Gasmask for Breathable Air

In this lesson – we will discuss:


The Importance of Having a Breathable Air Supply and How a Gasmask, Respirator, and/or Air Filter Can Help Protect Your Air Supply.


  • The importance of having clean “Breathable Air” in order to survive.
  • Disaster situations that can negatively impact your breathable air.
  • Terminology and Classifications associated with: Gasmask, Air Respirator and Air Filter products.
  • Issues associated with: Gasmask, Respirator, Escape Hood, and Air Filter products.



The Importance of Breathable Air.

AIR:  #1 On the list of Basic Essentials for Survival.  Without 3-minutes of clean safe air – you will die.  It’s that simple.  So, AIR – and how to clean it – is very important and critical to your survival.

Part of your preparedness kit should address protection from poor quality or dangerous air.  Let it be from an outbreak of the Flu to a Chemical or Radiological accident – you need to ensure the quality of the air you breathe is not going to harm you.

There are many solutions available to address this problem; ranging from an inexpensive dust mask to the expensive self-contained powered gasmask.  Choosing the correct type is critical. Picking one that is cheap may save you money, but may not offer you the protection that you need. Picking one that is expensive may be over kill for your situation and will be a waste of your money.

The topic of air filters, gasmask and purifiers is a rather complex one.  There are many variables that need to be considered when choosing an air purifier ranging from:

  • Filtering mediums
  • To the types of contaminates that you are trying to protect yourself from
  • To powered versus unpowered units

You can devote a lot of time studying about the gasmas, air respirators and filters.  So, under the pretense that your time is important – we will only discuss general concepts that you should know in order to recognize what types of devices that are out there and which ones you should be considering.


Which types of disasters have the ability to negatively impact your breathable air?


Answer: All of them.   Here are just a few examples of how a disaster can affect the quality of the air that you will be breathing.


  • Floods and Hurricanes: Returning back to your home after a hurricane or flood – you need to be careful of the mold that may have grown due to the water damage. Toxic chemicals may be present in the air; released by the impacted industrial plants, chemical storage facilities and hazardous material handling facilities in the area.
  • Tornadoes, Earthquakes and Tsunamis: Toxic dust, asbestos and fumes contaminating the air from the destroyed buildings and the ground debris that is scattered around.  Fires, broken utility lines, damaged chemical plants and chemical storage facilities will all be spewing dangerous chemicals into the air.
  • Winter Storms: Are responsible for many deaths due to chimney fires, and carbon monoxide poisoning due to improper use and ventilation of heating devices.
  • Wildfires: Smoke, dust and toxic fumes can travel many miles away from the actual fire.
  • Pandemics: Contagions in the air can be deadly, especially in crowded urban environments.
  • Dam Breeches: Clean up after a dam breech will have everything from mold to toxic gases and fumes from the damaged and destroyed buildings.  Toxic chemicals released from impacted industrial plants, chemical storage facilities and hazardous material handling facilities.
  • Hazardous Materials: Well, the name says it all.  Accidents at industrial facilities, chemical storage facilities, even an accident involving a rail car or truck carrying hazardous chemicals can cause the air to be compromised very fast.
  • Nuclear Accidents: Radioactive dust floating in the air.
  • Terrorism: Depending upon the type of attack, anything from biological to chemical to radioactive contaminations.
  • Social Chaos: Tear gas being used by the police, to toxic fumes and smoke coming from the fires that are set.

Some Terminology and Concepts about Air Purification Devices.


Here are some terms that you may come across when you are researching for air purification devices for you and your family.  Having a basic understanding of these terms and how air filtering devices work will help you make the best choice(s) for your specific situation.

Filter Medium:  This is the material that will be filtering out the contaminants from the air.  There are many different types of filtering medium ranging from:  paper, to wool, to cloth, to filter canisters filled with specific agents used to filter out a specific range of airborne contaminants.  It is very important to match the filtering medium to the potential air contaminant for the respirator to be effective.

Size Matters:  The effectiveness of the filter medium comes down to the ability of the filter to remove unwanted contaminants from the air.   Theses airborne contaminants can range in size from:

  • The large end [dust, pollen, spores, etc.] particulates that you can see floating in the air with the naked eye.
  • To extremely small viruses and even molecules.

Some filters can filter out the smaller sized particulates, some can’t.  It is very important to know what the filtering medium is capable of doing and what it isn’t.  The chart below shows some of the relative sizes of airborne contaminants.


Particulates:  Particulates are extremely small particles “solid and/or liquid droplets” that may be present in the air.  Examples of larger particulates that you can see are: dust and pollen that may be suspended in the air.  But some particulates are so small that you can’t see them with the naked eye.

Classifications of Particulates:

  • Aerosols: Solid and liquid airborne particles, typically ranging in size from 0.001 to 100 μm.
  • Vapors: The gaseous form of substances that is normally solid or liquid at ambient temperatures.
  • Gases: Formless fluids which tend to occupy an entire space uniformly at ordinary temperatures.

CBNRChemical, Biological, Nuclear and Radiological agents.  These agents may travel in the air as a gas or as an aerosol.  Respirators are designed to protect against certain types of contaminants.  Knowing your most likely risk(s) will help you decide which respirators will be the best choice for your unique situation.

  • Chemical warfare agents with relatively high vapor pressure are gaseous, while many other chemical warfare agents could potentially exist in either state.
  • Biological and radiological agents are largely aerosols.

HEPA Filter:  High-Efficiency Particulate Air Filter.  The HEPA Filter was actually designed during the Manhattan Project to prevent the spread of air-borne radioactive particles.   They remove 99.97% of the air particulate giving them a rating of N100.   See NIOSH remarks below.

HEPA Filters are often used in hospitals and medical offices because they are effective in removing biological and radiological contaminants.  However, HEPA Filters are not good at removing chemicals, gases or odors.  You can get a HEPA Filter combined with a Carbon Filter which will help remove some of the odors.  If you do consider a HEPA Filter, get it with a lifetime HEPA Filter and replaceable Carbon Filter.  The small increase in price will expand the protection you will get and is well worth it.


NIOSH:  The National Center for Occupational Safety and Health offers certification and designations based upon the filtering effectiveness of the respirator.  Make sure to select your filters and respirators that have been tested and approved by NIOSH.  Do not take the chance of using a non-approved NIOSH respirator in a life threatening situation.  You want to gamble – go to Vegas.  Don’t take chances with your respirators.

Filter Classifications: 

As stated in the previous note:  NIOSH tests and classifies the effectiveness of filters and respirators.  This designation refers to the amount of airborne particulates the filter can remove. These classifications are based upon the premise that the respirator has a complete and secure seal with your face.  

One of the most common respirators is the N95 Respirator.  So, what does the N95 mean?

There are 2 parts to the filter classification:

First part of the classification is a “Letter” designation. Filter effectiveness is impacted by the presence of oils.  Certain types of oils will reduce the effectiveness of the filter and NIOSH takes that into consideration with their classification system.  There are 3 designations:

  • N = Not resistant to Oil.
  • R = Somewhat resistant to Oil.
  • P = Strongly resistant to oil, or oil proof.

So using the N95 Respirator designation as an example; the “N” stands for “Non-resistant to Oil.”

The second part is the number classification represents the filters capability to remove particulate sizes that are 0.3 microns and larger.

  • 95 indicates that the filter is capable of removing 95% of the airborne particulates.
  • 99 is capable of removing 99% and
  • 100 is capable of removing 99.97% of the airborne particulates.

Again, using the N-95 Respirator as an example; the 95 indicates that the filter is capable of removing 95% of the airborne particulates.

Issues and Limitations of Masks and Respirators.


Let’s face it; a respirator can save your life.  But it is important to be aware and understand some of the limitations associated with masks and respirators.


Beware of the limitations of respirators! Many people will get a false sense of security that by having a respirator on is going to keep them safe in a contaminated area. There are many variables that need to be taken into consideration [example: there is a good chance that the contaminants can enter your body by being absorbed through your skin]. Do not think that just because you have a respirator on [even assuming it is the correct one and is working correctly] that you can stay in a dangerous and impacted area indefinitely. That mind set can get you killed. Use the respirator to get out of the contaminated area immediately and into a safe area. That is your only safe option.


  • A respirator is just one of the components to your total body protection program. The respirator will only protect what it is covering on your body.  Clothing, gloves, boots, eye protection etc., all need to be considered in order to offer true protection.
  • Man-with-beard-and-gasmask-OptimizedFor a respirator to work effectively, a tight seal must be formed between the respirator and the users face.
  • Mustaches, beards, long hair, sweat, dirt, topical skin medications and make-up can prevent a respirator from forming a good seal with the face.
  • The size of the gasmask must be matched to the user. The respirator size will have a direct impact on the quality of the seal that is formed.
  • The respirator filter can clog. A large concentration of air particulates, humid environments, the presence of oil in the air, and even the user’s own sweat can cause the filter to clog.
  • For the filter to work, you need to draw air in through the filter to get the cleaned air. This requires you to take a deeper breath and work your lungs harder than you normally would.  As the filters get used and clogged, it becomes harder and harder to draw the air in.  This can be especially difficult for people with respiratory problems, seniors and small children.  For these people, you may want to consider a battery powered respirator that uses a fan to blow the air through the filter.
  • Some people may have issues wearing a half face or full face gasmask. Example would be someone who suffers from claustrophobia. In those cases, you may want to consider a “hooded respirator”.  But discuss this with the user first.
  • If you wear eye glasses, you are going to have problems with most types of respirators. If you definitely need your eye glasses, consider going for the hooded respirator.
  • Depending upon the situation, you may be wearing a respirator for a long period of time. Respirators are not the most comfortable thing to wear – especially when it is hot and humid.   So when you choose a respirator – choose one that will fit comfortably.
  • It is important to know how to properly put on your gasmask (called donning) and how to properly remove your gasmask (called doffing). Proper donning practices will offer you the best fit and seal.  Proper doffing practices will reduce the risk of releasing contaminants into your immediate environment when you remove the mask.
  • A respirator is only going to protect what it is covering. If you only have protection for your mouth and nose, then your eyes, the rest of your head and all of the skin on your body remains exposed to the contaminants.
  • Gasmask-with-canister-OptimizedCartridge filters that use special chemicals to filter out contaminants have a life expectancy. You need to make sure that the cartridge filter has not expired before using it.
  • Most respirator (filters) are designed to work within a certain range of contaminants. Example: A respirator filter designed for protection from a chlorine based contaminant may be useless against a petroleum contaminant.  It is critical to know what the respirator’s filter will protect you from and what it will not.  All respirators will come with a “user instruction booklet” which indicates the applications and uses for the respirator.  Many times the manufacturer will have additional information on their website.  If you have any questions regarding the respirator’s limitations and capabilities – you should contact the manufacture and ask them directly.
  • A full face gasmask can reduce your field of vision.
  • Talking and communications will be limited.
  • You will not be able to drink water or fluid while the mask is on – unless it is equipped with a drinking tube.
  • You need to have access to the respirator when you need it. A respirator sitting in your home will do you no good if you need it when you are at work.
  • Finally, [I considered not putting this one in because once you think about it – it becomes a problem]; Respirators make it very difficult to scratch an itchy nose.


Even with all of these issues and limitations associated with masks and respirators, they can save your life – and you should seriously consider them for yourself and family.


We want to reiterate a very important point: Use the respirator to get out of the contaminated area immediately and into a safe area. Do not stay in a contaminated (or suspected) contaminated area. Get out and into a safe zone. Do not use a respirator to go into a contaminated area – unless you are a trained professional.

Your opinion matters to us.  Please enter into the Comment Box any:

  • Questions you have about the topic that were not answered on this page.
  • Suggestions that you think will help fellow and future visitors to this site.
  • Problems you may be having with your Disaster Planning project.
  • Ideas or Topics that you would like us to explore that will bring added value to the Disaster Planning Process.
  • Or any other comments or input that you are willing to offer about this page.

Please provide your name and email address so that we can send a response back to you or if we have any question about your comments.  Your email address will only be used for correspondence between you and Practical Disaster Planning and will not appear on the website.

Thank you for your comment.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Click below to go the follow up page to “Breathable Air”: 

Options To Protect Your Air Supply“. 

Click This Button To Go To “Options to Protect Your Air Supply”.

Please Share this Page.

Help Your Friends Prepare - It\'s Important!