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Summary: Disposable (single use or non-reusable) filtering face masks are widely used for respiratory protection in occupational safety, for clinical or medical uses, for disease prevention, for clean room operation (human contamination control), for food safety and so on.  These masks are broadly classified, for convenience purpose, in 2 major categories – the face masks and respirator masks. Their functions and limitations are described in this article.


Many Sarawakian’s first experience seeing people wearing facemask on the streets started some years ago when the air was filled with thick haze generated from open-air burnings related to bush fires or land clearing agricultural activities. People were seen wearing various types of disposable facemasks including the single use paper dust masks, surgical masks and home made washable fabric masks to protect them from breathing in the polluted air particles.  I believed that many of them in face did not know what to wear for the haze.  They used whatever was available.

Were they protected from the hazy air? I did not think so because these disposable facemasks are not good enough to filter the airborne fine carbon particles.  Instead, N95 (American mask ratings) and FFP2 (European mask ratings) are the lowest types of dust masks that should be used to filter the hazy pollutant. But most people do not know what are N95 and FFP2.

Not only that, many who are working in the dusty workplaces do not know too what to choose for their respiratory protection.

This article shall explain to you some of the basics on disposable dust masks. You will know more about the masks you are wearing or how to select the right types of mask for the protection you need.

Disposable filtering dust masks:

Disposable filtering dust masks are widely used today for various purposes, for example:

  • For personal hygiene
  • In occupation safety – for respiratory protection against dusts and mists
  • In clinical and medical uses – for disease prevention
  • In clean room operation and for food safety – for human contamination control

US-NIOSH (United States – National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health) together with CDC (Centers for Disease Control) recommended the surgical mask and N95 respirator mask for H1N1 flu prevention in conjunction with other personal hygienic practices such as washing hands.

Types of disposable filtering dust masks:

To avoid confusion, US-NIOSH categorized commercial available disposable dust masks in 2 major groups – the facemasks and respirator masks.

(A). Facemasks

(A1). Paper masks

(A2). SBPP facemasks

(B). Respirator masks

(B1). American Ratings – N95, N99, R95, R99, N100, P100 etc

(B2). European Ratings – FFP1, FFP3, FFP3 etc

Their functions and limitations are described below:

(A). Facemasks

(A1). Paper masks

Paper mask1Paper mask2One of the most common paper masks selling in the local market is the Nurse Brand 1-ply and 2-ply single use paper mask (with elastic ear loops) packed in 100 pieces per dispenser box. They are cheap and widely used in clinic as single use disposable mask for personal hygiene.

We have customers in the beverages and food processing industry   using them for human contamination control.

As they are made of thin paper, they are useless when wet and can be torn easily.  They will burst when you sneeze or cough. They are not suitable for industrial usage and not for haze or H1N1 flu.

Unfortunately, when our air was filled with haze, many people were given and wore this type of mask when they went out-door.  They thought they were protected but they were not.

(A2). SBPP masks

Made of SBPP (Spunbond Polypropylene) fabric with elastic ear loops, elastic head loops or non-elastic head ties, they are more durable and resistant to wetness than the paper facemasks. They made in green, blue, pink or white color. There are 2-ply or 3-ply SBPP masks and are commonly known as surgical masks.

SBPP mask1Wear SBPP maskSBPP masks are used for

  • Clinical and surgical mask
  • Personal hygiene
  • For clean-room operation
  • For food safety

They are pack in 50 pieces per bag or per dispenser box.

US-NIOSH together with CDC recommended wearing 3-ply surgical mask for H1N1 prevention. (See my earlier articles “Correct use of facemask or respirator for influenza prevention”)

SBPP 2-ply and 3-ply mask, however, are not recommended for toxic industrial dusts or chemical dusts or for mists that produce toxic vapors.  They do not give adequate protection against haze that consists of mainly fine carbon particles.

(B). Respirator masks

(B1). The American Ratings

Respirator maskFor locals, the best known disposable respirator mask is perhaps the N95 mask because of their heavy advertisements when haze first attacked our countries many years ago.  N95 is American NIOSH (National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health) rating given to filtering dust masks that capture at least 95% of the airborne particles (0.3 micron in size or larger) used in the testing.

There are 7 classes of respirator mask given by American NIOSH:

Class Description
N95 Filters at least 95% of airborne particles. Not resistant to oil.
N99 Filters at least 99% of airborne particles. Not resistant to oil.
N100 Filters at least 99.97% of airborne particles. Not resistant to oil.
R95 Filters at least 95% of airborne particles. Somewhat resistant to oil.
P95 Filters at least 95% of airborne particles. Strongly resistant to oil.
P99 Filters at least 99% of airborne particles. Strongly resistant to oil.
P100 Filters at least 99.97% of airborne particles. Strongly resistant to oil.

Table extracted from NIOSH web page http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/npptl/topics/respirators/disp_part/default.html

N95, N99, N100 – Used for water based dust and water based mist only; not for oil based dust and oil based mist.

R95, P95, P99 and P100 – Can be used for both water based and oil based dust and mist.

N100 and P100 are HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air filters that will remove at least 99.97% of airborne particles 0.3 micron in diameter or larger.

(C2). The European Ratings:

European countries have their own set of Ratings for dust masks.  They are

  • FFP1 (Low efficiency)
  • FFP2 (Medium efficiency)
  • FFP3 (High efficiency)

In European countries, only masks in compliance with EC Directive 89/686 (such as FFP2 and FFP3) are recommended for respiratory protection against airborne particles such as H1N1 flu virus.  Disposable nuisance dust masks and 3-ply SBPP Surgical masks do not carry EC markings are not recommended for H1N1 because they do not comply with this legislation.

WHO (World Health Organization) recommended wearing FFP2 mask as precautionary measure when no H1N1 infection is indicated.  For H1N1 caretakers (including handling infected animals), FFP3 masks are recommended.

US-NIOSH together with CDC recommended the surgical mask for precautionary measure when no infection is indicated.  For H1N1 caretakers (including handling of infected animals), N95, N99 or P100 masks are recommended.

Disposable respirator masks for occupational safety

Disposable dust masks should not be used for occupational safety.  They are not efficient filter to protect our respiratory organs from harmful dusts and fume.

You should read recommendation on respirators or masks from product labels or MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) and only those carry American or European Ratings or other international markings should be used for occupational safety. One of the most basic rules you must remember is that they must not be used in oxygen deficient condition (when and where oxygen is too low to sustain life).

Related posts:

  1. Disposable 1- or 2- Ply Paper Face Mask
  2. Correct use of facemask or respirator for influenza prevention
  3. Flu-Safety Personal Pack
  4. 3M 8210 particulate respirator
  5. Disposable 3-Ply non-woven Face Mask

One Response to “Disposable filtering facemasks”

  1. adnan Says:

    Sir i need 1/2 ply face mask … could you tell me price as well as mail me back on my Email



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