How to Use Your PPE Kit to Stay Alive
In today's increasingly unpredictable world, more people than ever before are realizing the importance of personal preparedness.
Modern man is facing an increasing number and variety of threats, necessitating the need for high-grade, personal protective equipment or a PPE kit.
However, just as important as having your safety equipment is knowing how to deploy it should the unthinkable occur. This means understanding the proper procedures of how to don and doff PPE without compromising one's health in the process.
So in this guide, we’ll be discussing how to use the core components of your PPE kit. More specifically, we will cover the proper usage of and scenarios that require your gas masks, filters, HAZMAT suits or advanced PAPR systems, how to don and how to remove PPE in the correct order, as well as equipment recommendations.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
How to Use Full-Face Gas Masks
How to Use Half-Face Respirators
How to Use Your Gas Mask Filters
How to Use HAZMAT Suits
How to Use a PAPR System
Know the Ins and Outs of your PPE Kit
How to Use Full-Face Gas Masks
Full-face respirators offer some of the highest level of protection for the face and lungs. For a comprehensive breakdown on how gas masks work and what kind to purchase, you should refer to our Gas Mask Buyer's Guide.
But for now, let's get into how to use one.
How to perform a negative pressure test
The first step before you do anything else with your mask is to perform a negative pressure test. This procedure will verify that your mask is functioning as intended.
Place your palms over the inhalation valve and take a deep breath. You should feel the entirety of the mask suck into your face with no leakage of air. This is to confirm that you have a tight seal with your gas mask and proper fitment.
How to don and doff a gas mask
If you’re in the immediate vicinity of a CBRN agent that warrants wearing your gas mask, first, hold your breath and close your eyes. This will momentarily decrease the amount of harmful exposure to your lungs and eyes until the mask can be donned. You'll want the gas mask to be on your person for this to be accomplished. If the toxin or dangerous agent is still a long way off, you can skip this step and simply grab the gas mask and perform the next step.
To take off the gas mask, loosen the harness straps. Then, simply grab the mask at the bottom of the adapter (NOT at the filters), pull forward and up, and the mask will slide off.
How to stage a gas mask for use
In a situation where it warrants it, we believe that a gas mask pouch is one of the most convenient means of keeping your gas mask at the ready. If this isn’t an option, there are MOLLE gas mask pouches that can easily and somewhat discretely attach to the outside of your bug-out bag.
At the very least, you should keep your gas mask in a pouch to protect it from inevitable bumps and scratches. Keep it on top of your gear within your bug-out bag or in an easy-to-access location within your home. If you’re primarily interested in a gas mask for escaping from your home, keeping a gas mask on your nightstand may be a viable option.
Which full-face gas masks are best for different scenarios?
There are two primary forms of full-face gas masks on the market: air-purifying respirators (APR) and atmosphere-supplying respirators.
The former cleans the air around you, making it safe to breathe, while the latter needs an oxygen tank. Unless you’re a fireman or a virologist working with anthrax 8 hours a day, you most likely want an APR system.
Three threat classifications apply to gas masks: CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear), chemical blowing/riot control agents, and specialty ratings.
You want an APR mask that’s designated for CBRN if you are concerned about preparing for the greatest number of disasters with the least amount of gear.
When you begin shopping, you’ll notice that there are APR CBRN masks with binocular lenses and others with panoramic lens. There are pros and cons to each. Typically, it’s easier to use a rifle with a mask that uses a set of dual recessed, binocular lenses than one with a single panoramic lens. Unless specifically designed otherwise, most panoramic masks hinder the user from getting a full cheek weld when aiming down their rifle’s sights.
The CM-7M is the best gas mask that we offer for those who might need to use a long gun during combat in the midst of a CBRN threat.
For the average civilian who isn’t likely to need to use a rifle during a CBRN threat (e.g., escaping their office after a chemical leak), the CM-6M gas mask we offer is a better option. And if need be, the CM-6M allows for a normal sight picture when aiming with a pistol. It is not impossible to aim with a long gun, but adjustments will have to be made such as having an optic mount riser or a low ride buttstock.
What kind of visor accessories should I use, and do they make a difference?
When you buy a house, you protect your investment with insurance. If you’re going to buy a gas mask, why not do the same? That is exactly what a gas mask visor protector does—protects your investment.
A visor protector is a layer of film that shields the lens of your gas mask from scratches, abrasions, and dirt. Whether your mask gets tossed around in your bug-out bag as you move through the woods or you run into a wall as you navigate a smoky environment, your visor is likely to get damaged or scratched in the process.
If a visor protector is being worn, the user needs only to peel off one of its layers—leaving the mask with crystal clear vision once more.
At MIRA, we offer three types of visor protectors, all of which are made for the CM-6M gas mask ONLY.
Our Single-Layer Transparent PROFILM is a thick, tear-resistant, tear-away that we recommend adding as a base layer to your gas mask. Atop the Single-Layer Transparent PROFILM, we recommend stacking our Four-Layer Tear-Off PROFILM. These are very thin PROFILM layers that can quickly be torn off should your mask be splattered with blood or mud, giving you crystal clear vision once more.
The other version of visor we offer is a tinted version for those working in very bright locations such as in the desert.
What not to do with your gas mask
Don’t have facial hair if you think you may need to use a gas mask.
A gas mask only works if it has a perfect seal. Otherwise, outside agents will still get into your lungs and on your face. Facial hair, even a minuscule amount, will act as a barrier that prevents the mask from maintaining a tight seal on the face. For this reason, you must be clean-shaven before wearing a gas mask.
Do not attempt to wear your gas mask over your beard and expect to have the proper level of protection. It won’t happen.
Don’t strap your adult sized gas mask onto a child.
Gas masks require lung strength to bring fresh air into the mask. A child may not have the capacity to do so. For those with young or respiratory-compromised children, check out our CM-3M Child Escape Respirator. This unique respirator features a PAPR system that greatly reduces breathing resistance inside of the mask (more on this later). If the child has strong enough lungs, then our MD-1 Children’s Gas Masks should get the job done.
For a more detailed walkthrough on children's gas masks, please refer to our Gas Masks for Kids Guide.
Don’t attempt to use your gas mask in an environment that contains less than 19.5% oxygen.
Gas masks make the air around you safe to breathe. If there is no air to be made safe, you won’t be able to breathe at all. In such environments, you'll need supplemental oxygen from a Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus or SCBA system.
Don’t use your gas mask if it leaks.
This is fairly self-explanatory. If your gas mask is experiencing air leakage and you've donned it correctly, there is more than likely damage to the construction or it does not fit your face. In either case, this is not safe to use.
How to Use Half-Face Respirators
The world is very well-acquainted with half-face respirators at the moment. These provide an adequate level of protection against agents that are dangerous to breathe but not the same level of protection a full-face respirator would.
So why would someone go with a half-face over a full-face respirator? The key lies in the convenience factor and ease of use. In certain situations, carrying a rather bulky full-face gas mask may not be ideal as it takes up more volume inside a carry bag or may be overkill for a specific scenario.
For instance, everyday carry situations may simply call for a user to be casually shooting at a gun range, going through an old building that may have dust particles, applying paint, or around a possible viral infected area. In which case, many turn to these because of their cost-effectiveness, discreetness, and ease of transport.
A half-face respirator also allows for the use of any traditional safety glasses or goggles that is more than adequate for everyday encounters, assuming the threat level is not a full-blown chemical warfare agent.
At the end of the day, the best respirator is the one you have on you at the time of a disaster scenario. And the one you'll likely have on you is the one you can easily carry.
Here’s what you need to know about how to use your half-face respirator safely…
How to don and doff a half-face respirator
The procedure for donning and doffing a half-face respirator is largely the same as you would with a full-face respirator.
The easiest way to put the mask on as a standalone unit is to pinch the back strap with one hand as you pull the facemask forward with the other hand. Then, slip the unit over your face. To remove it, pull the base of the facemask (NOT the filter) out and up over the head.
We highly recommend our TAPR (Tactical Air Purifying Respirator) for such a system. It was originally designed for the Czech Special Forces, and not only does it offer fantastic protection, but it can also be attached to a helmet using ARC rail or M-LOK systems.
If you are wearing a helmet, attach one of the side clips to the mounting system and then pull the respirator across the face as the other clip is secured on the opposite side. To doff a respirator while wearing a helmet, simply unsecure one side of the latching system and then unlatch the other side.
How to stage a half-face respirator for quick and easy use
To reiterate, when time is of the essence, quick and easy access to one’s respirator is critical to survival. It does no good to spend five minutes rooting through various types of gear to find your half-face respirator. By that point, the threat may have already done its damage.
While a drop-leg pouch is certainly a convenient stagging option, this is also generally speaking not socially acceptable in most circumstances and is not a discreet means of carrying.
Therefore, we recommend staging the half-face respirator near the top of a bug-out bag, in a separate small carry bag (fanny packs, purses, sling bags, etc.) or at the very top of a desk drawer, where it won’t be buried underneath other gear.
What shouldn’t you do with your half-face respirator?
Do not wear a half-face respirator with facial hair.
Like with a full-face gas mask, the same principle applies. Facial hair keeps a half-face respirator from properly sealing.
Never wear a half-face respirator in an environment with less than 19.5% oxygen.
Same as before, if there is no air to breathe, then only having a mask and filter is pointless. For low-oxygen environments, supplemental oxygen is necessary.
Do not use a half-face respirator for protection against CBRN agents.
If an airborne agent can damage your skin and eyes, you’ll want an increased level of protection, as is provided by a full-face gas mask.
What are the other types of half-face respirators?
A 3M N-95, N-99, or N-100 mask are all other forms of half-face respirator that help protect the wearer against environmental threats. A 3M N-95 mask with a one-way valve can easily be found at hardware stores, filters out 95% of airborne particulates, and is commonly worn during certain types of construction work.
Finding an N-99 or N-100 mask often requires an online purchase, as most brick-and-mortar stores do not stock them.
What are the various forms of eye protection for half-face respirators?
If one is in an environment where breathing protection is a must, there is a good chance that eye protection is as well. While a half-face respirator, by definition, doesn’t cover the eyes, there are forms of eye protection that are commonly worn with this piece of gear.
The first form of eye protection is impact-resistant glasses. These can be picked up at any hardware store for a few dollars and help protect the wearer from projectiles. Some more robust versions are also ANSI or even ballistic rated.
Impact-resistant goggles can also be worn with a half-face respirator. These better protect the eyes, as they typically have a seal that separates the eyes from the outside environment.
How to Use Your Gas Mask Filters
If a gas mask is like your rifle, then the filter is your ammunition. The mask itself could be the most advanced piece of gear on Earth but if it lacks the appropriate filter, it’s useless. Various types of filters give you protection against various types of threats. As such, it’s vital that one knows how to use a gas mask filter safely.
You can find more details about what type of filter to buy in our Gas Mask Filter Buyer’s Guide.
How to install filters on your gas mask
To install a new filter onto your gas mask, all you have to do is remove it from its plastic seal, put away any plugs (retain these for use later), and screw it clockwise. It’s as simple as that.
What are the different thread pitches of gas mask filters?
There are two primary thread pitches for gas masks: 40mm NATO and GOST. We at MIRA Safety believe you should stick with 40mm NATO filter thread pitches. GOST is a Russian design that is not as prevalent as 40mm NATO filters, and as a result, you’ll be hard-pressed to find replacement filters.
What are the different types of filters out there?
There are filters available for any application, but remember, no one filter can do it all. A claw hammer can be used to dig a quick hole, but it is by no means as effective as a shovel. Tools must be picked for the task at hand, and a gas mask filter is no exception.
Currently, there are 11 main types of filters with uses ranging from stopping airborne particulates to viruses and from poisonous gas to radiation. If you’re budget-conscious and looking for the filter that will give you the most protection for your money, we at MIRA Safety recommend the DotPro320. This multi-gas rated filter is perfect for anything ranging from harmful dust particles, viruses to toxic industrial chemicals.
If you’re needing comprehensive protection against chemical warfare agents and radioactive iodine from nuclear fallout, we strongly recommend our NBC-77 SOF Filters.
What not to do with filters
Don’t attempt to clean your filter.
They are not cleanable. Doing so does not make a bad filter usable again and may provide inadequate protection if worn in a dangerous environment.
Do not use an expired filter
If a gas mask filter has reached the end of its lifespan, discard it in accordance with the proper waste disposal guidelines. It will no longer offer adequate protection and continuing to wear it can lead to insufficient protection from whatever you’re trying to stay safe from.
What do I need to know about gas mask filter expiration dates?
Gas mask filters are given expiration dates because the inner materials inevitably degrade. Once they expire, the inner workings of the filter will not offer the level of protection needed to be safe.
It’s prudent to heed the lifespan of your gas mask filters, keeping replacements on hand as the life expectancy of older filters approaches.
How to Use HAZMAT Suits
There are many situations in which wearing a HAZMAT suit is necessary to stay protected. Nuclear meltdowns, accidental chlorine gas leaks, and bioterrorist attacks are all potential reasons one may need to wear a HAZMAT suit.
We believe that the best bang for your buck HAZMAT suit on the market is our MIRA HAZ-SUIT. This suit protects against virtually the entire gamut of CBRN threats, offering tested protection against 125 toxins. It’s puncture-resistant, can fit kids as young as 4, and works for up to 8 hours against direct exposure to radioactive alpha particles.
For more information regarding HAZMAT suits and what to look for, refer to our HAZMAT Suit Buyer's Guide.
How to put on your HAZMAT suit
In a situation where an incoming CBRN threat mandates donning your HAZMAT suit, there’s a very specific sequence to follow.
To start, put your feet through the legs of the HAZMAT suit. Then, put your rubber boots on, ensuring that the pant legs of the HAZMAT suit are pulled over the upper half of the rubber boots.
Next, put the sleeves of the HAZMAT suit on. Then, zip the HAZMAT suit up to your chest. By not zipping all the way up just yet, you retain some freedom of movement that will make getting the rest of your protective gear on quicker than would be possible otherwise.
The next step is to put on your gas mask. If you’re in a situation where wearing a HAZMAT suit is a necessity, you need respiratory and eye protection as well. Once your gas mask is on, pull the hood of the HAZMAT suit over your head. Now, zip the HAZMAT suit the rest of the way to the top.
Often, there’s Velcro that runs parallel to the zipper. If so, join the two sides of Velcro together. This helps ensure no toxins can leach through the small gaps of the zipper into your HAZMAT suit.
After this has been accomplished, put the finger band at the end of each sleeve on a finger. This keeps the sleeves from rolling up your arm as you’re wearing the HAZMAT suit.
How to use gloves, boots, and ChemTape with your HAZMAT suit
No discussion on a HAZMAT suit is complete without mentioning gloves, boots, and ChemTape. Just as a firearm needs magazines, ammunition, and (often) optics to function effectively, a HAZMAT suit needs additional gear to function properly as well.
A HAZMAT suit is just one part of a system. Other than the gas mask, the remaining parts of that system are the gloves, boots, and ChemTape.
After you put on your HAZMAT suit, you’ll want to put on your gloves. We highly recommend looking into MIRA Safety’s HAZ-GLOVES.
Gloves not only protect the hands; they provide a seal against outside contaminants. Otherwise, the hole at the end of the sleeves can allow noxious agents to enter. To maintain this seal, the gloves must be pulled up over the sleeves of the HAZMAT suit and not bunched up.
At this point, one’s boots should already have the pant legs pulled over the upper half of them. This is where ChemTape is essential.
A proper HAZMAT suit system has to be foolproof, as any flaw in the equipment could expose the user to deadly toxins.
ChemTape is a special tape that seals these seams, rendering your HAZMAT suit system a complete seal from the outside world. The boot and glove seams, the zipper seam, and the hood–gas mask seam all need to be sealed with ChemTape. This is much easier with assistance.
When applying ChemTape, make sure to leave a “pull tab” to ensure the later removal of the tape is as simple as possible. This can easily be done by taking the end of the ChemTape and sticking a small portion of it to itself. Doing so gives the user something easy to grab while wearing thick gloves during the doffing process.
Applying two pieces of ChemTape sandwiched over the HAZMAT suit’s zipper will further aid in the doffing process.
Once this is completed, you are ready to go.
How to take off your HAZMAT suit
The exact sequence for taking off your HAZMAT suit is vital. One puts on a HAZMAT suit because of external threats. If you’re not careful, those external threats, which are now likely on the suit, could end up on your bare skin as you take the HAZMAT suit off.
Just as there is a specialized way for a surgeon to remove his bloodied gloves after dealing with a patient, there is a special way to take off your HAZMAT suit.
Ideally, you’ll want to shower to decontaminate your suit before you begin the disrobing process. This only takes place after you are positive that you are in a safe area to do so. Showering off your suit to the best of your ability helps wash off any residual agents that may be stuck to your HAZMAT suit.
Once that process is done, you’ll want to have a designated area to take off and store your equipment. You do not want to carry potentially contaminated equipment through your home or a populated area.
When it is safe to begin the disrobing process, first sit step into a large plastic trash bag. The trash bag will remain collapsed by the feet and will be used to collect HAZMAT waste.
Begin by peeling the ChemTape off of the gas mask, discarding it into the trash bag at one’s feet. Next, peel off the ChemTape that is running along the zipper up the torso. Discard it as well into the trash bag. Now, unzip the suit to waist level.
Next, take the hood off of your head while simultaneously turning it inside out. This is somewhat akin to peeling a banana. You don’t want the external surface of the suit to come into contact with your skin. In a nuclear fallout situation, failure to roll the hood backwards as you take it off could result in radioactive alpha particles falling onto your head.
To take off the gas mask, carefully grab it as detailed in our full-face gas mask section above without touching your skin. Now that the respiratory protection is removed, you can move on to the rest of the suit.
Continue to peel the suit off, using the external pair of gloves that you are still wearing to only touch the outside of the HAZMAT suit. Gently shake the arms out of the glove/sleeve combination, ensuring that no part of the body comes into contact with the exterior of the HAZMAT suit.
The inner gloves should still be on. Inner gloves can safely be used on the inside of the suit to push the suit away from the body as it is being doffed. Continue to peel the suit off until you get to the boots. At this point, you may need a chair/bench to take the boots off. If that is the case, ensure that the bench is free of contaminants.
Always remember, your inner gloves come off last. Whether you’ve been exposed to a blister or nerve agent or some other toxin that can be absorbed through the skin, you want to make sure that you don’t touch anything with your bare skin.
As you remove the HAZMAT suit from your legs, remove your boots at the same time. Do not allow your toes to touch the contaminated part of the suit as you remove your foot. When the first foot is removed from the boot, bring the foot outside of the bag and place it on a part of the floor where you have not trod with contaminated boots. It will be helpful to use duct tape to mark a section of the floor prior as the “hot zone” where contaminated boots are worn. You want to step into the “cold zone” with your non-contaminated foot.
Repeat the process for the other foot, stepping into the cold zone entirely. Now, remove the inner gloves very carefully and without touching the skin in the process. This is done by removing the first glove with a gloved hand. The remaining globe can be removed by sliding the index finger into the small gap between the inside wrist and the inner of the glove.
The index finger will then peel the glove away from the hand, much like a banana, so that the exterior of the glove never comes into contact with the skin in the process.
Ideally, you’ll have someone else with gloved hands to assist you. If so, you can proceed as in the following video:(Image source: uvex Safety Group)
What not to do with your HAZMAT suit
Do not wear or ignore a damaged HAZMAT suit.
If you notice a tear or puncture in your HAZMAT suit while out in the field and quick removal from the scene is not an option, you'll need to get that hole patched as quickly as possible. It cannot be ignored. Extra ChemTape can be used in such a situation.
Do not store your HAZMAT suit in direct sunlight.
This can cause the material to degrade over time. Instead, keep the HAZMAT suit stored in a dark, dry location, such as in a bag, locker, or basement.
Of note: The HAZMAT poncho
No discussion on a PPE kit is complete without mentioning the existence of HAZMAT ponchos. The M4 CBRN Military Poncho is MIRA Safety’s version of this item.
If you want protection from nuclear fallout that is dual-use (doubling as rain protection) and will also protect your bug-out bag from CBRN threats, a HAZMAT poncho is an excellent choice.
In the event of a true CBRN attack, it's not just the immediate exposure that you'll need to be wary of, it's also what comes after. Typically, chemical warfare agents and nuclear fallout particles can make their way into water sources. When this is evaporated back into the clouds, it will eventually precipitate as rain back onto anyone below. This water is now contaminated and can very easily damage your skin and soak your equipment.
A traditional poncho may not be enough to protect against this uniquely toxic rainwater. Luckily, our version was engineered by the Serbian military and was purpose-built to keep you dry and protect you against CBRN exposure. It is rated to even stop blistering agents like mustard gas for over two hours.
However, this isn’t a substitute for a complete HAZMAT suit. Instead, it’s best to think of this as an upgrade that will extend the life of your HAZMAT suit and protect whatever gear you have with you (think bug-out bag) from dangerous chemicals it would otherwise be exposed to.
How to Use a PAPR System
One of the greatest upgrades to your PPE loadout is a powered air-purifying respirator or PAPR. These systems are great for situations where you need to wear a gas mask while engaging in strenuous activity or for individuals without the lung capacity necessary to breathe in a negative pressure environment (e.g., children and older adults). MIRA Safety offers this in the form of the MB-90.
A PAPR helps by blowing clean air into the gas mask, meaning the user doesn’t have to work as hard to breathe. Our PAPR is typically worn on the back, connected to the gas mask via a hose.
How do you install a PAPR to your gas mask?
Let’s take a closer look at how to hook up the PAPR MB-90 system to your current gas mask. Provided that your gas mask uses 40mm NATO threading, the MB-90 will connect just fine.
Simply take the air hose at the top of the PAPR and screw it onto the gas mask where the filter is typically attached. Our PAPR system requires the use of two filters at the same time, so do not forget to install these on the unit as well. They attach in the exact same manner as they would on a gas mask.
Once that’s accomplished, the PAPR is ready to function at the flip of a switch. To detach the PAPR, unscrew the hose connection from the gas mask.
How do you install batteries in a PAPR system?
The battery life of our MB-90 PAPR system can last up to 12 hours of continuous use. But, if you are present in a toxic environment for extended periods of time, you may eventually need to change the batteries in your PAPR. To do this, unscrew the horizontal cap at the bottom of the PAPR.
Once this is accomplished, a small cylinder holding eight AA batteries can be easily slid out and the entire battery cylinder can be slid right back into place.
Screw the cap back on, and you’re ready to go.
What not to do with your PAPR
Do not let the batteries completely discharge while using your PAPR.
Should this happen, only your lungs will be drawing air through the filters. This will require additional effort to breathe normally.
Do not wear your PAPR in an environment that is less than 19.5% oxygen.
Just as with traditional respirators, a PAPR must have air to clean. Supplemental oxygen will need to be used in an oxygen-deprived environment.
Use only the recommended cleaning agents for your PAPR to avoid degrading the materials with caustic cleaning agents.
Know the Ins and Outs of your PPE Kit
Proper PPE use must be understood to have any hope of staying safe in a CBRN environment. Simply possessing life-saving equipment will not make a difference if you do not fully comprehend its utility.
Like with anything, PPE training takes practice and we highly advise our readers to drill the above-mentioned procedures until it becomes second nature.
In the event of a live CBRN attack, the few seconds you have to equip your gear could be the difference between life or death.
Frequently Asked Questions
For a full list of commonly asked questions regarding our products, we encourage you to visit our individual product pages.
No, a beard will keep your gas mask from sealing properly. No beard should be worn if one believes a gas mask is a necessity in their area.
No, filters cannot be washed to expand their lifespan. Doing so will result in a filter that doesn’t offer adequate protection.
Young children typically do not have the lung strength to use adult gas masks. As a solution, MIRA offers the CM-3M. This children’s gas hood comes with a blower that makes breathing with a gas mask easier for children.
If the child is old enough to properly use a gas mask, but adult gas masks are too big for a proper seal, we recommend the MD-1.