When Should You Wear A Respirator Mask

A common question I often see new urban explorers ask is, when should they wear a respirator mask?

This is honestly a really good question and it’s something that is important for every urban explorer to know.

The abandoned buildings we explore can potentially be full of dangers we don’t often expect. One of the most overlooked dangers of urban exploration is exposure to harmful elements that can be inhaled into your lungs. Which can cause you health problems.

Wearing a respirator mask is definitely something you as an urban explorer should do. It’s true you don’t always need to wear one. But when exactly should you wear one?

You should wear your respirator mask when you come across potentially dangerous elements such as asbestos, mold, animal dung, lead, standing water, etc….

I personally wear mine when I’m exploring really old buildings. If it’s a building that looks to be in bad condition and I know was built before the 1980s, I wear my mask. No exceptions.

I don’t care how hot or humid the weather is that day, I’d rather have a hot and sweaty face than potentially put my health at risk. If you’re wondering, yes, there is a reason I wear a mask when exploring old buildings. Especially those built before the 80s. I’ll explain why in a bit.

Below I’ll show you photos of common elements that are a hazard to your health. Just so you know what they look like. If you one day come across any of these while exploring, put your mask on.




mold on walls
Black mold all over the walls

Mold is a toxic substance that thrives in damp and dark locations. It’s also a pretty common element that is present in abandoned buildings.

Especially buildings that are badly damaged and have open windows, doors, or ceilings where water can get in and lead to mold growth on exposed surfaces.

Most experienced urban explorers are well aware of the dangers of mold which is why you often see them carrying a respirator mask for mold to stay safe.

Mold spores outbreak on walls

Some health effects of mold include:

  • Chest and nasal congestion
  • Coughing, sneezing, wheezing,
  • Sore throat
  • Watery/dry eyes
  • Skin irritation
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue

You may not know it but you might have a sensitivity to mold. Simply inhaling or even touching it can cause an allergic reaction. This is not something you want happening to you while you’re inside an abandoned building.

Black mold spreading out

Mold isn’t something you want to mess with. If you come across it, walk out of the room you’re in and put your breathing mask for mold on!




All that white stuff on and around the battery is asbestos

I wrote an entire article not too long ago on how to identify and protect yourself from asbestos when urban exploring. In the article, I go into detail on what asbestos is, how it looks, where it’s found, and how to protect yourself from it. I suggest you read it after you’re done reading this post.

As you probably already know, asbestos is the most dangerous element in abandoned buildings. It’s the main reason urban explorers wear respirator masks.

Exposure to asbestos can lead to serious health problems. Lung cancer is one of them.

Asbestos is commonly found wrapped around pipes

If you remember at the beginning of this post I mentioned I wear my respirator mask when exploring buildings built before the 1980s.

The reason I do that is because buildings that were built before the 80s have a higher chance of containing asbestos.

Asbestos was a really popular building material used in the construction of buildings in the ’80s and the decades before it.

As a personal rule of thumb, if I’m exploring a building that’s old and looks to be in bad condition, my respirator mask goes on. No exceptions.

Asbestos is a particularly dangerous element since you can’t really see it unless it’s bunched up.

Ceiling with sprayed on asbestos
All that white stuff on the ceiling is sprayed on asbestos

It can be found in just about any part of a building. It breaks up into tiny microscopic particles that can easily be swept up by the wind and be inhaled into your lungs.

In the article I linked above, there are more photos and examples of asbestos. Do yourself a favor and read it.



Dried Animal Poop

Rat droppings, commonly found in abandoned buildings

That’s right, animal sh*t.

Depending on where in the world you live, the abandoned buildings you’re exploring can be full of rats, bats, or pigeons. All of which use the building as their personal toilet.

The dried poop or urine from these animals can carry or grow certain fungi or diseases that can be hazardous to your health if inhaled.

Rat poop, for example, can carry a disease called ‘Hantavirus’. Which can cause you serious respiratory problems.

Fatigue, fever, and muscle aches are some symptoms of Hantavirus. Simply inhaling the dried rat poop puts you at risk of contracting the virus.

You can read more about the dangers of rat droppings here.


Pigeon/Bat poop, on the other hand, carries its own dangers. Bird poop is prone to growing certain disease organisms (fungus) when it dries up.

Pigeon poop

Histoplasmosis is one such disease that results from the growth of fungus in dried pigeon/bat poop. Some symptoms of Histoplasmosis include fever, chills, headaches, chest discomfort, cough, plus more. You can read more about the dangers of bird poop here.

Dried animal poop is not something to be overlooked. It’s present in lots of abandoned buildings and can be a serious health hazard.

If you come across a location that’s full of animal dung, put your mask on.



Stripped Paint on Old Buildings

Paint from old buildings can contain lead

Another reason I personally wear my respirator mask when exploring buildings built before the 80s is that the paint used in those days contained lead.

Dried paint from old buildings can possibly be full of lead. If you happen to inhale it in large quantities, it can cause lead poisoning.

If you didn’t know lead is a highly toxic metal that may cause a range of health problems. When it is absorbed into the body, it can possibly cause damage to the brain and other vital organs.

The paint on old abandoned buildings deteriorates and strips away from the walls and ceilings. Which can cause the lead in the paint to drop to the floor and mix in with dust.

Lead paint flaking away from the ceiling

When you go walking around a building and accidentally kick up dust, you may unknowingly be inhaling that dust/lead mix which can be dangerous.

Some symptoms of lead poisoning include headaches, stomachache, nausea, tiredness, and irritability.  You can read more about the dangers of lead-based paint here.

If you come across a really old building that has paint falling off the walls or ceilings, you may want to put your mask on.



Stagnant Water

Stagnant dirty water

Stagnant water is water that sits in place for days or even weeks.

Standing water can be contaminated and filled with parasites, bacteria, and even mold. All of which pose a serious health risk to you.

Walls or furniture that are close to the standing water can grow mold due to the moisture from the water.

Standing water also attracts insects such as roaches and mosquitos, and even rats. You already know why rats are especially dangerous. So you want to make sure to avoid places with standing water. Because there are most likely rats around or nearby.

Sewage water

Another issue with standing water is that it often smells really bad. To give you an idea of the smell, contaminated standing water smells like rotten eggs. If the water contains sewage it will smell 10x worse.

All of which can give you headaches and make you nauseous. If you’re especially sensitive to bad smells, you may even vomit.

Avoid stagnant water if you can.


When Else Should You Wear Your Mask?

You should also wear your mask when you’re exploring drains or sewers. These places can contain gases or vapors that are especially dangerous to inhale. Toxic waste is usually present in these places so it’s a good idea to wear a mask.

There will be times when you’re inside an abandoned building exploring, and you may not notice that asbestos or mold is present in the room. You can’t always spot these things. Especially in the dark.

What you should do is pay attention to your breathing. If you notice that you’re having a hard time breathing or that you’re feeling lightheaded or dizzy. That may mean you’re in an area that is likely contaminated with something hazardous.

Back out of the room and put your mask on or avoid that area of the building.



Now that you know the many dangers abandoned buildings can hold, are you sure you want to go exploring without a respirator mask?

If you don’t yet have a mask, get one ASAP. If you’re going to take urban exploration seriously, you’re going to need one.

If you don’t know anything about respirators or don’t know which one to get. I wrote an article that can help you.

In the article, I list the best respirator masks for urban exploration. All masks on the list are good choices if you’re looking for a respirator for mold and asbestos. Go read that article and consider purchasing a respirator. They’re inexpensive and can save your lungs in the long run.

You don’t want to end up like this guy from the UER forum who nearly died because he didn’t wear a respirator mask in his 20+ years of urban exploring.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Urbex is not an easy or safe hobby to have. Danger lurks in every corner of an abandoned building.

Even though it’s a dangerous hobby, there are ways you can stay safe. One of those ways to stay out of danger is to simply wear your mask.

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