Masks are getting more relevant than they’ve been for the past few decades. For some, they have become a mandatory piece of protection equipment. But they are useful not just for protection against airborne infection. Many workers rely on safety that anti-dust respirators give them in daily routine. And there are so many types of masks out there that it’s easy to mix them up.

What is an N95 respirator? What’s the difference between FFP3, P3, and P95 masks? This article goes through each type to make you an expert in this field!

Types of Masks (Respirators)

Image taken from Statista. About the effectiveness of different types of masks.
Image taken from Statista.

It’s easy to get confused about in types of respiratory protection equipment. Masks vary based on their purpose, reusability, and filtering efficiency. Do you want help in sorting them all out? Then, let’s get started!


Dust Mask

You could be surprised at how exposed we are to dust in our daily lives. And it’s no laughing manner either. It might lead to a severe negative impact on your well-being.

Dust can ruffle our airways, reduce lung function, aggravate asthma, and lead to other chronic respiratory system conditions. According to the data from various healthcare institutions, exposure to airborne pollutants increases the risk of having a heart attack.

Anti-dust masks offer the most cost-efficient method of protection for the respiratory system. Don’t want to cough or sneeze during house cleanup? Want to do some lawn mowing without being exposed to smoke? Then, there’s no reason to overpay for top-quality anti-bacterial respirators. Dust masks will do you just as good for a much lower price.

There are three classifications of anti-dust masks: P1, P2, and P3. Want to know more about each one? Then, stick around. We’ll talk about different types of dust masks later on.

Key features:

  • Basic safety against dust, fumes, and smoke.
  • Don’t offer much against viruses, germs, and airborne infection.
  • Made for daily chores.
  • Cheap.
  • Disposable.

Homemade (Cotton) Face Mask

type of mask

Homemade masks (we can refer to them as cotton masks) offer a low-tier level of protection against pollutants. It goes without saying that they can’t be considered as genuine personal protective equipment. That said, some types of cotton masks are made based on the facemask pattern that has become publicly available due to the spread of coronavirus.

Homemade masks cannot compete with N95 or FFP3 respirators in terms of protection against diseases. Still, experts state that even a piece of cotton covering your mouth and nose reduces the chance of getting the infection by half. Also, these masks can help people who already got sick by serving as a barrier that prevents the spreading of the virus.

Furthermore, this facewear provides great protection against atoxic dust. Thus, it’s a perfect affordable solution for daily chores.

Key features:

  • Handmade from organic (non-toxic) materials. Usually, it’s made from allergy-friendly cotton.
  • Viable against non-toxic dust, fumes, and aerosols.
  • Reduces the chance of getting infected by airborne diseases by half.
  • A practical option for people who got sick to prevent the spreading of disease.
  • Durable and washable.

Motorcycle Face Mask

Bandanas and motorcycle masks are a proven way to protect yourself against dust. They were used for this specific goal for many decades. What’s the advantage of this type of mask?

A proper motorcycle mask will safeguard your respiratory system during high-speed driving. It will also protect your face from getting hurt if you happen to get into an accident. Also, motorcycle masks keep your breath warm in cold weather. Let’s not forget that they allow you to ride with style.

I wouldn’t get your hopes up if you’re counting on a motorcycle mask to protect yourself against hazardous airborne pollution. And no, there are currently no NIOSH or EU approved biker masks on the market.

Key features:

  • Provides basic protection against airborne particles.
  • Can protect your face during high-speed driving.
  • Suitable for driving in cold weather (keeps the breath warm).
  • Emphasis on style.
  • Reusable and washable.

Surgical Mask

Surgical masks are a type of medical-grade equipment. This facewear is used for respiratory system protection against larger airborne particles and splashes of fluids. It works as a basic barrier between the mouth (and a nose) and the outside environment.

You can find these types of masks on healthcare workers in any corner of the world. Aside from bodily liquids and aerosols, this facewear has adequate filtration efficiency against a wide range of pollutants. Even though they are not as efficient as N95, N99, or N100 respirators, surgical masks are a viable option against viruses and germs.

These masks can’t be washed or reused. Based on a study published in the International Journal of Infection Control, surgical masks remain most effective during the first hour of use. After 2 and 30 minutes of continuous wearing, these types of masks lose most of the protective qualities.

Overall, surgical facewear is a cheap and disposable solution that remains useful for a limited amount of time. But what if you want to get more efficient and prolonged protection against airborne particles? Then, you should go for respirators certified by NIOSH.

Key features:

  • Offer viable protection against bacteria, dust particles, liquids, and aerosols.
  • Can’t be washed.
  • Throwaway.
  • Cheap.
  • Usable for a limited period (approximately 90 minutes).

Respirator Masks

Respirator masks are a more advanced type of protection equipment compared to surgical ones. 

There are many classifications of respiratory protection tools out there. However, term “respirators” mainly applies to facewear that received approval by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), or by European Union. The most widespread types of these masks in America are N95, N99, N100. These masks are useful in various settings. They provide at least 95% filtering efficiency against airborne particles. This gives them the ability to block germs, flu, and infectious diseases.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends respirator masks for medical staff, healthcare professionals, and people who want to lower the risk of getting sick during a coronavirus outbreak.

In the European countries, you can find the “EN 149” certified FFP respirators. There are also other NIOSH-certified products like P95 and R95. Don’t get confused now! We’ll talk about the classifications of respiratory protection equipment in a minute.

Key features:

  • From 95.5% to 99.7% of filtering efficiency.
  • Viable against toxic dust, germs, viruses, and most types of airborne pollution.
  • Some types of respirator masks can filter oil-based particles (NIOSH-approved R and P series).
  • Affordable.
  • Available as a full face and half face masks.
  • Not suitable for bearded people.
  • Some models are washable and reusable.

Full Face Respirators


These types of masks are made for people who want to achieve maximal protection against hazardous airborne particles. They work just like respirator masks. However, due to the fact that they conceal the face, they are more even potent against viruses. Also, this mask type includes surgical respirators with face shields. They can protect your eyes from bodily fluids and oil-based aerosols. It’s also the most expensive type of mask on the market. 

Who can benefit from full-face respirators? Basically, anyone who wants to have full respiratory protection during painting, laboratory work, welding, or chemical cleanup. Masks with face shields are also incredibly popular among dentists.

But that’s not all! Do you value your facial hair a little too much? With full-face respirators, you can get a good seal even with a particularly long beard.

Key features:

  • Expensive.
  • Durable and reusable.
  • Maximal levels of protection against airborne particles, oil-based aerosols, and liquids.
  • Protects the entirety of your face (including the eyes).
  • Fits people with facial hair.

NIOSH-Certified Mask Classifications (Guide)

How are you holding up so far? Feeling a little confused in classifications? Don’t worry! We’re here to make all these ratings and models understandable.

Right now, you might be wondering: “what are NIOSH-certified masks”? As we already mentioned, some respiratory protection equipment received approval by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. In simple terms, the term “NIOSH-certified mask” refers to a face protection equipment that’s being recommended by the US experts.

The respirators in the “N” category include:

  1. N95 respirators that can filter over 95% of airborne particles.
  2. N99 respirators (99% of filtering efficiency).
  3. N100 respirators (99.97% of filtering efficiency).

However, the equipment mentioned above doesn’t provide resistance to oil particles.

NIOSH-approved respirators that can filter oil-based aerosols include:

  • R95, R99, and R100 models that have the same levels of filtering efficiency as corresponding “N” models. Furthermore, they provide limited resistance to oil.
  • P95, P99, and P100 models that offer the greatest protection for all kinds of pollutants, including oil-based aerosols.

We also mentioned FFP and P types of masks earlier in the article. We’re going to go through these types next.

Respirator Masks in the European Union: FFP and P Classes


FFP is a respirator that was approved by the European Union under the “EN 149” standard. These types of respirators are similar to the NIOSH-approved masks in the US.

According to the WHO guidelines, FFP masks provide sufficient protection against hazardous dust particles, pollution, and viruses. That also includes COVID-19, which makes them perfect for healthcare workers.

Let’s have a closer look at available FFP masks.

FFP1

FFP1 class respirators offer protection against non-toxic dust. They can filter approximately 80% of airborne particles that measure up to 0.6 microns in size.

They are cheap, but they won’t safeguard you from infection. These types of masks are viable against fourfold OEL or APF transgression. They are common amongst people working in the food industry.

FFP2

FFP2 respirators can filter up to 94% of particles that are measuring up to 0.6 microns in environments with tenfold OEL or APF transgression. Basically, FFP2 is a European equivalent of the N95 mask that is prevalent in America. What does this mean in terms of protection?

This kind of facewear works against hazardous dust and unpleasant odors, as well as against smoke, fogs, and aerosols. It also meets the WHO guidelines as a mask that can protect against viruses.

FFP2 is mostly used in construction engineering, as well as in metal and mining industries. These types of masks can also prevent the development of respiratory diseases and lung cancer.

FFP3

FFP3 offers maximal level safety from air pollution among these types of masks. The filtering efficiency stands at 99% for 0.6-micron particles. In addition to dust, smokes, and aerosols, this respirator protects against poisonous and radioactive particles. It’s designed for work in environments with up to 50x concentration of OEL.

These respirators are utilized by healthcare workers, as well as people in the pharmaceutical and chemical industries. If applied correctly, this respirator is proven to deliver adequate protection against COVID-19.

And there are also P-rated masks. We’ll go through them as well.

P1, P2, P3

The P rating refers to disposable dust masks. Be careful not to confuse these with NIOSH-certified P95, P99, and P100 respirators!

P1, P2, and P3 dust masks don’t provide much in terms of protection against viruses, germs, or flu. They also don’t have approval from NIOSH.

What’s the benefit of this type of masks? 

They are more than adequate under ordinary circumstances or at workplaces with higher levels of dust exposure. They come in three types:

  1. P1 mask filters approximately 80% of particles found in the air. It’s suitable for works that involve sanding and drilling.
  2. P2 has about 94% of filtering efficiency. It’s perfect for environments with a moderate level of dust exposure (construction, demolition, road-working).
  3. With at least 99.9% of filtering efficiency, P3 masks can protect you against solid aerosols and liquids. Potentially, they are also viable against viruses and germs.

Conclusion: What Kind of Mask Should You Choose?

As you can see, there are various types of masks for every activity and environment. Proper facewear can protect you from dust, fumes, smoke, and even airborne infection. And now that you’ve grasped all the nuances of respiratory protection equipment, you must be ready to apply all this knowledge. 

Ready to pick the mask that suits your needs?

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)


What is the difference between N95 and P95 masks?

The main difference between the N95 and P95 respirators is their ability to protect against oil-based aerosols. Oil-based particles come from products like pesticides. They become airborne after being sprayed.

Aside from that, both N95 and P95 have 95.5% of filtering efficiency against airborne particles.

What is the difference between the P95 and P3 mask?

P95 refers to that are proven to filter about at least of 95.5% of airborne particles (0.1 microns in size). They are also oil-proof.

The P3 is the most efficient type of dust mask on the market. It doesn’t have approval by NIOSH or other governmental institutions. Nonetheless, it can retain approximately 99.95% of particles. This makes it effective against smoke, mist, dust, and even viruses. Facewear like this won’t protect against oil-based aerosols.

Are all N95 masks medical grade?

N95 respirators and surgical masks are useful for all kinds of healthcare workers. Furthermore, all NIOSH-certified respirators with more than 95% of filtering efficiency are proven to be useful for medical facilities and institutions.

Which is better: the N95 or N99 mask?

N95 masks offer 95.5% of effectiveness against various types of airborne pollution, while the N99 provides up to 99% of filtering efficiency. Therefore, the N99 will prove to be slightly more useful compared to the N95 respirator (and also more expensive).

Is P100 better than N95?

N95 can filter around 95.5% of airborne particles. This level of protection is viable even against germs, flu, and viruses. However, this respirator can’t protect against oil particles.

P100 is the most secure respirator available on the market. It has approximately 99.97% of filtering efficiency, including oil-based particles. Thus, this model provides exceptional protection against oil-based aerosols, airborne pollutants, toxic dust, and viruses.

What is a P3 respirator, and what can it protect against?

P3 is a disposable dust mask used for protection against hazardous particles. These types of masks are suited for workplaces with high levels of dust concentrations and harmful powders (for example, construction engineering and pharmaceutical industry).

Is P3 better than P2?

Both of these types of masks are designed to protect against airborne particles.

P2 facewear can help you during work at environments with moderate levels of dust. Meanwhile, P3 protects slightly better compared to the P2 dust mask. P3 should prove much better in contaminated environments.

What are FFP3 masks used for?

FFP3 are half-masks that can filter over 99% of particles found in the air. The “FFP” grading is prevalent in European countries. The WHO recommends FFP3 and FFP2 respirators as a reasonable means of protection against dangerous airborne infections. They can ward off flu, severe acute respiratory syndrome, and even coronavirus.