How long do 3M respirator filters last

3M is one of the most popular personal protective equipment brands all over the world. Formerly known as the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company, it was founded in 1902. The brand is a preferred option for employers looking for high-quality respirators for their workers.

3M offers a host of respirators and filters, making it an excellent choice for workplaces with many different types of contaminants. One of the most important things to know about respirators is the service life of their filters. No matter if you’re using 2000 series, 5000 series or 3M 6000 series full face respirator, knowing when to replace them is the key to maximum protection against the contaminants.

What types of filters does 3M offers?

Some of the most popular types of filters the brand offers are-

  • Particulate filters- Particulate filters are designed to protect the wearer against dust, smoke, aerosols, bacteria, mold, mists and fumes. There are different types of filters (dust mask filters) depending on the amount of dust particles in the air.

  • Gas and vapor cartridge filters- These filters protect only against gases and vapors. For different types of gases and vapors, 3M offers different types of filters.

  • Combination filters- For workplaces with many different types of contaminants, the combination filters from the brand are the best choice. These filters use different combinations of cartridge/particulate filters depending on the contaminants present in a hazardous environment.

 Before talking about when you should replace the filters, let us first have a look at why it is so important to regularly change the filters.

Why replace 3M filters regularly?

If you’re using particulate filters with a full face mask or half face mask, the filters start clogging up after some time and this results in breathing difficulties. With gas or chemical cartridge filters, the sorbents in them start saturating after a point. This is known as the breakthrough point of the filter after which the filter starts letting contaminants pass through it.

When should you replace 3M particulate filters?

If you’re using a dust mask respirator with 3M particulate filters, make sure that you replace both the filters as soon as there is any kind of difficulty in breathing. This can vary between individuals. You should also instantly replace the filter as soon as it gets damaged or soiled.

When should you replace 3M gas and vapor cartridge filters?

There are several factors that reduce the shelf life of gas and vapor cartridge filters. As a rule of thumb, replace the cartridge filter as soon as you can detect the contaminant by taste or smell. The filter should also be replaced as per the expiry date of the filter stamped by the manufacturer.

Once the filter is opened, it should compulsorily be changed within 6 months even if it is not used. Even when the cartridge filter is not in use, if it is open, it will keep on absorbing contaminants from the environment. If the filter is not opened and is safely stored, they have a shelf life of up to 5 years. It is also compulsory for hazardous workplaces to create a filter change schedule for replacing the filters at regular intervals.

Preparing the filter change schedule

As mentioned above, there are several factors that affect the service life of cartridge filters. To prepare a filter change schedule, the following factors are taken into consideration-

  • Contaminant type and concentration
  • Temperature
  • Humidity
  • Work rate of the user
  • Presence of factors that can affect the shelf life of the filter

On the basis of this information, OSHA recommends using one of the three methods for creating filter change schedule-

  1. Mathematical model
  2. Experimental tests
  3. Manufacturers recommendation

This is mostly done with the help of 3rd party laboratories or consultants. There are now also software and programs available for creating filter change schedule. 3M also offers such programs online.

Storing 3M respirators and filters

The place you select for storing your respirator and filter can also impact its shelf life. When they are not in use, make sure that you store them away from direct sunlight, oil, and corrosive atmosphere. Before storing, the respirators and filters should be clean and dry. Storage bags or contains with a seal can be used for storing them. 

3M’s Service Life Indicator Technology

In 2015, 3M launched a new line of organic vapor respirator cartridges that feature its Service Life Indicator Technology. When used in the recommended environments, these cartridges visually show when the cartridge should be replaced.

The cartridges have ESLI (End-of-Service-Life Indicator) , based on which workers can easily know when it is time to change the filter. However, the indicator should only be used for complementing a filter change schedule and not as a standalone method for changing the filter.

These 3M chemical cartridges with the Service Life Indicator Technology are an excellent addition for workplaces where asbestos PPE (Asbestos Protective Clothing) is highly recommended.

Conclusion

While 3M stamps expiry on each of its filters along with their service life, it is important to know that there are several factors that can reduce their service life. This is especially true in the case of gas and chemical cartridge filters. Using the cartridges beyond their service life can lead to regulatory violations and even endanger the workers.

Focus on the correct ways to create a filter change schedule for your workplace and adjust it on a regular basis to offer maximum safety to the workers.