FFP3 Masks (N99) vs FFP2 Masks (N95) vs Surgical Masks: What is the difference?

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Explore our range of FFP2 (N95) and FFP3 (N99) Face Masks

All of our masks are CE certified and conform to European Standards

FFP stands for “Filtering Face Piece”, and is a form of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). In Europe, masks are classified according to the FFP standard. FFP1 masks filter at least 80% of airborne particles, FFP2 masks filter at least 94% of airborne particles and FFP3 masks filter at least 99% of airborne particles. FFP masks are not normally reusable and can usually be worn for up to 8 hours.
Before FFP masks can be used in the UK, they must conform to the European standard EN 149:2001+A1:2009. This means that they have been tested and approved by an independent third-party body, as meeting the minimum requirements. Most of the world’s PPE, including face masks are produced in China. However, before they can be used in the UK, they must conform to EN 149:2001+A1:2009. These masks are often referred to as medical masks, as they are commonly used by healthcare proffesionals. 

 

What are FFP2 masks / N95 masks?

An FFP2 mask is a tight-fitting face mask which provides a seal around the face (predominantly the mouth and nose), filtering inflow and outflow of air. They are resistant to fluid offering a high level of protection to the user. FFP2 masks are identical to N95 masks and KN95 masks. N95 respirators are the American standard, KN95 are the Chinese standard and FFP2 are the European standard. All three masks provide the same level of protection but are referred to differently in different parts of the world.

Are FFP2 (N95) masks reusable?

FFP2 masks are not usually reusable and will be marked with the letters “NR”, which stands for “not reusable”. Whilst guidance in the UK states that these masks can be reused if you can ensure the mask is not damaged or soiled, it is not possible to know whether the mask has been infected or not. If you are using FFP2 masks to protect yourself from bacteria and viruses, they should not be reused.
FFP2 or N95 masks should not be washed, as washing these masks can damage the structure, which can compromise the level of protection you receive.

How long can you wear an N95 mask (FFP2)?

You can wear an N95 mask or FFP2 respirator for up to 8 hours, provided you can guarantee that the mask has not become soiled, or damaged. If you have removed your mask, you should not reuse it. Dispose of your old mask and wear a new one to reduce the chances of transmitting infectious particulate. If your mask has become damaged or soiled, you should remove the mask and dispose of it. The use of a face shield can reduce the chances of your mask becoming infected.
Please note: You should refer the manufactures advice for guidelines relating to how long you are able to use your respirator for.

What is the difference between N95 (FFP2) valved and non-valved?

Valved masks offer maximum protection for both the user and those around them. N95 masks with a valve have a small structure which allows tiny amounts of air to be expelled from the mask, without letting any air in. These masks are only advised for those who have breathing difficulties using non-valved masks, and where those around the user are wearing masks.

 

What are FFP3 masks / N99 masks?

FFP3 masks are similar in nature to FFP2 masks, but provide a higher filtration rate, filtering up to 98% of airborne particles. They are fluid resistant, providing a high level of protection. FFP3 masks are also referred to as N99 masks in America. They both provide the same level of protection and are commonly used by healthcare workers to protect both the user and those around them. In the UK, healthcare bodies have called for all UK staff to be given high grade masks such as FFP3’s, to lower the risk of transmission of COVID-19.

Are FFP3 masks (N99) reusable?

FFP3 masks should not be reused, as it is difficult to know whether the mask has harmful substances attached to the exterior. Most N99 or FFP3 masks will have “NR” printed on the mask, which stands for “not reusable”. After using your respirator, you should wash your hands to avoid cross contamination. 

How long can you use an N99 mask (FFP3) for?

You can use an N99 mask (FFP3) for up to 8 hours, or if you can guarantee that the mask has not become infected or damaged. Once you remove your respirator, you should dispose of it to avoid the risk of transmitting harmful substances.

What is the difference between N99 (FFP3) valved masks and non-valved masks?

FFP3 masks with a valve have a small instrument within the mask that allow small amounts of air to be expelled, without letting any air in. Valved FFP3 masks can be useful for those with breathing difficulties, but do not provide protection for people around the wearer.

 

What is a surgical face mask?

Surgical masks are categorised into standard 3-ply face masks, and type IIR face masks, also known as type 2r face masks. They are designed to reduce the transmission of airborne diseases and viruses. These masks allow for more breathing space, and do not form a tight seal around the face. They are not designed to be reused and should be discarded after use. Whilst FFP2 and FFP3 masks must conform to standards EN149, surgical masks must conform to EN14683, which is the standard that surgical face masks must comply with in Europe. 

What is a type IIR surgical mask (type 2R surgical mask)

Type IIR surgical masks conform to the European standards EN 149:2001+A1:2009. Technically, the material of these masks offers the same protection as an FFP2 or N95 mask. They are also fluid resistant, offering much more protection than a standard 3-ply mask. Whilst Type 2R surgical masks offer up to 94% Bacterial Filtration Efficiency, the loose fit can compromise the level of protection for both the wearer, and those around them. The fit and tight seal is the main difference between surgical masks and N95 masks (FFP2). However, these masks are a cost-effective and convenient option for many.

What is a 3-ply mask?

3-ply masks look like surgical masks, but are classified as "face coverings". This is because they do not conform to a standard, and are classified in the same category as cloth face coverings. 

 

Are N95 (FFP2) or N99 (FFP3) masks washable?

Most disposable FFP2 and FFP3 masks are not designed to be reused and you should not clean them. If you can be sure that the mask is not contaminated, it should be placed in a plastic bag and left for a few days before reuse. However, it is extremely difficult to be sure of this, and respirators should be discarded after one use.

 

Should I use ear loops or head straps?

Masks with a head strap generally provide a tighter seal around the face, offering more protection. However, they can be uncomfortable and make breathing difficult. Those with a small face may benefit from head straps. Respirators with ear loops may be more comfortable, for long term use, but may not form a tight seal, especially for those with smaller faces.

 

Can FFP2 (N95) masks and FFP3 (N99) masks protect against Coronavirus (Covid-19)?

Most FFP2 and FFP3 masks will filter small particles up to 0.3 microns in size. Viruses are actually smaller in size (around 0.06 to 0.14 microns). Particles smaller than 0.3 microns are so small, that they would pinball with other molecules in the air, moving in random directions. This is known as the Brownian motion. This motion would make it easier for filters to capture molecules of this size. In fact, particles larger than this (around 0.3 microns in size) would be more difficult to capture, as they would not be exhibiting random movements. So, in theory, masks with the ability to filter particles up to 0.3 microns in size, will generally be able to filter particles below this size.

It is also important to note that, it is very rare for a naked virus to be present in the air, or for a person to transmit a naked virus. Viruses are generally transmitted when they are attached to droplets or splashes from a cough or sneeze, talking, and breathing. Viruses contained in droplets from humans are well above 0.3 microns in size (around 1 micron).

Another factor to consider is that FFP2 and FFP3 masks use electrostatic absorption to attract tiny particles to the fibres of the mask (this includes those that are smaller than 0.3 microns). This action, together with the fluid resistant nature of FFP2’s (N95 Face Masks) and FFP3’s (N99 Face Masks) make it difficult for infected particles to penetrate these masks. This is why reusing masks is generally advised against.

FFP2 and FFP3 masks, together with other measure of good practice such as social distancing, washing your hands and santising, will help to prevent the spread of Coronavirus. 


Whilst all of our content is written and reviewed by healthcare professionals, it is not intended to be substituted for or used as medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns about your health, please speak to your doctor.