3M Science is one of the largest manufacturers and distributors of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in the United States. From ventilators to surgical gowns, 3M Science (often known as “3M” for short) produces just about everything that medical workers need to do their jobs safely and effectively. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, 3M has had to greatly increase its production of PPE, especially N95 masks


The worldwide shortage of N95 masks has put even greater pressure on companies like 3M to help support the medical community and fight the spread of Coronavirus. Fortunately, 3M has a number of high-quality, regulated N95 masks available. That said, some N95 masks are more effective than others, particularly against airborne viruses like COVID-19. 


Before we take a closer look at the 4 best N95 mask models from 3M Science, let’s first examine how N95 masks and respirators are regulated in the United States.

N95 Mask Regulation


Regardless of the model type, all N95 masks are regulated by several federal and private agencies in the United States, including the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), a division of the CDC, the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), as well as the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA). The latter agency has the final say when it comes to regulatory standards and implementation.


Together, these agencies and organizations conduct the research and testing to provide medical workers with high-quality Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). N95 masks are merely one example of PPE, though they happen to be one of the most important devices in the fight against COVID-19. As a PPE manufacturer, 3M is required to abide by the following testing standards related to N95 masks and respirators.

N95 Mask Testing


N95 mask manufacturers must meet the health and safety standards set out by the agencies listed above. Generally speaking, N95 masks are tested based on the following criteria:


  • Fluid resistance - This refers to a mask or material’s ability to repel or absorb fluids.
  • Filtration efficiency (particulate and bacterial) - This refers to a mask or material’s ability to filter out particles of varying sizes, as well as airborne bacteria.
  • Flammability - This refers to a mask or material’s ability to resist flames.
  • Biocompatibility - This refers to a mask or material’s level of toxicity (or propensity to cause injury).

There are a variety of tests established by NIOSH to determine if N95 masks meet the necessary requirements. Nelson Labs expounds on these standards below: 


“Masks intended for respirator precertification may require NaCl, DOP, valve leak, and inhalation/exhalation tests to verify conformity to NIOSH standards. Nelson Labs offers precertification testing services for these tests.


The Sodium Chloride Aerosol Challenge (NaCl) – NIOSH Respirator Prequalification test uses a widely accepted method for evaluating particle penetration and air flow resistance properties of a variety of filtration materials. Respirators must be prequalified before submitting to NIOSH for certification; other materials, such as breathing system filters and face masks, are tested to determine filtration efficiency for marketing. These tests are performed for masks seeking N95 respirator precertification.


The Dioctyl Phthalate (DOP) test is used to evaluate particle penetration and air flow resistance properties for a variety of filtration materials, including HEPA filters, NIOSH respirators, and filter media. The test is performed in compliance with 42 CFR Part 84 and NIOSH Procedure No. RCT-APR-STP-0051-0056, 2005 and is necessary for prequalification for NIOSH certification of respirators. Nelson Labs has extensive experience testing filters and other filtration devices.


Testing is performed in compliance with 42 CFR Part 84 and NIOSH Procedure No. RC-APR-STP-0057, 0058 and 0059. Nelson Labs has extensive experience testing filters and other filtration devices.”


Thus, N95 masks and respirators must go through rigorous testing to meet the standards above. While it may seem like a lot of testing just for single-use masks, it ensures that medical workers are safe in high-risk environments. In short, the safety standards are taken very seriously and only compliant manufacturers are allowed to take their products to market.


Now that we’ve evaluated the testing requirements of N95 masks and respirators, let’s take a look at the 4 best N95 mask models produced by 3M Science:

Standard N95 Respirator 3M Model 8210


As the name implies, the Standard N95 3M Model 8210 is the “standard” model of N95 masks produced by 3M. These are often the basic model distributed to medical facilities, as they are relatively inexpensive to produce and provide high protection from both particle infiltration and fluid splatter. So, let’s take a closer look at what the N95 Model 8210 can (and cannot) do:


Standard N95 3M Model 8210

Protects the wearer from exposure to airborne particles, including dust, fumes, fiber, viruses, and bacteria

Yes

Fits tightly to the face and creates a seal between the wearer’s face and the respirator

Yes

Meets NIOSH N95 requirements for a minimum of 95% filtration efficiency against solid and liquid aerosols that do not contain oil


Yes

Has been cleared by the U.S. FDA as a surgical mask

No

Is not made with natural rubber latex

Yes

Meets the ASTM Test Method F1862 “Resistance of Medical Face Masks to Penetration by Synthetic Blood,” which determines the mask’s resistance to synthetic blood directed at it under varying high pressures.



No


As you can see in the table above, the standard N95 mask model 8210 checks most of the boxes needed to protect wearers against COVID-19. However, it does have a few drawbacks for medical workers. First and foremost, it is not meant to be used as a surgical mask. Typically, an N95 mask that has been cleared as a surgical mask is safer and provides greater protection from fluid splatter. While the standard model 8210 does provide high-level protection against airborne viruses (like COVID-19), it is not as strong as other models when it comes to fluid splatter.

Surgical N95 Respirator 3M Model 1860


The Surgical N95 Respirator 3M Model 1860 is the next step up from the model 8210. The model 1860 differs from lesser masks in a few important ways. First, it is designed with tightly-woven polypropylene plastic fibers. It is also designed to cover more of the face than other N95 models. Finally, like the model 8210, the model 1860 mask features a metal nose clip to prevent particles from entering or exiting the mask through gaps in the top of the mask. Both masks also provide better breathability than most other N95 models. So, let’s look at what the Surgical N95 Respirator 3M Model 1860 can do:


Surgical N95 Respirator 3M Model 1860

Protects the wearer from exposure to airborne particles, including dust, fumes, fiber, viruses, and bacteria

Yes

Fits tightly to the face and creates a seal between the wearer’s face and the respirator

Yes

Meets NIOSH N95 requirements for a minimum of 95% filtration efficiency against solid and liquid aerosols that do not contain oil


Yes

Has been cleared by the U.S. FDA as a surgical mask

Yes

Is not made with natural rubber latex

Yes

Meets the ASTM Test Method F1862 “Resistance of Medical Face Masks to Penetration by Synthetic Blood,” which determines the mask’s resistance to synthetic blood directed at it under varying high pressures.



Yes

(120 mm Hg)


As noted in the name, the Surgical N95 Respirator 3M Model 1860 is designed for both surgical and non-surgical environments. It is also certified to protect against fluid splatter up to 120 mm Hg. This makes it a better option than the model 8210, as it can provide high-level protection against aerosols or fluids containing the COVID-19 virus (like particles from sneezes or coughs).

Surgical N95 Respirator 3M Model 1870+


The Surgical N95 Respirator 3M Model 1870+ is different from the two preceding masks in both design and efficacy. The model 1870+ has a more oval shape, with small flaps on either side to provide maximum fluid splatter protection. Though its design allows for greater protection, it comes at the cost of breathability and comfort. In any case, let’s take a look at what the Surgical N95 Respirator 3M Model 1870+ can do:


Surgical N95 Respirator 3M Model 1870+ 

Protects the wearer from exposure to airborne particles, including dust, fumes, fiber, viruses, and bacteria

Yes

Fits tightly to the face and creates a seal between the wearer’s face and the respirator

Yes

Meets NIOSH N95 requirements for a minimum of 95% filtration efficiency against solid and liquid aerosols that do not contain oil


Yes

Has been cleared by the U.S. FDA as a surgical mask

Yes

Is not made with natural rubber latex

Yes

Meets the ASTM Test Method F1862 “Resistance of Medical Face Masks to Penetration by Synthetic Blood,” which determines the mask’s resistance to synthetic blood directed at it under varying high pressures.



Yes

(160 mm Hg)


As you can see, there doesn’t seem to be a large difference between the model 1860 and 1870+ in terms of protection. However, the model 1870+ is especially effective against fluid splatter, as it is designed to protect against high-speed splatter and aerosols. Thus, the Surgical N95 Respirator 3M Model 1870+ is one of the best options from 3M Science to protect against COVID-19.

3M Aura Particulate Respirator 9205+


The 3M Aura Particulate Respirator 9205+ bears a strong resemblance to the model 1870+ design. Both N95 mask models feature oval-shaped fronts and small side flaps. However, the 3M Aura Particulate Respirator 9205+ was specifically designed to combat COVID-19. It provides optimal particulate absorption and fluid splatter protection, while also including features that take the needs of medical workers into account. So, let’s see how the 3M Aura Particulate Respirator 9205+ stacks up against 3M’s other N95 masks:


3M Aura Particulate Respirator 9205+ 

Protects the wearer from exposure to airborne particles, including dust, fumes, fiber, viruses, and bacteria

Yes

Fits tightly to the face and creates a seal between the wearer’s face and the respirator

Yes

Meets NIOSH N95 requirements for a minimum of 95% filtration efficiency against solid and liquid aerosols that do not contain oil


Yes

Has been cleared by the U.S. FDA as a surgical mask

No

Is not made with natural rubber latex

Yes

Meets the ASTM Test Method F1862 “Resistance of Medical Face Masks to Penetration by Synthetic Blood,” which determines the mask’s resistance to synthetic blood directed at it under varying high pressures.



Yes

(160 mm Hg)


While it is not designed for surgical environments, the 3M Aura Particulate Respirator 9205+ is best for healthcare workers on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic. More specifically, 3M Science outlines a few advantages of their latest N95 mask design:


  • “Designed to direct exhaled air away from the nose panel, helping reduce eyewear fogging
  • Curved low profile design conforms well to nose and eye contours, allowing more room for eyewear
  • Individual packaging and flat fold design provides convenient storage and portability”
  • Innovative chin tab designed for ease of positioning, donning & adjustment
  • Soft inner materials
  • Adjustable nose clip helps provide a custom secure seal
  • Compatible with a variety of eyewear”

  • Additionally, 3M provides the following description of what stands to be the best N95 mask (to combat Coronavirus) on the market:


    “The 3M Aura Series Particulate Respirator 9205+, N95 is a three-panel, flat-fold disposable respirator designed to help provide comfortable, reliable worker protection against non-oil based particles. 3M Particulate Respirator 9205+, N95 is a disposable particulate respirator that is designed to help provide reliable respiratory protection of at least 95 percent filtration efficiency against certain non-oil based particles. The lightweight, three-panel designed respirator helps provide quality, reliable, and convenient worker respiratory protection. 3M uses a variety of innovative technologies and features to help you meet your respiratory protection and comfort needs. 3M`s proprietary filter media, 3M Advanced Electret Media, filters dust and other particles, while allowing for easy breathing. The soft inner material provides added comfort while the soft nose foam and adjustable nose clip help provide a custom seal. Unique features to the Aura™ Series Particulate Respirators include: sculpted nose panel that follows the contours of your nose allowing more room for eyewear, embossed top panel that is designed to help reduce the fogging of eyewear from warm, moist exhaled air, and innovative chin tab designed for ease of positioning, donning, and adjustment. These features are designed to enhance user comfort; the unique three-panel flat fold design is collapse resistant and its individual packaging allows for easy storage prior to use.”

    Conclusion


    There are many different types of N95 masks on the market. However, 3M Science has distinguished itself as one of the best and most reliable PPE producers in the United States. Additionally, their latest design — the 3M Aura Particulate Respirator 9205+ — is specifically crafted to help protect frontline healthcare workers from contracting or spreading COVID-19.