Ask Tess: What is the difference between N95 and N100 respirator masks?

Hi Tess,

My wife and I read your 52-Weeks to Preparedness series and want to get prepared for the Ebola pandemic if it hits America. I’m a bit confused on all of the different types of respirator masks out there and was wondering if you could shed light on the subject. What’s the difference and which one do you suggest we use?

Thanks,

J.T. Sawyer

Answer:

Hello J.T.,

Ebola is a very concerning health issue going on in the world and one that I believe we should have a preparedness plan for. There are differences in the respirator masks on the market and knowing the difference between them can help keep you and your family safer.

When the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) specified there be requirements for different respirator filters, they created three divisions for the filters with differing specifications: N series, R series and P series. Using masks with air-purifying respirators protects by filtering particles out of the air the user is breathing. There are seven classes of filters for NIOSH-approved filtering facepiece respirators available at this time.

  • N95 – Filters at least 95% of airborne particles. Not resistant to oil.
  • Surgical N95 – A NIOSH-approved N95 respirator that has also been cleared by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a surgical mask.
  • 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.

The difference between the N-series, R-series and P-series of masks has to do with whether or not the mask will be worn in an environment where oils and their vapors can be inhaled. In short, N-series filters are not resistant to oil, R-series filters are resistant to oil, and P-series filters are oil proof.

The respirator filter ratings (95, 99, 100) refer to the percentage efficiency at removing particulates from breathing air. 95, 99 and 100 series filters are 95%, 99% and 100% efficient, respectively.

N95 respirators made by different companies were found to have different filtration efficiencies for the most penetrating particle size (0.1 to 0.3 micron), but all were at least 95% efficient at that size. Above the most penetrating particle size the filtration efficiency increases with size; it reaches approximately 99.5% or higher at about 0.75 micron. Tests with bacteria of size and shape similar to Mycobacterium tuberculosis also showed filtration efficiencies of 99.5% or higher.

In the case of preparing for Ebola, keep in mind that the Ebola virus strands can be as small as .02 microns in diameter, which are smaller than 3 microns. That said, the virus can permeate the filtered masks by a carrier such as (water molecules, bodily fluids, etc.). The best bet in assuring your family’s safety against Ebola is with N100 or P100 mask. Further, investing in other pandemic supplies would also be worthwhile.

As with most disasters, a pandemic will require a solid, well-thought plan for surviving as well as require long term social distancing measures that will further require you to be prepared for a long term disaster of 1-2 months or longer. Therefore, keep your needs in mind and prepare accordingly. I hope this helps, and best of luck on your pandemic preparedness kits.

Tess

Resources:

Ebola Survival Handbook: A Collection of Tips, Strategies, and Supply Lists From Some of the World’s Best Preparedness Professionals

“Like” Pandemic Watch on Facebook

The Prepper's Blueprint

Tess Pennington is the author of The Prepper’s Blueprint, a comprehensive guide that uses real-life scenarios to help you prepare for any disaster. Because a crisis rarely stops with a triggering event the aftermath can spiral, having the capacity to cripple our normal ways of life. The well-rounded, multi-layered approach outlined in the Blueprint helps you make sense of a wide array of preparedness concepts through easily digestible action items and supply lists.

Tess is also the author of the highly rated Prepper’s Cookbook, which helps you to create a plan for stocking, organizing and maintaining a proper emergency food supply and includes over 300 recipes for nutritious, delicious, life-saving meals. 

Visit her web site at ReadyNutrition.com for an extensive compilation of free information on preparedness, homesteading, and healthy living.

This information has been made available by Ready Nutrition

Originally published September 19th, 2014
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  • EchoSix

    You’re right. They’re made out of Tyvek, which is, in essence, a fabric.

    Yet the way Tyvek works, is that it breaths through one side only and does not allow air passage through the other. It’s the reason it’s used as a “housewrap”, to prevent exterior moisture and dust to permeate into the home.

    So, when wearing a suit made out of Tyvek, your humidity and all possible bacteria YOU contain, is capable of breathing and venting to the outside world. But it also blocks all humidity and possible bacteria from entering the suit, from the outside world.

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