10 popular dust masks put to the test

Farmers go through thousands of disposable dust masks each year, but which ones are the best? Oliver Mark and James Andrews try out 10 of them.

If you’re unlucky enough to spend a lot of your time chasing dust around the grainstore then it makes sense to buy a respirator or full face mask to protect yourself from the clouds of dust and spores.

But those people for whom grainstore duty is a more occasional punishment will see the disposable dust mask as an adequate tool for the job.

There are different grades of masks suitable for ag-related tasks that offer different levels of protection from big dust particles to invisible vapours and metal fumes. So first it’s worth having a whistle-stop tour of the rules and regs.

What to look out for

Dust mask rankings

  1. 3M Particulate respirator 8322 – WINNER
  2. 3M Aura Particulate respirator 9322+
  3. B&Q Disposable dust masks
  4. Respair economy mask
  5. Moldex 2405+
  6. A-1V A-Series disposable mesh respirators
  7. Detectamet (Agco S11889)
  8. Te Yin

Higher-end masks

  1. Moldex 2495 – WINNER
  2. Moldex 3045

The first thing to check your mask for is a CE stamp of approval and the particular standard it meets. In the case of agriculture it’s EN 149:2001.

That means it has been tested to a recognised standard, which is imperative if it’s being used at work and you’re the employer.

Next up, look for the degree of protection. This comes in three stages to shield against different sized particles – the smaller the particle size the deeper it can penetrate the lungs and evade the body’s natural defences.

This starts at FFP1, which is designed to guard against low concentrations of some dusts, but offers little protection against spores causing farmer’s lung.

The mid-stage is FFP2 – a filter for most fine particles and a decent farm all-rounder. The most complete form of disposable protection is the FFP3-rated mask, which guards against welding fumes, spores, germs and heaps of dust.

More often than not, the on-the-shelf price goes up according to the level of protection. Which is why alarm bells should ring if you see some suspiciously cheap masks on the shelves at your local agricultural emporium.

Nuisance masks are a good example of this. They have no CE stamp and will only protect you from biscuit-crumb-sized lumps in the air. We picked up a pack of Draper ones, for instance – 50 masks for £16.32.

For more information check out the HSE’s guide to dust masks at www.hse.gov.uk/agriculture/dustmasks.

Which to pick

It’s unlikely that you’ll go hunting high and low for the perfect mask, so we didn’t either. We visited four local stores – Axminster Tools, Basingstoke Bolt and Tool, Lister Wilder and B&Q, which are all within 15 miles of one another.

All of the masks we picked used slightly different designs, although most had an aluminium strap across the bridge of the nose to clamp things tight. With the exception of Pinocchio, that should help most masks fit most noses.

Some also have an exhalation valve. These can make breathing easier, keep CO2 and temperature down inside the mask and reduce mist for wearers of spectacles. Beard bearers should also beware – fuzzy facial hair forms a bad mask seal.

B&Q Disposable dust masks

B&Q Disposable dust masks

Cost: £9.98 for 10

Cost: per mask £1

Degree of protection: FFP1

Life expectancy: One shift – eight hours

Folded or shell-packed: Shell

Fit: Thin, lightweight shell sits rigid on the face, but there’s no leakage. Full metal nose strap keeps the top half tight. There’s no adjustment on the cheap elastic straps, but they’re anchored solidly with a staple so shouldn’t ping off.

Comfort: Surprisingly comfortable, but no vent means things get sweaty pretty quickly.

Comments: Good value and comfortable, but wearer quickly gets hot and bothered. Good for a short job – not one you’d want to wear all day. Keep a pack in the back of the truck.

Best for: Value

Ranking: 3

3M Particulate respirator 8322

3M Particulate respirator 8322

Cost: £25.94 for 10

Cost per mask: £2.59

Degree of protection: FFP2

Life expectancy: One shift – eight hours

Folded or shell-packed: Shell

Fit: M-shaped metal nose strap hugs the face tightly and mask is generally a snug fit despite lacking a foam nosepiece. Reinforced outside tab attaches to four separate anchor points for nylon-elastic straps, but there’s no adjustment.

Comfort: Scored well here – vent keeps it fairly cool but the wool-like fabric is bound to get caked in dirt/dust and it is warmer than the other 3M. Valve is smaller than that on the Moldex masks so doesn’t let as much air out.

Comments: Soft shell has plenty of flex. Still good value – good balance between comfort and price.

Best for: All-rounder

Ranking: 1

3M Aura Particulate respirator 9322+

3M Aura Particulate respirator 9322+

Cost: £14.94 for five

Cost per mask: £2.99

Degree of protection: FFP2

Life expectancy: One shift – eight hours

Folded or shell-packed: Unusual three-way fold creates a boat-like shape with a rigid front panel.

Fit: Fiddly to get on and initially feels odd but improves with time. Metal nose strap is sandwiched by mask material and foam nosepiece creates a good seal. Rubbery straps second best to nylon equivalents and snap far too frequently.

Comfort: More comfortable than the number-one-ranked 3M mask. Central piece is made of harder cardboard with softer fabric on the two pieces that contact the face. Cool to wear thanks to thin construction.

Comments: Unconventional but it’s a grower. Well-sealed and lightweight but not tough enough for farming and straps snap too easily.

Best for: Comfort.

Ranking: 2

Te Yin

Te Yin dust mask

Cost: £19.87 for 12

Cost per mask: £1.66

Degree of protection: FFP3

Life expectancy: One shift – eight hours

Folded or shell-packed: Pitta-bread-style horizontal fold.

Fit: Awful fit with leaks everywhere. Plastic nose strap with thin wire inner (the sort you’d tie sandwich bags with) doesn’t hold it tight over the nose and mask falls off if you try and speak. One single elastic strap runs through loops on the mask.

Comfort: Very lightweight but breath blows straight into wearer’s eyes. Larger-than-average noses push against valve, which should be positioned on the bottom half closer to mouth.

Comments: Cheap mask, apparently with a high level of protection but didn’t fit any of the test team.

Best for: Not recommended.

Ranking: 8

A-1V A-Series disposable mesh respirators

A-1V A-Series disposable mesh respirators

Cost: £7.94 for 5

Cost per mask: £1.59

Degree of protection: FFP1

Life expectancy: One shift – eight hours

Folded or shell-packed: Pitta-bread-style vertical fold

Fit: Stiff plastic mesh body results in a narrow, inflexible fit, particularly at the bottom where it lets in a stream of air. Improved as the bottom section split, which formed a better seal. No foam or metal nose strips but tough elastic straps run through plastic loops and can be tightened. Fitted one tester, didn’t fit the other.

Comfort: Vertical fold and stiff mesh pull it tight to the face. Pointless quick release clip on the straps.

Comments: Good straps and good value, provided it fits your face. Rigid mask folded in flat-pack form seems a flawed design.

Best for: Good-quality straps for the price.

Ranking: 6

Detectamet (Agco S11889)

Detectamet dust mask

Cost: £10.53 for two

Cost per mask: £5.27

Degree of protection: FFP2

Life expectancy: One shift – eight hours

Folded or shell-packed: Pitta-bread-style vertical fold

Fit: Thicker rubber straps than the 3M mask but we’d still prefer nylon ones. Can be adjusted by a plastic gripper, though it’s not user-friendly. Nose strap is a sandwich-bag-style fastener attached to the mask by two blobs of glue. Foam strip inside helps block any holes.

Comfort: More flexible body than the A-1V makes it more comfortable, but central seam quickly split and let air in around the chin. Lightweight and thin but good quality fabric.

Comments: Overpriced and bad fit. Nose band broke off almost immediately and it doesn’t have a valve.

Best for: Not recommended for the price

Ranking: 7

Moldex 2405+

Moldex 2405+

Cost: £15.68 for three

Cost: per mask £5.23

Degree of protection: FFP2

Life expectancy: One shift – eight hours

Folded or shell-packed: Shell

Fit: One-piece rubber strap is quick and easy to get on, but lack of metal nose strap and foam strip means there’s nothing you can do about the loose fit. Less leakage than expected but quickly drops down the face and air blows into wearer’s eyes.A knot in the rubber straps helped pull it tight.

Comfort: Lightweight and spacious. Moldex balloon-type valve lets more air out than the 3Ms. Easiest to get on and off.

Comments: Baby brother of the Moldex 2495. Could do better – let down by seal around nose.

Best for: Easiest to get on/off.

Ranking: 5 (would have been the best scoring if it hadn’t leaked)

Respair economy mask

Respair economy dust mask

Cost: £10.79 for 10

Cost per mask: £1.08

Degree of protection: FFP1

Life expectancy: One shift – eight hours

Folded or shell-packed: Shell

Fit: Stapled rubber straps won’t last as long as nylon-elastic versions. Very rigid body but metal nose band means you can squeeze it tight to form a good fit at the top. Also has a foam strip over bridge of nose.

Comfort: Obvious rival in shape and fit is B&Q. Big valve in centre of mask means it gets maximum venting and keeps face relatively cool, but is generally less comfortable than the B&Q version.

Comments: Another cheap all-rounder – handy to keep on the farm but not adequate for serious stuff.

Best for: Ventilation considering price.

Ranking: 4

Higher-end masks

Moldex 2495

Moldex 2495 dust mask

Cost: £7.72 for one

Cost per mask: £7.72

Degree of protection: FFP2

Folded or shell-packed: Shell

Fit: Single elasticated strap with plastic frame/skull cap can be tightened. Elastic is bonded to the mask and there’s an integrated foam nose gripper but no metal strap. Fit is pretty good and protective mesh means it holds its shape well, but can be knocked off the chin.

Comfort: Flappy balloon-type valve lets lots of air out so doesn’t get sweaty. Almost too good for a single use. Big and bulky with plenty of space inside.

Comments: Solidly built, good fit and spacious. First choice for longer jobs such as grainstore cleaning but quite expensive. Balance between price and performance.

Best for: Longer jobs

Ranking: 1 as specialist.

Moldex 3045

Moldex 3045 mask

Cost: £19.40 for one

Cost per mask: £19.40

Degree of protection: FFP3

Folded or shell-packed: Shell

Fit: Big, thick nylon-elastic strap is easily adjusted and has a seemingly pointless latch. No nose adjustment – face just presses into the rubber inner lining to form a seal.

Comfort: Tight fit but pretty uncomfortable, partly because of its weight. Why buy this over one with replaceable filters?

Comments: Protects from welding fumes as well as grain dust. Brilliant seal and strong straps but uncomfortable and very expensive. Too close to a full face and uncomfortable.

Best for: Seal

Ranking: 2 as specialist