An N95 mask is a specific classification of respirator mask. Like all respirators, it secures across the face and stops you from breathing harmful materials. N95 masks are certified to filter out at least 95% of air born particles. The specifications also require them to be breathable, putting limits on how much they can restrict overall air flow.
Fully certified N95 masks require the mask’s straps to loop around the back of the wearer’s head, however many people prefer a more comfortable ear loop design. Many companies have opted to create masks that meet (or exceed) the N95 standards, but with ear loops. This includes our very own Dentex, made in Canada, FN-N95 masks.
ASTM level 3 masks are an excellent option for protection. They are flexible and more comfortable than an N95 mask, but do they offer as much protection?
The certification for a level 3 mask only tests the material they’re made of. Because of this, ASTM level 3 masks can score almost as high as N95 masks when it comes to filtration. The biggest difference between the two masks, however, is fit.
N95 masks are designed to provide a snug, secure fit across many different face sizes. A properly fitted N95 mask lets in very little to no air around the edges of the mask. This means that air MUST pass through the filter before it reaches the wearer.
In contrast, ASTM level 3 masks are not tested for fit and air can enter around the masks edges. The USA CDC specifically calls out that “[surgical masks] do NOT provide the wearer with a reliable level of protection from inhaling smaller airborne particles and is not considered respiratory protection.”
A surgical mask is best used to protect the wearer from “large droplets, splashes, or sprays of bodily fluid or other hazardous fluids. Protects the patient from the wearer’s respiratory emissions.”
Long story short: ASTM level 3 masks are great for keeping those around you safe from germs you might breathe but won’t always protect you from inbound hazards. N95 masks are still the best option if you’re looking for a disposable mask with a great fit.
When should I wear an N95 mask?
In Canada, we have seen A LOT of masks since the covid-19 pandemic began. This is because they are one of the best defenses against disease in general. They help to keep airborne germs from spreading, catch sneezes/yawns, and stop people from wiping their nose and then touching… well, everything.
Germs are everywhere, so when should you wear a mask? Wear a mask if:
- Authorities advise it.
- You’re in a place with people who may be carrying extra germs (ie a hospital)
- You’re in close quarters with people during cold/flu season (or a pandemic)
- If you need to enter a place where dust and other airborne hazards are a concern. (Ie: in and around damaged buildings.)
- It makes you more comfortable.
Our N95 masks include the more comfortable ear loop design, and thus are not NIOSH certified. Our Canadian face masks do, however, meet the filtration guidelines of Health Canada FFR, and the filtration requirements of the N95, FFP-2, and KF-94 standards. We like these masks because they are made in Canada by a certified Aboriginal Business, and a portion of each sale helps out the Canadian Cancer Society.
Plus, we just like the masks! They do a good job and are more comfortable than a lot of models we’ve tested.
Should I pack an N95 mask in my emergency kit?
Yes! They are economical, compact, and can make a major difference to your health! Floods and emergencies can create a perfect environment for disease to spread. Fires create ash and debris in the air. Damaged buildings can produce dust and asbestos into the air. Protecting your airways with an N95 mask is easy and a good step to protect your long-term lung health. Just note that N95 masks do not filter harmful gasses or chemicals – just particulates.
Are there other sizes available?
If you have a particularly large head or are fitting a mask for a child, we have good news! There are masks for you out there! Many brands sell large, extra-large, and child sizes. Due to a lack of demand, however, Total Prepare does not supply these at this time. For orders of more than 600 masks, email firstname.lastname@example.org and we may be able to special order different sizes. Often, different styles of mask from the same manufacturer will have a different fit, so you may want to try a few to ensure you get the best fit possible.
Where are they made?
All of Total Prepare’s masks are made in Canada. For other suppliers, some certifications will give you an idea of where a mask might be made. For example:
- The N95 certification is a USA certification
- N95 Masks can be made in any country, most commonly USA and Singapore
- The CA-N95 certification is a Canadian standard
- The KN95 certification is a Chinese standard
The “N95” name is the most recognized however, so many brands will use that and put the final certification in the product’s description.
- Securely fit the mask over your nose and mouth
- Use the head straps or ear loops to hold the mask in place
- The top of the mask should rest on the bridge of your nose
- The bottom of the mask should extend past your chin
Do I need to fit test my N95 mask?
Professionals often require fit tests when using N95 masks: if you’re a nurse, welder, or other professional, you may need a fit test. Fit tests are not required for personal use, or for ASTM level 3 masks.
Fit tests usually involve wearing a testing hood over your head. The tester spritzes a bitter or sweet spray into the test hood. If you can taste it, the fit on your mask may not be good enough. Often there are two halves of the test, one before, and one after carrying out some tasks. This ensures the mask will stay in place, even while you work.
Thank you for reading!