Comparing Standard vs. Powered Air Purifying Respirators

Comparing Standard vs. Powered Air Purifying Respirators

by Jay Speakman

Air purifying respirators are devices that filter out contaminants from the atmosphere we breathe in. Their powered counterparts use a battery-powered blower to provide a steady flow of purified air, making breathing easier and more comfortable.

However, not all respirators are the same. Depending on the level of respiratory protection you need, it's important that you make the right choice. 

Here's a comparison of manual (APRs) and powered air-purifying respirators (PAPRs), highlighting their functions, benefits, and drawbacks.

Respiratory Protection Tactical Air-Purifying Respirator
Source: MIRA Safety

Table of Contents

  • 01

    Introduction to Respiratory Protection

  • 02

    Key Differences between APRs and PAPRs

  • 03

    Advantages and Limitations

  • 04

    Manual: Air Purifying Respirator (APR)

  • 05

    Automatic: Powered Air Purifying Respirators (PAPR)

  • 06

    Choosing the Right Air Purifying Respirator

  • 07

    Popular Models and Brands

  • 08

    Maintenance and Safety Tips

  • 09

    Make an Informed Decision

Introduction to Respiratory Protection

Importance of Respiratory Protection

Protecting your respiratory system is non-negotiable in environments where atmospheric quality is compromised. They protect against contaminants, insufficient oxygen, harmful dust, fog, smoke, mist, gasses, vapors, and sprays. These hazards can cause severe health issues or lead to death. Purifying respirators, usually with a HEPA particulate filter, helps prevent respiratory illnesses while maintaining your safety.

But before we start talking about respirator masks and protection as a whole, it's important to go back in time to see how technology evolved over time.

Brief History of the Evolution of Respirators

In 1919, the U.S. Bureau of Mines (USBM) launched the first respirator certification program. On January 15, 1920, the USBM certified the first respirator (the Gibbs respirator). In fact, the concept of respirators dates back to antiquity. Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD), a Roman philosopher, used animal bladder skins to filter dust while working with cinnabar, a toxic mineral. Leonardo da Vinci, in the 15th century, recommended using wet cloths over the mouth and nose to guard against harmful agents.

The 17th century saw the development of early atmosphere-supplying respirators using hoses and tubes. Later, significant advancements occurred in the 18th and 19th centuries. In 1827, for example, Scottish botanist Robert Brown discovered the Brownian movement, influencing the development of particulate respirators. The 1877, invention of the Nealy Smoke Mask used water-saturated sponges to filter smoke, representing a major step forward in respirator technology. 

Invention of Air-Purifying Respirators (APRs)

The invention of APRs marked a significant advancement in respiratory safety. In the mid-19th century, German scientists studied industrial dust and bacteria, leading to the development of early APRs. By 1877, the English patented the Nealy Smoke Mask, which used water-saturated sponges to filter smoke. In the early 20th century, development continued with the USBM's certification of respirators. 

APRs work by filtering contaminants from the air, providing valuable protection in various industrial and hazardous environments. This paved the way for modern respiratory safety technologies, ultimately improving work conditions across many sectors.

Since then, we've seen technology evolve dramatically, leading to modern respirators and gas masks like the CM-6M Tactical Gas Mask from MIRA Safety.

Air purifying respirators TAPR
Source: MIRA Safety

Invention of Powered Air Purifying Respirators (PAPRs)

PAPRs represent a significant advancement in overall safety. Unlike APRs, PAPRs use a battery to ensure an even atmosphere, reducing breathing effort overall. This feature focuses on both comfort and protection, especially during long shifts in hazardous environments.

PAPRs are particularly beneficial in high-risk industries such as chemical processing and healthcare, offering superior protection against contaminants. This technology allows workers to work for longer hours, without straining their breathing or exposing them to contaminants.


Key Differences between APRs and PAPRs

Mechanism of Action

An APR relies on the wearer's lungs to ensure a steady flow, making it more labor-intensive. A firm seal is required around the face to prevent any contamination.

A PAPR respirator use a battery-powered blower to ensure a consistent flow of supplied air, thus reducing breathing effort. The positive pressure inside the face mask or integrated headgear helps prevent contaminants from leaking in, even with minor seal gaps.


Levels of Protection

Assigned Protection Factors (APFs) determine the level of protection offered. APRs offer APFs ranging from 10 to 50, depending on the type and configuration. PAPRs provide higher APFs, often 25 to 1000. The positive pressure maintained by the blower creates a safer barrier, even if there isn't a perfect leak. 

Fit testing for APRs is needed to ensure a tight seal, and is usually conducted annually or in case of changes to the user’s facial structure or weight. PAPRs with loose-fitting hoods or helmets do not always require fit testing due to the positive pressure compensating for minor leaks. However, powered respirators with tight-fitting full facepieces still need fit testing.


Use Cases and Applications

APRs are commonly used in industries with exposure to particulate matter, gasses, or vapors at relatively low concentrations. They are frequently seen in construction for protection against dust and dangerous air particles. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, also mandates its use in certain industries. Specifically, APRs are widely used in: 

  • Construction: Protection against dust, asbestos, and other particulates.

  • Healthcare: For protecting against airborne infectious agents, although PAPRs are often preferred.

  • Manufacturing: Mitigating exposure to various chemicals and industrial dust.

  • Painting and Coating: Protection from paint fumes and spray particulates.

PAPRs, however, are favored in environments requiring higher protection levels or prolonged use comfort. In healthcare, for example, PAPRs are used during procedures with high exposure risks to infectious aerosols. Common applications for PAPRs include:

  • Healthcare: Used during procedures with high exposure risk to infectious aerosols, such as during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Chemical Processing: Protection against high concentrations of hazardous chemicals and vapors.

  • Pharmaceutical Manufacturing: Environments requiring stringent contamination controls.

  • Hazardous Material Handling: Used in scenarios involving toxic or hazardous substances, including emergency response situations.

So, while both APRs and PAPRs protect users from airborne hazards, their differences in mechanisms, protection levels, and applications highlight distinct advantages. APRs suit less intense, shorter-duration tasks, whereas PAPRs offer higher protection and comfort for prolonged or high-risk exposures, making them indispensable in many high-risk industries.

Advantages and Limitations

Here are a few reasons why both APR and PAPRs are a great choice, and what drawbacks you might face when buying one.


Manual: Air Purifying Respirator (APR)



Minimal training required

Can be tiring over long periods

Lower Cost

Limited protection in high-contamination areas

Lightweight and portable

Requires regular filter replacement

Wide availability of replacement parts

May not fit all face shapes perfectly


Automatic: Powered Air Purifying Respirators (PAPR)



Higher levels of protection

Higher cost and maintenance

Reduced breathing resistance and increased comfort

Risk of component failure could compromise protection

Better airflow and cooling

Heavier and bulkier than manual options

Positive pressure minimizes particle ingress

Requires a consistent energy source

Comparison Table




Mechanism of Action

Require manual breathing through filters. Users use lung power to breathe. Can be physically demanding, especially for extended use.

Use a battery-assisted blower to assist in air filtration. This blower pulls air through the filters and provides a continuous flow of purified air, reducing the effort needed to breathe. Creates positive pressure to keep contaminants out, even with minor leaks.

Ease of Use

Simple and requires minimal training. Users can quickly learn to wear and use them effectively, suitable for quick deployment.

More complex due to additional components like batteries, adapters, and blowing motors. Require specific training for proper operation and maintenance. Users need to understand assembly, maintenance, and learn how to manage these respirators for effective use.


Generally more affordable with lower initial purchase price and virtually no maintenance costs. Cost-effective and accessible for a wide range of applications, suitable for organizations with limited budgets.

Higher initial costs due to advanced technology and additional components. Requires more frequent maintenance, for better overall expense. Investment can be justified by increased protection and comfort in high-risk environments.


Can cause greater breathing resistance, becoming uncomfortable during prolonged use. The manual effort required to breathe through filters can lead to fatigue, especially in demanding conditions.

Significantly improve comfort by reducing breathing resistance. Powered airflow makes breathing easier and more natural, beneficial during long shifts or physically demanding tasks. Reduces fatigue and increases overall comfort.

Protection Levels

Provide moderate protection, suitable for environments with low to moderate levels of contamination. Effectively filter out various particulates, gasses, and vapors, appropriate for many industrial and healthcare settings.

Offer higher levels of protection, ideal for high-contamination environments. Positive pressure created by the blower keeps contaminants out even with minor leaks in the hood. Suitable for critical situations requiring maximum protection.


Relatively low maintenance, mainly involving regular filter replacement. Check to see that filters are not clogged and the facepiece maintains a proper seal for effectiveness.

Requires higher maintenance due to additional components. Regular tasks include charging and replacing batteries, checking blower functionality, and integrity of filters and airflow systems. Proper maintenance is essential for reliability and effectiveness.


Consistent as long as filters are properly maintained and replaced (3m makes common filters). A simpler design means fewer parts that can fail, providing dependable protection with regular upkeep.

Depends on the proper functioning of the battery and blower motor. Regular maintenance and timely replacement of components are necessary to avoid failures that could compromise effectiveness.


Commonly used in industries such as construction, healthcare, manufacturing, and painting. Effective for protecting against dust, gasses, and vapors in less hazardous environments.

Preferred in high-risk environments such as healthcare during infectious disease outbreaks, chemical processing industries, and pharmaceutical manufacturing. Essential in hazardous material handling and emergency response situations where maximum protection is needed.

Choosing the Right Air Purifying Respirator

Workers and their employers must choose the appropriate air purifying respirator (APR) for their safety and well-being. Consider the following factors when making your decision:


Assessing Environmental Risks

  • Identify hazards (particulate, gas, vapor)

  • Determine the required protection levels


Evaluating Comfort and Usability

  • Consider the duration of use

  • Check compatibility with other personal protective equipment (PPE)


Cost Considerations

  • Weigh the initial investment against long-term maintenance costs


Popular Models and Brands

There are many designs of respirators that professionals manufacture, all for different use cases. You are bound to find the perfect fit for your needs from each of these models, as they are designed to cater to different requirements:


MIRA Safety CBRN Full Face Reusable Respirator-Mask

The MIRA Safety CBRN Full Face Reusable Respirator-Mask is a popular air purifying respirator model known for its design and reliable performance. Here are some of its key features: 

  • 20-year shelf life

  • Uses standard 40-mm NATO filter cartridges

  • Maximum protection against nuclear, chemical, and biological threats

  • Ideal for industrial, agricultural, law enforcement, and emergency rescue applications

  • Full-face panoramic visor for a wide field of vision

  • Built-in hydration system for convenience

  • CE and CBRN approved for high-quality standards

This mask combines safety, durability, and practicality, making it a trusted choice worldwide.


CBRN Full Face Reusable Respirator-Mask
Source: MIRA Safety

MIRA Safety Military Gas Mask and Nuclear Survival Kit

The MIRA Safety Military Gas Mask and Nuclear Survival Kit is a top choice for those needing reliable air-purifying respirator options. Here are some of its key features: 

  • Equipped with a CamelBak compatible drinking system and a 20-year shelf life

  • Conveniently packed in the MIRA Safety drop-leg gas mask pouch

  • Ideal for law enforcement, firefighting, military special operations, painting, and construction

  • Includes 20 FDA-approved ThyroSafe Potassium Iodide Tablets and the NBC-77 SOF gas mask filter

This kit is designed for rapid deployment and multipurpose use in various high-risk professions.

MIRA Safety MB-90 PAPR

The MIRA Safety MB-90 PAPR is another model for better breathing. Key features include: 

  • Based on an Israeli Defense Forces model, modified for better performance

  • The blower mounts to a belt, reducing mask weight and improving mobility

  • Uses standard AA batteries, providing up to 12 hours of runtime

  • Delivers 90 liters per minute of purified air

  • Works with any traditional 40mm NATO threaded gas mask

  • Impact-resistant polycarbonate design for durability in various environments


MB-90 Powered Air Purifying Respirator (PAPR)
Source: MIRA Safety

Maintenance and Safety Tips

If you have made your purchase, here is how you can make your equipment work well so  that it remains long-lasting: 

Regular Cleaning and Filter Replacement

Clean the Respirator: After each use, clean your respirator according to the manufacturer's instructions. Use a mild detergent and warm water, so you remove all dirt, sweat, and contaminants like facial hair. 

Replace Filters: Check the manufacturer's guidelines on how often to replace the filters. Regularly replacing filters lets the respirator continue to function effectively, protecting you from harmful substances.

Battery Maintenance (for PAPRs)

Charge the Batteries: Use batteries that are fully charged before each use. A fully-charged battery will provide uninterrupted airflow and, therefore, the best protection. 

Check Battery Condition: Regularly inspect the batteries for any signs of damage or wear. Look for swollen batteries, fluid leaks, corrosion, or discoloration, a strange smell, or if the batteries feel excessively hot. Replace batteries as needed to prevent power failure.

Proper Donning and Doffing Procedures

Wearing the Respirator (Donning): Follow the correct steps to wear the respirator. Make sure it fits snugly on your face, forming a secure seal to prevent contaminants from entering. 

Removing the Respirator (Doffing): Use proper techniques to remove the respirator to avoid contaminating yourself. Handle the respirator by the straps and avoid touching the facepiece.

Fit Testing and Training

Conduct Fit Tests: Perform fit tests regularly to see if the respirator fits your face properly. Fit tests should be done annually and whenever there are changes to your facial structure or weight. 

Provide Training: Make sure all users are trained on how to properly wear, remove, and maintain the respirator. Training should include recognizing the signs of wear and knowing when to replace parts.

Make an Informed Decision

In this article, we have covered the differences between APRs and PAPRs, including their pros, cons, and uses. To choose the right respirator, think about the environmental risks, comfort, usability, and costs.  If you can, ask a question or two from the support staff before making a purchase. Keep your respirator in good condition with regular cleaning, changing filters, taking care of the battery, and conducting proper fit tests. 

Learn the correct way to put on and take off the respirator and get proper training for the best safety and performance. Whether you choose an APR or a PAPR, make sure you know how to use and maintain it well. MIRA Safety has a variety of high-quality options for different needs.

MB-90 Powered Air Purifying Respirator (PAPR)
Source: MIRA Safety