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Why do disposable respirators have a defined shelf life?

Curious about why respirators expire? Here’s what you can do to make sure your inventory of disposable respirators stays up to date and ready to go.

If you’re responsible for managing inventories of personal protection equipment, you should be aware that disposable respirators – used to protect wearers against particulate airborne hazards – have a limited shelf life, after which they should no longer be used.

But what does it mean for a respirator to “expire?” Let’s find out.

Disposable respirators, also known as filtering facepiece respirators, can help reduce exposures to potentially harmful substances, such as various particulate hazards. The specially designed filter media traps particulates that pass through when the wearer inhales air. A good fit on the face is critical, since a proper seal helps keep outside air from leaking around the edges of the respirator.

Components can degrade over time

The longer a respirator has been in storage, the less likely it is to perform at its full potential. Over time, components such as the strap and nose foam may degrade, which can affect the quality of the fit and seal. Additionally, expired respirators may potentially no longer meet the certification guidelines set by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

In order to help keep performance at the expected level, 3M is establishing a shelf life for all of our filtering facepiece respirators. Several models currently do contain shelf life information and storage conditions. Expiration dates vary according to respirator type, filter media, other materials used in construction, and date of manufacture. On 3M™ Disposable Respirators, shelf life information can usually be found on the side or bottom of the packaging. An hourglass icon will be nearby to help you identify the expiration date, which is different from the “factory” icon near the date of manufacture.

Packaging guide

Here is an example of how storage conditions and shelf life will be depicted in the IFU and primary box respectively (this is an example only):






When stored in original packaging between temperatures from -4°F (-20°C) to +86°F (+30°C) and not exceeding 80% Relative Humidity, the respirator may be used until the date specified on packaging located next to the “Use by Date” symbol.

How to store your disposable respirators

Proper storage of disposable respirators, as outlined by 3M, is critical for long-term storage. In Canada, the CSA Standard Z94.4 has required that respirators be stored in the original packaging and away from contaminated areas, dust, sunlight, extreme temperatures, excessive moisture and damaging chemicals.

Here are a few steps you should take for proper storage of disposable respirators:

  • Always store respirators in their original packaging
  • Keep respirators away from contaminated areas, dust, sunlight, extreme temperatures, excessive moisture and damaging chemicals
  • Implement good inventory management practices, including stock rotation

To learn more about 3M disposable respirators, please visit us online or contact 3M Canada Safety Centre at 1-800-267-4414 for any questions you may have. 

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