Step-by-step Guide on How-to Wear N95 Respirator Mask With Pictures

Young woman doctor wearing white coat and protection face mask against coronavirus at workplace.

Protect ourselves from breathing the Taal Volcano ashfall by wearing respiratory protection. The IVHHN (International Volcanic Health Hazard Network) recommends a well-fitting, industry-certified facemask such as an N95 mask (also called P2, FFP2 or DS2 in different parts of the world).

What Is an N95 Respirator?

An N95 respirator is an air-purifying respirator (APR) certified by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). They are filter masks that fit over the nose and mouth, and when properly fitted, can filter 95% of smoke particles. However, N95 respirators do not filter toxic gases, vapors, or the smell of smoke.

What Does the N in N95 Stand For?

Particulate respirators and cartridges are classified by NIOSH into three classifications, N, R, and P.

  • N class respirators/cartridges are not resistant to oil mists.
  • R class respirators/cartridges are resistant to oil mists (<8 hours).
  • P class respirators/cartridges are oil-proof (>8 hours).

What Does the 95 in N95 Stand For?

95 refers to the efficiency of the filtration of the respirator or cartridge, meaning it filters at least 95% of 0.3 micrometers, meaning it has a 5% leakage factor.

What Does an N95 Respirator Protect Against?

N95 respirators are designed to protect against particulate matter such as dust, fumes, mists, aerosols, and smoke particulates. It is also effective against biological particles such as pollen, mold spores, bacteria, viruses, animal dander, and allergens. An N95 respirator is particularly effective against aerosolized droplets that are invisible to the naked eye.

What Doesn't an N95 Respirator Protect Against?

N95 respirators are not effective against the smell of smoke or gases and vapors such as methane and carbon monoxide. Vapors may also include chemicals such as organic solvents and formaldehyde.

How to Put on the Respirator to Protect Yourself From Breathing Volcanic Ash

1. Position the respirator in your hands with the nose piece at your fingertips.

How to wear N95 respirator illustration 1

2. Cup the respirator in your hand allowing the headbands to hang below your hand. Hold the respirator under your chin with the nosepiece up.

How to wear N95 respirator illustration 2

3. The top strap (on single or double strap respirators) goes over and rests at the top back of your head. The bottom strap is positioned around the neck and below the ears. Do not crisscross straps.

How to wear N95 respirator illustration 3

4. Place your fingertips from both hands at the top of the metal nose clip (if present). Slide fingertips down both sides of the metal strip to mold the nose area to the shape of your nose.

How to wear N95 respirator illustration 4

When to Replace the N95 Mask

As the N95 mask gets clogged, it becomes more difficult to breathe. When it occurs, throw it out and use a new one. Discard the mask if it is wet or dirty on the inside, if it is deformed, or if the filter is torn until such time the N95 mask can be used again. Keep it clean and handle it with care.


  1. IVHHN (International Volcanic Health Hazard Network). (2018, August 23). Protection from breathing ash [Blog post]. Retrieved from
  2. California Department of Public Health. (2019, October 29). N95 respirator masks faqs [Blog post]. Retrieved from
  3. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2010, February 2). How to properly put on and take off a disposable respirator [PDF]. Retrieved from

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