Should I Wear a Mask When Airbrushing?

Airbrushing produces incredibly beautiful artwork and details when done well. For many creative people, moving to an airbrush while developing their art is a natural progression. 

However, many don’t understand airbrush safety equipment, like masks. Let’s start with a common question that newbies ask.

Should I Wear a Mask When Airbrushing? Yes, you should. Ventilation is essential, but you should also wear protective masks. A simple disposable particulates (dust) mask will work,  but a better mask would be one rated for particulate matter.

The kind of mask you should use, and why, is a little more complicated than that simple answer.

We’re going to walk you through why ventilation is critical, airbrush spray booths, and types of masks to choose from so that you can make an informed decision about what to wear while airbrushing.

The Importance of Ventilation and Protection

If you have picked up airbrushing to achieve a higher quality finish in your artwork, after using brushes to paint with, especially, you may not see painting as “dangerous” if you have decent ventilation.

However, because an airbrush first atomizes the paint into tiny particles, it becomes a hazard.

While most airbrush paints themselves are non-toxic, that is not the issue at hand. It’s the function of your lungs.

Particulates can’t be processed by lungs, which are only suitable for processing gases, not solids.

Any time a chemical becomes atomized, like when spraying paint through an airbrush, you risk breathing tiny bits of it floating around in the air.

Health experts recommend avoiding breathing in paint, dust, or particulates to prevent lung disease. Airbrushing exposes you to particulates, so it requires a mask.

In the short term, you may face dizziness, headache, and other mild side effects from inhaling the paint. However, over time, you may face more long-lasting health consequences because of the inhalation of atomized paint particles.

Ventilation, or having sufficient airflow to move particulates away and diffuse them, is crucial while spraying paint.

You need to make sure you have taken precautions that your painting area is well ventilated, and yes, also wear a mask. 

You can provide proper ventilation with something like an airbrush spray booth or ventilation hood, or by making sure that you are in an open area with plenty of air movement.

While acrylic paints are probably objectively a safer option than some other mediums, it doesn’t belong in your lungs. There are many ways to keep you safe while you create.

One very effective option is an airbrush spray booth. We’ll cover masks shortly after that.

Airbrush Spray Booths

An airbrush spray booth is a unit with an open front that uses an exhaust fan or blower to pull particulate through a filter or vent them to an outside location.

Using a booth like this, whether it be a homemade version or a commercial one, can help keep you safer from the fumes and limit overspray.

If you are interested in building your own homemade airbrush spray booth, we found an easy to put together and super simple build. You can check it out here in the video below.

Store-bought portable airbrush booths aren’t very expensive, depending on the options you want.

You can get them with plastic shields, allowing light to pass through effectively to your workspace, a lazy Suzan to turn your project, an exhaust hose and window adapter, or one that provides only a filter.

Spray booths are a MUST if you’ll be airbrushing indoors. Trust me… I learned the hard way! So here’s my personal guide on choosing the best spray booth

The AW Portable Airbrush Paint Spray Booth Kit is an example of an excellent spray booth. 

AW Portable Airbrush Paint Spray Booth Kit w/Turn...

Buy on Amazon

The turntable means you won’t have to pick up the models you are painting, and the fan and filter sponges, along with an exhaust outlet that you can use to vent through a window, make it a good option.   

Before you buy a spray booth kit, make sure it is large enough. The AW portable is for smaller items.

If you plan to airbrush larger items, check out something like the OPHIR Super Power Airbrush Spray Booth Kit Portable Paint Spray Booth. 

OPHIR Super Power Airbrush Spray Booth Kit...

Buy on Amazon

One thing you should not do is to attempt to use any makeshift secondary filter, like a paper towel, to try to extend the life of your airbrush filters.

Instead of helping, this hurts the booth’s ability to pull particulates by reducing the CFM, or cubic feet per minute, that the unit can move.

We recommend wearing a mask even with an airbrush booth. When it comes to your lungs, better safe than sorry is the best motto. There are several types suitable for this task.

Respirators for Airbrushing

Respirator masks filter particulates out of the air that you inhale and allow you to exhale that air without removing it.

There are many different types of respirator masks, rated for varying levels of particulates. Some can filter gases and vapors out of the air, too.

The CDC (Center for Disease Control) and The National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory (NPPTL) gave the following directions to assure that your respiratory protection is adequate when you need to use it:

  • Choose the right respirator for the intended purpose
  • It needs to be available when you need it; keep it handy
  • The wearer needs to know when and how to put it on or take it off
  • Keep it per the manufacturer’s directions

The right respirator for airbrushing can clear the air of particulate matter.

Most of the airbrushing professionals’ recommendations we studied mentioned something like this 3M dual cartridge particulate respirator.

Each cartridge for that respirator should protect you well for 8-40 hours of work, depending on the types of paints and any solvents used.

They look something like the classic gas mask on movies but without the eye protection.

There are many other types available for masks, including those full face shield masks like this one, and lighter duty masks with soft straps like this one. 

The point is to choose one that is rated for particulate matter, and make sure that you replace your filters as often as needed for full efficacy.

Other Protection Options and Disposable Mask Ratings

While we don’t recommend them, in a pinch, you can use the disposable, particulate style masks.

They don’t last as long and aren’t as good at protecting you as a durable respirator mask, but they are better than nothing.

You want to find one that is NIOSH rated as at least N95.  If there is no rating, then that respirator is not tested for its ability to remove particulates.

There are three different letter rating types, N, R, and P, and those ratings have to do with their resistance to oils.

  • A rating of N equals not resistant
  • R equals somewhat resistant
  • P stands for oil proof. 

Exposure to oils can lessen the effectiveness of masks that lack an oil-proof (P) rating. What matters in airbrush use is generally the N rating.

The very best protection available is a good mask, worn while using an exhaust system like an airbrush booth.

If you do not have those things handy, you need to airbrush in a well-ventilated area, at the very least, wear a disposable mask.

If neither a booth, nor even a disposable mask, is available, then grab a handkerchief, bandana or some other cloth to cover your nose and mouth while you are actively spraying paint to keep the particulates from entering your lungs.

A Breath of Fresh Air

It would be best if you used proper ventilation and a respirator mask to keep your health safe while airbrushing.

There are many options to do this, from an airbrush booth to painting in well-ventilated spaces with a mask.

Whichever type of protection you choose, even disposable ones that are only good for a few hours apiece, you are taking steps to protect your lungs.

Last update on 2020-10-21 at 23:28 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API