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Welders wear respirators to protect their respiratory tract and lungs from toxic fumes and gases. Welding respirators vary in design and function, but most are equipped with filters and cartridges. Filters primarily remove fumes and solid particulates, while cartridges remove vapors and gases. Some types of respirators pump clean air without employing filtration or purification mechanisms.
The type of respirator that’s right for you depends on the kind of welding you do and the environment you’re in. But regardless of the type of protective equipment you have, its longevity partly depends on how you take care of it. Even the most expensive high-quality respirator will break down and stop working with neglect. Regular maintenance is crucial to the proper functioning of your respirator and your safety at work.
How do you go about keeping your welding respirator in good shape? There are four basic aspects of respirator maintenance:
- Replacement of parts
Checking your welding mask and breathing apparatus should be done before and after using them to make sure that no part is damaged or loose. Anything that breaks the integrity of a protective device jeopardizes the protection it gives. If a respirator has defective or worn parts, it’s nearly as good as nothing. The mistake is to start welding or cutting with your respirator on while assuming it’s working just fine without actually checking it out beforehand.
Some of the defects are easy to see. Cracks and tears on the facepiece can be seen right away. Dirt and grime on interior surfaces may be obvious only at close inspection. Hence, taking a few minutes to examine the facepiece is important. So is checking the valves and gaskets. Any sign of wear and tear necessitates replacement of parts or of the device as a whole. If you’re using a respirator built into a helmet, then inspecting the helmet and its lenses is another important task to do.
Welding Respirator Cleaning
There’s a reason the Occupational Safety and Health Administration provided stringent rules for cleaning respirators. But we don’t need guidelines to understand the risks involved in wearing dirty PPE. You won’t wear dirty clothes, so why wear grimy or soiled respirators? What’s the point in wearing a mask to stop inhaling dust, smoke, fumes, and gases if you’re just inhaling other types of pollutants, such as bacteria and mold (1).
Welding PPE, including respirators, are easily overlooked. You find them lying idly in a corner of a typical workshop, which probably is cluttered and ill-maintained anyway. The thing is, if you don’t clean your respirator, you’ll get sick. Perhaps the last thing you need is a dirty gear when you’re in a hurry to start working — and you have no choice but to wear it.
Standard workplace practice includes signage that reminds workers to clean and store respirators properly. If you’re working in a fabrication shop, where you use protective equipment, one of your tasks is to keep every piece of equipment you use in proper condition.
Several manufacturers that make welding respirators have cleaning and maintenance instructions for each product. Before you start cleaning a new unit, for instance, take time to read the manual to see specific instructions. However, there are general guidelines for any type of respirator.
How to Clean a Welding Respirator
Take the respirator apart. Remove filters and cartridges. Then take off the straps and front guard; you don’t need to clean these parts, but you can use a clean, damp cloth to wipe off grease or dirt. Next, remove the exhalation and inhalation valves.
By the time your respirator requires cleaning, the filters and cartridges probably need replacement already. The parts that need cleaning are the valves (if they’re not yet warped) and the facepiece body. If you look at the inside of your facepiece, you’ll see some gunk that needs to be washed off.
Washing these components isn’t a complicated activity. You only need warm water, some mild detergent or dish soap, and a bottle brush. Stir some dish soap into a bowl of water. Soak the parts that need cleaning. With the brush, gently scrub the inside of the facepiece to remove the gunk. Do the same with the valves. Then rinse them in running water.
Set the components aside to air dry or you can pat them dry with clean paper towels. If you’re in a hurry, you can use a blow dryer. Once dry, the parts should be reassembled with the replacement parts ready. Test the respirator. See if it’s working properly.
Proper Storage of Respirators
Storing your respirators is a crucial aspect of maintenance. The mistake is to put your respirator in your toolbox or locker with all your other stuff after work. Even if you wash and disinfect your respirators after use, bacteria and mold can grow on them if you leave them in a warm, humid environment. Also, they can collect dust when left lying somewhere in your workshop. A good place to store your welding respirator is somewhere cool and dry and away from sunlight and chemicals. Consider keeping respirators in a dedicated storage bag.
When storing your respirators, remove the cartridges and filters and put them in a separate bag or pouch with a zipper lock. Storing them separately prevents contamination. Keep in mind that cartridges and filters should not be cleaned. Once they look dirty or worn, they should be disposed of and replaced.
You don’t spend some money on a quality welding respirator just to neglect it. Every time you use it, you introduce sweat and dirt to the interior of the facepiece. You also draw in dirt and contaminants to your cartridges and filters with every use. A dirty respirator doesn’t have to be replaced entirely. You can clean certain parts and replace other parts to keep the unit working like a new one. Proper maintenance of your welding respirator ensures its longevity and efficiency.
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