When the sky fills with smog or smoke, commuters turn to masks, bandanas, and even the collars of their shirts. But there are few effective ways to protect from the tiny particles in the air. Dust masks commonly found at hardware stores keep out large particles like sawdust. They won’t protect the lungs from smoke.

Specially designed “N95” or “P100” respirators, can help. But here’s what many people don’t know:

  1. The respirator provides some protection, but only if used correctly.

  2. They aren’t designed for children

  3. They won’t work as well for people with facial hair.

  4. Tight-fitting respirators can make it harder to breathe and can make the user very hot.

“We get a lot of questions during wildfire season about masks. Long story short, we don’t recommend them,” according to the Oregon Health Authority. “Although respirators, like the N95, can protect against smoke, they must be properly fitted by a trained professional. Ultimately, we just recommend you limit your exposure to smoky air as much as possible.”

Instead, when smoke makes the air unhealthy, officials urge people to:

  • Avoid vigorous outdoor activities

  • Plan indoor playtime for children

  • Keep windows and doors closed, and turn up the air conditioning if it’s hot

  • Use a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter if you have one

  • Track the air quality in your area on the DEQ’ s air quality map