Smart Hazmat Suit Buyer’s Guide

Hazmat suit man
June 15, 2022  
|  14 Comments
Categories: Gear Curious

It’s one of the only suits that can save your life. A modern hazmat suit is instantly recognizable thanks to their bright coloring and unique construction. They’re offered in a variety of classifications and used every day by professionals working around everything from asbestos to Zika. Their practical necessity is obvious, after all.

Although gas masks and respirators can ensure we’re breathing safe air, we must also protect the rest of our bodies from airborne contaminants, biological threats, and even particulate radiation. That’s where a reliable hazmat suit comes in.

Hazmat Suit

Hazmat suits work by creating a barrier between your body and the outside world, so you can be confident you’re protected as long as the suit isn’t punctured.

With the right hazmat suit and PPE (personal protective equipment), you can safely navigate some of the harshest environments on earth. That makes a reliable hazmat suit an absolute necessity in the event of an unexpected disaster, attack, or nuclear incident. So today, we’re going to look at what you need to know about hazmat suits. Everything from their safety classifications to which suits are popular, how to use them and what to expect—we’re going to cover it all.

Hazmat suits getting cleaned

So let’s get started with a quick look at where hazmat suits come from and how to use them…

HAZMAT SUITS 101

The history of hazmat suits and protective garments stretches all the way back to World War I and beyond. Their use and history closely parallel the history of gas masks and respirators. Hazmat suits became much more prominent in the face of World War I’s chemical warfare, which ushered in a century that saw their rapid evolution into practical PPE. In 1994, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) was established as the governing body for American hazmat standards, and the quality of consumer hazmat suits rapidly improved.

 
3 people in hazmat suits

(Image source: US Department of Defense)

Today’s standards are easy to understand and well-established (as we’ll cover in Levels of Hazmat Protection).

The industry has grown massively in the post-9/11 era, as local police and civil defense professionals suddenly find themselves serving as the first line of defense against a potential terrorist threat.

FAQ

What’s the difference between a hazmat suit and a radiation suit?

“Radiation Suit” is more of a marketing term than anything else. Alpha particles can be blocked by a thin sheet of paper, but other types of radiation will permeate everything except ultra-thick concrete barriers. The only thing that can really stop radiation is time, distance, and shielding. That said, hazmat suits make it easier to decontaminate and manage overall exposure.

What are hazmat suits made out of?

Hazmat suits are made from a variety of materials (mostly synthetic) that act as proven chemical/biological barriers. Since these materials are exhaustively tested, manufacturers know the exact amount of protection a suit provides, and they provide that information on a data sheet along with the suit.

How long will my hazmat suit last?

All hazmat suits have different shelf lives. A suit can be exposed to certain agents and be reused, while exposure to others, such as CBRN agents, requires disposal. If you’re a professional hazmat specialist, you know which agents can be decontaminated for reuse and which can’t. For everyone else, it’s generally recommended that you dispose of a used suit as you must be trained in proper decontamination techniques to allow for safe reuse.

What’s it like to wear a hazmat suit?

Hot! And dehydrating. Remember, the purpose of an impermeable hazmat suit is not to breathe, so it’s effectively like wearing a greenhouse. You’ll almost always be a few degrees hotter or colder than your outside environment, so expect to fatigue fast. Professionals generally limit the time they work in hazmat gear to two hours or less. Taking breaks as often as possible is a great idea and having a gas mask with a built-in hydration system (like the CM-6M or CM-7M) can be an absolute lifesaver. A cooling vest is another upgrade that costs just a few dollars but provides a world of relief if you’re stuck in a suit for hours. On the other hand, permeable suits like MOPP suits can allow for much greater mobility, flexibility, and breathability.

What about surplus suits?

Surplus suits have an appealing price point, but you probably shouldn’t trust your life to them. While they might look like a more rugged military-grade alternative, it’s impossible to know what you’re getting, how it’s been stored, and what to expect in case of emergency. Today’s consumer suits can be just as good (if not far better) than outdated military gear.

The latest generations of military CBRN/hazmat suits are definitely impressive. But aside from the MIRA Safety MOPP Suit, few will be made available to the public at a reasonable price anytime soon.

Can my hazmat suit be repaired?

If at all possible, damaged suits should be replaced instead of repaired. In the event of an emergency, chemtape can be used to seal potential leaks. It’s important to realize that these types of repairs are temporary and may restrict range of movement. We do not recommend making these types of repairs in the field unless you’re an experienced professional.

What is the maintenance/cleaning like on a hazmat suit?

Minimal, store and forget maintenance. Hazmat suits are specifically designed to be one-use, disposable items since they require a decontamination expert to sanitize them for further use. Permeable MOPP suits can be washed after use but should be disposed of after exposure.

LEVELS OF HAZMAT PROTECTION

Like we already covered in this guide to gas masks and gas mask filters, PPE is never a one size fits all solution. Hazmat suits are specialized equipment, engineered to defeat specific threats and provide varying levels of protection in a variety of hazardous environments.

Hazmat suit

For example, a suit that’s designed to provide puncture-proof protection from biological contaminants could rupture or even melt in the excessive heat of a home or forest fire.

You could buy a suit that offers the highest level of protection from the greatest variety of threats, but that suit may be prohibitively heavy, highly restrictive to mobility, and hard to communicate from within. If you’re planning on bugging out in an emergency, you’ll probably want a lighter and slightly more specialized suit.

Single man in hazmat suit

So, it’s not just about the type of protection a hazmat suit offers—but the level of protection you’ll need to suit your situation.

You do NOT just want to buy the most expensive hazmat suit you can afford—that suit may ultimately be far less useful than something sold at a fraction of the price.

PRO TIP:

European hazmat standards differ from American but are extremely similar. So, Level A protection by American standards is roughly equivalent to Level 1 by European standards, Level B equals Level 2 and so on.

MAXIMUM PROTECTION, MINIMUM MOBILITY (Level A)

Level A hazmat suits offer the highest level of protection for the skin, eyes, and respiratory system. They often include built-in failsafes, multiple layers of protection, and a massive, boxy silhouette that makes the wearer appear barely human.

Level A suit

(Image source: ADCO Services, Inc.)

In order for a suit to qualify as Level A protection, it must include a fully enclosed Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA).

We don’t talk about SCBAs much here at MIRA Safety, because they’re a highly specialized type of PPE that the vast majority of users never even need to think about. Much like SCUBA (Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus) divers, SCBA wearers carry full-sized air tanks on their backs, breathing from a dedicated air source to ensure complete and total protection from airborne contaminants. There are a few other key requirements of Level A protection, like a two-way radio—it’s practically impossible to communicate without one—chemical-resistant gloves and steel-toed boots, but these same requirements are maintained at lower levels of protection.

The upside of Level A hazmat suits is that they provide uncompromising protection. Even the SCBA rig is enclosed within the suit, so you’re not interacting with anything from the outside environment and you’re completely protected. So, if you’re working within a limited area (within a single office or work area) and you’re dealing with an unknown threat or something that requires you to take zero risks—contagious and deadly disease or the aftermath of a terrorist attack—then Level A Protection is the only practical choice.

Level A protection is also necessary when oxygen levels are depleted because typical gas masks and full-face respirators require a substantial amount of oxygen in the environment to function. But Level A protection also comes with a serious downside…

Namely, those heavy tanks only last an hour or two before they’re depleted, whereas a filter weighs just a few ounces and provides serviceable protection for 12-24 hours. In other words, you’re not bugging out while wearing Level A protection. You’re not even making it down the block in under five minutes without breaking a heavy sweat. Because most civilians and law enforcement professionals will never need this level of truly uncompromising protection, Level A is not a great choice. That’s great news for you, since these suits can be outrageously expensive (for obvious reasons).

PROFESSIONAL GRADE (Level B)

Level B is practically a carbon copy of Level A—except the SCBA doesn’t have to be fully enclosed by the suit.

That is, in most cases, an extremely minor compromise that vastly improves the suit’s mobility. Level B hazmat suits bear a much greater resemblance to what we traditionally think of as a hazmat suit, without the bulging, inflated back and oversized headcovers found on most Level A suits.

Level B Suit

(Image source: The National Interest)

 

Instead, the CBRN suit stops at the edges of the face, and the external SCBA respirator is worn over the top. This provides slightly less skin/eye protection without compromising on respiratory protection, making it perfect for any task performed in the presence of known toxic gases.

Level B suits still require the use of gloves, steel-toed boots, and enough ChemTape to ensure a reliable seal around all of its edges.

Of course, since Level B suits use SCBA protection, you might think they are still overkill for the average citizen or law enforcement professional. But that’s not quite true…

You see, Level A protection integrates the SCBA into the suit itself, so you can’t use one without the other. But with Level B, you can easily swap out the SCBA for a full-face gas mask. That allows you to combine the superior protection of a Level B suit with the superior mobility and practicality of a gas mask and filter setup.

Using a Level B suit with a trusted CBRN mask and filter is arguably the ideal setup for the majority of buyers.

Hazmat suit guy in front of car

That’s because manufacturers take much greater care when working with the restrictive Level B standards than they typically do with the relaxed Level C standards. Superior materials, puncture-proof construction and a host of other benefits are found at Level B but not at the lower levels. Level B suits provide longer protection against a wider range of CBRN threats.

Level B suits are certainly more expensive than Level C suits, but you can still find a good suit for half the price of a gas mask—and it will be worth every penny.

WORKING MAN’S PROTECTION (Level C)

Level C suits are primarily designed for working around hazardous materials where the risk of direct contact is minimal and the level of airborne contaminants is at or below OSHA-compliant levels.

Level C suits are cheaper, easier to manufacture and wear, and they provide crucial everyday protection from splashes and spills that could cause painful chemical burns and other injuries.

Level C suit

(Image source: US National Guard)

These suits provide no reliable protection from chemical vapors and gases, and their use requires the inclusion of a hard hat, two-way radio, and full-face respirator. Level C suits are notably NOT allowed for use in chemical emergency response by OSHA.

However, a Level C suit is absolutely better than nothing. They can provide a few crucial hours of protection against a narrow range of common threats. More protection is usually better, but if you know exactly what you’re dealing with (like on a worksite), then Level C suits are just fine.

Level C suits can also be a practical backup in case your primary suit is damaged, lost, or outlives its serviceable life. But if you’re facing unknown danger, it’s generally better to opt for the higher Level B protection.

MORE EFFECTIVE THAN YOU THINK (Level D)

That leaves us with the lowest level of recognized hazmat protection: Level D.

Level D entails a pair of coveralls, steel-toed boots, goggles/glasses, and gloves. That’s it. No hazmat suit to speak of. But if there’s no suit…then why is Level D even recognized?

Because it saves lives every single day, that’s why. Wearing something as simple as a comfortable pair of coveralls with good gloves, tough boots, and a hard hat prevents countless injuries and fatalities.

So while we’ll continue to focus on hazmat suits and how they work, it’s important to note that other, more practical PPE can just as easily save your life.

EUROPEAN STANDARDS

As mentioned above, the European standards closely mirror American standards. But, this is for those who want/need to see European standards in greater detail:

Type 1: Protects against liquid/gaseous chemicals (gas-tight, EN 943 Pt. 1)

Type 2: Protects against liquid/gaseous chemicals (NON-gas-tight EN 943 Pt. 1)

Type 3: Protects against liquid chemicals for limited periods (Liquid Jet tight EN 14605)

Type 4: Protects against liquid chemicals for limited periods (Liquid saturation tight EN 14605)

Type 5: Protects against airborne dry particulates ONLY for a limited time (EN ISO 13982-1)

Type 6: Protects against a light spray of liquid chemicals (EN 13034)

PRACTICAL CONSIDERATIONS BEYOND PROTECTION

By their very nature, most hazmat suits are impermeable.

This prevents any potential exposure to harmful contaminants—but it also prevents ventilation. It means the inside of the suit can be several degrees warmer than the outside environment, and thus it can potentially limit your mobility along with your overall effectiveness.

In the vast majority of cases, it’s an easy trade-off considering the level of protection a hazmat suit provides. But it will inevitably impact your performance in the field, so it’s something you should always be conscious of.

Based on military standards, we’ve assembled a basic table with some of the logistics for wearing your hazmat suit in the field. Take a look, and make sure to prepare accordingly:

Military standards for hazmat suits

It’s important to note that the “new generation” of hazmat suits include a few suits that are selectively permeable. That means advanced materials and construction allow them to retain some airflow while still blocking out a universe of harmful threats. That means getting the same level of performance with far less compromise.

The US Army’s MOPP Gear includes one of these selectively permeable suits, and MIRA Safety will soon be launching a comparable model.

TOP 3 HAZMAT SUIT CHOICES IN 2022

Now that we’ve got an idea of how hazmat suits work and how the different safety standards apply, how do you pick the right suit for your situation?

Yellow hazmat suit

Fortunately, even though there’s no one size fits all solution for hazmat suits, there’s a handful of popular choices that are perfect for the vast majority of our readers. These three suits cover most of the bases and can even be used together as part of a comprehensive PPE system.

Of course, we start with our favorite suit…

Option #1

MIRA SAFETY HAZ-SUIT CBRN HAZMAT SUIT

Working in conjunction with Kappler, one of the top names in the industry, we’ve created a practical hazmat suit that provides unmatched quality, value, and potentially life-saving reliability.

An example of a level B hazmat suit is the MIRA Safety Haz-Suit. It is rated at Level B when worn with SCBA gear; when worn with a standard air-purifying respirator it is considered Level C. Mira’s HAZ-SUIT is available in sizes for children and adults. Keep in mind those ratings assume that the protected individual is also utilizing appropriate gloves, tape, and boots to resist airborne contaminants, radiation, and other CBRN threats.

This suit is designed to protect you from practically everything including sarin, VX, mustard gas, and a variety of other gases and acids. It can also prevent contact with radioactive particulates in the event of nuclear fallout.

MIRA Suit

(Image source: US National Guard)

Made from the same tough fabric used in military suits, our HAZ-SUIT is proven stronger than the competition, with a higher “grab tensile strength.” This essentially means it can take more abuse without puncturing and exposing you to potentially lethal contaminants.

MIRA Hazmat suit mask

The HAZ-SUIT comes with Velcro fasteners for practical reusability, and they lack the booties found on many other suits (these booties are often a weak point for those wearing boots, and any puncture can be dangerous).

Perhaps most importantly, our HAZ-SUIT is a biohazard suit made in a variety of sizes. That means there’s a perfect fit for every member of the family—even hard-to-find children/young adult sizes.

Our HAZ-SUIT is compatible with all our respirators and filters to give you a reliable, high-value PPE solution for everything from toxic spills, nuclear/biological incidents, and terrorist attacks.

Each HAZ-SUIT is hand-stitched here in the United States, not outsourced to China like many competitors. They have a shelf life of at least 20 years and are heat-sealed at the seams for superior protection from airborne vapors and gases. Feel free to shop around, but no other hazmat suit on the market today can really match the quality or value of our HAZ-SUIT, dollar for dollar.

Feel free to shop around, but no other hazmat suit on the market today can really match the quality or value of our HAZ-SUIT, dollar for dollar.

Option #2

DUPONT TYCHEM F SUIT

Dupont’s Tychem F Suits are a popular choice for industrial users and bulk buyers thanks to their solid construction and relatively budget-friendly price point.

These suits are lightweight, affordable, and proven to protect against a variety of everyday chemicals and biological threats. Tyvek suits filter out particles down to 1 micron making them perfect for work in lead or asbestos abatement.

DUPONT TYCHEM F SUIT

(Image source: Du Pont De Nemours and Company)

 

DuPont’s Tyvek suits feature elastic waistbands, integrated booties, and an attached hood—each making it even easier and more practical as a recommendation. Far and away the coolest feature of these suits; however, is their ability to breathe, thanks to Tychem F’s unique construction. That makes them viable for all-day work in hot environments where adverse exposure is limited. The downside, as you may have guessed, is the suit’s limited protection … This is NOT a solution for CBRN exposure. It’s not puncture-resistant and it doesn’t handle tearing force well (see the chart below)

SUIT TYPE TEAR RESISTANCE (N)
MIRA Safety HAZ-SUIT  74-98
Tychem F Suit  36
OneSuit Flash 2  49

 

It’s even limited in terms of splash protection and is recommended primarily for use around dry contaminants. Instead of Velcro fasteners, it uses one-time adhesive strips. It’s not the most practical choice either, since these suits are only available in cases of six and cost $50 per suit. Ultimately, you’re looking at a $300 investment in suits that are effectively only good for one-time use. What’s more; they’re also not available in smaller sizes to fit younger family members.

So, it goes without saying that a Tyvek suit won’t be sufficient in a major disaster or nuclear meltdown. But for a few dollars, you can’t beat their level of everyday protection. They are also a practical backup suit, thanks to that low price.

Option #3

M4 CBRN PONCHO

The MIRA Safety M4 CBRN Poncho isn’t a replacement for your hazmat suit, but instead an outstanding, field-ready upgrade.

Designed to be worn in conjunction with permeable hazmat suits or MOPP gear, the M4 CBRN poncho provides an added layer of protection from dangerous precipitation and other contaminants that could potentially eat into your rucksack or other equipment.

M4 CBRN Poncho

The key is its all-new polyamide construction, originally developed by the Serbian military and currently deployed in the field.

The material is weatherproof like a normal military raincoat poncho, providing hours of reliable protection in temperatures as low as -30ºC or as high as 50ºC.

Puncture-resistant and designed to be reused, this military-grade poncho is ideal for regular duty use, camping, or hiking.

Weighing in at just under 1.5lbs and compact enough to fit into even the smallest of bug-out bags, the M4 CBRN Poncho is an outstanding protective garment that can provide you with much-needed options in the event of chemical, biological or nuclear disaster.

IT’S ALL ABOUT BREAKTHROUGH

At the simplest level, a hazmat suit is a physical barrier between your skin and the dangerous threats in your outside environment.

As long as the hazmat suit can stay intact, it can provide a reliable level of protection. But if it’s exposed to corrosive or caustic agents, your suit (like anything else) will begin to break down. At that point, it’s only a matter of time before you’ll be exposed.

That’s why it’s crucial to know which threats you’ll be facing. Because then, you’ll have a better idea of exactly how long your own suit can last. What’s more, it’s important to understand the basic standards to which your suit was tested.

For example, a particular hazmat suit may have been tested to meet a minimum of 20 minutes of exposure to a certain threat. But just because it lasts a minimum of 20 minutes doesn’t mean it couldn’t last an hour or two or even longer.

These are key factors to consider when it comes to getting the absolute most out of your hazmat suit.

ADDITIONAL ACCESSORIES AND CONSIDERATIONS

As mentioned above, most levels of hazmat protection assume the need for a two-way radio to ensure safe and clear communication between members of your party. Likewise when it comes to things like reliable gloves and steel-toed boots.

Hazmat suit being put on

(Image source: Air Force Global Strike Command)

 
  • Heavy-duty Butyl HAZ-GLOVES are an absolute must. Butyl rubber provides superior protection while still giving you the flexibility you need to manipulate objects and navigate your way to safety. The MIRA Safety HAZ-GLOVES are 32-mil thick, which is 129% thicker than US military standards, with a cotton liner to ensure comfort and grip.

MIRA Gloves

  • MDG-1 Decontamination Gloves are your first line of defense in the event of accidental exposure. Using a non-toxic formulation that immediately contains or neutralizes a wide range of CBRN threats, these decontamination gloves are lightweight, easy to deploy, and ideal for instantly minimizing exposure. Just rub the exposed area for proven 90% decontamination efficiency against common threats, including everything from VX to caustic mustard gas.

MDG1 Gloves
Other accessories include:

  • Cooling vests for easy long-term use
  • Lights for finding your way through difficult environments
  • Appropriate footwear for the environment you will navigate
  • Gas-tight fittings on your safety gloves and socks

Each of these considerations may seem trivial on its own, but they truly add up in the bigger picture. A few dollars for a light here, a few more for a cooling vest there, and you have a far more robust solution for long-term survival.

A CRUCIAL PART OF A LARGER SYSTEM

Your skin is your body’s largest and fastest-growing organ—which is why finding the right hazmat suit is important.

But your hazmat suit is also part of a larger PPE system. And PPE is only as good as its weakest link. So, finding the right hazmat suit is only the first step.

Gunman in suit

The next is to stock up on reliable chemical-resistant tape (Kappler Chemtape works great) to seal up the seams of your suit and repair any damage it may sustain. Next, you’ll need butyl gloves. When it comes to footwear, you can get over boots to fit over leather work boots and protect yourself from CBRN threats.

That may sound like a tall order if you’re just starting out, but remember that you’re basically trading an afternoon of shopping for up to ten or twenty years of protection from life-threatening disasters, nuclear threats, and terrorist attacks. Once you’ve got those key details worked out, the right hazmat suit can be surprisingly comfortable and flexible. They’re warm by nature, but that’s a small price to pay for full-spectrum protection from a wide array of chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear threats. As stated above, we carry a Level B suit alongside proven masks and filters because we believe those are the elements of an ideal PPE setup for most buyers today. Extra suits for backup never hurt, even if all you can comfortably afford is Level C protection.

If you’re looking to take your knowledge and preparation to the next level, you can take a hazardous materials course to get expert insight into the different threats posed by biological, chemical, and nuclear contaminants—and how to overcome them.

Until then, stay safe, and stay prepared!

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Breach-Bang-Clear Staff

Breach-Bang-Clear Staff

About the Author

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