Your respirator is one or the more important pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE) in your woodworking shop. Respirators filter out tiny particulates and fumes, keeping your lungs safe during dangerous jobs.
While the damage caused by not using a respirator or not keeping it in good, working condition, might not be readily apparent, it could easily show up weeks, months, years or even decades down the road. It’s in your best interest to take the best care possible of your respirator.
Cleaning Your Respirator
Always defer to the manufacturer’s instructions when cleaning your respirator, but in the absence of clear guidance, respirator care generally focuses on maintaining the integrity of the equipment. Avoid using solvents when cleaning your respirator.
Wipe down your respirator with a clean, damp cloth after handling. After light use, gently wash the respirator with a combination of mild detergent and water. Use a soft brush or cloth to clean the respirator thoroughly. Do not use a soap-based cleanser, as this can lead to build-up over time and decrease the efficiency of the equipment. Rinse well with clean water.
Place your respirator on a rack or hang it from a clothesline to dry. Make sure all sides receive airflow so no mold or mildew can develop. Avoid wrinkling the rubber nose piece as the respirator dries or it will set that way until wet again.
Inspect your respirator before and after each use. Look for cracks, wear, tear and any other damage that might be visually evident. It’s a good idea to inspect your respirator during cleaning, as well. If you don’t use your respirator often, inspect it at least once monthly. Don’t use a respirator until any damage or wear has been repaired or broken pieces are replaced.
- Look for fraying edges on straps, loss of elasticity and damage to any straps or webbing.
- Check lenses for cracks, clouding or warping. Inspect the rubber for cracks, dry spots, warping or distortion.
- Carefully check the valves to make sure the threads on any screw-in pieces are intact and easily moved and not cross-threaded or warped.
- Remove any dirt or buildup around valves.
If your respirator has an air supply or battery back, check with the manufacturer for proper maintenance of those components. Air supplies should have no cracks and all hose connections should be snug. Batteries should be removed prior to putting away the respirator and recharged prior to use. Make sure the battery is fully charged before using your respirator.
Repairing Your Respirator
Some respirator problems can be repaired in your home or workshop. Manufacturers often sell replacement parts for pieces that wear out or get used heavily. For example, it’s easy to find a replacement filter for nearly every respirator available to woodworkers.
If you can’t repair a broken respirator yourself, seek out a qualified repair shop or contact the manufacturer for further instruction. Never use a broken respirator, even if you think you’ll be fine. Believing that the minimal protection provided by a broken respirator is preferable to no protection at all is faulty logic.
Don’t risk your life for a project that can be put on hold for another day.
Woodworkers don’t always wear a respirator, but it’s a requirement for some jobs. If you’re working with fine particulates, harsh solvents or other hazardous materials, a respirator could save your lungs and your life. Take good care of your respirator, even if you don’t use it often and repair any problems as soon as they occur.