Your Go-To Guide to Cleaning Respirators

Your Go-To Guide to Cleaning Respirators

by James Walton

Without question, your gas mask is an integral part of your CBRN preparedness plan.

But simply owning a mask is hardly enough to survive the next disaster. Like all pieces of life-saving equipment, you’ll need to know how to clean and maintain it.

As such, knowing how to completely disassemble and reassemble your mask is vital for proper maintenance and cleaning. The more you know about the various parts of your mask, the better prepared you will be to use it.

Exposure to a simple CBRN threat like CS gas affects your mask very differently than massive exposure to radioactive fallout. This is a guide for decontaminating and cleaning respirators, including the correct processes for inspecting, washing and decontaminating your gas mask.

The risk to life and limb is real if you do not inspect, clean, and decontaminate your gas mask. In fact, it can be deadly. That means that understanding the process and committing to it is well worth the effort.


  • 01

    How to Properly Inspect Your Respirator

  • 02

    Respirator Cleaning Frequency

  • 03

    Steps to Cleaning Respirators

  • 04

    How to Properly Store Your Respirator

  • 05

    How to Decontaminate a Gas Mask

  • 06

    Best Practices for Disposing of an Overexposed Gas Mask

  • 07

    What Not to Do When Cleaning and Storing Respirators

  • 08


  • 09


How to Properly Inspect Your Respirator

Before starting the process of cleaning respirators, you’ll first want to inspect their condition by disassembling the entire mask and carefully looking over each part. Don’t rush--give yourself adequate time to conduct a thorough inspection.

Your workspace should be spacious enough to allow for all the parts of the respirator as you disassemble. That means it should be clean and well-lit so that everything is visible and manageable.

What to look for when inspecting a gas mask or respirator:

  • Cracks

  • Dirt

  • Tears

  • Weaknesses

  • Oily Residue

The following is the step-by-step process for inspecting your gas mask.

Step 1. Check Face Seal

The face seal is one of the most important parts of a gas mask because it is designed to seal to your face and block hazardous fumes or particulates. Check the face seal for dirt and debris. Next you’ll want to run your fingers over it to search for tears or cracks in the seal and where the seal meets the rest of the respirator.

Gently pull on the seal to ensure it hasn’t started to weaken, tear, or pull away from the faceplate.

Step 2. Inspect the Inhalation and Exhalation Valves

These valves let air enter and exit the mask. If they’re broken or dirty, they may not operate properly and put you at risk.

Step 3. Check the Headstrap

Your head strap should adjust easily and have plenty of elasticity. Remember: it creates the critically important tight seal and maintains it while you move around. Straps can lose their elasticity or deteriorate over time.

Gently tighten the head strap and inspect it for any signs of cracking, brittleness, or tearing.

Step 4. Inspect All Plastic Parts and Gaskets

Hard plastics can chip or break, rendering the respirator inoperable. As gaskets age, they can dry out and crack. Gaskets are integral to your mask’s airtight seal and its other working parts.

Sometimes, it’s easier to feel things than to see them, especially damaged plastic and gaskets. Run your fingers over the plastic parts of your mask. Gently pull the gaskets and look them over. Then run a cloth or finger over them to feel for cracks.

Step 5. Check Plastic Lenses

Lenses are hard plastic, meaning impacts and scratches can damage them. Cracks in your respirator’s lenses could allow contaminated air to leech into the mask, making you sick or worse. That’s why regularly inspecting, maintaining, and cleaning your respirator is critical.

Cracked lenses should be replaced and another respirator should be used in the interim.

To learn more about which gas masks you should be using, be sure to check out our Gas Mask Buyer's Guide.

Respirator Cleaning Frequency

Regular gas mask cleaning is just as important as daily inspection. Over time, sweat and natural oils from your body can build up on your respirator and compromise its effectiveness. Of course, hazardous chemical agents must be thoroughly cleaned off and out of your gas mask.

The best approach to respirator cleaning is to clean the mask after every use and then to take the mask apart and deep clean it every six months.

If you haven't used your respirator, it should be inspected and cleaned every year. So, if you have a backup respirator, it should be taken out, inspected, and cleaned. Never assume that everything is in good order just because it is new.

Steps to Cleaning Respirators

(Image Courtesy of Blue Line Syndicate Group)

These procedures apply to all kinds of respirators and protective masks. Without further ado, here’s how to clean a gas mask:

  • Remove the filters from your gas mask or respirator.

  • Remove the speech diaphragm.

  • Remove the pressure demand valve assemblies, demand assemblies, and hoses.

  • Any defective parts must be replaced.

  • All of the components should then be washed in warm water with a mild detergent. (Allegro Industries 5003-U is a detergent designed for cleaning respirators.)

  • Rinse all the pieces with warm water to remove any excess detergent.

  • To sanitize your mask pieces after washing them, create a solution by stirring 1 tablespoon of bleach into 4 cups of water.

  • Put the mask and its parts into this solution and leave them for 2 minutes.

  • Remove them from the solution and rinse everything thoroughly to remove all traces of the cleaning and disinfecting chemicals. These chemicals can damage your mask over time or irritate your skin.

  • Dry the components with a towel.

  • Allow them to air dry to remove all traces of moisture.

  • Reassemble the mask.

  • Don the respirator to ensure that everything is in working order.

How to Properly Store Your Respirator

Cleaning your respirator is one way to ensure it lasts a long time and is ready when you need it. How you store it also affects its lifespan. Proper long-term storage when your mask is not in use is important but straightforward.

Make sure your mask is clean and dry, and then place it in a sealed container. The container should be stored in a cool, dry place with a regulated and consistent temperature. A good storage environment for your mask is similar to that for ammunition storage.

Avoid storing your gas mask near direct sources of heat or where it will be exposed to direct sunlight. Also avoid storing it near chemicals, oils, or volatile substances as they can all negatively affect your gas mask’s lifespan. These volatile substances can break down the materials of your respirator.

Any storage case that seals can be a great option. There are many options, such as Pelican cases, that can be used for this purpose. The respirator should be protected from direct exposure to the outside world.

MIRA Safety sells carrying cases designed for their gas masks that can also be used for storage. MIRA’s drop-leg gas mask pouch is a great option for storing your gas mask and carrying it efficiently.

How to Decontaminate a Gas Mask

(Image Courtesy of Blue Line Syndicate Group)

If you’re using your respirator, there’s a good chance it’s getting contaminated by some kind of gas or volatile chemical. When any part of your body, suit, or mask comes in contact with a CBRN agent, you must decontaminate everything you’re wearing, including your gas mask.

You can use several things to decontaminate your gas mask. The right solution depends on the CBRN agent that you are dealing with.

While decontamination sounds fancy, and you probably have visions of some kind of shower system, it really comes down to cleaning all the surfaces that have been in contact with a hazardous agent. You must also use the proper type of solvent to neutralize the chemical or particulate.

CS gas naturally disperses with time. Its effects can last up to an hour. However, CS gas can dissipate in the air in as little as fifteen minutes depending on wind and weather. You can wait it out before removing your mask in an area that has been affected or you can use detergent to clean your mask before removing it.

For biological hazards and nerve agents, use a .5% chlorine bleach solution to decontaminate your mask. Create your own by mixing nine parts water to one part bleach.

Another option is the MIRA Safety MDG-1 Personal CBRN Decontamination glove, which is a lightweight solution for rapid decontamination. This fingerless fabric glove uses an ultra-fine powder/clay compound that absorbs and wipes away contaminants.

The glove comes in a tiny 5-oz. package that can be stored in bug out bags, car kits, get home bags, or just about anywhere. The packaging protects the glove until you break the seal to decontaminate your mask and equipment.

Doffing During Decontamination

(Image Courtesy of T. Rex Arms)

Careful decontamination is vital to avoiding contaminating your respiratory system, eyes, or skin when removing your protective gear.

After working in a contaminated environment, you should go through initial decontamination while wearing your gear. In the military, this is achieved using mobile decontamination systems. These systems provide a shower of hot water and either soap or the appropriate decontamination solution for the particular hazard.

To create your own decontamination process, you should try to mimic this as closely as possible. An outdoor shower is ideal for this, making the Hike Crew portable hot shower is a great decontamination option.

Once your outer protective gear, including your respirator, has been decontaminated, you can doff the mask and take a real shower to ensure that your body and hair are completely decontaminated.

After these precautions, you can begin inspecting and cleaning your respirator.

Best Practices for Disposing of an Overexposed Gas Mask

(Image Courtesy of The Japan Times)

The first part of your gas mask that will become overexposed is the filter. The filters collect the dangerous particulates you want to avoid. Over time, they collect in the filter, eventually rendering it ineffective.

These filters need to be disposed of as special refuse. In other words, you cannot simply toss them in a garbage bag, as they will contaminate everything and everyone around them with the hazardous gas or particles they contain.

Contact your local waste management authority to learn the rules and regulations in your area. They will either have the answers for how to dispose of your gas mask filters or direct you to the local authority that does.

Eventually, the materials that make up your respirator can be overexposed to hazardous agents. This means that the rubber lining and head straps can become increasingly porous and difficult to clean. Dangerous gas or chemical agents can become trapped in these areas.

Old and overexposed gas masks need to be replaced for the user’s safety. However, like overexposed gas mask filters, they cannot just be tossed in the garbage.

Use the same disposal process that you use for your filters. If you are concerned, call the local authorities to inquire about this type of special refuse and get detailed information about exposed gas mask disposal.

What Not to Do When Cleaning and Storing Respirators

(Image Courtesy of Blue Line Syndicate Group)

Many things can go wrong with cleaning and storing respirators. However, sticking to some simple principles will ensure consistent success.

The following is a list of things to avoid during the inspection, cleaning, and storing process.

Do Not Perform Partial Inspections

Consistent and complete gas mask inspections will give you confidence that you can work in a hazardous environment without being harmed. Your mask stands between you and certain death.

A partially inspected mask will give you a false sense of security and could result in severe bodily harm, and possibly death, depending on what you are exposed to. As such, you should always take plenty of time to fully inspect your mask

Do Not Use Harsh Chemical Cleaners

Your respirator is made of a number of different materials. These materials should only be cleaned using the recommended chemicals. Harsh chemical cleaners can rapidly break down rubber and elastic.

Harsh chemical cleaners such as alcohol will not only speed a respirator’s degradation but may also render it inoperable. If the rubber of the face seal is ruined, it may not form a seal on your face.

Do Not Soak Parts or Mask for Too Long

Many respirators call for some kind of soaking in the cleaning process. This is a very effective way to clean certain materials. However, prolonged exposure to the cleaning solution can have a negative effect on the mask and its parts.

Follow the directions for your mask or use our procedure above for cleaning respirators.

Do Not Reassemble a Wet Mask

Moisture in your mask will negatively affect its ability to work properly. Not to mention that extra moisture can also affect how your filters work. Too much moisture in a filter can make it much harder to breathe through your mask with that filter.

Make sure your mask and all of its components are thoroughly dry before you reassemble it.

Do Not Store Your Gas Mask in Your Vehicle

In the summer, parked cars can get incredibly hot. That heat will adversely affect your mask and its effectiveness when you need it. Your gas mask should not be subjected to temperatures in excess of 100°F.

In winter, cars experience a radical drop in temperature at night. Temperatures that could freeze the mask are never appropriate for gas mask storage.

Do Not Store in a Shed, Crawlspace, or Attic Without Climate Control

The humidity, moisture, temperature, and overall conditions in these locations fluctuate dramatically with the seasons. Indeed, in many parts of the country, attics can reach well over 100°F in the summer.

Thus, storing your respirator in these locations subjects it to all of these conditions, too. Such fluctuations and extreme heat will shorten your mask’s lifespan and reduce its efficacy. The damage they cause is likely to put you at risk.


No matter what you use your gas mask for, you should know both how to use it and how to maintain it properly. Remember that respirators are serious investments, and if you want to get the most out of them, whether for work or for CBRN preparedness, you need to know how to take them apart, inspect them, and keep them clean.

The biggest mistake people make is rushing the inspection and cleaning of respirators. Your respirator is literally the thin line between you and hazardous gasses and particulates that can irritate your respiratory system, make you sick, or kill you.

Gas masks have a shelf life. There will come a time when your equipment needs to be replaced. However, to maximize your investment and the lifespan of your equipment, you should follow the simple steps above. Give this investment the time it deserves.


How do I know when my respirator has completely dried after cleaning?
What is the average life of a regularly used respirator?
How do you decide to replace parts or the entire gas mask?