The N95 Respirator Mask vs. Cloth Masks
We have been hearing a lot about masks in the media lately. In particular we’ve been hearing about the N95 respirator, but what is this mask, and how does it differ from cloth masks?
The N in N95 refers to its use with non-oil-based particulate, and the 95 tells us it has a 95% efficiency of filtering out particles larger than .3 microns.
The design of the N95 respirators seals along the face of the wearer. Fitting the mast is as easy as pushing the sides against the contours of the face. This seal ensures particulate does not make it through the mask.
As a result of this sealing mechanism the N95 requires contact with the wearers skin. This also means you can not make a seal if you have facial hair on your chin or around the sides of your face.
By keeping out particles larger than .3 microns the respirator will keep out dust, fumes, and large droplets. This last type of particulate is relevant when we talk about protection from viruses, which though much smaller, move through the air by latching on to droplets.
You can fit test the N95 respirator either through a qualitative method, or with a device like the Portacount 8040. Through fit testing the wearer can get the best possible protection out of the N95.
A cloth mask though will only protect the face from larger particulate.
Lacking a proper filter, a cloth mask will only block what gets caught in its fabric. It will not be very useful in a situation where there is a lot of particulate or fumes.
Where the N95 Respirator Shines
In a situation where you may encounter someone who has a viral infection a cloth mask will provide some protection. In these cases an N95 respirator is still best. This is why medical professionals working with Corona patients are using N95 masks while recommending those who aren’t in regular contact with the virus use cloth masks.
Although the much similar surgical masks are made with standardized equipment the end product is tested to meet a certain standard this is something that is not possible with cloth masks which do not have a common design or meet standards requirements.
In comparison to a cloth mask the N95 respirator is superior PPE. Yet cloth masks can be used as a stand-in in some non-medical situations. You should not use a cloth mask when working with chemicals or biological material. It may assist in protecting the wearer from airborne viral contaminants.