What is the Material used in a Surgical Face Mask?

A surgical Mask consists of 3 layers but What is a Surgical Mask made from?

The Outer and Inner layers are made from soft Spunbond material and the middle layer is the Melt Blown filter.

Of course, by using different materials from different suppliers, this will affect the final end quality of the mask.

Let's have a closer look at what this means.

Since the beginning of 2020, whether you are a Health Professional or not, Surgical masks have become part of our daily life.

Have you ever considered what goes into a Surgical mask?

What is Spunbond?

Definition-a non-woven textile is a textile whose fibres are randomly arranged at the time of its manufacture, which forms a cluster of several layers of material.

Spun bond is the most common of these, resulting from a much less complex process than Melt Blown- see previous paragraph.

The threads (Spun) are created from an extrusion process, then the fibres are tied together (Bound).

Polypropylene is still the main material which has many advantages in terms of price, processing, production cost, etc… while allowing excellent breathability.

This is why we use it on the inner and outer layers.

What is Melt Blown?

It is a complicated manufacturing process. Polypropylene is extruded at high pressure turning it into a liquid.

Melt Flow Index (MFI) is used to show the viscosity of the extruded polypropylene.

To give you an example of what we mean, Honey has a MFI score of 30 whereas Melt Blown has a score of 3000 making it more fluid than water !

Once the material is in this liquid state, it is stretched to the maximum by blowing air through it at high speed containing thousands of micro fibres.

It is very important that these microfibers are ultra thin (on a microscopic/nano scale) ensuring that the filtration and breathability aspects of the Masks are optimal for the wearer.

By explaining this process, you can now know how complex this manufacturing process is and as a result, Melt Blown is an expensive and relatively scarce material to manufacture.

Actually, Meltblown, with its microscopic fibres, is the very best filter on the market.

Melt Blown has other uses in such things as Disposable Nappies and other Disposable PPE, making it even harder to source.

Why do we only use non-woven material?

Firstly, unlike woven fabrics, non-woven are not manufactured like traditional fabric material.

During the manufacturing process, these fabrics are formed randomly or even haphazardly creating layer upon layer of fabric material. Once formed, they become a much more efficient filter while allowing good breathability for the users.

Secondly, the threads are much thinner, which filters out dirt particles (dust), germs, dust loaded with bacteria and different types of smoke such as tobacco.

What are the different types of Mask?

To start with, not all Masks are used in the same way. Let's have a quick look at the different types of Mask on the market.

FFP Mask (Filtering Facepiece)

This is primarily used by Health and Care professionals- non-woven material, for use for up to 8 hours at a time. This is PPE (Personal Protective Equipment).

Surgical Mask

Type II and IIR (Splash Resistant) non-woven material, for use up to 4 hours.
This is a Disposable Mask used by Hospitals, Care, Food, Dentists, Vets and businesses where protection is important.

Face Masks

These are Disposable or Dust Masks or plastic PPE.

Barrier Masks (Homemade Versions)

These types of masks do not meet any clinical standards and have much lower performance/ filtration than those above.

What are the different types of Surgical Masks ?

There are 3 types of Surgical mask:

  1. Type I : BFE (Bacterial Filtration Efficiency) > 95%
  2. Type II : BFE > 98%
  3. Type IIR : BFE >98%, Splash Resistant to biological material (blood, stool, etc.)

What are the Surgical Mask Ear loops made from?

The elastic material used in the Ear Loops can cause pain and discomfort behind the ear if the wrong type is chosen. Surgical masks are made in many different places and use various elastic suppliers whose quality can vary.
Generally, the elastic ear loops are made of-

  • Polyester: It is made from a mixture of ethylene glycol and terephthalic acid. This is normally used in clothes manufacturing.
  • Elastane (or Spandex): Synthetic elastomer fiber derived from polyurethane, known for its incredible elasticity.
  • Elastodiene: Elastomeric fiber generally made of polyisoprene.

The elasticated Ear loops quickly return to their original shape after use and this is why it is the best material to use.

How to Improve the fitting of a Face Mask?

The nose bridge wire is used to help the fitting of the mask on the face.

There are different types of nose wire.

What is the best Surgical mask?

There are different types of masks for different end users on the market today.

Melt Blown is by far the best filter, but a good mask does not just depend on its filtering quality, you have to consider its comfort, where it comes from, its environmental impact and its breathability.

Conclusion

You can see the the overall performance of a Surgical Mask, in terms of filtration and breathability, depends on the quality of raw materials used.

As you see, Surgical masks have a filter layer surrounded by two layers of non-woven fabric one outer, one inner.

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