As he debuted his super hero career as an unlicensed superhero, my main character always wears a gas-mask to conceal his identity and protect himself against tear-gas from police force.

Before getting access to a gadgeteer (someone who provides him the tools and costumes he needs), he relied on a WW3 civilian gas-mask.

From what I researched, there is different kind of protection used in masks (filtering/absorption/reaction). For the sake of precision, his first mask was designed to prevent the contamination by a bio weapon/airborne virus and to protect against military gases. Hence, I guess it'd probably be a combination of filtering/absorbant methods.

The technology level is roughly the same as our own, since it takes place at the end of the 21st century (and no one made some ground-breaking progress in the field of respiratory protection until it was relevant).

I was wondering what immersion in water would do to his mask, if he needed to swim, for example?

Would the water "soak" the filters, thus rendering them inneffective? Would that prevent him to breathe, creating some kind of water-boarding experience?

I'm interested first in the effect for this mask in particular (though you are free to correct me if I misunderstood which protection is used against which threat) but the answers regarding the difference between each types are appreciated.

  • $\begingroup$ fyi, as the one answer here says - it is the filter not the mask that will have trouble underwater - take a look at the various filters used with gas masks to get an idea of the protection offered (or look up NBC, CBA, RCA rating if you really want to get into it) $\endgroup$ – LinkBerest Jan 25 '19 at 12:54
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, bit of confusion on my part when saying the mask - I do refer to the filters in the question. The frame around it should be mostly fine with immersion, that wasn't the part I was unsure about. $\endgroup$ – Nyakouai Jan 25 '19 at 13:39
  • $\begingroup$ If They are wearing a gas mask all the time they must be carrying replacement filters, in which case they can just pop in a new filter. Filter packaging is usually water tight. $\endgroup$ – John Jan 25 '19 at 14:24
  • $\begingroup$ A gas mask is not designed to be a diver's face mask. Therefore I suspect the correct question is what immersion in water would do to the superhero? Will he drown if he keeps his head underwater for a few minutes straight? I think the superhero should use a diver's mask if he is planning to swim underwater to the villain's lair or something. $\endgroup$ – M. A. Golding Jan 25 '19 at 19:35
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    $\begingroup$ It was purely about finding what happen to the filter if he falls in water, is doused in water and so forth. Not planning to use it for diving purpose. As to what happens to MC if he stays too long under water: he drowns. $\endgroup$ – Nyakouai Jan 25 '19 at 19:38

Assuming you are not talking about a rebreather or self-contained mask (like firefighters may use in heavy smoke, low oxygen environments), then the following will currently apply in all cases:

Essentially, when used in or under the water, the gas mask filter will more likely be completely destroyed. The filters of common protective masks contain membranes, whose purpose is to absorb the air in order to captures the particles and trap them.

Since this is the fact, water is going to be absorbed by these membranes, and it is going to be trapped inside the filters. The water is going to cause permanent damage to the filter, making it inefficient when it comes to absorbing and holding the particles that need to be purified.

(From allheadgear.com)

If the filters fail, one of two things can happen. Either the mask will no longer function to filter out gas, or more likely (especially while still wet) will prevent air getting through the filters making breathing impossible.

Even rebreathers or self-contained masks are going to fail eventually when submersed in water unless they are specifically designed for that purpose.

This of course is based on current gas masks, I've no idea what a WW3 civilian gas mask is made out of.

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    $\begingroup$ "This of course is based on current gas masks, I've no idea what a WW3 civilian gas mask is made out of." As a matter of fact, neither do I. Thanks for the link, it should help me greatly. $\endgroup$ – Nyakouai Jan 25 '19 at 12:18
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    $\begingroup$ Assuming relatively similar level of tech, I'd expect the same to hold for WW3 gas masks. Especially civilian ones. If anybody needs a gas mask that continues to function after swimming, it would be some sort of very specialised military force that is deployed in marine operation and has to deal with gas weapons at the same time. Perhaps in some war on a multitude of small islands or a strike force that gases coastal targets and retreats. At any rate, not common at all. $\endgroup$ – VLAZ Jan 25 '19 at 12:24
  • $\begingroup$ Since it's planned for about 50 years from now, I assume no-one bothered to developp that particular kind of mask (though I suppose new materials as in polymers and 3d printed could have potential applications in this field). Will add it to the topic. $\endgroup$ – Nyakouai Jan 25 '19 at 12:41
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    $\begingroup$ @Nyakouai not haven't bother - its not called for. For example, we currently just carry our gas masks in water proof bags (if we are scuba in) until we hit the beach or just wear them (standard beaching tactics) because the filters are all tested at 50% humidity (so we know they will last at least through the battle then we will switch them). Filters are only 80 to 100$ at max and lite - we use way more expensive stuff, way quicker, in combat and carrying an extra one is not heavy - so why develop a gas mask for underwater use? $\endgroup$ – LinkBerest Jan 25 '19 at 12:46

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