It has been more than a year now since the COVID-19 pandemic started and most of us have learned a lot more about face masks than we ever expected to know.
We wear facemasks to protect our loved ones, ourselves and everyone around us. Even though there is so much news and information about masks it can sometimes still be confusing to compare one mask to another.
We wrote this guide to help. Keep reading for a simple comparison.
1. What type of mask is it?
There are three general categories of masks which were built for distinctly different purposes: surgical masks, respirators, dust filters.
Surgical (or medical) masks are loose fitting, fluid resistant, and protect the wearer from large droplets, splashes and sprays of bodily fluids from others. These masks protect others from the wearer's respiratory emissions but they do not protect the wearer from the respiratory emissions of others, according to the US Food and Drug Administration.
Medical masks do not filter or block smaller particles that are transmitted by coughing or sneezing, including ultrafine particles. Because surgical masks fit loosely on the face they do not protect a person from inhaling many airborne particles & they offer limited protection for people in the vicinity of the wearer.
These are among the most common and least expensive personal breathing filters.
Respirators fit close to the face and come in different sizes. These face coverings do reduce the wearer's exposure to airborne particles including small particle aerosols and large fluid droplets.
These types of protective face coverings do increase breathing resistance because all of the air being inhaled or exhaled must pass through a filter. This is why some respirators have a valve which can turn the filtration off and on.
Dust masks are cloth face coverings that may come in one or multiple layers. This can range from something as simple as a bandana or a more advanced multi layer face mask that is in the shape of a surgical mask or respirator.
These masks are not fluid resistant & are not as effective at filtering small particles regardless of how tight or loose they may fit because there is not a filter.
There are some dust masks with replaceable filters. This type of mask is more effective than a mask with no filter but still not as effective as a respiratory mask. The reason for this is that air can flow around a filter when it is not stitched into place. If there is a seam going all the way from nose to chin or over the mouth then this mask construction is even less effective.
2. What are the testing standards?
Here is where things get a little tricky, so stay with us.
Different types of masks have different standards and testing methods based on the mask type. Which makes things complicated but it is logical since these masks were originally developed for different purposes. Household dust masks are historically not tested.
Different countries and regions have their own naming systems, standards, test methods. For example, let’s quickly compare how masks are regulated in the European Union and in the United States.
In the United States and Canada, American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) has established the standard ASTM F2100 for surgical masks. Respirators get their own regulatory body, the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH) and they use a standard called 42 CFR 84.
In Europe, the European Committee for Standardization uses a similar but different standard called EN 14683 for surgical masks and EN 149:2001 for respiratory masks.
3. Compare apples to apples.
If you’re someone who likes to get deep into the details, you can see our complete overview and comparison table here, but we’re going to highlight some of the more meaningful tests below.
There are some tests that are the same for both surgical and respirators such as bacteria filtration efficiency.
There are other areas of testing where the testing method is different for surgical and respiratory masks. For example, all standards measure how hard it is to breath with the face covering but for surgical masks the differential pressure is measured as Pa/cm2 and for respirators the inhale and exhale are both tested and measured in mBar. The reason for this is that the respiratory masks are so much better at creating a seal around the face it creates higher pressure and the scale used to measure surgical masks would not make sense when applied to these respirators. It would be like measuring the distance from your home to your office in inches or centimeters.
The big takeaway here is that while the efficiency of bacteria filtration might be a bit higher in a surgical mask the filtration of air through a respirator is significantly more effective.
Which is the best face mask?
According to the Word Health Organisation, a loose-fitting mask will not offer the same protection to the wearer and may allow small particles to get inside the mask through the sides. It’s physics! Air flows in the path of least resistance. If air can flow in or out of your nose around the filter it will do so and then that means the mask isn’t working optimally even if the mask filtering is the best. This happens with surgical masks and their loose fit! “It is important that it stays in place during talking and moving, so it can be worn without slipping and so it does not require you to touch it frequently” says the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and with a loose fitting this happens more.
It has been shown by a study carried out by Caitlin M. Dugdale and Rochelle P. Walensky that surgical masks have lower filtration efficiency than respirator masks such as N95 , FFP2. And according to Dr. Abraar Karan, an internal medicine physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School; if everyone wore respiratory masks "It would stop the epidemic”.
Ecomask is modeled after respirators in that we have different sizes and focus on creating a good seal so that air cannot flow around the filter. With Ecomask you get the best of both worlds! Here is why:
- When you breathe wearing an ecomask, air passes through five layers of protection and an FFP2 quality filter before it reaches your lungs.
- Each layer plays an important role and filters particles of different sizes including bacteria, pollution and dust particles and the SARS CoV-2 that can be as small as 0.1 micron in diameter!
- And it is reusable, also caring for your pocketbook and the planet!