If you want a reusable respirator—which you can fit with filters that protect the wearer against paint fumes and other volatile gases in addition to dust and smoke—the 3M 6502QL/49489 Rugged Comfort Quick Latch Half Facepiece Reusable Respirator is the most comfortable model we’ve found.
Only one of our picks, the disposable 8210, is appropriate for protecting both yourself and others from the coronavirus, because it filters exhalations as well as incoming air. (The other models have unfiltered exhalation valves.) For information on masks designed to prevent coronavirus transmission, see our guide to cloth face masks and our research into KN95 masks.
Like other N95 masks, the 3M 8511 N95 Cool Flow Valve Particulate Respirator is certified to filter out 95% of harmful particulate matter. Thanks to increased production, it’s widely available online and in stores. In our testing, it stood out as the most comfortable respirator mask for long-term wear, as its design gave us space to breathe and had edges that didn’t push against our cheeks. It sealed well against a wide range of face shapes and sizes among our testers, who ranged from 5′3″ to 6′1″ with light to heavy builds. Whereas other disposable respirators have loosely stapled rubber bands for straps, the 3M 8511 has sturdier, woven straps that are less likely to snap or to catch in your hair. (They are latex-free, according to 3M.) The exhalation valve works as a dehumidifier, keeping your face cooler and lessening the chance of fogging up glasses. But again, this is not the same kind of N95 mask you would use to prevent coronavirus transmission—we have information on masks for that purpose in our guide to cloth face masks as well as an article describing our research into KN95 masks.
3M 8210 N95 Particulate Respirator
Otherwise similar to the 3M 8511, this model lacks an exhalation valve, so it’s appropriate for coronavirus protection as well as particle filtration.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $20.
The 3M 8210 N95 Particulate Respirator is another certified N95 respirator, which means it captures at least 95% of airborne particulates, including wildfire smoke and home-renovation dust. Compared with the 3M 8511, it’s similar in form, fit, and comfort, though it has rubbery (but latex-free, per 3M) straps instead of cloth straps. The chief difference is that the 8210 does not have an exhalation valve, which makes it appropriate for coronavirus protection, as well: Anything you breathe out passes through the filter material, so if you’re infected, you’re much less likely to spread the virus to other people. The 8210 is easy to find online and in hardware stores, and it’s cheaper than the 8511, but it may feel slightly muggier to wear.
The 3M 6502QL/49489 Rugged Comfort Quick Latch Half Facepiece Reusable Respirator (the medium-size version) fits a wide range of physiques—our testers ranged from 5′3″ to 6′1″, and from light to heavy builds—but the smaller 6501QL or larger 6503QL may be a better choice if you’re particularly petite or tall (we wish we could be more specific). Our testers rated this respirator highest overall due to its comfortable silicone facepiece and handy “quick latch” mechanism, which enables you to remove the respirator from your face without taking off the entire headpiece. Unlike other models we tested, it has an adjustable crown and a downward-facing exhalation valve that keeps your face cool (and ensures that you won’t fog up any glasses you may be wearing). To use it, you also need to purchase filters; we recommend 3M 2097 filters, which capture at least 99.97% of airborne particles, including smoke, and also protect against petrochemical fumes and some caustic vapors.