| | Sumit Roy

As the World braces for another  rapidly advancing mutating version of  Covid 19  Face masks are being used to reduce the chance of spreading or capturing COVID-19 once again. To limit the spread of the virus as much as possible, countries  across the world are advising its citizens to  considering making mask use mandatory both outdoors and indoors. As the world  starts enforcing  limited lockdowns  its important to understand the differences between various stypes of Face Masks. 

Broadly speaking there are 3 types of Face masks. 1) Cloth Masks 2) Medical &Surgical Masks  and 3 )Industrial masks or / Filtering Respirators.

Cloth Masks are most common out of all 3  which provides fair amount of protection, and they are washable however on the flip side, they are not standardized, has a wide variation in terms of use  and most  importantly, they do not provide any certification.

Medical Masks  are often known as surgical masks  and  are  commonly used for general  purpose and  offers a fair amount of protection.They  are also standardized and certified.However they are  good for avoiding infecting others but less effective for protecting yourself.

Industrial Masks/Filtering Respirators/FFP : They are the most potent face masks that are  certified, standardized ,available  for single use and offer the highest levels of protection you can every get.
The initials FFP in the name FFP2 stand for ‘Filtering Face Piece,’ and these masks filter out harmful microparticles very effectively, which is why they are used in conditions where there is a high risk of infection.

The 3 Types of Filtering Face Masks are:

  • European-certified  face masks
  • American-certified face masks
  • Indian Certified  face masks 

European – EN 149: 2001 + A1: 2009 

FFP1, FFP2 and FFP3 masks are governed by a piece of European legislation, the famous EN 149:2001, updated in 2009. This law defines the standards used to certify the effectiveness of ‘respiratory protective devices’ and clearly establishes the requirements, tests and branding for the masks. 

American – NIOSH – 42CFR84 

N95 Masks are covered by American standard NIOSH – 42CFR84 which are  drawn up by NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health), the American body responsible for certifying the actual effectiveness of filtering facial devices. 

Indian – IS 9473:2002 

BIS (Bureau of Indian Standards) is the apex certification body in India under which standard IS 9473:2002 is used for classifying masks as FFP1, FFP2 and FFP3. BIS is the only body out of the three which  mandates  an in-house dedicated laboratory for certification. 

How long does a FFP2 mask last?

FFP2 masks can be marked with the letter (R) for ‘reusable’ or (NR) for ‘non-reusable’. Most FFP2 masks fall into the latter category – they are protective devices that progressively become less effective with the passing of time. For this reason an FFP2 mask typically lasts around eight hours in at-risk environments, or a single work shift. Even if it is worn while keeping a safe distance in low-risk areas, the mask should nevertheless be thrown away after eight hours, since breathing and exposure to moisture gradually affect its filtration capacity and physical integrity. Once they become significantly damp, FFP2 masks should be  discarded.

Cloth Masks vs Surgical Masks vs  FFP2 Masks   Compared: Which is the best ?

So what makes these respiratory masks so good at filtration compared to surgical or cloth masks?

FFP2 masks are defined as being composed of three layers of synthetic non-woven materials, available in different thicknesses, with the inclusion of filtration layers between.It’s this combination of factors that lead to those strong results.

N95 and FFP2 are similar kinds of respiratory masks. These masks supposedly protect both the wearer and people around them. The World Health Organisation cites studies which show the filtration systems of FFP2 and N95 masks are 94 and 95 per cent effective respectively.

But 94 to 95 per cent of what?

This figure is achieved by testing masks using NaCl (sodium chloride) particles and paraffin oil – this is only for FFP2 testing, with the N95 certification process only testing using NaCl. While standard medical masks only filter three micrometre droplets, FFP2 respirator masks filter down to 0.075 micrometre solid particles. The masks are then tested by seeing what percentage of these small particles make it through and, in the case of getting FFP2 certification, only six per cent or less

If you feel the need for extra protection then Mallcom FFP2 face masks are now available at https://amzn.to/3zRWmyV.  

It is also worth noting that these more protective coverings have reduced in price since they first rose in popularity during the lockdowns of 2020. 


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