In terms of prepping, a gas mask is often considered essential gear for survival.
But, while most people know that your typical gas mask requires a filter, most people don’t know how long they last, and the elements that break down a gas mask filter more quickly than other agents.
This article is to assist in explaining the typical lifespan of a gas mask filter, and what that means in terms of survival.
There are many factors to take into account when discussing the lifespan of a gas mask filter.
For the purpose of this article, NBC (nuclear, biological, and chemical) rated filters will be discussed unless otherwise specified.
If you are actively prepping, you may want to check the manufacturers’ shelf life literature on any gas mask filters you have currently stocked.
In A Storeroom Or On A Shelf
Typically, we’ve found that most gas mask filters state on the packaging that they have a shelf life span of 5 years.
This, of course, meaning they have been sealed in the original packaging and not exposed to any moisture, which will start to break down the charcoal inside the filter, rendering the gas mask filter essentially useless.
While there are longer shelf lives on some gas mask filters, in the normal gas mask filter, such as the 40mm filter, you usually won’t find one that claims to have a shelf life lasting longer than a 5-year span inside of its original packaging and stored in a cool, dry area.
How Quickly Do They Break Down In Use?
Again, the breakdown of the gas mask filter is going to vary greatly with the type of filter, and what sort of pollutants it is being saturated with.
Most combined filters last around 8 hours in a nuclear, biological, or chemical exposure situation.
Chemical specific filters can last up to 20 hours when exposed to the same NBC situation.
When dealing with filters such as those used by the US military on the standard MOP4 gear, the mask itself will begin to break down before the filter begins breaking down upon exposure to nerve gas. In scenarios like this, however, weapons such as C12CO will actually burn through the filter itself.
It is imperative to use a filter specific to the agent at hand if it is known. However, when prepping for your survival an NBC rated filter may be the best you can do without knowing and preparing for a specific imminent threat.
Interestingly, cyanogen chloride will deteriorate your filter in as little as 30 minutes of exposure.
Also, dusty conditions, such as breathing in a desert, are going to drastically decrease the lifespan of your gas mask filter.
The reason is that the activated charcoal in the filter absorbs the particles that you’re breathing in.
As you breathe and pull more particles through the filter, it’s going to become packed full of particles, like sand, making it impossible to breathe inside your mask before too long.
What About “Clean” Air Situations?
Even while breathing air without known NBC threats, you really only have about a 24-hour life span on your gas mask filter.
The important thing to remember is that you need to be fully prepared to roll your gas mask directly prior to an agent being released.
If the particles are already in the air and getting into your oxygen supply when you strap your mask on, it’s too late. Your gas mask needs to be filtered and securely strapped onto your face prior to your oxygen supply reaching contaminated levels.
The use of a gas mask is for getting yourself and your loved ones out of the “green cloud”, or area of known contamination.
Gas mask filters, therefore, are not meant to last for extended periods of time. They are for high-stress situations where a threat has been confirmed, and it is a known agent that will enter your body through your oxygen supply.
When you are dealing with a threat like mustard gas, you would need to also cover any exposed skin because it is a blistering agent. That means that any exposed flesh is going to burn and blister immediately upon exposure.
In some scenarios, such as chlorine gas, your exposure to the gas isn’t what is going to kill you.
It is the fact that inside of the cloud, you will not be able to filter out enough oxygen to sufficiently breathe.
If you don’t immediately remove yourself from the cloud, you will suffocate long before the gas mask filter is full and breaking down.
What Should My Gas Mask And Filter Supply Goal Entail?
When you are thinking in terms of prepping and survival, you want to try to get at the very minimum an Israeli, NATO surplus type of gas mask.
Don’t waste your time or money on Russian gas masks, they’re only good for Halloween decorations.
Israeli NATO surplus masks with a standard 40mm filter will provide decent visibility and affordable NBC protection.
They will use the standard filters with NBC rating so you don’t need to try to stock the last 100 specialty filters for that mask type in existence in your already packed prepping storeroom.
The Mestel SGE ISO Gas Mask takes regular 40mm filters, offers a big field of view, and provides a comfortable, fog-resistant full mask.
Mestel 40mm NBC rated, NATO approved filters with a 5-year shelf life can be stored and ready to lock on and assist in an emergency evacuation situation without the need to worry about specialty filters, or different sized filters for different masks on all of your family members.
What Is The Safest Option?
As always, your best option is to avoid the affected areas to begin with.
You have a much greater threat of chemical threats while in DC than you do in North Dakota.
If you are in a large city or political hub, you obviously would want to stock more filters, because you are in a threat zone. If you can remove yourself from the imminent threat, it’s always the safest route to take.