Question: I own an auto body shop. After each work day I do a walk-through of my facility. During these walks I usually find respirators and face pieces lying around in the shop where the paint work was performed. I’m sure this is not the proper way to store our respirators, but I’m not sure what to tell my painters about proper storage and maintenance. Can you provide me with some information on how to properly maintain and store face pieces and respirators so that I can train my staff and ensure that their respirators are always suitable for use?

Answer: You are right; this isn’t the correct way to store respirators. In fact, leaving them exposed in the areas you described puts your workers at greater risk of exposure to the chemicals in your workplace.

Never leave a respirator out in the open (on a table, the ground, on a hook) in the workshop because harmful chemicals, mists, etc. from the work area may contaminate the respirator. A respirator must be inspected and checked before each use to see if it needs to be cleaned. If the respirator is not properly cleaned/disinfected after each use the next user will inhale the harmful substances that have accumulated on the respirator.

Cleaning a respirator before storage is critical and it’s best to clean all respirators according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Another effective way to clean a respirator is by cleaning the face piece with warm disinfecting soap and water. After washing, dip the face piece in a solution of water and bleach (one tablespoon bleach for every gallon of water) then rinse the face piece in water once again and either let it air dry or dry it with a lint-free cloth.

It’s important to properly store your respirator after it’s been cleaned. First, place the respirator in a nonporous, durable, airtight container such as a “Ziploc” plastic bag. Then place the respirator in a cool, dry, safe location that’s not exposed to sunlight (such as a cabinet) so it can’t be damaged.

In regards to the filters, dispose of the filter cartridges if the user smells contaminants or if the nose, eyes, or throat become irritated while wearing the respirator. Never clean pre-filters and cartridges; they should be discarded once they are “full” though some cartridges contain indicators that notify the user when it is time to install a new cartridge. Users should monitor these cartridge types to ensure the respirator is providing the proper protection.

Disposable respirators/dust masks are not meant to be cleaned and once they become dirty or ineffective, they need to be thrown away. Follow the same storage procedures for both disposable and non-disposable respirators.

Find more information at: Cal/OSHA Guide to Respiratory Protection at Work

The above evaluations and/or recommendations are for general guidance only and should not be relied upon for legal compliance purposes. They are based solely on the information provided to us and relate only to those conditions specifically discussed. We do not make any warranty, expressed or implied, that your workplace is safe or healthful or that it complies with all laws, regulations or standards.