How to Properly Use Dual-Cartridge Respirators

December 15, 2023

What is a dual-cartridge respirator?

When you see a dual-cartridge respirator, the term gas mask may come to mind, because that’s what it looks like and that’s its function: to protect you from hazardous gases or vapors (and with the right pre-filter or filter attachment, particles, too) that interfere with safe breathing. Some dual-cartridge respirators cover your full face. Others cover just your nose and mouth.

Depending on the cartridge, dual-cartridge respirators will protect you from breathing in some pesticides, anhydrous ammonia, grain dust, some paint sprays or other contaminants. Cartridges are color-coded to indicate the hazard from which they protect the wearer.

How to put on a dual cartridge respirator

  1. Place the respirator under your chin with the nose piece facing up (fig 1).
  2. Pull the top strap up to the top of your head so it rests there (Fig. 2).
  3. Attach the bottom straps behind your neck (Fig. 3).
  4. Adjust the facepiece and straps for a comfortable fit.
  5. Tighten the straps by pulling on the ends. Loosen them by pushing on the buckle tab (Fig. 4).
  6. Check the written material that comes with your respirator for additional fitting instructions.
Hold mask against face

Fig. 1

lifting top strap over head

Fig. 2

attaching bottom strap clasp behind neck

Fig. 3

pulling lower strap snug

Fig. 4

How to check your dual-cartridge respirator for the proper fit

It’s important to check your respirator for leaks each time you put it on. Here’s how:

How to perform a positive pressure fit check for your dual-cartridge respirator

  1. Put on your respirator.
  2. Block off the exhalation valve with the palm of your hand.
  3. Gently exhale, then hold it for about 10 seconds.
  4. Place your hand on the facepiece to see if it is bulging slightly.
  5. Smile, then open your mouth. Try other expressions.
  6. If you notice a slight bulge and you don’t detect any air leaks, you have a proper fit.
  7. If the respirator isn’t fitting properly, readjust the facepiece and try the test again.
holding hand over exhalation valve to check seal

How to perform a negative pressure fit check for your dual-cartridge respirator

  1. Place the palms of your hands over the cartridge openings.
  2. Gently inhale, then hold your breath for five to 10 seconds.
  3. You will notice that the facepiece is collapsing slightly.
  4. Smile, then open your mouth. Try other expressions.
  5. If the facepiece is collapsing slightly and you don’t detect any air leaks, you have a proper fit.
  6. If the respirator isn’t fitting properly, readjust the facepiece and perform the test again.
holding hands over cartridge intakes to check seal

Dual-cartridge respirator do’s and don’ts


  • Perform positive and negative pressure checks each time you put on a dual-cartridge respirator
  • Readjust the facepiece and perform the checks again if you think you have an air leak.
  • Get a doctor’s opinion on using a respirator if you have heart trouble or breathing problems


  • Wear a dual-cartridge respirator if you have a beard, long sideburns, deep facial scars or other physical features that would prevent you from achieving a safe and secure fit.
  • Neglect to check product labels on hazardous materials for guidance on selecting the correct cartridges for your respirator
  • Forget to check the manufacturer’s information for additional fitting instructions.

How to properly fit test your respirator

Qualitative Respirator Fit Testing

Occasionally, you or your supervisor must perform a fit test to see which respirator fits you best. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions found in the qualitative fit testing kit. Gemplers offers OSHA-compliant respirator fit test kits, including a bitter fit test and an irritant smoke fit-test kit.

Fit tests must be performed annually and whenever a different respirator is used or when a facial change occurs such as scarring, dental change, cosmetic surgery or significant weight change. You will be given a choice of different sizes and respirator models. Choose the model and size that gives you the appropriate seal after you correctly put on the respirator and perform a fit check.

With a beard, deep facial scarring or certain prominent facial features, the person may be unable to pass a fit test. For these employees, Gemplers recommends a powered air-purifying respirator. In some cases, quantitative fit testing will be required. Consult your respirator supplier for guidance.

Here are the steps to conducting a qualitative fit test for your respirator.

  1. First, be sure the wearer can smell or taste the testing agent without wearing a respirator.
  2. Disposable “dust/mist” respirator fit tests are done by squirting a sweet or bitter tasting agent in the air next to you.
  3. Dual-cartridge qualitative fit tests will detect if you can smell an agent such as smoke or banana oil.
  4. Put on the respirator. Then test to see if you can smell or taste the testing agent while wearing the respirator. If you can smell or taste the agent, you do NOT have a proper seal.
  5. During the qualitative fit test, perform certain exercises such as saying the alphabet or talking, moving your head from side to side and up and down, and marching in place while wearing the respirator. If, at any time, you smell or taste the substance, notify the person doing the fit test.

Choose the proper respirator protection for you and your crew

Gemplers offers a full line of dual-cartridge respirators, filters and cartridges, as well as particulate respirators, and supplied air systems. For information on particulate respirators, click here.

When you’re ready to work safely, you’re ready to work. See our full line of safety supplies, including respirators, eye and ear protection, coveralls, first aid and more.

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