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How Long Do Gas Mask Filters Last?

Here’s MIRA Safety founder Roman Zrazhevskiy with a quick explainer:

As a rule of thumb, you can typically expect about twelve hours of protection from a single MIRA Safety gas mask filter. But that’s based on average levels of exposure, and a long list of variables can reduce a filter’s potential lifespan in the field. 

And while there is a complicated formula that you can use to calculate exactly how long your filter will last, you rarely have all the required data (let alone the time with a calculator) to determine precisely how much protection a filter will offer.

Fortunately, there are a few factors you can keep in mind and a few simple deductions that can indicate whether you’ll likely need a gas mask filter swap sooner rather than later.

So today, let’s take a deep dive into the actual functionality of your gas mask filters—and determine precisely how much protection you can expect when you don your mask…

Table of Contents

  • 01

    The “Simple” Formula for Gas Mask Filter Longevity

  • 02

    How Filters Work in the Field

  • 03

    Unmasking and Decontaminating

  • 04

    Knowing is Half the Battle

  • 05

    Frequently Asked Questions About How Long Gas Mask Filters Last

The “Simple” Formula for Gas Mask Filter Longevity

We’ll start with the actual formula for calculating a gas mask filter’s lifetime.

It looks like this:

 

To calculate approximate usage time in minutes (T), you multiply your filter’s dynamic adsorption capacity (DAC) by 1,000, then multiply airflow in liters per minute (AF) by the concentration of toxic gasses in milligrams per liter (C), and divide the first number by the second number.

Like we said, it’s a bit complicated.

Here’s the table referenced in the equation:

table

(This is the table for the NBC-77 SOF gas mask filter.)

Again, you’ll probably not have the time for complex equations while running for your life from a natural disaster.

But it is essential to understand how this equation works and what it means.

We’ll start with the dynamic adsorption capacity, or DAC.

Gas mask filters are packed with what’s called “filter media.” This filter media is carefully engineered and extensively tested to remove specific threats from your air. You use your lung power to mechanically draw air across the filter media, at which point adsorption (not absorption, but similar) occurs.

DAC measures how effectively a given filter removes those threats from the air.

As filters become more effective, they’re certified for higher concentrations of airborne threats. These certifications are represented by the letters in each filter’s rating. So when the NBC-77 SOF is listed as B2, it’s certified for level 2 protection against gasses and vapors with boiling points over 65 degrees Celsius (denoted by the A), giving it a DAC of 20.475 against those specific threats.

As you can see in the table, DAC will vary from one threat to the next. 

The “B” category includes several different inorganic gasses and vapors. Against chlorine gas, the NBC-77 SOF has a DAC of 20.25. But if you’re exposed to hydrogen gas, that number is reduced to just 8.4.

In other words, specific airborne threats can dramatically reduce your filter’s effectiveness and overall life expectancy. As such, determining exactly which airborne threats you’re dealing with should always be a priority.

Next up in the equation is airflow (AF), calculated in liters per minute.

This variable is pretty self-explanatory. The more you breathe, the more rapidly you use a gas mask filter. Much like SCUBA diving, you’ll want to try and control the rate at which you breathe—even and especially in dangerous situations. 

This can be a difficult task, and knowing your exact breathing rate at any given time is difficult.

Testing standards use a rate of 30 liters/minute since this represents the rate at which an average person breathes while performing moderately strenuous tasks. You can also use an MB-90 PAPR to stabilize and improve filter airflow. (It draws at a constant 90 l/min from two filters.)

It’s also important to note that higher airflow rates can diminish the effectiveness of some gas mask filters. MIRA Safety filters are extensively tested for high performance at a high flow rate and consistently overperform.

Increased airflow can also increase breathing resistance while using specific filters:

 

Finally, there’s the concentration (C) of toxic gases.

Without professional diagnostic equipment, knowing exactly what type of concentration you’re dealing with will be impossible. That’s why we recommend sticking with the highest-level filters you can get your hands on. NBC-77 SOF filters, for example, are a great choice when you’re not sure what kind of environment you’re stepping out into.

And while you might not be able to calculate your filter’s exact life expectancy down to the minute, you can clearly make some deductions based on these three variables.

For example, if you’re at ground zero for a significant industrial disaster, your filters might not last twelve hours. On the other hand, if you’re dealing with particulate threats while wearing a P3 filter like the NBC-77 SOF, you’ve probably got enough protection to last the whole day. And if you start to panic or hyperventilate, you might soon find your filter coming up short.

You can also use the equation to evaluate some hypothetical scenarios. Determine a realistic CBRN threat for your local area, estimate its general size and intensity, and then use the equation to determine exactly how much protection you’ll need.

But as a rule of thumb, we recommend stocking two gas mask filters per day, per person, for three days. In other words, at least six multigas filters for each family member.

And things become even more straightforward when you’re out in the field, too…

How Filters Work in the Field

Of course, gas masks and filters are most commonly deployed by soldiers and law enforcement personnel in the field.

And neither of these groups is known to take a “timeout” in the heat of battle for some quick computations.

So, how do they know when it’s time to change filters?

The simplest solution is to swap filters once breathing becomes prohibitively difficult. Remember, gas mask filter cartridges are just that: a filter. And like any other filter, they’ll gradually clog up with the particulate they’re meant to filter out.

This doesn’t immediately reduce the effectiveness of a filter, but it does reduce airflow. It’s like trying to breathe in through a pillow, which you’ll notice immediately if you’re exerting yourself out in the field.

Increased breathing resistance means a filter is doing its job and may be near the end of its useful life.

Saturation is another potential threat that can force you to change a filter on the spot.

You see, most gas mask filters integrate paper filter media to handle several threats (especially airborne particles). But if you get doused in tear gas or pepper spray while on riot control duty, that liquid can soak through the paper filter element and render it useless.

Saturation is a substantial threat for law enforcement PPE, since all it would take is a thrown milkshake or soda to soak through the filter and force them out of action to change it. 

That’s why our P-CAN law enforcement filters feature hydrophobic paper, making it perfect for protection against riot control agents (and milkshakes).

In most situations, filter lifetime should not become a significant issue.

Once again, MIRA Safety gas mask filters are designed to last for up to twelve hours. Hopefully, it shouldn’t take more than a few minutes (let alone a few hours) before you can make your way to safety and doff your mask.

But before you unmask and call it a day, there are a few practical considerations you should keep in mind… 

Unmasking and Decontaminating

Almost all newcomers are bound to overlook a critical factor in filter longevity. And that’s decontamination.

After all, when we see gas masks in movies and television, we’ll often see actors emerge from a contaminated area and immediately peel their masks off. If you did that in real life, you’d be putting your life in danger—since those same toxic threats are still going to be adhered to the outside of your mask.

So, it’s crucial to decontaminate before unmasking (doffing) when you make your way to safety. Failure to decontaminate can lead to unexpected exposure after you remove your PPE. There are countless stories of police officers who gassed themselves in the shower at home, not realizing that hot steam would essentially “reactivate” the liquid tear gas that had settled onto their skin.

Even in extreme disaster scenarios, you should try to decontaminate before unmasking. The MDG-1 Decontamination Glove is a practical on-the-go solution, allowing for limited decontamination without power or running water. 

But we highly recommend seeking professional assistance for effective decontamination.

Knowing is Half the Battle

While it’s possible to calculate an exact lifetime for your gas mask filters in any given scenario, it’s unlikely that you’ll ever have the time or the resources to do so in an effective manner.

At the same time, learning as much as possible about your protective gear is essential.

Though you don’t have to become an expert, it is wise to at least familiarize yourself with the “breakthrough times” for specific threats. That way, you’ll know precisely how long a filter will likely last and how it responds to different threats at their highest (and most dangerous) concentrations.

testing gas table

The more of this information you know offhand, the less you’ll have to look up (or worse, guess at) when you don your mask in a survival scenario.

Stay informed, stay prepared, and stay safe! 

Frequently Asked Questions About How Long Gas Mask Filters Last

Does exposure to toxic threats reduce a gas mask filter’s longevity?
Do some gas mask filters last longer than others?
Will two gas mask filters last longer than one?