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A Guide to Disposable Face Mask Types

A Guide to Disposable Face Mask Types

A Guide to Disposable Face Mask Types

Disposable masks have become a part of our everyday life during the Covid-19 pandemic and, with the onset of winter, many people are starting to see the benefits of their ongoing use. Not only have face masks helped to stem the spread of Covid-19 indoors and in crowded places, but they help to keep those around us safe if we’re suffering from common colds too. 

In this article, we’ll look at the different types of disposable face masks and see which ones are best used in which situations.

A Guide to Disposable Face Mask Types - KN95 face masks
Fabric face masks

Fabric Masks

Fabric masks have to measure up to certain specifications to be a viable option against transmission. Fabric face masks should:

  • Be made to fit snuggly around your nose, mouth, and chin so that no gaps are created. This means they should contain wire to go over the bridge of your nose.
  • Be made from a tightly woven fabric that does not allow light through when held up to the sun. 

The specifications for fabric masks means that not many you find in shops are guaranteed to be effective in providing full protection. A mask will need to be made from a fabric that conforms to the contours of your face, while also consisting of more than one layer of fabric to produce a thick enough barrier. 

That said, you will need to be able to easily breathe in the mask, without the need for a valve—which should never be put in a fabric mask.

Non-disposable masks also run the risk of increasing the likelihood of holding on to germs when not washed properly, as opposed to disposable masks which aren’t around long enough to cause such an issue.

The British Medical Journal published a study conducted in 2015 in a Vietnamese hospital where two groups of staff were supplied with masks: one group with two disposable masks per day and the other with five cotton masks to be washed and reused.

At the end of the four-week study, the cloth mask group was 13 times more likely to have contracted influenza-like disease than those in the disposable mask group. Not only this, but the cloth mask group were three times more likely to have gotten ill than the control group who had no instructions.

Reusable face masks were adopted at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic when we experienced a global shortage of disposable masks. However disposable face masks provide a far higher level of protection and should always be the first choice for effective infection control. 

Type I, II, and IIR Face Masks

Type I, II, and IIR Face Masks

Disposable masks will sometimes be called medical masks or surgical masks. Many people opt for a disposable mask thanks to its lightweight, breathable, and easy to fit and wear design. All disposable face masks should adhere to filtration requirements to be considered effective. The filtration type should be specified on the mask packaging. If it isn’t then you shouldn’t buy the product.

Different types of medical face masks are defined by degrees of filtration. The standard for this is called Bacteria Filtration Efficiency (BFE). These are the different types of surgical masks:

1. Type I Face Masks

Type I masks have a BFE of 95%, filtering larger respiratory droplets during exhalation. Type I face masks can be used by people and patients to reduce the risk of spreading an infection to others. They are appropriate for use in all public areas and places where social distancing should be respected.

Type I face masks should not be used by healthcare professionals, or in medical or hospital settings. 

2. Type II Face Masks

Type II masks have a BFE of 98%, filtering larger respiratory droplets during exhalation. Type II face masks are appropriate for use in all areas where Type I face masks can be used while offering a higher level of protection. Along with Type IIR face masks, these are designed for use in hospital, medical, and care settings.

3. Type IIR Face Masks

Type IIR masks have a BFE of 98%, filtering larger respiratory droplets during exhalation, with a splash-resistant layer to protect from coughs and sneezes. They are appropriate for use everywhere Type I and II face masks are used, as well as close proximity environments such as hospitals, doctor’s surgeries, dental clinics, and care homes. These are the types of face masks medical professionals use and provide one of the highest levels of protection against spreading harmful particles, along with FFP face masks.

Type IIR face masks provide the best protection against Covid-19 and other infections that are transmitted through airborne droplets. Our 3 ply surgical face masks all have Type IIR Mask (EN14683) certification, offering proven protection.

With all different types of surgical masks, it is vital that your face covering fits over your nose and mouth properly otherwise it will not work as efficiently and could put you and others at risk. Make sure there are no gaps around the edges of your mask and, if needed, adjust the size of your mask by tying the earloops into knots and tucking the excess fabric in against your cheeks.

FFP Face Masks

FFP Face Masks

A Filtering Face Piece (FFP) mask is designed to afford the wearer protection against inhaling larger droplets as well as fine aerosol particles. FFP masks are used by people to protect against catching Covid-19. They are light and comfortable to wear, with the fabric lifted away from the face at all times. 

FFP masks should create a seal against the face, fully covering the nose and mouth when worn properly, and are disposable like Type I, II, and IIR masks. For FFP face masks to be effective, they should create a tight seal to the skin. There should be no facial hair in the way and sometimes you might be required to have them fitted to your face shape. FFP masks must be certified by British Standard EN 149:2001+A1:2009 for their efficiency. The following are FFP disposable Face Mask Types

1. FFP1 Respirator Masks

FFP1 masks offer the minimum level of protection from this mask type, with 80% filtering efficiency. These masks are most commonly used to protect the wearer from breathing in solid dust particles like sand and sawdust when doing DIY activities. They are not effective at protecting against toxic substances, pollen, or infectious particles and bacteria.

2. FFP2 Respirator Masks

FFP2 masks provide 94% filtering efficiency, this is the minimum requirement as stated by the WHO from protection during the Covid-19 pandemic. They offer the same level of protection as the N95 mask that is used in the US.

FFP2 face masks are unvalved, meaning their filtration system is built into the layers of the mask and it’s through these layers that you breathe.

3. FFP3 Respirator Masks

FFP3 masks provide filtering efficiency of 99% and are recommended by the NHS for use in high-risk areas such as hospitals, care homes, medical centres, testing centres, and other places where infection transmission is more likely or where vulnerable people are exposed. 

FFP3 masks offer the highest level of protection against droplets and aerosols when worn correctly, they provide a substantially better level of protection than FFP1 and FFP2 masks, defending against solid and liquid aerosols. FFP3 masks are designed with adjustable straps and a mask that conforms to your face to create a seal against your skin. 

FFP3 masks are also valved. Having a valved FFP3 mask means the environment inside the mask will be less stuffy and moist. Wearing a valved mask can be more comfortable for long periods of time, keeping the skin inside the mask dry and reducing sweating.

Our FFP masks are CE-certified and comply with British and European Standards. They are recommended for use when working with oncogenic or radioactive substances, or with pathogens such as viruses, bacteria and fungal spores.

N95 and KN95 Face Masks

1. N95 Face Masks

N95 masks are moulded masks similar to FFP masks in form. They also sometimes incorporate a valve. The ‘N’ in the name of the mask stands for ‘non-oil’ and means that it can be used in an environment where no oil is present. These masks have a filtration efficiency of 95%.

The HSE found in a review of personal protective equipment provided in healthcare settings that there is no material difference between N95 masks and FFP2 masks. They offer the same level of protection as long as the wearer has their mask properly fitted.

2. KN95 Face Masks

KN95 face masks are similar to N95 masks in offering 95% filtration efficiency. KN95 masks differ from N96 masks in that they must pass performance testing to show less than 8% leakage of droplets and airborne particles. 

The HSE states that “KN95 is a performance rating under the Chinese standard GB2626:2006, the requirements of which are broadly the same as the European standard BSEN149:2001+A1:2009 for FFP2 face masks.”

This means that KN96 face masks must bear the ‘CE’ mark on their packaging, and suppliers must be able to show proof this is genuine through Notified Body documentation showing compliance with Personal Protective Equipment Regulations (EU) 2016/425.

Steroplast KN95 Face Masks are EN1492001+A1:2009 certified to offer 95% filtration efficiency and less than 8% leakage when worn correctly. They are also waterproof and easy to fit around your face for a complete seal. 

How to Tell You’re Getting the Right Level of Protection

The British Standards Institute Guide for Personal Safety Equipment sets out clearly defined rules that manufacturers, procurers, and consumers should follow when sourcing and making face masks. When purchasing face masks, you should look out for the following certifications to make sure the products have met standards determined by UK and EU authorities for acceptable levels of infection control. 

Type I, II, and IIR Face Masks

All Type I, II, and IIR face masks must meet British Standard EN 14683:2019+AC:2019 certification to prove that they have undergone performance testing to be effective against transmission of infective agents. This information should be on the product packaging or available from the manufacturer. 

Type I, II, and IIR face masks should be certified under the European Medical Devices Regulation as a Class 1 device for infection control. This means they must bear a ‘CE’ mark on their packaging.

FFP Masks

FFP masks follow slightly different regulations. They must meet British Standard EN 149:2001+A1:2009 certification to prove they’ve been tested to be effective against transmission. FFP masks must meet the European Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Regulation and be certified by a Notified Body like the BSI in the UK. This means they will bear the ‘CE’ mark on the packaging. A Notified Body is an organisation approved and designated by the EU to carry out assessments before certain products go to market. 

The WHO has recommended that, in the Covid-19 pandemic, FFP2 masks offer the minimum level of protection required, with the NHS stating that FFP3 masks should be worn in high-risk areas. This is due to the fact that FFP2 masks offer 94% protection and FFP3 masks offer 99% protection.

Disposable masks will be classed as ‘single shift’ and marked ‘NR’ on their packaging. Reusable masks will be marked ‘R’. 

Find out more about the different types of face masks and when they should be used in our blog A Guide to Disposable Face Mask Use.

What to know about 3 Ply Masks

A study by the University of California San-Diego found that droplets dropped onto masks consisting of only one layer are restricted from passing through by only 30%, while droplets on masks with three layers were restricted to almost 100%. 

While masks that offer three layers of protection are best to protect against infection transmission, not all masks that purport to be ‘3 ply’ meet British Standards for sufficient protection. Always check for the EN number or CE mark on the product packaging, or consult the supplier or manufacturer.

Buy fully certified and approved face masks from Steroplast. We are one of the most reputable healthcare suppliers in the UK.

Surgical Masks vs Dust Masks

In the search for types of medical masks to fit comfort, convenience, availability, and affordability needs, many people have raised the question of whether dust masks can be used. 

Dust masks are very similar to FFP1 masks. Dust masks are available to buy in DIY and home improvement shops and are used to filter out harmful materials like paint particles or sawdust. Sometimes dust masks come with a valve on the front or side to assist with breathing. 

While wearing a dust mask presents a barrier that makes it more difficult for droplets to pass through, they are not recommended wearing for protection or to slow the spread of the virus. While dust masks are designed to stop the wearer from breathing in dust particles, they do not afford any specific filtration from the wearer exhaling.

Summary of Types of Face Masks

Mask Type

Effective Against COVID-19

Where to wear

Filtration Efficiency

Regulation/Certifying Body

Necessary Certification

Fabric Face Mask

Partially

If disposable masks are not available. In public and socially distanced spaces, when washed after each use. 

Unknown

None

None

Type I Face Mask

Yes

In public and socially distanced spaces.

95%

European Medical Devices Regulations, BSI

EN 14683:2019+AC:2019

Type II Face Mask

Yes

In public and socially distanced spaces.

98%

European Medical Devices Regulations, BSI

EN 14683:2019+AC:2019

Type IIR Face Mask

Yes

In public, socially distanced spaces and close proximity/high-risk settings. 

98%

European Medical Devices Regulations, BSI

EN 14683:2019+AC:2019

FFP1 Respirator Mask

No

N/A: Not effective against Covid-19

80%

European Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Regulation, BSI

EN 149:2001+A1:2009

FFP2 Respirator Mask

Yes

In public and socially distanced spaces. 

94%

European Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Regulation, BSI

EN 149:2001+A1:2009

FFP3 Respirator Mask

Yes

In public, socially distanced spaces and close proximity/high-risk settings. 

99%

European Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Regulation, BSI

EN 149:2001+A1:2009

N95 Face Mask

Yes

In public and socially distanced spaces. 

95%

European Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Regulation, BSI

EN 149:2001+A1:2009

KN95 Face Mask

Yes 

In public and socially distanced spaces. 

95%

European Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Regulation, BSI

EN 149:2001+A1:2009


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