Welding is a dirty and hazardous line of work, so there’s a good reason why welding has become one of the higher-paid jobs in recent decades. As I’ve talked about in some previous articles, some hazards of welding include extreme temperatures, molten metal, flying debris, and blinding light. However, there’s a less talked about danger that’s very real: deadly welding fumes and lots of dust.
Longer exposure to these fumes can lead to dizziness, nausea, eye and skin irritation, as well as long-term consequences such as lung damage and even cancer.
For these reasons, anyone who wants to get into welding should consider buying a respirator of some kind. You may not use one at all times, but if you’re in a confined space and have to put in long hours of welding, you have to wear adequate protection. Otherwise, you may suffer serious damage to your health.
To keep you safe from toxic fumes, I’ve prepared a list of the top-quality options on the market, so that you can find the best welding respirator for your workshop.
But first things first…
Types Of Welding Respirators
There are three main types of respirators used in welding: reusable masks, disposable masks, and air-purifying systems.
Disposable masks are the least reliable form of respirators. They don’t provide a tight fit, so the welding fumes could still get through. Plus they’re thinner, so they can’t hold off as much dust and fumes as the other types of respirators.
Air-purifying masks are by far the most effective type of respirator you can get, but they are only really used in extreme cases and environments. Truth is, if you have a shop and you have a ventilation system, or a window, this type of respirator is unnecessary.
The most used type of respirators among welders are reusable masks. They use cartridges for disposable filters which you need to replace as often as necessary, depending on how much time you spend inhaling fumes and dust. There are 2 types of reusable respirators: half masks and full masks.
Half-mask respirators are the more common type of reusable mask and they’re going to be our main focus in this article. They’re called half-masks because they only cover about half of your face, the area around your mouth and nose. This means that they will not protect your eyes from fumes and dust.
The other type of reusable masks are full masks. They cover your whole face, including your eyes. Because your welding helmet protects your eyes from UV and IR radiation, but also from sparks and debris, a full mask is meant to protect your eyes from the fumes. These respirators are only really necessary in very confined, closed spaces.
Best Welding Respirators
Overall Best: 3M Rugged Comfort Reusable Respirator
Although “rugged”, the 3M Rugged Comfort (6501QL) is also very comfortable and practical. This half-mask respirator is made from silicone which feels very smooth and soft on your face, so you can wear it for hours at a time without getting annoyed by it. The silicone is also very resilient and will not get deformed from the heat.
The backside harness is made of flexible, smooth plastic for a comfortable fit. The round head cradle is adjustable, with three sizes to choose from to provide a snug fit. The straps are made from polyester and spandex, which makes them soft yet durable.
One of the best features of the 3M half-facepiece respirator is the cool flow valve featured in the front which lets the breath out. This means the air inside will never get too hot, and there will be no condensation. Anyone who has worn a respirator knows just how intolerable it can get because of the condensation that can build up inside.
My favorite feature about this welding respirator is the quick-release latch on the front side. Instead of having to take the whole thing off, you just flip the latch and the front piece unhinges while hanging on a strap. To put it back up you just lift it up and snap the latch back in its place.
This is super practical because if you need to talk or just need a break, you can easily flip it down and then up to get back to work. The bayonet connection is compatible with different-sized cartridges and filters, so you can easily find ones that will fit inside a welding helmet.
The only issue with the 3M Rugged Comfort respirator mask is that the sizes run a bit on the small side. Some users have complained about it being so small that it leaves gaps for fumes to get through. If the mask is too small it can also be very uncomfortable on your nose, and possibly even leave a bruise. Keep in mind that this particular welding respirator is sold without filters and cartridges.
- Snug and comfortable fit;
- Flexible head cradle;
- Quick-release latch;
- Exhalation valve.
- Sizes run small;
- Filters and cartridges are sold separately.
Runner-Up: GVS Elipse SPR451 with P100 filters
This is an extremely light half-mask respirator that weighs only 4.6oz. It’s made from a thermoplastic elastomer that is hypoallergenic. It’s also super comfortable and feels smooth on your face. The GVS Elipse provides a tight enough fit not to let any welding fumes leak through. The straps that hold it are wide and very soft, so they will not irritate your skin.
The two compatible P100 filters P100 and the cartridges that hold them are very well designed. They’re very slim and follow the shape of the half mask., This makes this welding respirator perfect to wear under a welding helmet.
To keep flying debris away from the filters, there’s a plastic cage over them that also serves to hold them in place. Between the filter cartridges, there’s a non-return exhaust valve to keep your mask dry and your breath cool.
You get good value for your money with the Elipse. The purchase includes two extra filters.
The fact that the valve is large means there will be no resistance while exhaling, so you will not get fatigued. Easy breathing is very important if you need to wear the respirator for longer periods of time.
However, there are a few drawbacks. Some users find it too small, which is an issue because it will not seal properly and harmful fumes and gases will leak through. Another minor issue is the position of the valve. Because it’s facing forward and not downward, if some condensation forms, it won’t drain unless you’re facing down.
- Very lightweight;
- Ergonomic design for comfort and an unobstructed field of vision;
- Cage protection for the filters;
- Exhalation valve.
- Sizes run small;
- Some minimal condensation is possible.
Most Lightweight: 3M Half-Facepiece Respirator with P100 filters
This 3M half-facepiece reusable respirator is super light and comfortable. It’s made from soft rubber which is not as comfortable as silicone, but still tolerable to wear for longer periods of time. The rubber is flexible and does a good job of sealing your mouth and nose to protect you from harmful fumes and dust.
The head harness is made from soft flexible plastic to provide comfort during those long hours of welding. You can adjust the straps for a snug fit and make sure that no harmful fumes and gases end up in your lungs.
The P100 filters provide great protection from most of the dust and fumes produced during the welding process. They are very small and fit perfectly under a welding helmet. Once used up to capacity, the cartridges can be replaced with other P100 filters or any of the 3M 2000, 2200, or 6000 series.
Be careful when choosing because not all of them will fit under a welding helmet, so do your research before deciding which ones to buy.
Like the 3M Rugged Comfort 6501QL, this half-mask respirator has a cool flow valve to keep moisture and hot air outside the mask. The thing that this mask lacks compared to the 6501QL is a quick-release latch.
A recurring issue with this particular product seems to be that it gets sent without the filters. If this does happen to you, just contact the seller and they should send you a pair.
- Snug and comfortable fit;
- Flexible head harness;
- Cool flow valve.
- Not as comfortable as some other respirators;
- You might receive the respirator without filters.
This Miller Electric half-mask respirator is actually the exact same mask as the GVS SPR451, literally. Miller is legally using GVS half masks and rebranding them as their own. But they cost more, so just go ahead and order a GVS.
- It’s a Miller.
- It costs more than the GVS.
Best Value for Money: Breath Buddy Respirator with P3 filters
This half-mask respirator may seem deceivingly affordable, but it does provide great protection and comfort. It’s very lightweight and it’s made of soft rubber that offers a snug fit that’ll prevent welding fumes from getting through. The straps are soft and wide so they will not irritate your skin.
The P3 filters are very much like the P100 filters, but they’re even lighter. They are super thin and fit perfectly under any welding helmet. Between the two filters is a non-return exhaust valve which you can close if you’re not using the welding respirator.
Because the design of this respirator mask is very similar to the 3M 6391, it has the same drawback. The position of the valve doesn’t allow condensation to drain. Of course, the breath you exhale will come out directly through the valve, but after a few hours of using the welding respirator, some condensation will form.
Like the 3M 6391, Breath Buddy’s respirator mask features a bayonet connection which can be used for different cartridges and filters.
As a bonus, this top value-for-money purchase comes with protective glasses as a gift.
- Very lightweight;
- Snug but comfortable;
- Very affordable.
- Minimal condensation may form.
Best Helmet + Air-Purifying Respirator: 3M Speedglas Heavy-Duty G5-01
Now, this is some high-tech stuff. The battery-powered air-purifying system is integrated into its 3M Speedglas welding helmet.
The welding helmet features a true color display which lets you choose different color saturation in dark state. You can choose between natural, warm or cool tones. The shade range is 5-14, so you can use it even for welding at the highest amperage. It has a shade 4 in light state.
And here comes the coolest part: you can control shade, sensitivity, and delay, and set preferences using 3M’s app on your smartphone. This is amazing because you never have to take your helmet off while working.
The front piece with the auto-darkening lens flips up if you need to grind or do anything else that doesn’t involve welding. You can also buy a task light as an accessory which can be mounted just below the lens. The task light gets power from the battery for the airflow system.
Onto the respirator. 3M’s Adflo air-purifying system is incredible. It uses a heavy-duty, long-lasting battery that can be turbo-charged. The filter box features a net to protect the filter from sparks. The filter itself is made from a prefilter and a main filter. You can control the airflow using the ON button.
There’s a hose that comes out of the filter box and it goes to the helmet, there it provides airflow from an outlet just above your forehead and two side-outlets. A hose comes out of the filter box, designed to let air flow just above your forehead and from the two side outlets. You can control the direction of the airflow using the switch featured on the right side of the helmet. You can direct the airflow anywhere between your face and the visor.
On the left side of the helmet, there’s a switch that lets you control the amount of airflow between the top outlet and the side outlets. The headgear features a rail for moving the whole helmet closer to or further away from your face.
This is the highest protection from harmful fumes and gases you can find. If you buy the head and neck cover accessories, you can get a perfect 1000 APF level protection. The only issue with this futuristic, almost sci-fi piece of equipment is the price.
- Insanely good display;
- You can control the settings with your smartphone;
- Long-lasting battery;
- Very comfortable;
- Highest-rated protection.
- Very expensive.
Disposable Respirators: KN95 Disposable Masks, Pack of 50
If, for some reason, you don’t want to buy a reusable respirator, this is the best disposable option available.
The KN95 is made from 5 layers of non-woven, needle-punched, melt-blown filtrating cotton. Like the N95, this respirator filters out at least 95% of particles, which means that it offers great protection from metal dust. However, it’s not the best filter for welding fumes and gases.
Although the KN95 mask respirator features an adjustable nose clip, it cannot create a perfect seal like the reusable masks on this list. This type of disposable mask respirator can be useful because it’s thin and you can take it anywhere, but for your workplace, you should really consider buying a reusable one.
- Great protection from particles;
- Very light and thin.
- Not a perfect seal;
- Not great against harmful fumes.
Need help choosing the best welding respirator for your workshop? No worries – that’s what this guide is for! You can also check out 3M’s technical information sheet about respiratory protection if you need more help deciding what type of respirator is right for you.
Type of Respirator
As I’ve mentioned in the introduction, there are 3 types of welding respirators you can choose from.
Reusable respirators are the most common option for welders because they provide great protection, they’re quite comfortable, and they’re usually affordable. If you use an auto-darkening welding helmet, you can only use a half-mask respirator. If you use a passive, handheld face shield, you should go with a full facepiece.
Disposable respirators aren’t as reliable, and in the long run, they could even cost more than the reusable ones. The advantage of disposable masks is that they’re light and thin, so they can easily fit in your pocket.
Air-purifying respirators offer the best protection, but they are very expensive. Plus, you don’t really need one if you work in a shop that has a ventilation system or a window. They are used in extremely contaminated spaces or in large factories that have strict standards.
Type of Welding
Some types of welding produce more harmful fumes than others. Also, some work environments expose you to more metal dust than welding fumes. Based on your work conditions, you should check which type of respirator is the best fit for you.
Before buying a respirator, you should check what types of filters and cartridges will fit that particular mask. If your job requires you to do different types of work, you want to be able to just change the filters instead of the whole respirator.
Because the respirator needs to protect your lungs, you shouldn’t just buy a cheap one that will break after a few uses. The more durable the welding respirator, the safer your lungs will be, and this is especially important in the long run.
Chances are that you’ll be wearing the respirator on your face for hours at a time. If it doesn’t fit comfortably on your face, not only will it get annoying quickly, it can also irritate your skin and possibly cause an infection. When the respirator is comfortable, it’s also easier to focus on your work instead of readjusting it all the time.
Let’s quickly run through my top picks for the best welding respirators so you can compare them and decide which one suits your needs best.
In my opinion, the 3M Rugged Comfort 6501QL is the overall best for several reasons. The fact that it’s so light means it’ll be less of a strain on your neck, which is very important if you’re going to wear the respirator for a large chunk of the day. The silicone mask is soft enough not to irritate or scratch your skin. This means you can focus on your work rather than on fixing the mask.
The valve, which is positioned on the very front of the mask, is super useful for putting less strain on your lungs. When your exhaling is obstructed, you begin to feel dizzy and possibly even lose consciousness, and this helps prevent that. Because the valve is facing downwards, the condensation that may form will drip out, keeping the area around your mouth and nose dry.
But the main reason why this is my top pick is the quick-release latch. If you just need a quick break to drink some water, or you need to talk to someone, you don’t have to take the whole mask off. Instead, you just release the latch and the top part of the mask will drop down, hanging by the straps. When you’re ready to work again, you can just pull the latch back down and push it so it clicks back in place.
GVS’s SPR451 Elipse with P100 filters is a very close second, mainly because of its sleek, ergonomic design. This half-facepiece reusable respirator rests on your face unlike any other respirator mask you’ll find. For one, it’s great because it hardly obstructs your field of view, and for another, it doesn’t pull your mask down the way other half-masks do.
Here are the drawbacks that pushed it lower down the list. The position of the exhaling valve means that some condensation will form inside the mask and to drain it, you have to bend your neck down and wait for the drops to come out.
Another reason is the short range of filter options. Although the P100 is one of the filters that offer the best protection, for specific jobs you may need a different type of filter, and in that case, you would have to buy an altogether different respirator.
The 3M 6391 is a great respirator. It’s super comfortable and light, the head harness is soft and it provides a snug fit. But the position of the valve, just like on the GVS, is facing forward, which is a worse solution than what 3M did with the Rugged 6501QL.
And lastly, if you’re a professional welder and you work in highly contaminated areas, the Speedglas with an Adflo respirator is perfect. The whole assembly straight up looks like something from a sci-fi movie, and it has the features, too.
It offers a perfect display with amazing options, the most adjustable headgear you’ll find, and a comfortable fit. The Adflo air-purifying system provides you with a cool airflow whose power and direction you can control. If I take on welding as a full-time profession someday, I will definitely buy one, because I just love high-tech stuff, and this is as high-tech as it gets.
Do all welders need to wear respirators?
Short answer: not all. There are a lot of factors to consider before deciding if you need a respirator or not, like ventilation in the workplace, what type of welding you do, how much time you spend welding, and the distance between your face and the weld.
Some factories even forbid using respirators unless you have a doctor’s prescription. Respirator masks are not recommended if you have certain lung or heart conditions, so please consult a doctor before deciding on whether or not you should get one.
How bad is welding smoke for you?
If it’s directly inhaled, the fumes could cause nausea, dizziness, and could potentially damage your lungs, larynx, nervous system, and kidneys. However, the amount of smoke you inhale is a big factor, and so are the above-mentioned health conditions.
How should you care for your mask?
To get better protection, your mask should be cleaned regularly, every day if possible. Once you’re done with work, you should gently rinse the mask and wash the filter and cartridges too (if they’re washable, of course). This will make your respirator last longer and give you better protection. Make sure to dry the filter before putting it back.
How long do welding respirators last?
There are many variables that affect how long a respirator will last, such as what type of respirator it is, how often you use it, what you use it for, how well you take care of it, and so on. But a good rule to follow is, if you can sense the dust or fumes while you have a respirator on, throw it away.