Here is everything you need to know about dust mask ratings - the same safety standards are used for respirator ratings and the specifications of face masks. After reading, you should know the different dust mask protection levels and the rating system used in respiratory PPE before you choose a dust mask for work. You should also have a good idea of which dust mask or face mask rating you will require for the job you are doing and the dust protection you need.

What Is A Dust Mask For?

Silly question, but we need to start somewhere...

Disposable or half-face dust masks offer respiratory protection against particulate hazards and airborne particles like dusts (anything from wood dust to brick dust to household dusts), powders and aerosols (aka: Aqueous Fog). That is, they filter out bad stuff from the air you breath so you don't inhale poisons or hazardous dust particulates.

Dust masks are vital for a range of industries: construction, agricultural, pharmaceutical, and even for your DIY projects at home. The FFP1, FFP2, FFP3 ratings offer different levels of protection so it is vital you find the correct level of protection you need from a respirator.

The Safety Acronyms Used...

Respiratory protection in the form of disposable dust masks come in three respirator ratings: FFP1, FFP2, and FFP3 - FFP stands for "Filtering Face Piece" and the number denotes the level of protection. Many people shorten these acronyms even more as P1, P2 & P3 - but the meaning and level of respiratory protection is the same.

Some people refer to these ratings as respirator codes, respirator filter codes, or respirator grades but we are essentially discussing the very same things.

Each of these types of mask will specify their suitability for the "Occupational Exposure Limit" (OEL) and their "Assumed Protection Factor" (APF).

We use these acronyms throughout this article, and they are in common use within the H&S industry, so you would do well to try and remember them.

When choosing a face mask you need to determine which dust mask ratings you need for your workplace hazards (although your employer should identify the hazards for you and provide the correct PPE) or your home DIY hazard.

The seeker after truth should be humbler than the dust.

Why You Should Wear A Dust Mask

Workers often choose not to wear a dust mask because it feels uncomfortable, men may need to shave everyday (so the mask fits correctly on the face), it may interfere with other PPE (such as their goggles or face screen), other people on site do not wear them and they want to fit in, and many other factors.

However, the risks of not wearing the correct respirator mask with the correct ratings are many and you could develop harmful and life threatening lung conditions.

Remember: The wrong protective face mask is no protection at all

A dust mask can protect you from developing painful coughs, wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and difficulty breathing - as well as more serious long-term or terminal conditions like lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and even mesothelioma.

Image Credit: HSE

When it comes to your health & safety, it is better to be safe than sorry.

The mask should be tight fitting, and a fit test should always be performed when fitting a new face mask.

The statistics for respiratory diseases from the 2022/23 HSE report make for sobering reading. There are 12,000 deaths associated with respiratory hazards after long-term exposure and 18,000 estimated new cases of self-reported work-related breathing or lung problems ANNUALLY.

Please do not become a statistic - Choose the right dust mask for the hazards around you.

Image of an idiot grinding wood

Below is a quick guide to these three types of dust mask: ffp1, ffp2, ffp3 - the differences

FFP1 Dust Masks

What does a P1 filter protect against?

  • Protects against low levels of dust.
  • Protects against solid and liquid aerosols.
  • Can be used for hand sanding, drilling, and cutting.
  • OEL: Protects against materials in concentrations 4x limit.
  • APF: Protects against materials in concentrations 4x limit.

FFP2 Dust Masks

What does a P2 filter protect against?

  • Protects against moderate levels of dust.
  • Protects against solid and liquid aerosols.
  • Higher protection than FFP1
  • Can be used for plastering and sanding.
  • OEL: Protects against materials in concentrations 12x limit.
  • APF: Protects against materials in concentrations 10x limit.

FFP3 Dust Masks

What does a P3 filter protect against?

  • Protects against higher levels of dust.
  • Protects against solid and liquid aerosols.
  • Higher protection than FFP1, and FFP2.
  • Can be used for handling hazardous powders such as those in the pharmaceutical industry.
  • Recommended when in doubt of protection needed.
  • OEL: Protects against materials in concentrations 50x limit.
  • APF: Protects against materials in concentrations 20x limit.
  • Can be used as an Asbestos mask
  • Current NHS guidelines stipulate FFP3 face masks for virus and bacterial infection control when the contagion is spread through aerosol (coughs, sneezes etc)

A P3 filter or mask would be the minimum required face mask for chemical fumes, but we would recommend a Half Face Respirator with a P3 Cartridge Filter rather than a disposable dust mask. The same goes for a Dust mask for Asbestos protection - although a disposable P3 dust mask is sufficient, we recommend a half mask with a P3 cartridge or contact us for a full face mask solution.

How to choose between mask ratings

  • Identify type and level of contaminant exposure.
  • Evaluate airborne hazards in workplace (or workshop).
  • Choose mask based on FFP rating.
  • Choose a comfortable and convenient mask.

Maintenance of your respiratory protection

  • Ensure your respirators are the correct type and safety rating for the intended use.
  • Check regularly for damage - do not attempt to repair, replace any damaged masks.
  • Discard or clean if breathing becomes affected by blockages or overuse
  • Always replace when needed.
  • Clean non-disposable equipment daily or as needed in between.
  • Keep an inventory of stock, and reorder when low.
  • Make sure your PPE meets regulation standards and protects your workers.

Our pick of the best dust masks for work

There are many different types of dust mask, both disposable and reusable, here are some examples of each mask rating to give you some idea of what is available to buy.

Portwest FFP1 (P1) Valved Dust Mist Respirator

FFP1 Disposable Dust Mask
  • Meets EN 149 FFP1 standards.
  • Cup shape.
  • Exhalation valve for lighter breathing resistance.
  • Adjustable nose clip for optimised fit.
  • Image shown: Portwest P101 FFP1 type Dust Mask

Portwest FFP2 (P2) Dust Mist Respirator

FFP2 Dust Mask with formed facial cage

Portwest FFP3 (P3) Valved Dust Mist Fume Respitator

FFP3 dust mask with valve
  • Meets EN 149 FFP3 standard.
  • Cup shape.
  • Exhalation valve for lighter breathing resistance.
  • Adjustable nose clip for optimised fit.
  • Whole around “O” ring face joint for maximal comfort.
  • Wide elastic bands.
  • Product Shown: Portwest P391 FFP3 type Dust Mask

Portwest Basic Dust Mask 

  • Effective against pollen, common household dust and other non toxic particles. 
  • Image Show: Portwest P005 basic dust mask
  • These are not for sale by XAMAX® due to their lack of protection for workplace hazards

Do you know for certain that your workplace is PPE compliant?

A quick read of this article on the current PPE regulations will soon tell you.