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Environmental Health & Safety

Respiratory Protection Program

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Care of Respiratory Protective Equipment

In order to be effective and to properly protect the user, respirators must be regularly inspected, cleaned, and maintained.  It is the responsibility of the respirator user to ensure that his or her respirator is inspected before each use, is kept in a clean and sanitary condition, is stored away from sources of contamination, is maintained properly, and that any problems with the equipment are reported immediately for repair or replacement. Disposable respirators should be discarded if they become soiled or contaminated, or at a minimum, at the end of each work shift.

Cleaning and Disinfecting

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) has set guidelines for the cleaning of respiratory protective equipment.  These are listed below.  Alternatively, respiratory protective equipment can be cleaned according to the manufacturer's recommendations so long as the equipment is cleaned and disinfected in a way that does not damage it, and does not harm the user.

  1. Remove filters, cartridges, or canisters. Disassemble facepieces by removing speaking diaphragms, demand and pressure-demand valve assemblies, hoses, or any components recommended by the manufacturer. Discard and replace or repair any defective parts.
  2. Wash components in warm (43o C [110o F] maximum) water with a mild detergent or with a cleaner recommended by the manufacturer. A stiff bristle (not wire) brush may be used to facilitate the removal of dirt. When the cleaner used does not contain a disinfecting agent, respiratory components should be immersed for two minutes in one of the following
    1. Hypochlorite solution (50 ppm of chlorine) made by adding approximately one milliliter of laundry bleach to one liter of water at 43o C or 110o F
    2. Aqueous solution of iodine (50 ppm iodine) made by adding approximately 0.8 milliliters of tincture of iodine (6-8 grams ammonium and/or potassium iodide/100 cc of 45% alcohol) to one liter of water at 43o C or 110o F
    3. Other commercially available cleansers of equivalent disinfectant quality when used as directed, if their use is recommeded or approved by the respirator manufacturer
  3. Rinse components thoroughly in clean, warm (43o C or 110o F maximum), preferably running water. Drain. The importance of thorough rinsing cannot be overemphasized. Detergents or disinfectants that dry on facepieces may result in dermatitis. In addition, some disinfectants may cause deterioration of rubber or corrosion of metal parts if not completely removed.
  4. Components should be hand-dried with a clean lint-free cloth or air-dried.
  5. Reassemble the facepiece, replacing filters, cartridges, and canisters where necessary.


Respiratory protection equipment must be stored in a way that protects it from damage, dust, contamination, sunlight, chemicals, excessive moisture, and extreme temperatures.  It must also be stored in such a way that prevents damage to or deformation of the facepiece or valves.  Additionally, emergency respirators must be stored according to any manufacturer's recommendation in an easily accessible way in the workplace, and must be in containers clearly labeled as containing emergency respirators.  Self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) cylinders must be stored fully charged, and must be recharged whenever they fall below 90% full.


The following checks are required as part of the respirator inspection procedure:

  • Respirator function
  • Tightness of connections
  • Condition of  the facepiece, hood or headpiece, head straps, valves, connecting tubes, and cartridges, canisters, or other filters
  • Pliability of any elastomeric parts
  • Signs of cracking, discoloration, or other signs of aging
  • Tank pressure (SCBAs)
  • Regulator and pressure alarm bell function (SCBAs)
  • Tank condition (SCBAs)
  • PAPR air flow and battery/wiring condition

In addition, emergency respirators must be inspected by performing the checks above and certifying that they have been performed by tagging or labeling the respirator with the date of the inspection, the name and/or signature of the inspector, a serial number or other identifying means, the condition of the respirator, and any needed repairs or other maintenance.

When using respirators routinely, these inspections must be performed before each use and during each cleaning.  Emergency respirators shall be checked before being brought into the workplace, and periodically thereafter, and SCBAs must be checked at least monthly.  Inspection records must be kept until the time of the next inspection.

Respirators found to be defective or in need of repairs must be removed from service immediately.


When repairing a respirator or replacing cartridges, valves or other components, only parts approved for the particular make and model of respirator shall be used. Use of other parts may invalidate the NIOSH approval.  No attempts, under any circumstances, should be made to change, modify, or improve any respiratory protection device.  Only specially trained and qualified technicians shall make repairs to SCBA’s, pressure regulators, and other sensitive devices. Contact EH&S for further information.

Service Life/Filter Change Schedules

SCBAs are usually equipped with a warning of service life. It may be a pressure gauge or timer with audible alarm or a window indicator for canisters. The respirator user must understand the operation and limitations of each type of warning device.

Some air purifying respirator cartridges/canisters are equipped with end‑of‑service‑life indicators (ESLI), that warn the respirator user of the approach of the end of adequate respiratory protection, for example, that the sorbent is approaching saturation or is no longer effective (US DOL OSHA, 1998). If no ESLI-equipped filter is available for the specific contaminant(s) of concern, a change-out schedule must be developed and implemented for canisters and cartridges based on objective information or data that will ensure that canisters and cartridges are changed before the end of their service life to prevent contaminant breakthrough (Jeffress, 1998). The Supervisor and/or EH&S shall maintain a record of the information and data relied upon and the basis for the canister and cartridge change schedule and the basis for reliance on the data.  Employees voluntarily wearing APRs regularly with organic vapor cartridges shall change the cartridges on their respirators if they detect breakthrough, i.e., odor or irritation.


The following chemicals have substance-specific standards under OSHA and cartridges must be changed accordingly:

  • Acrylonitrile - ESLI or end of shift, whichever occurs first.
  • Benzene - ESLI or beginning of shift, whichever occurs first.
  • Butadiene - At the beginning of the shift and every 1, 2, or 4 hours thereafter, depending on concentration.
  • Formaldehyde - Every three hours or end of shift, whichever occurs first.
  • Vinyl chloride - ESLI or end of shift in which they are first used, whichever occurs first.

Employees or students wearing APRs or PAPRs with P100 filters for protection against dust and other particulates shall change the cartridges on their respirators when they first begin to experience difficulty breathing (i.e., resistance) while wearing their respirators.

Developing change schedules can be a complex task.  The following guidelines are provided to assist with determining change out schedules for canisters and cartridges. You may contact EH&S for assistance:

  • Availability of objective data: Determine if respirator manufacturers, industry organizations, trade associations, professional societies, chemical manufacturers, or academic institutions can provide objective data for the particular make and model of the respirator canisters/cartridges and if this data is sufficient to develop change out schedules.
  • Use of inappropriate respirator cartridge/canister: Determine if APRs are appropriate for the conditions in the workplace.  Some chemicals break through canisters and cartridges so quickly that canisters and cartridges may not be appropriate for the workplace.  In this case, respirator manufacturers and safety data sheets should be consulted for instruction.
  • Change schedule for mixtutes: Chemical mixtures can present a difficult task when developing change schedules.  This is best determined by experimental methods, not predictive mathematical models.  Schedules should be calculated by assuming the mixture stream behaves as a pure system of the most rapidly migrating component or compound with the shortest breakthrough time, i.e., sum up the concentration of the components.  A margin of safety for the user should be included.
  • Chemical contaminant migration: When organic materials with a boiling point below 65o Centigrade are imbedded in a carbon filter, some may have a tendency to migrate through the sorbent material during periods of storage or when not in use.  This can rapidly increase breakthrough and could present an additional exposure to the user.  Whenever migration is possible, canisters and cartridges should be changed after every workshift.
  • Emergency Response:  Chemical cartridges used for emergency response will be changed after each use.
  • Voluntary Use:  Employees voluntarily wearing APRs regularly with organic vapor cartridges shall change the cartridges on their respirators as recommended by the respirator/cartridge manufacturer.

Continue to next section of Respiratory Protection Program on the web.

Contact EH&S at (585) 275-3241 or e-mail Questions.

This page last updated 11/17/2020. Disclaimer.