How Do N95 Respirators Work?

N95 respirator face masks have become the most widely-demanded in respiratory protection products.

During the corona virus pandemic, what used to be masks dedicated to specific professionals, quickly became commonplace in the public. N95 are one of those masks.

N95 respirators are regulated by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and in order to meet the growing demand for these masks, companies have skyrocketed the production of N95.

But how do filtering facepiece respirators, such as N95, actually work?

Let’s look at a breakdown of what an N95 mask is.

What does N stand for? N is a respirator rating letter class. It stands for “non-oil” meaning that if no oil-based particles are present, you can use the mask safely in your work environment. Other mask ratings include R (resistant to oil for up to 8 hours) and P (oil proof.)


What does 95 mean? Masks ending in 95 have a 95 percent efficiency. The number corresponds to the percentage of efficiency. Masks ending in 100 are 99.97 percent efficient, and this is essentially the same as a HEPA quality filter.


What material is used? The filtering material on the mask is an electrostatic non-woven polypropylene fiber.


.3 microns: Respirators filter out contaminating particles such as dust and fumes. The minimum size of .3 microns won’t pass through the protective barrier, according to research done by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


Valve: Most disposable N95 masks come with an exhalation valve. The presence of this valve reduces the resistance in exhalation, making it easier to breathe.

Different types of respirators are optimal in different situations.

Escape respirators are intended for use in emergencies. If there’s a fire or released chemical vapors in the air, respirators will protect you. They are designed for short-term use for up to 1 hour.


Gas masks, which are a form of respirator, will clean chemical gasses out of the air as you’re breathing. Gas mask cartridges filter particular biological or chemical substances, however, there is no cartridge that protects you from all substances. Gas masks are therefore only effective if you’re using the correct cartridge.


PARP, powered air-purifying respirators use the same filters as a gas mask, but they make breathing easier by using a fan.


Some respirators protect you against specific particles, but not chemicals, gases, or vapors.


Health care workers use N95, which cleans the air as they breathe to protect them against infectious particles in the air, including the coronavirus.


Respirators such as the N95 face mask help protect health care workers as they are treating patients who may be contagious. They have been very significant during the novel coronavirus outbreak, coming in critical shortages in some places around the globe.

N95 respirators will filter our coronavirus particles so health care personnel won’t breathe them in. In addition to the shortage of medical ventilators, some hospitals are also experiencing shortages in personal protection equipment such as N95.

However, this year N95 manufacturing and production has skyrocketed around the globe, with companies such as 3M doubling their production every few months.

Typically, N95 respirator face masks are intended for one-time use, and doctors should use a new one for each of their patient interactions. Respirators are absolutely essential in protecting health care workers, but the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) does not recommend their use by the general public.

Instead, the CDC recommends that you should limit your exposure by staying at home, washing your hands with warm water and soap, and touching your face less.

N95 Respirator Fit Tests and Usage

Fit testing is one of the most significant components of any respiratory protection program when workers are using tight-fitting respirators. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires that an initial respirator test is performed to correctly identify the right model, size, and style respirator for each worker – along with annual fit tests.

Moreover, tight-fitting respirators such as N95 require a user seal check every time one is put on. Facial hair at the sealing area will cause the respirator to leak.

In order to be approved for use, respirators require a medical evaluation because they can make breathing more difficult. This means that some conditions could prevent the use of respirators in people who suffer from heart conditions, lung disease, or even psychological conditions like claustrophobia. In the U.S., a medical evaluation is required once before testing and use, though it may need to be repeated if any harmful symptoms are experienced.

For people who are unable to wear a respirator, or who cannot pass a fit test due to their facial hair or other reasons, a powered air-purifying respirator can be a good alternative.

Where to buy N95 respirators and face masks?

If you’re looking to buy N-95 respirator face masks:

Browse Clinical Supplies USA’s collection of N95 respirators in our store here.


If you’re looking to purchase wholesale face masks for sale/distribution to your local community:

Reach out to us and inquire for any purchase above 2,000 units here.


Clinical Supplies USA is an American co-owned and run company specializing in providing quality protective supplies such as KN95 and 3ply masks, hand sanitizers, face shields, gloves, and more.


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