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Respiratory protective equipment: choosing between valve and non-valve respirators
7th November 2023

Valve vs Non-Valve Respirators

Whether it's working in healthcare, hazardous environments, or dealing with air pollution, respiratory protective equipment can make a significant difference in safeguarding our health. When it comes to choosing the right respirator, one key decision to make is whether to opt for a valve or a non-valve respirator. COSHH advice sheets (1) can help you identify the type of mask that is best suited to your needs, however, you may still be left wondering how valve and non-valve respirators compare.

We will explore the differences and help you decide which one is the better choice for your needs.

Fit testing is essential to obtain the correct respiratory PPE for your intended use. Please refer to the HSE fit testing guidance for more information (2).

Non-valve respirators: The Basics

Non-valve respirators, often referred to as FFP2/FFP3 masks are designed to filter out airborne particles, including:

  • Bacteria
  • Viruses
  • Dust
  • Pollutants

These respirators feature a close-fitting design that creates a seal around the nose and mouth, ensuring that air is filtered through the mask material.

Non-valve respirators are highly effective at protecting both the wearer and those around them from respiratory hazards. They are commonly used in healthcare settings and industrial environments.

What are the advantages of Non-Valve Respirators?

  • Protection for Everyone. Non-valve respirators protect both the wearer and those nearby by filtering incoming and outgoing air, making them ideal for situations where source control is essential.
  • No Risk of Contamination. Since exhaled air is filtered through the mask material, non-valve respirators are known for their high filtration efficiency, which is critical when dealing with harmful particles.
  • Disposable. Many non-valve respirators are disposable, meaning cross-contamination is unlikely to occur between wears as it will be a fresh one every time.

Valve Respirators: The Basics

Valve respirators closely resemble non-valve respirators but incorporate one-way exhalation valves. These valves facilitate easier exhalation, reducing moisture buildup and enhancing breathability. Valve respirators are popular for their comfort, especially during prolonged wear, which is often necessary in construction and industrial environments.

What are the advantages of valve respirators?

  • Comfortable breathing. The exhalation valve reduces resistance, making it easier for the wearer to breathe, especially during extended use.
  • Reduced moisture buildup. Valve respirators are less prone to moisture accumulation inside the mask, making them more comfortable for long-term wear.
  • Cooler and less claustrophobic. The valve allows for a cooler and less restrictive experience, making them preferred by some users who find non-valve respirators uncomfortable.

The decision: Valve or non-valve respirator?

The choice between a valve and non-valve respirator depends on your specific needs and situation. If you have no previous experience wearing either, here are some factors to consider when making your decision:

  • Source Control. If you are wearing a respirator primarily to protect others, a non-valve respirator is the better choice as it filters both incoming and outgoing air and is usually the cheaper option.
  • Comfort and Prolonged Use. If you need to wear a respirator to protect your respiratory system and plan to use it for an extended period, such as in a dusty work environment, a valved respirator will provide more comfort and breathability.
  • Environmental Concerns: In situations where contamination of the surrounding environment is a concern, opt for a non-valve respirator to prevent the release of unfiltered exhaled air.
  • Cost comparisons. Make sure you work out which is the most cost-effective option for you in the long run. Non-valved respirator masks are often disposable which can cost more if needed regularly.

Summary

Both valve and non-valve respirators have their strengths, and your choice should align with your specific demands. Always follow the guidance provided by health authorities and your workplace to ensure your protection in any given situation. 

Globus 360 Program

If you're still uncertain about the right choice, the Globus 360 Program offers a comprehensive risk assessment and tailored product recommendations to meet your business needs.

To find out more, click here.

References:

  1. COSHH Essentials - COSHH e-tool (hse.gov.uk)
  2. Fit testing basics - Respiratory protective equipment (RPE) (hse.gov.uk)