Protecting Your Lungs

When you paint, you are vulnerable to particulate matter and toxic fumes whenever you sand walls or work with paint remover or other solvents and adhesives. Therefore there are certain items you need to purchase before you begin any project that involves painting or sanding to protect your eyes, skin and lungs.

In order to protect your lungs from toxic fumes, you must wear the type of mask that is recommended by the manufacturer of the particular product you are using on a particular job. For instance, there are different masks for sanding as opposed to painting, each with a rating designed for that activity.

When it comes to your health, this is no time to cheap out, so skip the three masks for 99 cents in the Dollar Store. It may look exactly the same as an N95 rated mask for latex paint, but it is not made to block you from ingesting harmful odors.

To protect your lungs, make sure you use the proper mask or respirator for the job as well as do as much of the work as you can outside, or at the very least in a well-ventilated area with open windows and doors, and electric fans circulating the air if possible.

Obviously, if you are painting or sanding a wall, you cannot move it outdoors, but you can open the entire area to get fresh air while you work. This still applies even if you are painting, sanding or stripping in cold weather. However, as a tip, I would probably save those types of jobs for days when the weather is a little more agreeable.

Types of Respirators

There are two basic types of respirators: dust masks and respirators with replaceable cartridges

Basic Dust Mask - A dust mask will provide you basic protection against non-toxic dust and pollen and keep other types of particular matter out of your lungs by pulling the air you breathe through the mask, thereby filtering out dust and other elements. The downside to using a dust mask is that it is only held on by a single strap around your head, so it does not form a tight seal to your face and around your nose. This is especially true if you have facial hair.N95 Respirator

However, this type of mask can be used if you are mowing the yard or if there is a lot of pollen in the air when doing yard work.  

Respirator – A respirator provides protection against fumes, gases, vapors, and other harmful particles in the air.  However, once again, if you have a beard and you will be working around a lot of harmful chemicals, consider shaving first.

There are two types of respirators: disposable and cartridge filters.

Disposable respirators – appear similar to dust masks but typically have a metal nose clip and soft foam around the top to customize the fit around the face for a better seal. Typically these are rated as N95 or higher.Respirator for Painting

  • N - Not Resistant to Oil
  • 95 -  National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has certified that the mask will filter out at least 95% of airborne particles
  • 99 = Certified to filters 99% of airborne particles
  • 100 = Certified to filter 99.97% of airborne particles

Cartridge Refillable Respirators – contain both particulate filters and chemically active canisters for absorbing solvent vapors. These types of respirators are typically used by professionals when spraying solvent based paints or working with paint strippers and solvents.

For most manufacturers there is a color coded system for the types of refillable cartridges in these types of respirators.

Color of Cartridge

Contaminant Protection


Carbon Monoxide


Ammonia gas


Acid gases


Organic vapors


Acid gases and organic vapors


Any particulates free of oil

Tips to Protect Your Lungs

  • Sand, paint or strip surfaces outdoors or cross ventilate the area if that is not possible
  • If creating dust, using aerosols or solvents, use a respirator with a built-in filter cartridge

 Asbestos and Lead

Asbestos and lead are potentially dangerous and life threatening so unless specifically stated on the product by the manufacturer, you should not use any of the respirators listed to protect you from lead fumes, asbestos fibers or sandblasting. If you are dealing with large amounts of any of those substances, it is best to hire a company specifically designed to deal with those challenges.        

3M 8511 Particulate N95 Respirator with Valve, 10-Pack
Amazon Price: $18.99 $9.49 Buy Now
(price as of Jan 15, 2015)

Protecting Your Eyes

It is also important to wear safety goggles whenever working with paints, solvents or any type Safety Gogglesof sanding because not only will your eyes be exposed to those chemical and particles, but you will also be using tools and a lot of things can happen when you are banging, scraping and working in uncomfortable positions, or up high on walls or ceilings.

  • Wear goggles whenever working with any tool
  • Protect your eyes from dust and aerosol spray of drops when sanding, spraying paint, or working high over your head
DEWALT DPG82-11C Concealer Clear Anti-Fog Dual Mold Safety Goggle
Amazon Price: $16.59 $9.99 Buy Now
(price as of Jan 15, 2015)

Protecting Your Skin

Just as important as your eyes and lungs, your skin should be protected from harmful solvents, paints or paint thinners.

  • Wear cotton gloves when using sharp or abrasive tools
  • Wear latex gloves when painting
  • Wear neoprene gloves when working with solvents, paint or gloss strippers and other harsh chemicals
  • Wear long sleeved shirts to protect your arms and other exposed skin from these chemicals


Always read the warning labels on paint, solvents and stripper containers and compare them to the type of respirator you plan on using. If the manufacturer recommends a certain type of respirator, be sure to use that.

If you suspect that an area of your home might contain asbestos, or the old paint that was on the walls contains lead, it is best to high a contractor specifically suited to dealing with these types of issues. Yes it will add to the cost of your project, but when it comes to your health, it really is the only thing in this world that has value to you, so do not take this for granted by trying to save a few dollars.

3M Tekk Paint Project Respirator, Medium, P95
Amazon Price: $34.85 $19.00 Buy Now
(price as of Jan 15, 2015)