Section: 16 | Selection of Respirator Cartridges and Filters |
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The recommended form of citation is:
John R. Rumble, ed., CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics, 103rd Edition (Internet Version 2022), CRC Press/Taylor & Francis, Boca Raton, FL.
If a specific table is cited, use the format: "Physical Constants of Organic Compounds," in CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics, 103rd Edition (Internet Version 2022), John R. Rumble, ed., CRC Press/Taylor & Francis, Boca Raton, FL.


Thomas J. Bruno, Paris D. N. Svoronos, and Maria J. Doa

Respirators are sometimes desirable or required when performing certain tasks in the laboratory. The identity of the chemical hazard and its airborne concentrations need to be determined before choosing a respirator.  This assessment should be done by experienced safety personnel or by an industrial hygienist (Ref. 1). Several types of respirators are available for use under different conditions.  These include particulate respirators, chemical cartridge/gas mask respirators, powered air-purifying respirators, and self-contained breathing apparatus. The choice of a respirator depends critically upon the chemical substance, the level of that chemical substance in the air, and whether oxygen deficiency conditions require the use of a powered air-purifying respirator or a self-contained breathing apparatus. Respirator choices must be made carefully in consultation with professional expertise. The discussion below is for guidance purposes only.

Particulate Respirators

Particulate respirators are the simplest and least protective of the respirator types available. These respirators only filter out dusts, fumes, and mists. They do not protect against chemicals, gases, or vapors, and are intended only for low hazard levels.

Chemical Cartridge/Gas Mask Respirators

Chemical cartridge/gas mask respirators are also known as "air-purifying respirators" because they filter or clean chemical gases out of the air as you breathe. This respirator type includes a facepiece or mask and a cartridge or canister. Straps secure the facepiece to the head. The cartridge may also have a filter to remove particles. This type of respirator is effective only if used with the correct cartridge or filter (these terms are often used interchangeably) for a specific chemical substance.

Powered Air-Purifying Respirator (PAPR)

Powered air-purifying respirators use a fan to draw air through the filter to the user and are easier to breathe through. However, they need a fully charged battery to work properly. They use the same type of filters/cartridges as other air-purifying respirators.

Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA)

A self-contained breathing apparatus provides clean air from a portable air tank. It is used when the air is too dangerous to breathe. It also protects against higher concentrations of dangerous chemicals. However, this type of respirator is very heavy (30 pounds or more) and requires very special training on its use and maintenance.  Also, the air tanks typically last an hour or less depending upon their rating and your breathing rate.

There is a standardized color code system used by all manufacturers for the specification and selection of the cartridges and filters that are used with respirators (Ref. 1). Cartridges are available that protect against more than one hazard, but there is no "all-in-one" cartridge that protects against all substances. The cartridges are color-coded to help in the selection of the appropriate cartridge(s). Note that more than one cartridge may be required to protect against multiple hazards. It is important to know what the hazard is and how much of it is in the air in order to select the proper filters/cartridges. Table 1 provides guidance in the selection of the proper cartridge using the color code.

The use of respirators in the laboratory is subject to regulation and management. In the United States, for example, before a respirator can be used, a medical evaluation must be performed to establish that the user has sufficient lung capacity and that the use of the respirator will not cause health problems. This evaluation must be performed by a physician or nurse, and if performed by a nurse, the evaluation must be approved and signed by a physician.

The specific respirator selected must be based upon the hazard to the worker. It should be properly fitted and periodically refitted by an industrial hygienist or other trained personnel, and that fitting procedure must adhere to an established protocol with approved equipment to be effective. It must be regularly maintained and replaced in accord with the manufacturer's specifications; properly removed and disposed of to avoid contamination of self, others, or the environment; and if reusable, properly removed, cleaned, disinfected, and stored. Finally, training by an industrial hygienist or other appropriate personnel must be provided.

In addition to the cartridges specified in the table, particulate filters are available that can be used alone or in combination with those cartridges specified.


  1. OSHA Bulletin: General Respiratory Protection Guidance for Employers and Workers, OSHA 3514, 2011.

Color Coding for Gas Mask Chemical Cartridges and Canisters

ContaminantColor coding on cartridge/canister
Acid gasesWhite
Hydrocyanic acid gasWhite with 1/2-inch green stripe completely around the canister near the bottom
Hydrocyanic acid gas and chlorpicrin vaporYellow with 1/2-inch blue stripe completely around the canister near the bottom
Ammonia gasGreen
Organic vaporsBlack
Chlorine gasWhite with 1/2-inch yellow stripe completely around the canister near the bottom
Acid gases and ammonia gasGreen with 1/2-inch white stripe completely around the canister near the bottom
Acid gases and organic vaporsYellow
Carbon monoxideBlue
PesticidesOrganic vapor canister (black) plus a particulate filter (see color codes below)
Radioactive materials, except tritium and noble gasesPurple (magenta)
Multi-contaminants and chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear (CBRN) agentsOlive
Any particulates - P100Purple
Any particulates - P95, P99, R95, R99, R100Orange
Any particulates free of oil - N95, N99, N100Teal

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