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

With the concerns of a global pandemic unfolding, a reader asks what the difference between the different respirator masks on the market.

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

This article was originally published at Ready Nutrition™ on September 19th, 2014

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