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What is the Differences Between FFP Respirators and Surgical Masks?

With the advancement of Covid-19 from epidemic to pandemic, the use of respirators and surgical masks is increased considerably.

The differences between them and their effectiveness in protecting us from Coronavirus is widely discussed throughout the world. Let's take a deeper look into them.


Respirators are tight fitting masks that can effectively filter out various sizes of airborne particles, dust, fumes and vapours.

They can also efficiently block out biological agents such as bacteria and viruses.

There are various types of Respirators:

  • N95 (USA standard)
  • KN95 (China standard)
  • KF94 (Korean Standard)
  • FFP2 and FFP3 (European Union Standard including UK)

KN95, KF94 and FFP2 are alternatives to N95

These respirators undergo thorough testing in accordance with strict filtration standards set by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) or by the European Union.

NIOSH has rated masks on the basis of their filtration effectiveness.

This means an N95 mask has the potential to stop at least 95% of particles which are sized between 100 to 300 nm.

Although with a little variation, the European Union has also rated the mask - FFP1, FFP2 and FFP3 FFP1 can provide filtration of 80%, FFP2 -94% (Similar to N95) whilst FFP3 has 99% filtration efficiency.

Generally, a Respiratory mask is advised to be used only once, and discarded after coming in contact with the patient.

It should also be disposed of if damaged or deformed and when it is exposed to body fluid, nasal secretions or blood.

Equally when it fails to make a tight seal barrier with face; when it gets stained, dirty or wet or when the wearer finds difficulty in breathing through it.

Surgical Mask

Surgical Mask, on the other hand, acts as a barrier against large airborne particles, splashes and splatter that may contain germs, but does not efficiently block off small particles, vapours and fumes. They layering in surgical masks is variable and so is their filtration efficiency.
They are not designed to be tightly fit to face, hence air will leak through the edges of the mask.

Thus it will not protect against all the bacteria and virus particles that can be transmitted through coughing, saliva or nasal secretions.

However, surgical masks do act as an effective barrier for large particles.

Their filtration efficiency ranges between 95 to 99%.

Depending upon the filtration capability, they are of various types; Type I with filtration efficiency of 95%, Type II with 98% whilst Type IIR has 98% filtration rate.

Surgical masks are disposable, thus they should be discarded after each use.

To conclude, Respirators provide minimal leakage when properly worn because of their tight fitting in comparison to loose fitting surgical mask.

Regardless of the fitting and filtration efficiency; masks, in general, are the main solution to prevent the ongoing Covid-19 transmission.

Mask whether Respirator or Surgical, will only be beneficial if worn properly.

According to WHO guidelines, masks should cover the nose, mouth and chin.


Hands should be cleaned before putting on a mask and after taking it off. Safe disposal of masks is mandatory.

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