Hazmat Suit Buyer’s Guide
It’s one of the only suits that can save your life.
Modern hazmat suits are instantly recognizable thanks to their bright coloring and unique construction. They’re offered in a variety of classifications and used every day by professionals working around everything from asbestos to Zika. Their practical necessity is obvious, after all.
Although gas masks and respirators can ensure we’re breathing safe air, we must also protect the rest of our bodies from airborne contaminants, biological threats, and even particulate radiation. That’s where a reliable hazmat suit comes in.
Hazmat suits work by creating a barrier between your body and the outside world, so you can be confident you’re protected as long as the suit isn’t punctured.
With the right hazmat suit and PPE (personal protective equipment), you can safely navigate some of the harshest environments on earth. That makes a reliable hazmat suit an absolute necessity in the event of an unexpected disaster, attack or nuclear incident.
So today, we’re going to look at what you need to know about hazmat suits. Everything from their safety classifications to which suits are popular, how to use them and what to expect—we’re going to cover it all.
So let’s get started with a quick look at where hazmat suits come from and how to use them…
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Hazmat Suits 101
Levels of Hazmat Protection
Top 3 Hazmat Suit Choices in 2022
Additional Accessories and Consideration
Crucial Part of a Larger System
Hazmat Suits 101
The history of hazmat suits and protective garments stretches all the way back to World War I and beyond.
Their use and history closely parallel the history of gas masks and respirators, which we’ve already covered, so we won’t go into too much detail on that front.
Hazmat suits became much more prominent in the face of World War I’s chemical warfare, which ushered in a century that saw their rapid evolution into practical PPE.
In 1994, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) was established as the governing body for American hazmat standards, and the quality of consumer hazmat suits rapidly improved.
Today’s standards are easy to understand and well-established (as we’ll cover in Levels of Hazmat Protection).
The industry has grown massively in the post-9/11 era, as local police and civil defense professionals suddenly find themselves serving as the first line of defense against a potential terrorist threat.
So, we’ll show you a few of the Top 3 Hazmat Suit Choices in 2022 below.
Finally, we’ll cover any lingering questions you may have in our FAQ section at the end of this guide.
Levels of Hazmat Protection
Like we already covered in our guide to gas masks and gas mask filters, PPE is never a one size fits all solution. Hazmat suits are specialized equipment, engineered to defeat specific threats and provide varying levels of protection in a variety of hazardous environments.
For example, a suit that’s designed to provide puncture-proof protection from biological contaminants could rupture or even melt in the excessive heat of a home or forest fire.
You could buy a suit that offers the highest level of protection from the greatest variety of threats, but that suit may be prohibitively heavy, highly restrictive to mobility, and hard to communicate from within. If you’re planning on bugging out in an emergency, you’ll probably want a lighter and slightly more specialized suit.
Maximum Protection, Minimum Mobility
Level A hazmat suits offer the highest level of protection for the skin, eyes, and respiratory system. They often include built-in failsafes, multiple layers of protection, and a massive, boxy silhouette that makes the wearer appear barely human.
(Image source: ADCO Services, Inc.)
In order for a suit to qualify as Level A protection, it must include a fully enclosed Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA).
We don’t talk about SCBAs much here at MIRA Safety, because they’re a highly specialized type of PPE that the vast majority of users never even need to think about. Much like SCUBA (Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus) divers, SCBA wearers carry full-sized air tanks on their backs, breathing from a dedicated air source to ensure complete and total protection from airborne contaminants.
There are a few other key requirements of Level A protection, like a two-way radio—it’s practically impossible to communicate without one—chemical-resistant gloves and steel-toed boots, but these same requirements are maintained at lower levels of protection.
The upside of Level A hazmat suits is that they provide uncompromising protection. Even the SCBA rig is enclosed within the suit, so you’re not interacting with anything from the outside environment and you’re completely protected.
So, if you’re working within a limited area (within a single office or work area) and you’re dealing with an unknown threat or something that requires you to take zero risks—contagious and deadly disease or the aftermath of a terrorist attack—then Level A Protection is the only practical choice.
Level A protection is also necessary when oxygen levels are depleted because typical gas masks and full-face respirators require a substantial amount of oxygen in the environment to function.
But Level A protection also comes with a serious downside…
Namely, those heavy tanks only last an hour or two before they’re depleted, whereas a filter weighs just a few ounces and provides serviceable protection for 12-24 hours.
In other words, you’re not bugging out while wearing Level A protection. You’re not even making it down the block in under five minutes without breaking a heavy sweat.
Because most civilians and law enforcement professionals will never need this level of truly uncompromising protection, Level A is not a great choice. That’s great news for you, since these suits can be outrageously expensive (for obvious reasons).
Level B is practically a carbon copy of Level A—except the SCBA doesn’t have to be fully enclosed by the suit.
That is, in most cases, an extremely minor compromise that vastly improves the suit’s mobility. Level B hazmat suits bear a much greater resemblance to what we traditionally think of as a hazmat suit, without the bulging, inflated back and oversized headcovers found on most Level A suits.
Using a Level B suit with a trusted CBRN mask and filter is arguably the ideal setup for the majority of buyers.
That’s because manufacturers take much greater care when working with the restrictive Level B standards than they typically do with the relaxed Level C standards. Superior materials, puncture-proof construction and a host of other benefits are found at Level B but not at the lower levels. Level B suits provide longer protection against a wider range of CBRN threats.
Level B suits are certainly more expensive than Level C suits, but you can still find a good suit for half the price of a gas mask—and it will be worth every penny.
Working Man’s Protection
Level C suits are primarily designed for working around hazardous materials where the risk of direct contact is minimal and the level of airborne contaminants is at or below OSHA-compliant levels.
Level C suits are cheaper, easier to manufacture and wear, and they provide crucial everyday protection from splashes and spills that could cause painful chemical burns and other injuries.
(Image source: US National Guard)
These suits provide no reliable protection from chemical vapors and gases, and their use requires the inclusion of a hard hat, two-way radio, and full-face respirator. Level C suits are notably NOT allowed for use in chemical emergency response by OSHA.
However, a Level C suit is absolutely better than nothing. They can provide a few crucial hours of protection against a narrow range of common threats. More protection is usually better, but if you know exactly what you’re dealing with (like on a worksite), then Level C suits are just fine.
Level C suits can also be a practical backup in case your primary suit is damaged, lost, or outlives its serviceable life. But if you’re facing unknown danger, it’s generally better to opt for the higher Level B protection.
More Effective than You Think
That leaves us with the lowest level of recognized hazmat protection: Level D.
Level D entails a pair of coveralls, steel-toed boots, goggles/glasses, and gloves. That’s it. No hazmat suit to speak of. But if there’s no suit…then why is Level D even recognized?
Because it saves lives every single day, that’s why. Wearing something as simple as a comfortable pair of coveralls with good gloves, tough boots, and a hard hat prevents countless injuries and fatalities.
So while we’ll continue to focus on hazmat suits and how they work, it’s important to note that other, more practical PPE can just as easily save your life.
As mentioned above, the European standards closely mirror American standards. But, this is for those who want/need to see European standards in greater detail:
Protects against liquid/gaseous chemicals (gas tight, EN 943 Pt. 1)
Protects against liquid/gaseous chemicals (NON gas tight EN 943 Pt. 1)
Protects against liquid chemicals for limited periods (Liquid Jet tight EN 14605)
Protects against liquid chemicals for limited periods (Liquid saturation tight EN 14605)
Protects against airborne dry particulates ONLY for a limited time (EN ISO 13982-1)
Protects against a light spray of liquid chemicals (EN 13034)
Practical Considerations Beyond Protection
By their very nature, most hazmat suits are impermeable.
This prevents any potential exposure to harmful contaminants—but it also prevents ventilation. It means the inside of the suit can be several degrees warmer than the outside environment, and thus it can potentially limit your mobility along with your overall effectiveness.
In the vast majority of cases, it’s an easy trade-off considering the level of protection a hazmat suit provides. But it will inevitably impact your performance in the field, so it’s something you should always be conscious of.
Based on military standards, we’ve assembled a basic table with some of the logistics for wearing your hazmat suit in the field. Take a look, and make sure to prepare accordingly:
It’s important to note that the “new generation” of hazmat suits include a few suits that are selectively permeable. That means advanced materials and construction allow them to retain some airflow while still blocking out a universe of harmful threats. That means getting the same level of performance with far less compromise.
The US Army’s MOPP Gear includes one of these selectively permeable suits, and MIRA Safety will soon be launching a comparable model.
Top 3 Hazmat Suit Choices in 2022
Now that we’ve got an idea of how hazmat suits work and how the different safety standards apply, how do you pick the right suit for your situation?
Fortunately, even though there’s no one size fits all solution for hazmat suits, there’s a handful of popular choices that are perfect for the vast majority of our readers. These three suits cover most of the bases and can even be used together as part of a comprehensive PPE system.
Of course, we start with our favorite suit…
Working in conjunction with Kappler, one of the top names in the industry, we’ve created a practical hazmat suit that provides unmatched quality, value, and potentially life-saving reliability.
The MIRA Safety Haz-Suit is a full-body Level B CBRN suit designed to protect you from practically everything including sarin, VX, mustard gas, and a variety of other gases and acids. It can also prevent contact with radioactive particulates in the event of nuclear fallout.
Our HAZ-SUIT is compatible with all our respirators and filters to give you a reliable, high-value PPE solution for everything from toxic spills, nuclear/biological incidents, and terrorist attacks.
Each HAZ-SUIT is hand-stitched here in the United States, not outsourced to China like many competitors. They have a shelf life of at least 20 years and are heat-sealed at the seams for superior protection from airborne vapors and gases. Feel free to shop around, but no other hazmat suit on the market today can really match the quality or value of our HAZ-SUIT, dollar for dollar.Feel free to shop around, but no other hazmat suit on the market today can really match the quality or value of our HAZ-SUIT, dollar for dollar.
DuPont Tychem F Suit
Dupont’s Tychem F Suits are a popular choice for industrial users and bulk buyers thanks to their solid construction and relatively budget-friendly price point.
These suits are lightweight, affordable, and proven to protect against a variety of everyday chemicals and biological threats. Tyvek suits filter out particles down to 1 micron making them perfect for work in lead or asbestos abatement.
It’s even limited in terms of splash protection and is recommended primarily for use around dry contaminants. Instead of Velcro fasteners, it uses one-time adhesive strips.
It’s not the most practical choice either, since these suits are only available in cases of six and cost $50 per suit. Ultimately, you’re looking at a $300 investment in suits that are effectively only good for one-time use. What’s more; they’re also not available in smaller sizes to fit younger family members.
So, it goes without saying that a Tyvek suit won’t be sufficient in a major disaster or nuclear meltdown. But for a few dollars, you can’t beat their level of everyday protection.
They are also a practical backup suit, thanks to that low price.
The MIRA Safety M4 CBRN Poncho isn’t a replacement for your hazmat suit, but instead an outstanding, field-ready upgrade.
Designed to be worn in conjunction with permeable hazmat suits or MOPP gear, the M4 CBRN poncho provides an added layer of protection from dangerous precipitation and other contaminants that could potentially eat into your rucksack or other equipment.
It’s All About Breakthrough
At the simplest level, a hazmat suit is a physical barrier between your skin and the dangerous threats in your outside environment.
As long as the hazmat suit can stay intact, it can provide a reliable level of protection. But if it’s exposed to corrosive or caustic agents, your suit (like anything else) will begin to break down. At that point, it’s only a matter of time before you’ll be exposed.
That’s why it’s crucial to know which threats you’ll be facing. Because then, you’ll have a better idea of exactly how long your own suit can last. What’s more, it’s important to understand the basic standards to which your suit was tested.
For example, a particular hazmat suit may have been tested to meet a minimum of 20 minutes’ exposure to a certain threat. But just because it lasts a minimum of 20 minutes doesn’t mean it couldn’t last an hour or two or even longer.
These are key factors to consider when it comes to getting the absolute most out of your hazmat suit.
Additional Accessories and Considerations
As mentioned above, most levels of hazmat protection assume the need for a two-way radio to ensure safe and clear communication between members of your party. Likewise when it comes to things like reliable gloves and steel-toed boots.
- Heavy-duty Butyl HAZ-GLOVES are an absolute must. Butyl rubber provides superior protection while still giving you the flexibility you need to manipulate objects and navigate your way to safety. Our MIRA Safety HAZ-GLOVES are 32-mil thick, which is 129% thicker than US military standards, with a cotton liner to ensure comfort and grip.
- MDG-1 Decontamination Gloves are your first line of defense in the event of accidental exposure. Using a non-toxic formulation that immediately contains or neutralizes a wide range of CBRN threats, these decontamination gloves are lightweight, easy to deploy, and ideal for instantly minimizing exposure. Just rub the exposed area for proven 90% decontamination efficiency against common threats, including everything from VX to caustic mustard gas.
Other accessories include:
Cooling vests for easy long-term use
Lights for finding your way through difficult environments
Appropriate footwear for the environment you will navigate
Gas-tight fittings on your safety gloves and socks
Each of these considerations may seem trivial on its own, but they truly add up in the bigger picture. A few dollars for a light here, a few more for a cooling vest there, and you have a far more robust solution for long-term survival.
A Crucial Part of a Larger System
Your skin is your body’s largest and fastest-growing organ—which is why finding the right hazmat suit is important.
But your hazmat suit is also part of a larger PPE system. And PPE is only as good as its weakest link. So, finding the right hazmat suit is only the first step.
If you’re looking to take your knowledge and preparation to the next level, you can take a hazardous materials course to get expert insight into the different threats posed by biological, chemical, and nuclear contaminants—and how to overcome them.
Until then, stay safe, and stay prepared!
“Radiation Suit” is more of a marketing term than anything else. Alpha particles can be blocked by a thin sheet of paper, but other types of radiation will permeate everything except ultra-thick concrete barriers. The only thing that can really stop radiation is time, distance and shielding. That said, hazmat suits make it easier to decontaminate and manage overall exposure.
Hazmat suits are made from a variety of materials (mostly synthetic) that act as proven chemical/biological barriers. Since these materials are exhaustively tested, manufacturers know the exact amount of protection a suit provides, and they provide that information on a data sheet along with the suit.
All hazmat suits have different shelf lives. A suit can be exposed to certain agents and be reused, while exposure to others, such as CBRN agents, requires disposal. If you're a professional hazmat specialist, you know which agents can be decontaminated for reuse and which can’t. For everyone else, it’s generally recommended that you dispose of a used suit as you must be trained in proper decontamination techniques to allow for safe reuse.
Hot! And dehydrating. Remember, the purpose of an impermeable hazmat suit is not to breathe, so it’s effectively like wearing a greenhouse. You’ll almost always be a few degrees hotter or colder than your outside environment, so expect to fatigue fast. Professionals generally limit the time they work in hazmat gear to two hours or less. Taking breaks as often as possible is a great idea and having a gas mask with a built-in hydration system (like the CM-6M or CM-7M) can be an absolute lifesaver. A cooling vest is another upgrade that costs just a few dollars, but provides a world of relief if you’re stuck in a suit for hours. On the other hand, permeable suits like MOPP suits can allow for much greater mobility, flexibility, and breathability.
Surplus suits have an appealing price point, but you probably shouldn’t trust your life to them. While they might look like a more rugged military-grade alternative, it's impossible to know what you’re getting, how it’s been stored, and what to expect in case of emergency. Today’s consumer suits can be just as good (if not far better) than outdated military gear.
The latest generations of military CBRN/hazmat suits are definitely impressive. But aside from the MIRA Safety MOPP Suit, few will be made available to the public at a reasonable price anytime soon.
If at all possible, damaged suits should be replaced instead of repaired. In the event of an emergency, chemtape can be used to seal potential leaks. It’s important to realize that these types of repairs are temporary and may restrict range of movement. We do not recommend making these types of repairs in the field unless you’re an experienced professional.
Minimal, store and forget maintenance. Hazmat suits are specifically designed to be one-use, disposable items, since they require a decontamination expert to sanitize them for further use. Permeable MOPP suits can be washed after use, but should be disposed of after exposure.