Face masks have now become a part of the everyday household conversation, but choosing the right one that has been tested properly, has not. A lot of people don’t know the difference between a medical mask level 3 and an N95. In addition, many don’t think about the specifics of the masks that we purchase for personal or professional use as part of our new mask collection. However, the scientists at the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) and the American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM) do think about that and have some guidelines for us on how to choose the right medical face mask.
What the Codes Mean
When we purchase surgical masks or face masks, there will be coding on the packaging. No mask is 100 percent effective. N95 refers to the number 95, which means that the mask is 95 percent effective in preventing the transmission of particles to or from the wearer.
The other codes you will see will be ASTM codes from the American Society of Testing and Materials. They are rated on levels 1 to 3, with 3 being the highest level of protection, and look like ASTM 1, ASTM 2, ASTM 3. So when you hear the phrase medical mask level 3 or ASTM 3, for example, you hear of the highest level of barrier protection against particle transmission.
How the Codes Became Codes
The codes for face masks and surgical masks come from their testing metrics. The metrics for testing face masks are fluid resistance, breathability, bacterial filtration, particulate filtration, and flammability.
Each mask undergoes rigorous testing on each of these metrics before being sold or worn as a device to prevent particulate or bacterial transmission.
Following that, the masks are rated on levels when they are rated with ASTM standards.
- Level one: This is the minimum requirement of a mask for wearing for surgical or medical purposes. It is one-ply and meets minimum requirements for barriers and protection.
- Level two: This two-ply mask offers 95 percent barrier protection and is a higher-performing mask.
- Level three: The medical mask level 3 is often three-ply and offers the highest performance and protection possible.
Masks designated as medical mask level 3 will pass the bacterial filtration testing and offer a bacterial filtration efficiency (BFE) of 99.9 percent. Their particulate efficiency (PFE) should be rated as 99.49 percent in ASTM testing.
Purchase Medical Mask Level 3
It can be disheartening to hear that a medical mask is only 95 percent effective after all this time of wearing one. However, all masks are safe and can offer a lot of barrier protection. If they don’t meet the 100 percent threshold, that doesn’t render them ineffective. N95s and ASTM 1 and ASTM 2 will work and be effective most of the time. If you want a more effective mask, purchase masks with ASTM 3 rating on them.