Cans of polyurethane state a number (250, 350, etc) of Volatile Organic Compound (VOC).

When sanding wood, a NIOSH N95 is required to safely avoid inhaling the small particles, but..

Does a NIOSH N95 stop VOCs? I am guessing that the airborne molecules are far smaller than the 0.3 micron size that such a mask is meant to prevent. Can you confirm that this guess is accurate? Are there other masks that will catch the VOCs, or is keeping the area well ventilated the best that one can do?

  • amazon.com // search "VOC mask" // read the specs Nov 14, 2016 at 18:37
  • I see. So P95 (in contrast to N95) is the keyword. But why the vote-down?
    – Calaf
    Nov 14, 2016 at 19:29
  • 1
    You'll get better results searching for 'organic vapor' mask. In your context, 95 vs 100 doesn't matter.
    – User95050
    Nov 14, 2016 at 20:29
  • vote down because the answer is so easily found it's not a question worth posting. Nov 14, 2016 at 20:31
  • 3
    Respectfully disagree with the vote down. I wasn't born knowing about OV masks.
    – User95050
    Nov 15, 2016 at 20:20

1 Answer 1


Yes, their are things that help with polyurethane fumes, masks with volatile organic vapor cartridges, usually activated charcoal.

VOCs are not particles of "stuff" so a particulate filter (N95, P95, Etc) does not help with them. This means a typical size in microns is also irrelevant because you are dealing with molecular size when it comes to vapors.

The particulate filters help with solids like dust and dirt, but not vapors.

Organic vapor cartridges absorb the vapors in the cartridge like a sponge absorbs water. A sponge does not clog like a filter but gets saturated. An organic cartridge also gets saturated by vapors and eventually needs replaced; but not because it is clogged.

You use a pre-filter with organic vapor cartridges to capture the particulates (solids) before the vapor cartridge.

I use a 3M half face mask with a 3M organic vapor cartriges and P95 prefilters for things with VOC's. I can spray cabinets with laquer (lots of VOCs) inside and not smell a bit of the fumes where my wife walks in and almost gets knocked over by them. Since paint has VOCs we also use the same organic cartridges when spraying the interior of a house.

The mask can also take particulate filters so we use those as well when in really dusty environments for prolonged periods of time such as during demo during a remodel. Remodel dust does not have any dangerous vapors (they have already vaporized) so we do not need the bulkiness of the organic cartridges.

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