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The thinker
This article is about a concept, not a mask.
This article has been written about something that is not a specific model of mask, but a concept relating to CBRN warfare or the engineering behind gas masks.

This is just some simple tips and tricks for prospective gas mask enthusiasts, or just for anyone who owns a gas mask and wants to know how to take care of it. This is generalized so that it can be applied to any mask from the lowest of GP-5s to the mightiest of XM27s.


StorageEdit

- Keep the mask somewhere cool and dry. Never leave the mask exposed to direct sunlight.

- If your mask came with a plastic thing inside of the face form, DO NOT THROW IT OUT! It isn't just a packing tool, it's an important piece that keeps your mask from being pressed out of shape [rendering it almost completely useless even for costume use- it simply won't fit on your face anymore]. You should keep the plastic piece placed inside the mask whenever you aren't using it. As a general rule of thumb, the more often you can keep the plastic piece in, the better off you'll be.

- If your gas mask is dirty, you can clean it [though if you want it as a display piece, having it being 'genuinely dirty' with the sand and grime of a far-away nation might be desirable, in which case keep that mask dirty! (if you want)]. The best way of doing this is using warm water, a soft cloth, and some care. Getting the harness wet is something you should try to avoid- it isn't the death of the mask, but doing it repeatedly will cause issues. Using a slight amount of dish soap is also possible. It is highly recommended that nothing else be used, lest it damage the facepiece. Also, use some common sense- if your gas mask is a rare bird from WWII, it just might be a good idea to leave it slightly dirty to prevent accidental damage, for example.

Rubber Care and Maintenance Edit

Rubber is the main ingredient for most gas masks; either natural, butyl or silicone rubbers.  Increasingly, gas masks contain a mixture of rubber types to obtain certain properties such as softness and resistance to chemical warfare agent breakthrough.  Although your gas mask is designed to be tough, the rubber can deteriorate over time in a number of different failure modes.  Luckily, you can forestall this process with proper storage and maintenance.

  • Ultra Violet (UV) Exposure.  UV light is a shortwave, energetic form of light that can degrade many materials including your skin.  Most rubber formulations are vulnerable to this degradation with the minor exception of UV resistant EPDM rubber (ethylene propylene diene monomer (M-class) rubber).  Carbon black and titanium dioxide can be added to rubber formulations to protect from UV light, but add to the cost and can introduce undesirable properties to the rubber.  UV damaged rubber manifests itself first at the surface with chalkiness and mud cracking (cracks that resemble dried mud).  These flaws will extend deeper and deeper into the rubber with increased exposure.  To protect your mask collection, don't display your masks where sunlight can shine on them like near a window.  Indoors, you should try to use lamps that do not produce much UV.  Tungsten lamps would be ideal, but those are increasingly difficult to source.  Glass has a significant UV filtering capacity, so displaying your masks behind glass-fronted cabinets might be an option.  You will deal with less dust on your masks as well.
  • Ozone exposure.  Ozone is a gas made of three oxygen atoms.  It is a very reactive substance that can cause lung irritation and health problems in humans and also degrades rubber and plastics over time.  In your home, ozone is produced by electronic devices, especially computer printers.  Ozone levels are also higher in polluted air in urban areas due to vehicle NOx production and reactions with sunlight.  There are actually machines that purposely produce this irritating and destructive gas in the name of air cleaning.  They don't work all that well and fill your home with ozone radicals so best avoid those.  The ozone molecule attacks the double bonds in unsaturated rubbers. Silicone rubbers are resistant to ozone attack and butyl rubbers are somewhat resistant, however, all rubbers can degrade over time from ozone attack.  The damage manifests itself as small cracks that are often referred to as "dry rot" even though there is no biological process rotting the rubber.  The cracks are particularly noticeable when the rubber is under strain (stretched).  The best defense against ozone is to not generate it in the first place.  You may want to display your masks in a room without much electronic equipment or display them again in sealed cabinets.  Houseplants have proven to lower ozone levels in the home, so taking up gardening might be a good option.  A coating of silicone oil on the rubber will protect against ozone but will leave the mask greasy looking and collect dust easier.  Silicone-based auto dashboard treatments will work as well, but they may contain plasticisers which may discolor the rubber over time.
  • Oxygen exposure.  Regular O2 in the air can degrade rubber by simple oxidation.  Most rubber formulations resist oxidation fairly well, but some are prone to this type of deterioration.  The damage manifests itself as a discoloration that is more noticeable on lighter colored rubbers.  There is not much you can do about atmospheric oxygen other than coating the rubber with a silicone oil as mentioned above.
  • Chemical exposure.  Rubber is vulnerable to other chemicals as well.  Particularly chlorine-based compounds found in some harsh cleaning formulations.  It is best to clean your gas mask with water and a little mild dish soap to break the surface tension of the water.  Copper ions are also known to attack rubber.  These often migrate from brass fittings to the rubber around the fittings and cause the rubber to lose its elasticity and weaken.  An easy way to prevent this is to ensure the brass fittings are painted with lacquer based paint.
  • Permanent set.  This is a property of all rubbers to some extent.  It happens when the rubber is compressed or put under tension for long periods of time.  It introduces a permanent deformation into the rubber that may compromise the seal of a gas mask.  When storing a gas mask, make sure it is not crushed or deformed.  If your mask came with a plastic face form, ensure you use that when you store the mask to help it retain its shape.  When displaying a mask, you should use the face form or other human head analogs to help retain the shape as well.
  • Bloom.  Bloom is a waxy white substance that coats some rubbers when stored for long periods.  When cleaned off, it will eventually come back leaving your mask unsightly.  Bloom is usually a sign of a poor rubber formulation where excess vulcanizing materials migrate to the surface and cause the white coating.  However, some rubber formulations are engineered to produce bloom throughout the life of the rubber to help protect the rubber from attack from ozone and other chemicals.  Well, that is their story anyway.  The bloom can usually be cleaned off with soap, water, and some elbow grease.  If soap does not work, you might want to try a solvent like naphtha to get it completely off.  Remember, the bloom will most likely come back with time.

Reasons for buying a Gas Mask Edit

One thing you should ask yourself is 'Why do I want a gas mask?' This might be for a wide variety of reasons:

-Collectibility: Gas masks and respirators can make for great collection pieces, whether you value them for their rarity, historical significance, military significance, quirkiness, or just because you think they look neat. You might find that you love a certain type of gas mask, and that's A-OK. Collection isn't an art for snobs with money pouring out the ears, and you'll find that many collectors will respect you greatly if you treat whatever masks you may have with respect and show a genuine interest in them, rather than buying rare masks and leaving them to rot in a closet because you could afford to.

-'Prepping': Some may want to buy a gas mask because they feel that they may one day need to use it to protect themselves and their families from CBRN [Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear] Warfare. This is fair, but to all those who want a mask for this reason, be warned- protection is not as simple as buying a surplus mask and keeping it around. The mask should seal properly, must not be defective either by design or age and should ideally include a hydration tube and voice diaphragm. Even if you have a working mask such as the K-1 [and have tested it to make sure there are no leaks], this is far from the end of it. You'll need an up to date filter such as a C2a1, and you should know that many if not most chemical biological threats require not only a gas mask but also a full chemical suit and that this suit must also be current and unexpired. Beyond that, you'll probably need decontaminating units, antidotes, and other resources which cost money and require special training. Speaking of training, even the most comprehensive and cutting-edge protective equipment won't save you if you don't know how to use it. Make sure you know your equipment and that you are comfortable using it.

-Fetish: Some people have a sexual fetish for gas masks. I don't judge. Just make sure that you're safe when doing whatever you may be doing.

-Smoking: Ah yes, the gas mask bong. Bad idea. It doesn't make you any higher than just a simple bong, things can go wrong easier, and you'll be destroying a gas mask. Just stick with bongs or water pipes or whatever tickles your fancy. While I'm at it, some people may be tempted to use a gas mask for a beer bong after seeing a certain photo. Also a bad idea. You will get beer in your eyes, your beer will get face oil and skin flakes in it... just stick with a regular beer bong. It'll be cheaper, easier, and better.

-Cosplay: Nearly every video game in a post-apocalyptic setting will involve "bad" guys wearing gas masks. Sometimes these are based on real-world gas masks and sometimes just masks that only exist in the creative mind of the game designer. Either way, a gas mask can be used as part of a costume. Sometimes the mask will require modification to simulate the mask seen in a game. Hoses seem very popular--even on gas masks that do not require hoses for proper operation. Use of masks available on the secondary market is all in good fun, but be aware that some mask filters can contain asbestos and chromium VI--known carcinogens so it is best to leave the filter out of your costume.

Buying your first Gas MaskEdit

Alright, so you want a gas mask. Where can you get one? Well, that depends on the mask.

'Ebay': Ebay is great for all kinds of masks. Just keep checking, and all kinds of masks will pop up over time. Do your best to research gas masks you're interested in so that you'll know the ins and outs of the mask [and what a reasonable price is] before committing yourself to a buy. Be wary of people who don't know what gas mask they're selling or misidentified gas masks. It's almost always obvious to the informed collector, but be informed. Ask plenty of questions and ask for more pictures- chances are that because the seller either doesn't know about their mask or is hoping to rip off uninformed buyers.

Surplus Stores': Brick-and-mortar surplus stores can be great places to buy gas masks. They can also be terrible places to buy gas masks. Go to the surplus store and see what masks they have- do not buy any yet. Take a notepad with you if you want to write down model names and such. If the seller lets you, take pictures so you can post them online to ask the community about it. Some surplus stores are ripe with ignorance, which can lead to unpleasant purchasing experiences. Do your research- is that gas mask really from WWII? How much is it worth? Does the mask have fatal flaws? Perhaps one of the ones that might concern you the most: Is it illegal to buy? The answer to the last one is: Probably not. Gas masks can be sold as surplus and most are all the time. There are, however, some important conditions you should know about. This is explained more in-depth later.

'Etsy': Etsy is rather hit-and-miss. Many masks have been altered and rendered useless, but there are a few knowledgeable sellers that can be good to work with.

'Gun shows': These might be a good place to get recent military gas masks. The question of legality, however, applies here.

'Gum Tree' : If you're in the UK, then Gum Tree is likely a good choice, they have quite a large selection from various sellers, often at decent prices. But be aware of people that ask you to pay via Western Union, UKash or similar money transfer, when possible use a payment processor like Paypal - That way if you get a problem, you can get a refund more easily

Alright, so we've mentioned repeatedly in bold things like 'RESTRICTIONS' and 'ILLEGAL'. Don't panic! There are some restrictions on gas masks that you should know of, however. The M50 military gas mask is problematic for a few reasons. These masks are brand new to the military, so the chances of finding one that is legitimate to surplus is, at the time of writing, next to none. This means that most if not all military M50s are stolen government property. This doesn't mean you won't see them for sale. There are civilian models and models which are basically identical to the military issue that aren't restricted. If you've bought an M50 you think might have been illegally resold [stolen], don't panic. Nobody is likely to kick down your door. There have been rumors floating around of DoD emails ominously demanding the surrender of the gas mask to your local police department, but I doubt it. Just keep in mind that buying a mask that you know is stolen is just asking for trouble.

Now, on to restrictions. ITAR regulates international arms trade. This includes gas masks. What it basically boils down to is this: M40s and M50s cannot be shipped out of the country [legally]. If you manage it, it's because you basically lucked out and sneaked (yes, that is the past tense of sneak) it through customs without it getting searched. If you've done this and didn't know it was restricted, it's okay. Just avoid doing it again, because chances are you'll get the box returned to you with a little customs notice and end up with a dispute with your buyer. The reason for this is that M40s and M50s are current military issue, and the US gov't. doesn't like it when military gear is sold abroad. M17s, M9s, and all the other ones are A-okay to sell internationally, as they aren't current military issue. As far as I know, the importation of gas masks is fine- the government is only concerned about its military equipment.

Choosing the correct sizeEdit

When buying a mask, you must keep in mind that Gas Masks are not 'one size fits all', Most masks are designed to fit a certain person's head size.


Below is a list of measurements to help you choose the correct sized masks for your head

This table is for: Russian PBF, Russian GP-5 and other 'eastern block' full head masks


Mask Size Head Size (cm)
0

XS (60-63)

1 Small (63-65)
2 Medium (66-68)
3 Large (68-70)
4 XL (Over 71)


Head sizing

This is how you should measure your head size when choosing a 'helmet' or full head mask


Service to the CommunityEdit

This is a late addition to this page. I (that is the wiki's administrative staff) would like to extend the opportunity to pose your collection related questions to the community at large.

If you'd like to share your experience or ask a question, take a look at our collector's corner