What is an N95 Respirator?
An N95 respirator face mask is a filtering facepiece respirator (FFR) that filters out at least 95% of airborne particles free of oil. Basically it is a respiratory protective device that is designed to achieve a close facial fit and effectively filters off airborne particles. The “N95” here means that when tested, the respiratory blocks at least 95 percent of micro particles.
N95 respirators are further classified depending on its usage. I.e. based on its use for surgical activities or requiring a sterile environment. Surgical N95 respirators are approved by both the NIOSH and cleared by the FDA, are only required in activities where there is potential exposure of high-pressure streams of bodily fluid or work in a sterile environment.
According to study it is proved that the effectiveness of N95 respirators is more than 95 percent for micro particles of about 0.3um. In fact they are more efficient in filtering particles between 0.04 – 0.1um.
source: 3M Personal Safety Division, Technical Data Bulletin #174, Feb 2020 Release 3)
Difference between respirators and surgical masks
Respirators help in reduction of airborne particle exposure including minor particles such as aerosols and large droplets. It is worn by medical professionals who are in close contact with covid-19 patients. Respirators are tight-fitting and respirator such as N95 filters out almost 95% of airborne particles. Evaluated, tested and approved by NIOSH as per the requirements.
Surgical mask has quite different purpose than respirators and is designed to limit the spread of particles from the wearer to others. These are loose fitting masks and evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Myths and Facts of N95
1. Myth: N95 respirator and surgical mask provide the same protection
Fact: A NIOSH-approved forms a seal against wearer’s face provides the complete protection to the wearer by preventing particle penetration around the edges. The filter has cleared the test by NIOSH to determine that it protects against at least 95% of airborne particles.
However surgical masks do not seal against the face and hence the same level of protection as N95 cannot be guaranteed with surgical mask.
2. Myth: One can decorate their N95 respirator to look stylish!
Fact: Any alteration of the N95 will void the NIOSH approval because respirator can no longer be guaranteed to provide the necessary level of protection.
3. Myth: There’s no way to verify if an N95 respirator is actually NIOSH-approved.
Fact: NIOSH updated the list of approved N95 respirators every month. It is updated on the site knowits.niosh.gov under the “Approved particulate filtering facepiece respirators” tab.
Can face masks and respirators be reused after disinfection?
There has not been any such evidence to confirm if the face masks and respirators can be reused upon disinfection. As per the study, it is suggested three promising disinfection methods in extending the lifespan of N95 respirators:
- Hot air (75 degree Celsius for 30 min)
- UV light (254nm, 8W for 30 min)
- Steam (for 10 min)
Among all three modes, hot air appears to be the better option as filtration efficiency after 20 cycles was not compromised.