I'm learning how to apply polyurethane and am very bothered by the strong fumes.

Is this mask from Harbor Freight sufficient protection for health purposes and will it help to filter out the smell?

I was told that a normal dust mask or particle respirator is not sufficient for either.

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The P95 Maintenance-Free Dual Cartridge Respirator is also available.


  • 1
    They key part of the description here is in plain English: Dust Mask. You want a respirator for protection from solvent vapours. But you need to be fully aware of respirators and their vapour cartridges, they start to age from the moment the seal is broken. This means that at the beginning of the month you use your respirator for a few days and then regardless of whether you use it again or just put it aside the next time you reach for it those cartridges will be depleted and you need to buy new ones. This gets expensive real fast. [contd]
    – Graphus
    Nov 10 '18 at 8:44
  • So for most home users it's preferable to adopt different methods to reduce exposure to solvent vapours if you find them particularly bothersome. Obviously there are low-VOC finishes that can be chosen, but if you want to stick with oil-based poly — and there's a lot to recommend it as a finish — if you begin by working in a well-ventilated space and then organise airflow correctly (aided by a fan if necessary) you don't need to wear a respirator. Like, ever :-)
    – Graphus
    Nov 10 '18 at 8:46
  • @SteveCrenshaw use your favorite internet search engine to look for that info - you'll need to be sure to get a cartridge that will fit whatever mask you've purchased. Shopping questions are specifically off-topic here because what may have been a good answer when this question was originally asked 2 years ago is likely to no longer be valid today, and any answer you get today may not be valid in just a few weeks/months.
    – FreeMan
    Jan 12 '21 at 19:06

Everyone has different standards for their health, but I would not personally consider this sufficient for working with oil-based polyurethane. It does not mention "organic" vapors or "VOC" (volitile organic compounds) anywhere on the packaging. The activated carbon might help with odors, but it hasn't been certified to do anything for your health.

The key thing that you need is the "P" rating (i.e. "P95" or "P100"), which indicates that it is reusable (up to 40 hours) for VOC environments. "N" rated masks/cartridges are for dust only, and "R" rated are for VOC environments up to 8 hours. The number (95 or 100) indicates what percentage of the hazard they can filter out.

You'll also need to make sure that your respirator is the right size, is adjusted correctly, that you do not have facial hair that interferes with the seal, that it is in good repair (i.e. the valves close), and that the cartridges are changed per schedule.

  • 1
    I tried this mask today and it was great while sanding. It also helped to keep the fumes from being inhaled directly and dampened the smell of the polyurethane but I would agree that this is not the right kind of protection.
    – Zhro
    Nov 10 '18 at 5:43

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