Masks Or Respirators For Cleaning Mold – Know The Difference

Whether in the form of fuzzy green patches under your kitchen sink or black slimy spots near your shower drain, unsightly mold wreaks havoc on your health and home. Any mold you notice should be removed it, but you need to wear a mask to prevent mold spores from entering your body.

An N95 face mask approved by the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is the best mask to wear when cleaning mold. You can also use quality respirators from reputable online brands like 3M. The mask must filter 95-99% of dust particles, and should fit your face properly to keep the spores from entering your mouth from the sides.

Any face mask capable of providing defense against mold exposure effects will do. These masks filter the air you breathe, making it safe to work in a moldy environment. Explore more about mold, masks, and some relevant, helpful tips in the guide below.

Signs of Mold

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines mold as

“a fungal growth that forms and spreads on various kinds of damp and decaying organic matter.”

They naturally exist in the environment and are found anywhere with adequate moisture and oxygen. Mold belongs to the fungi kingdom and loves to thrive in moist places like plants, soil, and decaying organic matter.

Mold benefits the outdoor environment because it helps breakdown the decaying organic matter, from dead trees to leaves. Indoor mold on the other hand isn’t advantageous for anyone.

Signs and symptoms

All types of mold need moisture to grow. So, as soon as moisture accumulates in areas of your hold, mold begins to grow. You can find mold on all kinds of surfaces in your home, including:

  • Paper
  • Food
  • Furniture
  • Insulation
  • Carpet
  • Tile grout
  • Wood

Mold can be many different colors, but the most common ones in homes are usually brown, black, greenish or yellowish. They can appear slimy or fuzzy.

There are also several symptoms you can look for if you suspect mold spreading in your home:

  • Red eyes
  • Skin rashes
  • Sneezing
  • Dizziness
  • Asthma attacks
  • Runny nose

Children, the elderly, and anyone with existing respiratory conditions are more prone to these health risks.


Different people use different words to describe mold odor. However, the smell is typically musty, wet, and stale. If you notice such odor around your property, it’s time to look for mold signs. Here are a few tell-tale signs of mold:

  • Discolored carpet
  • Dampness in kitchen, bathroom, and living room
  • Peeling wallpaper
  • Green and black spots on walls
  • Grout between tiles starts getting darker
  • Sneezing, difficulty breathing, or a runny nose


Mold spreads through tiny reproductive cells called spores. They exist throughout the air and aren’t visible to the naked eye.

You can only see them under a microscope (size 2-10 um).

So, they exist indoors and outdoors but thrive only in favorable circumstances – think moisture and humidity. Mild mold growth can easily be removed.

However, stubborn mold clings to surfaces and can only be cleaned with an effective solution (like bleach) and a brush.

Several types of air purifiers are capable of removing mold spores from your air, Plentiful Air has a complete guide to these air purifiers available here.

Why You Should Wear a Mask When Cleaning Mold

A mask filters the air you breathe and acts as a line of defense against mold exposure. You should wear one when cleaning mold in your office or home.

Breathing in mold, its spores or mycotoxins (a toxin produced by some molds) can lead to serious illness.

Not wearing a mask can also exasperate existing conditions, including cardiac disease, allergies, lung disease, and asthma.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommends wearing a mask when cleaning the mold. They highlight that you must protect your nose and mouth when dealing with mold. Otherwise, the spores may enter your body, leading to breathing difficulties and other infections.

Best Masks For Cleaning Mold

A face mask must ideally filter 95-99% of dust particles and harmful matter. It should fit your face properly to keep the spores from entering the mouth from the sides. This can be a natural fit, or one with adjustable straps.

The best type of mask is an N95 face mask, as they offer up to 95% filter efficiency and fit perfectly against any face type.

The CDC does suggest that a well-fitted respirator may offer better filtration. However, both masks and respirators can be effective as long as they fit right and are NIOSH-approved.

It’s important to be know that a simple face mask, like many worn during COVID-19, including surgical and cloth masks, do not provide enough protection when cleaning mold.

To eliminate confusion and make mold mask shopping less daunting, we’ve compiled a list of the best masks and respirators to wear when cleaning the mold – these can be easily bought from Amazon or stores such as Home Depot.

Quick Latch Half Facepiece Respirator

The Quick Latch Half Facepiece Respirator by 3M brand (on Amazon) offers a comfortable way to keep the notorious mold spores away and breathe clean air.

Face masks do not always provide an easy on and off mechanism. However, the Quick Latch mask provides 1 hand touch drop-down method to put the piece on and off. So, the less you touch your mask, the lower the chances of contaminating your face.

It offers a 3M Cool Flow Valve for better exhalation, keeping you comfortable. Of course, wearing a mask for long hours can exhaust you. However, the Cooling Flow Valve feature keeps you cool and prevents sweat.

The respirator takes functionality to the next level with an adjustable head harness assembly. It offers a comfortable fit by allowing 3 adjustable sizes. So, you can adjust the mask to make up for the right fit.

The brand doesn’t compromise on durability, either. The resilient silicone face seal makes up for a long-lasting, stable, and comfortable mask. Note that the respirator’s seal is soft but firm. The softness makes it comfortable, while the firmness retains its shape during hot summer.

The mask also offers maximum field of view due to its half-face design. Not only does it make it easier to detect the mold, but it also makes the mask less suffocating and more comfortable.

Finally, the exhalation valve reduces fogging by directing the exhaled breath. This comes in handy for those who wear glasses.

Overall, the respirator performs its job well – keeping the mold spores out and letting the purified air in. You can pick from small, medium, and large sizes.

N95 Respirator

The N95 Respirator is yet another mask approved by the NIOSH and can be bought on Amazon or Home Depot. Although this mask is known for protecting against COVID-19, it works equally well to keep the mold spores out.

If you’re looking for a lightweight mask, you’d appreciate the 1.6 ounces weight of the product. It allows you to remove stubborn mold that might take extensive cleaning time.

The mask features a Cool Flow Exhalation Valve to release the damp and warm exhaled breath. This is crucial because the trapped air suffocates the wearer and leads to a stuffy nose.

The mask has Advanced Electrostatic Media to trap airborne particles and mold spores effectively. So, rest assured the respirator will keep the spores from entering your nose and mouth.

The product also includes an adjustable M-nose clip. It allows you to customize the respirator for an ideal fit. The better the seal, the higher the protection against air pollutants.

It also offers 50% easier breathing due to its advanced filter media. Although many respirators protect against spores, not all provide an easy breathing mechanism. Fortunately, the filter media of the N95 respirator does.

Besides the comfortable filter media, the comfort of headbands matters, too. Put simply; regardless of the filter media’s mechanism, uncomfortable headbands make it challenging to wear the mask for long hours. Luckily, the N95 respirator features stretchable, braided headbands that boost comfort and are light on the ears.

Mold Lead and Paint Removal Respirator

The 3M Mold Lead and Paint Removal Mask is a NIOSH-approved P100-rated filter and provides up to 99.95% protection against liquid aerosols, solids, oils, and mold spores.

While filtration efficiency is one thing, the respirator is known for being incredibly lightweight. The feature is a plus when treating black mold requiring extensive cleaning periods. Wearing heavy mask tires the ears and causes suffocation. However, the delicate respirator makes you forget you’re wearing one, allowing you to work efficiently.

The respirator also includes a band that passes over your head, keeping the mask from sliding down.

Also, while the mask is compatible with other 3M filters, you’d be surprised to know it goes with other brands, too. Additionally, the 4-point head harness is another noticeable feature. The harness, made of firm yet soft elastic bands, makes it easier to hold the mask against the face.

This is crucial because a low-quality harness either compromises the seal or bites into your skin. Luckily, the 3M mold mask does neither. Instead, it offers a soft grip against your skin and creates an adequate seal. Lastly, the exhalation valve keeps the moisture and heat outside and purifies the air for trouble-free breathing.

3M Half Facepiece Reusable Respirator

The 3M Half Facepiece Respirator (on Amazon) is a NIOSH-approved, P100-rated filter mask. It can filter up to 100% of airborne particles, including the infamous mold spores. It also blocks vapors and chemical fumes, making it an ideal choice for mold treatment.

The mask offers an optimal balance and won’t feel uneven upon wearing because the straps provide an equal amount of tension. What’s more, the weight of filter cartridges is distributed equally on both sides, making it more symmetrical.

The exhalation valve features a cover that prevents fogging by redirecting the breath downward. Therefore, 3M Half Facepiece Respirator is ideal for heavy breathers who occasionally fog up their goggles when working for long hours.

Another unique feature of the mask is the positioning and design of filter cartridges. The swept-back ergonomics provide added visibility, making it easier for the wearer to observe the mold closely. Additionally, it includes adjustable straps, offering a perfect fit.

So, the mask blends convenience, comfort, and protection for the wearer handling mold remediation.

GVS SPR456 Elipse P100

The GVS SPR456 (Amazon link) is one of the unique masks, given its odd-shaped proprietary filters. The face cup is pretty different from standard respirators. However, that by no means indicates it compromises comfort. In fact, the lightweight face mask offers a convenient fit, allowing the wearer to tackle mold remediation seamlessly.

So, don’t let the unusual appearance of the mask fool you. It features soft silicone that offers a comfortable fit. Besides, the adjustable straps enable you to customize the product per your preferences. Wearing the straps around your head and pulling them is all it takes to tighten them. Further, you can pull the plastic buckles when willing to loosen them.

Additionally, the curved filter cartridges and unique shapes offer a better field of view than other masks. So, while the feature is beneficial when working indoors, it is more advantageous when treating mold outdoors with more foot traffic or close to construction sites. The better view lets you see your surroundings and be wary of potential hazards.

The respirator also allows you to clip it onto your belt and carry it around without inconveniently holding it in your hand. Finally, you can also order a carrying case to store your mask.

3M Half Facepiece Respirator

The 3M Half Facepiece Reusable Respirator 6200 (on Amazon) offers a wide variety of applications, from chemical handling to painting and welding to mold cleaning.

So, investing in the respirator makes up for a one-time solution, allowing you to use the mask for several types of work. The respirator is NIOSH approved for negative pressure air purifying and provides optimal protection against particulates in the air.

The swept-back design boosts visibility and balance, making the wearer comfortable and allowing them to see their surroundings clearly.

You can disassemble, clean, and reuse the mask on the go. It also features a reclosable storage bag to keep the mask and protect it from bacteria accumulation. Further, it equips adjustable points to better compatibility with other personal protective gear.

The mask also includes lightweight and soft head straps for better customization. You can adjust the straps per your preferences to make up for a perfect fit.

Make sure you wear it right to make the most of the equipment. Place the mask over your mouth and nose with straps unfastened. Then, pull the straps over your head and hook them behind your neck.

You can always adjust the strap tension for a better fit. Lastly, the bayonet connection makes it compatible with other 3M bayonet-styled filters and cartridges. So, if you own one, you can conveniently use the respirator with other 3M respirators.

3M Full-Facepiece Respirator 6800

The Respirator 6800 (Amazon link) takes safety to the next level with its full-face design. This may be a little overkill for a small mold problem, but it certainly makes you look like you know what you’re doing!

The mask prevents you from mold spores and other irritants present in the air. So besides protecting your nose and mouth, it keeps your eyes safe. Therefore, you won’t need to buy eye protection when treating the mold if you own one of these!

However, do not assume that the full-face coverage will create fogging inside the mask. It features an exhalation valve that keeps the exhaled breath out and prevents fogging the lens. So, you can work for long hours without constantly cleaning or wiping the condensation outside the respirator.

Further, the mask provides a broader field of view, allowing you to see your surroundings properly.

Besides, the face mask is compatible with other vapor filters designed by the 3M brand. What’s more, it also allows for cross-band use, which is a plus.

Tips for Wearing a Mask

While wearing a mask is no secret sauce, you should keep a few tips in mind to remain comfortable and safe.

  • Keep yourself hydrated. Wearing a mask doesn’t lead to dehydration. However, it is always better to drink water, especially when working in a humid environment. It will boost your energy levels, preventing fatigue and tiredness.
  • Use other protective gear. Don’t forget to wear safety goggles when removing mold from your home. It is highly likely for mold spores to enter your body through your eyes. Wearing goggles keeps the airborne particles away.
  • Stay safe. Those with an underlying medical condition or asthma must seek the doctor’s advice before wearing a mask. The medical practitioner will offer the best possible advice to keep you safe and protected.
  • Take breaks. Regardless of the mask’s quality, taking breaks is always recommended. It will help avoid overheating and make your work easier. Ideally, move out of your home to breathe fresh air.
  • Hire a professional. If you have mask anxiety or believe wearing a respirator will suffocate you, do not force yourself to wear one. You can always hire a professional for mold remediation services. Experienced contractors have the knowledge, tools, and equipment needed to eliminate mold from your home.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do N95 Masks Protect Against Black Mold?

The N95 masks successfully protect you against toxic black mold.

In fact, the New York Department of Health rates it 95% effective against mold spores and dust lingering in the air. As such, it reduces the risk of breathing the tiny particles that emerge from sawing, sweeping, and removing mold.

However, the key is to seal it tightly against your face to let the inhaled air pass through the respirator, not the open sides.

Consider getting an N95 mask approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) for adequate protection. You can always look for the NIOSH logo on the mask and the certification approval number on the packaging.

Can Mold Spores Travel On Clothing?

Mold spores in the air outdoors can attach themselves to clothing and be carried indoors.

Because mold spores are naturally found in the environment, they can travel indoors through clothes, pets, shoes, and even grocery items. Once indoors, they seek moist and damp places to drop and thrive.

A leaking roof, damp plant pots, and other wet areas offer an ideal spot for them to land and grow.

What Happens If You Breathe In Mold?

Breathing mold can lead to various symptoms, from sneezing to red eyes and a runny nose to skin rash.

However, note that people with existing respiratory conditions, cancer patients, children, and the elderly are at a higher risk of mold infection. Therefore, it is crucial to spot the early signs of mold growth in your home and eliminate them before it risks your health.

Look for green, purple, white, grey, and black spots in damp places throughout your property. Further, an earthy, musty, and stale odor is also an indicator of mold growth in your property.

What Are Signs of Mold Sickness?

Itchy eyes and throat, scaly skin, cough, sneezing, and a runny nose are a few signs of mold sickness.

The Mayoclinic highlights that those with asthma will experience heightened mold allergy symptoms. They may feel chest tightness and difficulty breathing. Therefore, asthmatic patients must be more cautious to avoid triggering asthma symptoms.

The health institution also reveals that a few people are at a higher risk of mold sickness than others. They include:

  • People with a family history of allergies
  • Those living in highly humid properties
  • Individuals living in a poorly ventilated home
  • People working in an occupation that increases their likelihood of mold exposure – think logging, carpentry, farming, greenhouse work.
  • Living in a building with excessive moisture. This is more common for homes located near marshy places or those that have been affected by floods. 

Are Dead Mold Spores Harmful?

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) highlights that mold spores are harmful regardless of whether they are dead or alive.

Mold is considered dead when it goes dry and inactivates temporarily. This typically happens when you kill the mold but do not remove it from the surfaces. You can contrast dead mold with the living one through its appearance.

Living mold is generally found in black, yellow, white, orange, and green colors. Dead mold, on the flip side, is powdery and flaky. So, both dead and alive molds produce harmful allergens when touched or inhaled. Therefore, ensure you remove the mold efficiently to keep yourself from irritants.

You can use bleach, borax, hydrogen peroxide, vinegar, or tea tree oil solutions to kill mold. Apply the solution to affected surfaces and let it sit for a few hours. You can leave it overnight, depending on the severity of mold growth in your home. Then, use a soft-bristled brush to scrub the mold and wash it off with lukewarm water.

What to Wear When Cleaning Mold?

You must wear long pants, protective gloves, and goggles besides the mask when cleaning the mold.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cautions about wearing protective gear before entering a building or property affected by mold damage.

The institute recommends wearing gloves, waterproof boots, a long-sleeve shirt, eye protection, and a respirator. Besides, ditch your shorts and go for long pants to avoid mold spores from coming into direct contact with your body.

Russell Singleton

Russell holds a Bachelor of Science (Environmental and Marine Geoscience) with Class I Honors. He is currently completing his doctorate in science and is passionate about all earth processes, especially isotope geochemistry and paleohydrology.

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