Do N95 Face Masks Offer Effective Protection Against Wildfire Smoke?
Wildfires are an increasing threat in many different parts of the globe, including some parts of the United States. Areas with a dry climate and combustible vegetation most vulnerable to wildfires, and the triggers may either be natural (such as lightning strikes), or the result of human activity (for instance, discarded cigarettes). Wildfires spread fast, and the smoke they produce contains a plethora of toxic compounds, such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and other Volatile Organic Compounds.
How can you protect yourself if your area is impacted by wildfires? As you may know, the smoke bears a characteristic, highly unpleasant smell which you can sometimes sense even inside your home. That odor is, itself, enough to awaken your protective instincts. Many people will immediately reach for a bandanna, or pull their t-shirt over their face. Needles to say, these actions do not protect you against the toxic effects of wildfire smoke.
Different types of face masks do offer various levels of protection, and the N95 face mask has become very well known. Do these masks effectively guard you against wildfire smoke, and what else should you know?
Face Masks to Protect Against Wildfire Smoke: What Are Your Options?
The various different types of face masks currently on the market were each manufactured to protect against specific types of danger.
Surgical face masks are made of paper. As their name suggests, these masks are mostly used in hospitals and other health care settings. Surgical masks aren’t able to filter out chemicals dissolved in the air, and they were not designed for that purpose. Rather, surgical masks stop droplets that can carry viruses and bacteria. As such, they are efficient against diseases, but aren’t much of a protection against wildfire smoke.
Respirators are made specifically to prevent wearers from inhaling harmful dust, fumes, chemicals, and vapors, and they additionally help to stop the spread of microorganisms. Unlike surgical face masks, which hang from the face loosely, these masks fit tightly. These masks are made of nonwoven polyproylene, and there are different types, N95 being one of them.
Gas masks are a sub-category of respirators that were designed to prevent exposure to harmful gases. Usually, this is done with the help filtration cartridges, which are discarded after usage. Power air purifying respirators (PAPR) are gas masks with a battery operated fan, which pushes the air through cartridges.
Self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) is specialized equipment used by professionals (such as firefighters), and these systems come with an oxygen tank.
As we can see, there are a vast number of different options for anyone who wants to protect themselves from the harmful chemicals present in wildfire smoke. You would ideally look for a mask that is simultaneously effective and affordable.
You can cross surgical masks are off your list, since these only protect the wearer against infectious agents. Gas masks are both expensive and hard to use, since breathing while wearing them is quite difficult. This is also a significant problem for people who suffer from lung conditions, such as asthma or COPD. PAPRs do allow for easy breathing, but are even more expensive. SCBA systems are only used by professionals.
Given these facts, respirators are the best choice for people looking to shield themselves from the damaging consequences of wildfire smoke, as they are both effective and inexpensive.
Are N95 Masks Your Best Defense Against Wildfire Smoke?
The most common type of respirator masks is the N95 mask, which can be bought in most hardware stores. The “95” in the name means that this mask meets the US standards for air filtration, blocks 95 percent of total airborne particles, and is able to keep out particles with a size of 0.3 microns. The “N”, on the other hand, signifies that this mask is not resistant to oil based liquids, which isn’t important in the case of wildfire smoke (Not oil resistant).
Other types of respirators which are oil resistant, such as R masks (oil-Resistant), and P masks (oil-Proof), may be used to protect yourself against wildfire smoke as well. There are also N99 masks (which block 99 percent of particles) and N100 masks (which block 99.97 percent of particles). The particles in wildfire smoke are the size of 1 micron, which means that you’ll be protected from these harmful and toxic particles by wearing the N95 mask.
With numerous different companies now manufacturing N95 masks, it is, however, crucial to make sure that you invest in masks made by reputable companies. The only way to be sure is to check if the mask has an NIOSH mark on it. A NIOSH — National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health —stamp means that the mask has been approved by this body.
How Do You Wear an N95 Mask Correctly?
When using an N95 respirator, it is important that the mask fits your face snugly. Do not use any chemicals on your mask, since certain products can damage the fabric from which it was made. People with facial hair should trim it, both to ensure that the N95 mask fits correctly and because wildfire smoke can build up within this hair.
N95 masks are designed for single use, and if you have a sufficient quantity, you should replace your mask every time you venture outside if your area has active wildfires.
What Else Can You Do To Prevent Health Complications Related to Smoke Exposure?
If you live in an area affected by wildfires, you would be recommended to stay inside your home as much as you can, while closely following any new instructions your local authorities may broadcast.
Minimize your exposure to wildfire smoke and the harmful chemicals contained therein by keeping your windows closed, and additionally consider investing in an air purifying system. The average American home already suffers from poor indoor air quality under normal conditions, and active wildfires will only increase your risk of exposure. Not only will fumes enter your home, spending more time inside also means you are exposed to VOCs and mold spores for longer periods of time.
What Are the Other Uses of N95 Masks?
These respirators are a must-have for each household. Not only are N95 respirators effective in reducing the transmission of airborne infections and against wildfire smoke, they also prevent you from inhaling numerous other harmful particles.
If you live in a heavily-polluted city, with a lot of traffic, these masks can block almost all toxic particles. If you’re doing any type DIY, such as painting the walls, these masks offer protection against the fine dust these types of work create. Homeowners should further be mindful of the potential presence of mold sores, especially in areas that would typically be hidden, such as the basement and the attic.
Mold grows most easily in damp conditions, but that doesn’t mean you will only have mold on your property if you have leaky pipes. Each room with a high enough humidity level is at risk of developing mold. Sometimes, the water can enter the basement through a foundation wall, especially if it’s not sealed or waterproofed. Since the temperature in the basement is usually lower than in the rest of the house, the relative humidity in the basement rises.
Mold can cause a myriad of health complications, but the first signs arrive in the form of non-specific symptoms like coughing, sneezing, burning eyes, a skin rash, a stuffy nose, and a sore throat. People with asthma or people allergic to mold are most vulnerable, but those weakened immune systems may also develop mold-related lung infections.
The N95 respirator offers protection against mold, whether you attempt to locate or remediate a mold problem within your home yourself, or if you just want to wear a mask while going down to the basement to get something. The size of mold spores is between 3 and 40 microns, so the N95 mask offers sufficient protection. It is not, however, a long-term solution.
If you believe that you have a mold problem anywhere within your home, either because you have noticed that characteristic musty smell, because you mold is visible, or because you are suffering from respiratory symptoms, it is important to gain insights into the scope and nature of the mold. As an independent mold inspection company, MI&T performs a thorough visual inspection before collecting air samples. After the testing is complete, the full lab report allows you to determine what steps need to be taken to remediate the problem. If necessary, we will assist you in making a mold remediation plan — and after the job is done, MI&T can come back for clearance testing.