How to Use a Respirator Mask

Man showing how to put on a respirator mask

Everyone who faces respiratory hazards should know how to use a respirator mask. Did you know respirator masks should be inspected before you wear them? Do you know how to check for proper fit? This article will teach you how to use a respirator mask correctly. A few simple steps will help you make sure your respirator mask does its job and keeps you safe.

N95 Respirator Mask

An N95 means it’s a respirator mask that is not oil-resistant, and the 95 means it will filter out particles that are 0.3 microns or larger. 0.3 micron particles are smaller than bacteria, smaller than pollen or settling dust, and smaller than mold spores. What kinds of particles are that small? Viruses, smog, soot, and tobacco smoke fall in the range of 0.3 microns (Wei, 2019).  With an N95 respirator mask 95% of particles 0.3 microns and larger, such as viruses, will get filtered out.

Inspect Your Mask

First, we want to make sure we have a NIOSH-approved respirator. NIOSH stands for National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health. They will stamp this on the respirator masks, so look for the NIOSH stamp. Next, when we inspect the mask we want to make sure everything looks good and nothing is broken on the respirator. It should have no tears, and both straps should be firmly attached.

Put on Your Mask

To put on the mask, I always suggest putting on the lower strap first. Then, put the mask over your face, and finish by putting the upper strap over the ears. You can watch me do this in the video following this article. If your mask feels uncomfortable, it might be the wrong size for you. The sizing differs with each respirator model, so make sure you have the size you need. Some of the sizing options include small, small/medium, medium, medium/large, and large. Try out different options if possible because you want the right size mask for your face. After you put your mask on, it should feel comfortably snug, not too tight or too loose. The straps should hold the mask securely on your face without cutting into the skin.

Do a User Seal Check

Once you have your mask on correctly, do a user seal check. This very important test checks the seal of the mask to make sure it does not let any particles in around the sides. You can watch me define the seal in the video below. To check the seal, cup your hands together around the front of your mask and blow out, like your hands are cold and you are trying to warm them up. If you feel any air come out around the seal, adjust the mask and check it again. When it fits right, you should not feel any leakage through any part of the seal.

To do a negative pressure user seal check, take a deep breath and see if your mask collapses a little bit. If you see that slight collapse, your mask fits correctly. This finishes the mask seal test.

Check Every Time

Every time you take your mask off, then put it on again, you must do a new user seal check. Remember, if air can get in and out around your seal, so can dangerous particles. Check your mask seal every time. Then, the N95 respirator mask can do its job and keep you safe.

In the following video I demonstrate the techniques I described in this article. For more safety videos from OSHA-Authorized safety trainers, subscribe to the National Safety Education Center YouTube Channel.

If you represent a business interested in customized safety training for your employees, contact National Safety Education Center director Pettee Guerrero at



About the Author...

John Newquist

John has over 30 years of experience as a safety trainer. Since 1987 John has trained over 50,000 people including OSHA compliance officers and Fortune 500 Clients. His areas of expertise include Incident Investigation, Confined Space, Excavation Safety, Cranes Signaling, Rigging Safety, Fall Protection, Scaffold Competent Person, Silica Competent Person, CHST Prep, Lockout, Machine Guarding, OSHA Recordkeeping, and Safety Management. Services: Mock OSHA Inspections, Site Safety Audits, Expert Witness

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