Comparison of Mask Standards, Ratings, and Filtration Effectiveness

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Mask Standards, Ratings, and Filtration Effectiveness explained

Mask standards can be confusing: N95, KN95, FFP1, P2, or surgical mask? This quick run-down covers mask types, mask ratings, and their effectiveness at filtering particles.

First off, let’s start with mask types (or certification types). In general, there are 3 (or sometimes 4) types of commonly used, disposable masks. They are single-use face masks, surgical masks, and respirators.

Comparison of Mask Standards, Ratings, and Filtration Effectiveness
Comparison of Mask Standards, Ratings, and Filtration Effectiveness

Mask Standards and Effectiveness Bottom Line

  1. Single use masks (normally one layer, very thin) are typically only effective at capturing larger dust particles, but can do so fairly well.
  2. Surgical mask standards have higher requirements for capturing virus-sized (0.1 micron) particles, however they vary by region.
  3. Pollution masks (respirators) typically capture >90% of virus-sized particles. You can use the rating system in the table above to see the exact proportion each certification requires. This includes ratings such as N95, KN95, FFP1, FFP2 and FFP3.

Mask Standards Vary by Country

Each country has their own certification standard for each mask type. For example, Europe uses the EN 14683 standard for surgical masks, whereas China uses the YY 0469 standard. Each standard varies a little by country, however they are broadly similar. For respirator masks, China uses the KN standard (e.g. KN95) and the US uses the N standard (e.g. N95).

Requirements Are Lowest for Single Use Face Masks

The standard with the lowest requirements on filtration effectiveness are the single use face masks (not to be confused with surgical masks). Surgical masks have higher requirements, and respirators have the highest requirements. Respirators also usually fit tighter around the face (data shows they score higher on fit effectiveness) than surgical masks and single-use face masks.

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