Differences between Medical Surgical Masks, Fashion Masks, and ordinary Hygiene Masks?
A medical surgical mask is a 3-ply face mask with a fluid-resistant melt-blown layer that also blocks pathogens. It is originally intended for healthcare professionals during surgery and clinical rounds, and depending on the grade, will also protect against splatters of bodily fluids and blood.
Fashion or cloth masks made from washable fabric or sponge are reusable, and are mainly designed for air pollution or pollen allergy, but useless against viruses and bacteria. We have however designed a cloth mask with a pocket where medical masks can be inserted to be used as a filter.
The biggest difference between medical masks and ordinary face masks is the melt-blown layer in surgical masks.
There are also face masks that look similar to surgical masks - and can be 1, 2, or 3-ply. They are widely available, an unregulated item, and may be manufactured in unregulated facilities. We caution against purchasing and using these, despite how inexpensive they may be.
What is Melt-Blown Fabric?
KN95 and Medical Surgical Masks are made with non-woven, melt-blown fabric. This material is used to effectively filter out pathogens (bacteria, viruses, etc.) while allowing the wearer to breathe. Melt-blown is a type of HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter. This 100% virgin polypropylene is used for PPE (personal protective equipment) masks and respirators. The particular melt-blown layers used in the masks we offer are tested to block at least 95% of airborne particles with an average particle size range of 3.0 ± 0.3 microns (also known as micrometers).
Melt-blown made using melted polypropylene, polystyrene, polycarbonate, or other similar material. As hundreds of strands of the melted substances cool, they bond together to form a fabric sheet. Our medical surgical masks consist of 3 layers, sandwiching a layer of melt-blown fabric between 2 layers of textile. Our KN95 masks have 5 layers, with two melt-blown layers between 3 layers of fluid-resistant and hypoallergenic fabric.
Because melt-blown machines are so precise and intricate, it is difficult for manufacturers to scale production in response to the demands caused by COVID-19. This and other reasons, continue to contribute to the global shortage of medical masks.
How are Medical Surgical Masks tested?
Surgical masks are put through five tests to comply with regulations set by government agencies such as the FDA, NIOSH, and OSHA:
Bacterial or viral filtration efficiency (BFE or BVE). Measures the filtration ability of the mask against bacteria and/or viruses.
Particle filtration efficiency. Measures the ability of the mask to filter out smaller particles, including viruses that are smaller than the diameter of bacteria.
Differential pressure. Determines the breathability of the mask.
Synthetic blood fluid penetration resistance. Tests the ability of the mask to protect against fluid splashes.
Flammability. Measures how slowly the mask takes to catch fire and how long it takes to burn.
Can I trust protective masks made in China?
Yes and no. China manufacturers 50% of the world's PPE. It's very possible to get high quality PPE - so it's important that you know what you're buying and that it comes from a professional manufacturer. Otherwise, you may be getting products made in someone's mom and pop shop.
- 1: Medical Surgical Masks. These have 3 layers, with a melt-blown filter in the middle with 95-99% BFE (bacterial filtration efficiency). These are hospital-grade, guarding against fluid and blood splatter. They can only be produced by professional and accredited manufacturers, some who have GMP Class Cleanrooms, and some who offer sterilized masks. Chinese Standard YY0469 (equal to USA Standard ASTMF2100).
2: Single-Use Medical Masks. Similar to #1. Three layers with a middle meltblown filter layer rated 95-99% BFE. These are also hospital-grade and produced in professional facilities, and may be offered sterilized. These masks are not meant to guard against fluids and blood splatters. Chinese Standard YY/T0969.
- 3: Face Masks. These can be produced anywhere by anyone. They are an unregulated item produced in potentially unregulated facilities, and therefore quality is inconsistent. They can have 1, 2, or 3 layers and look exactly the same as the Medical Masks. These are the majority of masks freely available in the market right now and can go for $0.20-1.00/mask. If you're looking to buy these masks, just wear a cloth mask or a folded scarf instead. Your cloth mask won't filter pathogens that well, but at least you'll know how well you've cleaned your own mask.