I have created countless survival materials lists, tried to imagine every conceivable emergency I could encounter, even little green men, but opted out of that one (for the time being anyway.) Point being … I don’t ever recall including a gas mask on any list. That realization kinda stunned me. Why not? I could maintain my innocence and claim I’m just now getting around to it and be sort of right, I am. But … in reality who cares why I screw up? Let’s get it right.
I’m not normally a “look for the silver lining” type guy. Bad things happen to good people. They can be man-made or natural disasters that require a gas mask to preserve your life, not only saving you but saving your good health. There are things worse than death…
When You Might Need a Gas Mask
Whether it be a building ablaze or a 100 acre forest fire belching heat and smoke, both create a tremendous amount of smoke, dust and ash which swirl everywhere carried on currents of heat and wind. Inhaling these particles obviously makes it difficult to breath, but too much foreign materials will clog your nose and airway causing you to faint. Once you lose consciousness only a miracle can save you.
An earthquake kills X amount of people with the initial disaster of buildings falling and the earth swallowing entire neighborhoods. The aftermath of fires, debris, asbestos dust, etc, adds an additional death toll which could exceed the first quake. Having a gas mask can protect you from these toxic fumes and allow you to see an escape route.
Terrorist threats are no longer a “it may happen” consideration, it’s a it will happen again. Not that terrorists are picky about how they kill people, but they like all the bang for their buck they can get. A dirty bomb releasing deadly chemical agents is right up their alley.
Riots can be spontaneous and getting caught up in a riot can be as easy as being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Authorities will normally use tear gas, but pepper spray is gaining popularity, to incapacitate rioters, thus bringing the protest to an end. Should you suffer from asthma or other lung illness, this situation could prove deadly. In summation exposure to smoke, particulates, infectious agents, airborne diseases, chemicals, pungent odors requires the use of a gas mask.
What is a Respirator?
Simply described a respirator is a devise to protect you from inhaling into the body dangerous substances such as chemicals and infectious particles. They do this several different ways.
Military Grade Equipment
Escape Respirator(s) are designed to be used only as a stop gap measure to escape an imminent deadly situation, allowing you to escape to a safer area. They are intended for a one time, short duration (15 minutes to 1 hour) and are normally a hood and neck seal instead of a face mask. Be sure it fits your neck before buying.
Particulate Respirator(s) are the simplest and least expensive respirator on the market. Unfortunately because it only protects against particulates, it’s the least protective. They fail to protect against chemicals, gases or vapors and are intended for low hazard exposure. These types are known as air-purifying respirators, because they clean particulates out of the air as you breathe. You’ll see these types used in hospitals to guard against infectiousness diseases.
Chemical Cartridge/Gas Mask Respirator(s) are also referred to as “air-purifying respirators” because they filter chemical gases and particulates out of the air as you breathe. This respirator includes a face mask and a filter/cartridge, which fits inside an attached metal can called a canister. The cartridge may contain a filter, to remove biological weapon, or charcoal to remove certain chemicals or both. Here’s the problem … there is no one filter that protects against everything. You must know what you are trying to prevent inhaling in order to have the correct filter.
Powered Air-Purifying Respirator(s) PAPR A PAPR uses a fan to blow air through the filter to the user. Since they use a battery to power the fan, it must be fully charged at all times. And like all other respirators, the filter must match the hazardous substance in order to be effective.
Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) is the most effective respirator by far. Firefighters use these self contained air tanks protecting them against a wide variety and concentrations of dangerous chemicals. Problem is the tank has limited time of usage, an hour or less depending on exertion, and they are quite heavy, @ 30 pounds.
Should I buy a gas mask or make one?
This is an individual decision which can be difficult, but we’ll begin with buying. Military-grade gas masks are available, but at a rather substantial cost and they do require a certain amount of maintenance to insure they continue to work properly. However, the filters, vents, valves, canisters used by this mask is far superior to anything you can make on your own. It is capable of filtering the most dangerous chemicals known to man. Before buying any type of mask ask these questions:
- What types of chemicals and particulates, and at what level does the mask provide?
- Is there more than one size … adult & children?
- Are there any special maintenance or storage conditions?
- What type of training is required?
- Where to get such training?
- Can I talk while wearing the respirator?
- Is the mask certified by an independent lab or government agency?
- Has the mask been tested against biological agents, chemical warfare agents, toxic industrial agents, and radioactive particles? Certified and by who?
Respiratory protection is effective only if:
- The correct respirator and filter is used. All types of filters can be purchased to operate efficiently in a store bought mask.
- Is available when you need it.
Here is a huge issue with store bought masks. They don’t fit into your briefcase or lunchbox. They require certain storage conditions. I suggest if you plan on going to a bug-out place where you will go and stay, I would buy the military grade mask. They are capable of saving your life through filtration of nearly every adverse agent you’ll likely be exposed to. Maintaining special storage conditions will be no problem if staged at only one place.
Principles of Building a Sound Gas Mask
There are never certainties in life, except death and taxes, but chances are if you suddenly need a gas mask in order to survive, you won’t have one in your back pocket. You’ll have to improvise and fashion a gas mask from common materials you’ll find around you. In order to do that with any degree of efficiency you must understand what you’re trying to accomplish. There are 2 basic principles you must understand.
Absorption vs Adsorption
This is critical. Absorption means to encapsulate or consume. Adsorption means to trap and/or deposit a substance on a surface. For instance a normal porous sponge sucks up water, and any foreign objects with it by absorption, which would allow the unwanted particles to enter your breathing passages. A very tightly woven cloth will allow water through, but stops any foreign particles in the water, by adsorption.
Secondly, you want the mask to be as airtight as possible against your face. Having a crafty DIY gas mask with great filtering material won’t do much good if all the toxins are entering your air passages from the gap between your face and mask.
Surprisingly Effective for Short Time Periods
One final common sense note. A homemade gas mask will not offer the same protection as a military-grade mask. It won’t fit as well, it won’t have the variety of protection. However, as a make it or break it devise, for short term protection, it’s better than nothing.
Emergency Gas Masks Options:
Airborne particles are extremely hazardous to our respiratory system. Volcanic ash, as well as other burning microscopic particles, when viewed under a microscope reveal jagged razor sharp edges which will literally shred your lungs. Immediately take your tee-shirt off and cut or tear long swaths of linen, soak them in water if available, and tie around your head covering your mouth and nose. This will provide a surprisingly efficient dust/dirt mask.
Tear gas is nasty stuff. It won’t kill you but it may make you wish you’d die. Here’s a quick fix. Cider vinegar will block inhalation of tear gas. Yep, soak a rag or handkerchief in cider vinegar, tie it around your head covering your mouth and nose and you’re good to go.
Toxins, gases, etc pose a clear and present danger, but there is one thing possibly worse than being gassed. Not being able to see how to escape. Loss of vision makes the chaos of the situation unsolvable and deadly. The mob will be running aimlessly about gagging and blinded by the pepper spray or tear gas, you must be able to find an escape route. A simple, but quality pair of swim goggles will protect your eyes allowing you to see when everyone else is blind.
The soda bottle gas mask, although possibly silly looking, offers a reasonable amount of protection from various contaminants, dust, ash, smoke etc, and is relatively simple to construct from everyday type materials. Additionally it can be made in 15 to 20 minutes.
Gas Mask Material List:
- Sharp cutting tool (razor, knife, sharp scissors) whatever you feel comfortable using
- A permanent marker, preferably black
- Glue (all purpose or crazy glue)
- Rubberized foam insulation at least a 1” wide strip
- A N95 particulate mask
- 2 liter plastic soda bottle
- A piece of fine sandpaper
And it only costs $7 to $11.
9 Steps to Make Your Own Gas Mask
- Clean the 2 liter bottle, removing all labels and decals. Dry thoroughly.
- Use the marker to draw a U-shaped area large enough to fit your face in.Pro tip: Always under-size the estimated size of the hole. You can always trim more off, but you can’t put more back on! Start with a small cutout and enlarge instead of trying to cut the entire piece out at once.
- Cut the bottom of the bottle away, only after you try the fit. Adjust as much as you need until you have a reasonably tight fit against your face. You’re aiming for something snug, but not uncomfortably tight.
- Take the sandpaper and lightly sand the edges of the plastic cutout to remove any sharp barbs.
- Cut and prep-fit the rubberized foam insulation to insure proper length. You don’t want a bunch of joints from small pieces put together, you want one piece.
- Apply the glue and press your one-piece insulation into place, making an efficient seal between your face and the mask.
- Install a rubberized insulation ring at the neck of the bottle as a perch for the filtering elements.
- Insert the N95 mask, filter pointing towards the neck of the bottle. Use the elastic bands from the mask to secure everything in place.
- When finished store the mask in a 1 gallon Ziploc bag to prevent contamination.