Whether you’re a DIYer or a PRO tool user, you need to protect your body.
Every tool user should make a conscious effort to use the proper PPE, or personal protective gear. If you’re not sure what you need for a particular task or work, consult an expert.
If you work for a company, you might have access to a professional safety consultant or expert. If you’re a DIYer, do your proper research.
I am not an expert. What follows here is not expert advice but my personal opinion.
Additionally, PPE can very depending on the task and environment. A roofing professional might need a helmet and safety harness, while a tradesman on a commercial jobsite might need a reflective vest and hard hat.
Here, I’m only going to touch upon basic (core) PPE recommendations. If you want this roundup expanded to included additional gear, please let me know. And, as always, your PPE opinions and recommendations are always welcome and appreciated as well!
One more thing to keep in mind is that every one has different preferences, and people come in all different sizes and proportions. Safety gear that comfortably fits one person might not work well for someone else.
With safety gear, you’re more likely to wear protective equipment if it’s comfortable, so feel free to try different brands or styles until you find something that fits.
Table of Contents
Safety Glasses and Goggles
You don’t want to cheap out on safety glasses.
There are two criteria to look for – first you want safety eyewear to have an ANSI Z87 rating. Second, you want your safety glasses to be comfortable.
Let’s say you’ve done the same task 100 times without incident. Your safety glasses might not be comfortable, so you stop wearing them. Nothing happens. You get in the habit of not wearing them. Then, task number 125, and a nail, staple, or other projectile ricochets towards your face.
Wear your safety glasses.
3M is a good standard brand. The model shown here is the Solus 1000 series with Scotchguard anti-fog coating, priced at $8.25 at the time of this posting.
Kleenguard’s Maverick (49309) style safety glasses are also popular, and feature a clear anti-fog coating, comfort touch points, side shields, and a “browguard.”
You could spend a little less or more, just make sure of that ANSI safety rating.
Since I’m nearsighted, I wear corrective glasses and need an OTG (over the glasses) solution, which usually means goggles.
Safety goggles are also a good idea for all users who might be working with chemicals.
You can find very inexpensive high school lab-style safety goggles that offer splash protection, but for frequent use find something more comfortable.
I recommend Dewalt’s Concealer glasses, and Uvex Flex Seal. The Uvex Flex Seal goggles are a little larger and more comfortable, and you can find them with different headband strap materials.
Hearing loss is cumulative.
Prolonged exposure to loud noises can damage your hearing. While you might not notice the minor damage right away, it adds up, and is irreversible.
In other words, hearing loss is usually gradual and permanent.
While some health consequences are unavoidable, the type of hearing loss caused by repeated prolonged exposure to loud noises is often preventable.
This is where hearing protection comes in, serving to reduce the noise level that enters your ears.
Hearing protection earmuffs are about the easiest way to protect your ears. Adjust the headband, place them over your ears, make sure you have a perfect fit, and you’re dine/
You have to clean earmuffs on occasion and replace them when they’re worn, but other than that they’re pretty east to work with.
Until recently, I was a “maximum protection” kind of person, but my preferences have switched a little bit.
I will wear earmuffs with maximum NRR (noise reduction rating) when needed, and other times I will wear smaller and lighter earmuffs with slightly lower NRR.
3M is one of the most reputable brands, and I’ve tried a couple of others with great results.
My favorites right now are the 3M X4A, which have an NRR of 27 dB, and the 3M/Peltor H10A, which has a 30 dB NRR.
What I like about the X4A is that it’s compact and light, and without too much of a noise reduction rating compromise. It’s more comfortable than the H10A, but the H10A is still a comfortable size and weight, not to mention durable.
See Also: 3M Pro via Amazon, ToolGuyd Review
Foam earplugs are a completely different approach, as they fit inside your ear canal rather than over your ears.
Although intended to be disposable, users can sometimes reuse foam earplugs if only used for short sessions and if they’re kept clean. (Again, this is not professional advice, always follow expert or manufacturer guidelines.)
The tricky thing about foam earplugs is that they require practice to be inserted properly, and you have to learn proper practices.
On occasion I will wear foam earplugs with earmuffs when I need or want a higher level of protection. One thing to keep in mind is that NRR isn’t additive, meaning earplugs with a 30 dB NRR and earmuffs with a 30 dB NRR will not provide you with 60 dB NRR.
If properly worn, using foam earplugs with earmuffs will provide stronger protection than either individual product worn alone.
With foam hearing protection earplugs, the general guidelines are to roll them between your fingertips to compress the foam, reach over your head with your opposite hand, gently pull your outer ear upwards, and insert the earplug into your ear canal.
Once inserted, gently keep the earplug in place as it expands and seals your ear canal, and check for proper positioning.
If you need help, there are plenty of videos online that show proper safety earplug insertion practices.
Reusable earplugs work in a similar manner, and can be easier to insert than foam earplugs.
Foam earplugs tend to have a higher NRR than reusable earplugs.
I tend to prefer individually wrapped foam earplugs, but sometimes larger dispenser boxes can be more economical depending on the brand.
Respirators and Dust Masks
N95 masks are in short supply these days, as priority is given to healthcare workers due to the COVID pandemic.
If there are particulates you don’t want to breath in, such as when sanding wood, paint, or drywall, you need to wear a respirator of some kind.
Disposable-type NIOSH-rated N95 masks are most common, and are available in many different styles.
For tool and work-related PPE needs, an exhalation valve tends to increase user comfort by keeping your face cooler under the mask.
There are also reusable and durable solutions where you pair replaceable filters with a common half-face or full-face mask.
N95 masks are typically one-size-fits-all. Reusable face masks are different, and typically must be fit to the user, or sizes can sometimes be approximated by measuring your facial dimensions.
You can often find reusable respirator kits at home centers or hardware stores, and can also piece-together a respirator from separate parts.
To start off, you need an appropriately-sized face mask. This is 3M’s 6000-series.
Next, you need to choose your filter, and this depends on what you’re looking to protect against.
For example, you need different protection if you’re sanding wood than if you’re spray painting.
Sometimes there might be a particulate prefilter assembly, other times the cartridges are one-piece assemblies. Shown here is 3M’s organic vapor and acid gas filter cartridge attached to a 6000-series mask.
Professional environments often have requirements when it comes to respirator use, such as to ensure proper fitment and that the user is healthy enough to wear one.
With respirators especially, consult an expert and manufacturer guidelines as to their proper use and safe practices.
Readers have recommended the GVS Elipse P100 respirator face mask in the past. I bought one for testing, but have not used it yet. it’s NIOSH-approved, and I find the design and simplicity to be highly appealing. There are two sizes – S/M and M/L – and a simple measurement chart helps to simplify the selection process.
GVS has other types of filters, as well as replacement P100 filters, although they’re a bit pricey.
In a work environment, disposable gloves help to keep your hands clean from dirt, oil, grease, and grime.
I tend to prefer Kimberly-Clark and Kleenguard nitrile gloves, and also use several styles of Microflex gloves.
Nitrile gloves are suited for general purpose work, but you will need to refer to a compatibility chart whenever you’re working with chemicals. For instance, neoprene gloves are usually recommended over nitrile gloves when working with acetone. If in doubt, consult an expert.
I tend to prefer powder-free gloves.
COVID has impacted the availability of disposable nitrile gloves, and so my typical recommendations have become difficult to find unless you shop at industrial suppliers.
Some brands are usually willing to provide samples for fit evaluation, although abuse of the system have made some brands like Microflex/Ansell very stingy.
- Kleenguard G10
- Microflex Supreno
- Microflex Midknight
What about work gloves? That’s the subject of a future guide. Generally, unless you know you need specific protective features, start out with a pair of basic work gloves and work from there. Recommendation: Mechanix Original (~$16 via Amazon)
See Also: Recommend Your Favorite Work Gloves!
What brands or products would you recommend when it comes to personal protective gear?
Do you agree or disagree with any of my recommendations?
What other core PPE categories should be included in the next revision?