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What Are the Different Types of Face Masks?

In the year 2020, humanity faced the most significant challenge over the years. We call it coronavirus, and now the fear of the unknown spreads around the globe. However, we know one thing for sure. If we want to stop the pandemic and protect ourselves, we have to wear respirators or masks. But which one should you choose? Let's find it out.

What factors should you check when choosing a Respirators and Face Masks?

Three essential factors you need to consider include:

  • The N-rating;

This number means the number of particles that the mask blocks. For example, the N95 mask blocks up to 95% of microorganisms. And the N100 mask should protect you from almost 100% of particles in the air.

  • The filters should be disposable;

All respirators guarantee virus protection, but the virus can stay on the filter or mask itself. That is why they should be disposable.

  • It should fit your face.

The mask should seal to your skin to prevent the passing of unfiltered air.


Let's look at the products of one of the biggest manufacturers of respirators - 3M. 3M 8511 is a disposable mask of N95 type. There are ten respirators in a box, so they are convenient to use for a big family. You can use them several times and for many hours. Nevertheless, it will be better to get rid of them when they become wet or dirty.

These N95 respirators are the leaders of the market, and not without good reason. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health approved that 3M 8511 blocks 95% of non-oil particles and microorganisms.

The central purpose of 3M 8511 is to provide a better user experience when you have to use it for a longer time. Besides, it protects you from any type of particles, and not only virus. And its durability allows you to stay safe for many days.


Another outstanding product of the above company is N100 model 3M 8233, classified as Comfort Plus. This respirator provides us with the highest level of safety, as well as comfortable use.

According to NIOSH standards, the 3M 8233 mask filtration efficiency is 99.97%, which makes this model the safest on the market. However, the fact that 3M packs this model individually may surprise some customers.

The shelf life of 3M 8233 is the same as of most other models - 5 years. However, you should keep the mask away from oily substances and direct sunlight, as they can damage the product.

The face seal made of foam makes its use even more comfortable. Besides, it has a valve for normal breathing. Also, the manufacturers applied Cool Flow technology, which decreases the temperature of inhaled air. It creates a feeling of freshness during the use of this model.

Full face mask respirators

Another type of protection respirators is the all-in-one full face mask. Besides covering your nose and mouth, such a respirator also protects your eyes and face. This mask will block everything from getting close to your face, so you can use it to paint your fence and to work with biohazardous materials.

The 3M 6900 is a full face reusable respirator that combines safety and the comfort and ease of its use. Also, with this model, you can use different cartridges and filters depending on your purposes. Besides, the manufacturer also used Cool Flow technology to make your experience even more enjoyable.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has examined and approved the 3M 6900 respirators. They meet safety requirements and help to reduce all the risks.

Half face respirators

Half face respirators are another type of face protection. It is smaller than its full face version, but it still provides us with a high level of safety. The 3M company designed the 6500 series half facepiece respirators using the latest technologies and according to the most rigorous safety standards.

This reusable respirator can protect you in a dirty or dangerous environment as it blocks most contaminants. To guarantee your safety, you should use approved filters and cartridges with this mask. This model provides customers with long durability and ease of use.

It is the lightest silicone facepiece of this company, but it is strong enough to resist extreme conditions without losing its protection properties.

Built-in innovative design and comfort features include a specific valve, enabling leading exhaled air downward, and well-known Cool Flow technology. It helps to keep your face dryer and reduce the heat.

Also, NIOSH approved its high protection level against different gases, vapors, and particulate hazards. So you can use it in almost any environment and for any job.

Surgical mask

This mask is loose-fitting and disposable. It forms a physical wall between the nose and mouth of the user and possible airborne contaminants. You should not share used surgical masks and change them every two hours.

People often believe that surgical masks are similar to regular face masks. However, medical regulatory authorities do not always regulate face masks production. Moreover, you can find surgical masks of different thicknesses and with various protection abilities.

If you wear it correctly, this mask will help prevent large-particle splashes, droplets, and sprays from getting to your face. Also, wearing surgical masks helps reduce the risk of infecting other people.

A surgical mask is more effective than a regular face mask, as the latter does not block or filter tiny particles transmitted by sneezes, coughs, or medical procedures. But even a professional surgical respirator can not protect you from viruses completely.

As we have said above, you should not use surgical masks more than once. In case of any damage or contamination, remove and discard the mask. Do the same when it becomes hard to breathe through it. Then wear a new one. To get rid of the used surgical mask, put it in a plastic bag. Do not forget to wash your hands after that.

Homemade mask

Homemade masks are not the best solution. But they are quite easy to make or buy. You only need a piece of cloth, needle, and thread. Such a mask cannot save you from getting infected. But wearing it can save others from you.

Moreover, homemade masks are washable, so you can disinfect them by washing them at high temperatures. They are reusable, and it makes them environmentally friendly. Besides, you can adjust the size of a homemade mask. You can make masks for your entire family.

3M cartridges and filters

The above full face and half face 3M respirators work with most of 3M filters and cartridges. So what is the difference between them?

3M Particulate filters

Particulate filters catch particles using the mechanisms of interception, impaction, and diffusion. Moreover, the manufacturer uses an electrostatic charge to make those filters capture more particles inside the filter media.

It may be surprising, but 3M filters become even more efficient as they load up with the contaminant. Nevertheless, it will also be more troublesome to breathe through them.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has classified the particulate filters based on the type of aerosol and the least filtration efficiency.

You should replace your filter if you cannot breathe comfortably or it becomes dirty.

3M Gas & Vapor Cartridges

Unlike particulate filters, 3M cartridges use sorbent materials to purify the vapor or gas. Most often, 3M uses activated carbon as a sorbent. To improve its adsorbing properties, the manufacturer may also treat the activated carbon with various chemical compounds. It allows for adsorbing different types of hazardous gases.

However, those cartridges have a limited capacity. After reaching it, hazardous gases can get to the user's face. Experts call this process "breakthrough." There is also a classification system used to classify various types of cartridges according to their use.

Many factors affect the service life of gas cartridges. It depends on the breathing rate, environment, temperature, humidity, and many other circumstances. You should always control the use of cartridges and change them according to the change schedule.

The difference between filters and cartridges

The main difference is in their purpose. The particulate filters can eliminate tiny droplets or particles in the air like mists from spray painting. The gas and vapor cartridges cannot filter those particles.

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Now you know more about different types of masks and respirators. All of them have their pros and cons, but they all have the same goal - to protect us and others from dangerous germs and other hazardous materials.

When comparing N95 masks to N100 ones, we can assume that N100 masks provide us with a higher level of safety. At the same time, they are more expensive and sold individually. And when buying N95 products, you get ten respirators in a box.

It is the same with the full face and the half face respirators. The full face ones are more convenient and safe, but more expensive.

And when you compare surgical and homemade masks, you need to understand that their purposes are different. The surgical mask can block small particles and shield you. And the main aim of the homemade mask is to protect other people from you.

Also, do not forget to replace filters and cartridges of your respirators timely. It allows us to avoid unnecessary risks and do not get infected.

Protect yourself and others, and together we will win this fight!

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