How are N95 masks designed?

Right now there seem to be too many types of face masks being talked-about, and it’s easy to get confused with all the terms. It’s important to be as knowledgeable about this subject as possible, since the use of these products seems to be part of our daily lives from now on.

Hospitals in the United States need to buy N95 masks in bulk and wholesale right now because they’re very necessary for the protection of their workers. However, there are many different designs available, and it isn’t always clear which design suits each situation best. In this article, we’ll explain what an N95 mask is, and how the design of the mask is developed.

What constitutes an N95 mask?

N95 masks are a type of disposable face mask with many different uses. However, since the COVID-19 pandemic began, their use for virus protection in the healthcare field has been one of their most prominent ones. This is because of their high antiviral filtering abilities, which have turned them into the best option for protection in these high-risk situations.

The name ‘N95’ represents the mask’s lack of oil resistance, indicated with the letter N, which means they can’t effectively filter out particles that contain oil. The ‘95’ represents their filtration efficiency for airborne particles, meaning that they can filter out a minimum of 95% of them. This is established by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, also known as NIOSH.

Particles that are both airborne and non-oil based include viruses, like the flu virus or the new coronavirus responsible for COVID-19, as well as other types of respiratory hazards found in several work settings, like dust, smoke, or metals. For this reason, these masks can have multiple uses across many work industries, although the most important one right now is their use in the medical field.

They’re often used along with face shields to provide also eye protection to the workers, and some of the most popular models of this item are the ones produced by 3M, which includes 3M N95 masks like the 3M 8511, 3M 8210, and the 3M 1860.

Although they’re often confused with N95 respirators, KN95 masks are a different face mask. However, the two share the lack of oil resistance and the 95% filtration rate for airborne particles, hence their similar names. The difference comes from the regulatory standards used in each one.

N95 masks are regulated by NIOSH, and this is the regulatory standard used in the USA. KN95 masks, on the other hand, are regulated by the Chinese standards.

How are N95 masks designed?

Let’s start answering this question by explaining that, to be considered an N95 mask, the only thing a face mask needs to do is not be oil resistant and to filter out at least 95% of the airborne particles in the air. Although N95 masks are usually made with the same materials and follow very similar designs, as long as the mask meets these requirements and is approved by NIOSH, they’ll be considered an N95 mask.

The traditional N95 masks were developed last century and were first marketed by the company 3M. They started as face masks that only protected workers from dust particles. Across the years, however, changes in their design has allowed them to perform multiple other uses.

Different models contain different features and are recommended for different uses or settings. Some of them have more comfortable straps, some have different types of shapes, and some have accessories like nose foams, metal strips, or exhalation valves. Even the filter media can vary, with some of them containing electrostatic charges.

For example, we can talk about the different models offered by 3M. The 3M 8210 masks are regular N95 masks meant for industrial uses, with only the approval from NIOSH. The 1860 model, on the other hand, offers high fluid resistance and it’s also approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to be used as surgical N95 masks. The 3M 8511 model has an exhalation valve, which makes them more comfortable and breathable, but makes them unsuitable for settings in which the user has to prevent contamination of the environment, and therefore can’t be used in healthcare settings.

This way, the different designs are developed taking into consideration the intended purpose of the respirator. For long work shifts in places with high temperatures, more breathable masks are designed, while healthcare settings call for surgical N95 masks.

Why are N95 masks and their different designs important during the pandemic?

COVID is a respiratory illness caused by a respiratory virus called the SARS-CoV-2. This virus is an airborne particle, which means they have a size of 0.3 micrometers, and it’s transmitted through the air from person to person. Preventing the release of these particles into the environment has been the main focus to control the spread of the virus, which is why they use of face masks has been a priority.

Regular cloth masks and even surgical masks don’t offer enough protection for settings in which people are exposed very closely to the virus, like the healthcare one. In these instances, N95 masks without exhalation valves are the gold standard. Additionally, during surgeries in which workers need both the protection of an N95 mask against airborne particles and from a surgical mask against fluids, special surgical N95 mask models are necessary.

The incredible importance of N95 respirators and other types of medical supplies right now has turned them into very difficult to find products in either physical or online stores. For this reason, it’s important to make sure all of them are being directed to frontline workers and hospitals. The general public, including kids above the age of 2, is recommended to wear reusable cloth masks in combination with social distancing for protection.

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