvia, and Lebanon...some of which are good places to have a gas mask handy one might think.
For around $239 when purchased directly from MIRA you can get a CBRN rated mask with standard 40mm filter attachments and a 20-year shelf life with FREE shipping.
One perk of buying from MIRA is, you can get 2 filters for a steep discount with purchase of the mask - about $50 each, instead of $80 w/o the mask. You really can't find a better deal for a mask of this quality.
MIRA also makes the CM-7M, which is a military style mask.
Entry Level Price
Mestel SGE 150 Gas Mask
Mestel is an Italian company that is a part of US based Ocean Reef group and has been making gas masks since the 80's. They make several types of full-face respirators, and the SGE 150 is their most affordable.
The SGE 150 can handle things like tear gas and pepper spray, smoke, some chemicals and vapors. It's based on their design for the scuba masks they also make, therefore it is not CBRN rated.
If you can spend the extra money, the SGE 400/3 and 400/3 BB are the better options. Amazon has them, but only in S/M sizes. Check around online for other sizes if you need it.
Avon C50 and M50
If you want to roll like the military or police, look no further than the Avon series of masks. You can find them around online new for around $450-550 for new in a few places.
Be careful that you don't buy the ones that are copies for paintball or airsoft. You'll know somethings not right because they are under $100.
The C50 is the better choice overall simply because it can accept the standard 40mm filters.
The M50 uses custom filters. They are available on eBay, but buy at your own risk.
Children and Infant Protection
MIRA Safety CM-2M Child Gas Mask & KZD-6 Protective Enclosure / Infant Gas Mask for Small Children & Pets
Something we have been looking for for years are good solutions for the little ones. We searched around but never found anything that seemed acceptable or cost effective until now.
For kids 18 months to - 6 years old the Mira Saftey CM-2M Size 1 will provide CBRN protection for a reasonable price of $165.
For kids aged 6 to 15 years old, get the Size 2 model.
Both sizes take standard 40mm filters. The tube for the filter is designed to be carried on their back or in a backpack, therefore taking the weight of the filter off their small necks.
We did a full review on the CM-2M mask here. Worth a quick read if you are considering getting one.
If you have infants under 18 months (or pets under 30 lbs) the KZD-6 is a protective enclosure rests them comfortably on a small cot.
It can protect against Poisonous substances, Biological aerosols, Radioactive dust, Iodine radionuclides & its organic compounds and Aerosols (dust, fog, fumes.)
It has a carrying strap which allows it to be carried over the shoulder while transporting from place to place.
Depending on the outside temperature, the child or pets can stay inside for up to 6 hours. There is a sealed glove which allows you to reach inside the enclosure without breaking the seal. This is helpful if you need to give the baby a bottle for example which can stored in one of the interior pockets.
As long as you buy a filter with a 40mm connector on it you will have a wide variety of filters to choose from. Not all are equal, and some are CBRN, some are not.
If you are looking for our list of favorite filters, check out this article: The Best Gas Mask Filters (2019).
The best all around filter is the MIRA CBRN Gas Mask Filter NBC-77. Now it isn't the least expensive option in the short term, but in the long term it is.
Why? Because they have a 20 year shelf life, where most others have an much shorter useful life.
So you could buy an Avon filter, and they are awesome, but your getting 8 year shelf life. Just make sure you are getting them new, there are some out there a couple of years old, which gives them even less life.
You can get the Avon's on Amazon for about $40 or pickup 2 MIRA with your mask and get them for under $50 each.