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Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE): Cleaning and Maintenance

Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE): Cleaning and Maintenance

Respiratory protective equipment (RPE) is designed to protect the wearer from inhaling hazardous materials and prevent serious long-term health conditions later in life. Neglecting this equipment can have a detrimental impact on the safety levels a mask will provide. Proper cleaning and maintenance is an essential part of ensuring respiratory masks achieve optimum performance and maximise their lifespan. 

Why is it important to clean and maintain RPE?

Masks can be used for long periods of time, meaning the user is breathing into the half mask, full mask, or hood, creating condensation and sweat, which can lead to a build-up of bacteria. It can also highlight if your mask’s seal has broken in any way as there might be dust or material residue on the inside and if any of the parts have been damaged and require replacing. 

Benefits of regular mask cleaning:

  • Ensure optimum performance of RPE or mask
  • Prevent the build-up of bacteria, dirt, or dust
  • Increase the lifespan of your mask 
  • Helps with early detection of any damage or problems that might impact the masks performance and users’ safety

How to clean a respiratory mask?

Dismantle the mask, removing any filters or pre-filters, covers from inhalation valves, any inhalation membranes, and harness. If you are cleaning the harness, it is important to note this might take a little longer to dry. 

There are different ways of cleaning your mask, taking into consideration how frequently and how dirty it is.

Cleaning a respiratory mask:

  1. Clean a mask with specific disinfectant wipes. These are recommended for daily use and lightly soiled equipment. Using wipes does not necessarily provide a deep clean, and close attention should be paid to seals, valves, and any other nooks and crevices. 
  2. Wash a respiratory mask with warm water, a soft brush, and a mild soap or suitable detergent. Rinse thoroughly and allow to air dry at room temperature. This provides a deeper clean for RPE that is heavily soiled. Air dry at room temperature and do not leave in direct sunlight. 

In all circumstances, it is important to check the manufacturer’s recommendations or guidance. 

It is also important to note that mask filters can’t be cleaned but do need to be checked on a regular basis to make sure they have not become blocked, which will impact how effective they will be. For more information on when to replace different mask filters, check out our FAQs.

Inspecting parts of a mask:

Once all the mask pieces are clean and have dried properly, and are ready to be reassembled, use this opportunity to inspect all the parts and replace any that look worn or damaged. Doing this is a crucial part of making sure a respiratory mask remains safe to use and provides maximum protection. Knowing what to look for should be something any mask user should be able to do and valuable training to provide teams with. 

Storing respiratory protective equipment or masks

After the respiratory mask has been cleaned and reassembled, it should be stored in a clean and dry place until it is going to be used again. Ideally, this should be in a storage bag or box keep, which will protect it from light, humidity, damage, or other chemicals. 

Monthly Respiratory Mask Maintenance and Inspection

Carrying out monthly inspections and maintenance on a mask is highly recommended within the asbestos removal industry and by the HSE (See page 25 of the ‘RPE at work’ guide). This is crucial for RPE which is frequently used. If the RPE is only used occasionally, then an inspection and test before use should be carried out. 

Maintenance should include a visual inspection of the face piece and harness for any wear and tear or damage that would impact the performance or level of protection the mask will provide. Also, changing replaceable filters, doing a full clean of the mask, valve maintenance and replacement, checking the battery charge levels, and testing the flow rate for powered devices. See the link about for full RPE maintenance information as outlined by the HSE.

It is important that anyone using a mask is competently trained to carry out these monthly inspections and know what they are looking for. We offer RPE Inspection Training designed to equip individuals with the skills required to carry out these monthly checks.

Face Fit Testing

If there is dust inside a mask when it comes to cleaning, then the filters should be checked, but it might also mean the respirator is no longer fitting the way it should. This could indicate it is no longer providing maximum protection, and the user is at risk of inhaling potentially hazardous materials or particles. 

The fit of a mask can be impacted by various factors such as weight loss or gain. With this in mind, it is essential that individuals have a face fit test on a regular basis. 

Cleaning and maintenance should be an essential part of a mask wearers’ routine, and something that should not be overlooked as the protection they provide is invaluable. Our team is always at hand if you have any questions about your respiratory protective equipment (RPE) or concerns about its’ condition. We also stock a wide range of powered and non-powered respirators and accessories should your team require new or replacement equipment. Contact your local depot.