3M Disposable Pollution Masks & Respirators

I often get asked what the best pollution mask is when it comes to both affordability and functionality. While it’s hard for me to narrow that down to one single mask, especially due to the fact that everyone’s face shape is different, some of my favorite masks out there for general use are the 3M™ N95 Respirators. These are some of the most common and affordable masks out there, they’re also among the top performing masks when it comes to filtering particulate matter (PM 2.5). The N95 rating refers to their ability to filter 95% of airborne particles bigger than .3 microns, which is sufficient for most users and will filter the majority of PM 2.5 particles (PM 2.5 particles are 2.5 microns).

While the build quality and looks may not be anywhere near something like a Respro, the 3M™ Aura™ 9332 and 9501 models perform just as well when it comes to filtering airborne particles. One huge advantage that these masks have over a neoprene mask is the ability to be folded, therefore you can keep them on you at all times should AQI suddenly spike. Not that you can’t fold or stash a neoprene mask like the Respros, it’s just that the 3M and other disposable offerings are that much easier to toss in your bag as they take up much less space and can usually be bought in packs of 10 or so (which I highly recommend. You save 50% on each mask this way). Another great thing about these masks is that they’re available nearly everywhere; so should you forget yours at home, you can easily stop by any 7-11, Family Mart of Lawson and pick one up for cheap. While you’re in there, you can also get yourself a piece of candy to take your mind off the gloomy, dusty weather.

3M™ Aura™ 9332+ Series Disposable Respirator

So, let’s get into this shall we? One of the more common disposable respirator pollution masks we hear about is the 3M™ Aura™, often referred to as the 9332. The 9300+ series from 3M™ is designed for all day comfort without sacrificing breathability and filtration performance. The masks are designed with construction, F&B, metalworking, woodworking and manufacturing workers in mind, but that doesn’t mean they don’t do a kick-ass job at keeping air pollution out of your lungs.

The mask itself folds flat and is equipped with a P3 respirator, which is designed to catch and filter the finest of dusts, metals, mists, molds and other airborne matter. Since the Aura™ series is designed for all-day use, it excels at maintaining low breathing resistance making it easy and comfortable to wear thanks to the Cool Flow™ valves. Another nice feature is the 3-panel design of the mask.  Many of the cheaper, lower performance disposable masks out there are made of a single panel. Not only are these comfortable, they’re also extremely prone to leakage. If your mask doesn’t fit your face properly and create an air-tight seal, you might as well not even wear a mask. Fit is one of the most important factors to consider when getting a pollution mask (which is why I’ve tried so many). So please, keep this in mind.

An extremely overlooked and thoughtful feature on the 9300+ series is the embossed and sculpted upper panel. This will reduce fogging for those who wear glasses as well as improve comfort and compatibility with various eyewear. Nothing is worse than finding the perfect fitting mask and then realizing your glasses don’t fit over the nose piece.

Getting the right fit with the 3M™ Aura™


We’ve said it before, but there is nothing more important than finding a mask with a good fit – you want your mask and face to create a good seal. For optimal performance, your face should be clean-shaven; beards and stubble will allow unfiltered air to get into the mask. If you wear any jewelry or have facial piercings, be careful while donning the mask.

If you’re starting with a brand new mask, open it up and first inspect that the mask is not damaged, torn or defective in anyway. Check the respirator parts and make sure the headbands are connected to the mask.

With the reverse side of the mask facing up, grab the tabs and separate the mask to form a cup-shape. Bend slightly at the center of the nose clip, ensure that both panels are fully unfolded.

Cup the respirator in one hand with the open side facing your face. With your other hand, pull the headbands backwards carefully and bring the respirator to your face. Bring the straps over your head and into their optimal positions; top strap sitting on the crown of your head and the bottom strap sits below your ears. Double-check the straps and make sure they’re not twisted.

Next, use both hands to pinch the nose clip so that it fits snugly around your nose. From here, you’ll want to perform a fit-check. Cover the front of the respirator with both hands and if you’re using a non-valved respirator, exhale sharply. If you’re using the a valved mask like the Aura™, then exhale sharply with your hands on either side of the valve.

If you notice air leaking around the nose, re-ajust the nose clip to create a better seal. If air is leaking along the sides of the mask, move the head straps further back on your head or consider shortening them to create a better fit.

When you’re done using your mask, remove it carefully and fold it back to its original position. Return the mask to a sealed plastic ziolock bag to keep it clean.

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