What are the differences between protective masks?

With the pandemic, masks have also become a part of our lives. Wearing a mask is mandatory in many places. Germany, on the other hand, went one step further and required medical masks. So what are the differences between the masks?

Daily masks (Cloth, scarf, scarf)

It consists of a piece of cloth that completely covers the mouth and nose. Likewise, a bandana, fabric scarf or scarf can be used for mouth and nose protection. These masks block airflow when exhaled. This significantly reduces the risk of infection for other people. Daily masks do not protect the wearers from infection; protects others from bacteria that can only be found in these people.

Simple masks with or without stitches, which can also be produced at home, should be changed frequently and washed with hot water so that viruses do not survive. The basic logic behind using such masks is this: If everyone wears masks, the overall risk of infection in the community is reduced.

However, experts recommend using a surgical mask or a respiratory mask with an FFP standard in order to provide effective protection against the rapidly spreading coronavirus, especially with the effect of mutations.

surgical masks

They are masks designed to limit the transmission of infectious agents from staff to patients and from patients to staff during surgical procedures in operating rooms and medical settings. If the wearer coughs or sneezes, most of the particles that come out of the mouth remain in the mask and do not spread to the environment.

Surgical masks, also called surgical masks or medical masks, are disposable and sterilization is not recommended. Only in this way is its effectiveness guaranteed. It should be changed at least every two hours during the operation. If it is worn or reused for a long time, it loses its protective function.

However, nowadays, where the corona epidemic is rapidly spreading, surgical masks no longer provide adequate protection for health care professionals. For this reason, doctors and nurses use special respiratory masks that cover not only the mouth and nose, but also the summer and eyes.

FFP masks protect better

It is the general name given to particulate filter face masks, which is an abbreviation of the English expression “Filtering Face Piece”. This mask standard, approved by the European Union, consists of three classes: FFP1, FFP2 (N95) and FFP3. Such masks contain a special filter felt, which, thanks to electrostatic forces, binds viruses. Available in valved or valveless filter element variants, it is a disposable half mask usually made of strong cellulose. Valve masks only protect the wearer and do not provide protection to third parties.


FFP1 protection level masks are better than surgical masks but do not provide the desired protection against viruses. These masks are mostly designed for craftsmen who want to protect themselves from harmful dust and aerosol effects such as smoke, fog and spray. It is ideal for those working under heavy particles such as carpenters, construction workers or painters.

FFP2 (N95)

FFP2 is one of the most effective respirators made of special fabric layers to filter the air from harmful particles. FFP2 masks, which offer more filtering and protection than standard surgical or fabric masks, have been increasingly used especially during the corona pandemic process. They provide a certain level of protection against viruses, but do not have a 100 percent protection effect in case of direct contact with infected patients.

FF2 masks, also called N95, are an effective personal protective equipment in protecting the wearer from aerosols, gases or vapors that can be hazardous to health. The “95” on the N95 mask indicates 95 percent filtration against respiratory droplet-sized particles. It also provides relatively protection against other viruses such as H1N1 and SARS, which are carried by respiratory droplets, especially coronavirus. FFP2 respirators fit more tightly to the face than homemade or surgical masks. Featuring a thin metal band that can be folded around the nose, these masks provide a tighter seal to better filter airborne particles. When wearing an FFP2 mask, respiratory droplets containing coronavirus are less likely to leak than with an FFP1 mask.
Besides the level of protection offered by the mask, there are also some design elements that determine the effectiveness. FFP2 masks can be with or without a valve depending on the filter system. Valveless masks are quite light as the filtration system is built into the fabric. It can be worn easily as it is bulky and does not cause weight per cent. Although the valves make the mask a little bulkier and heavier, they provide a better breathing environment as they allow air to escape. Masks with valves usually cause less sweating. It has the advantage of better breathing and more comfortable use.

However, experts state that valveless masks should be used to provide more effective protection against viruses. Thus In Germany, the wearing of valveless FFP2 masks has been made mandatory in addition to surgical masks in public places, public transport and grocery stores.

FFP3 (N99)

Within the FFP protection class, FFP3 masks are the type that offers the highest level of protection. It can block both liquid and solid aerosols and protein molecules. FFP3 face masks provide the most effective protection for the control of viral and bacterial infections spread through coughing and sneezing. These masks are also frequently used in laboratories when working with hazardous chemicals. If installed correctly, it even protects from very dangerous dusts such as asbestos fibres.

These masks, which are also described as N99, have a protection rate of 99% against particles. Therefore, it is especially preferred by healthcare professionals who have to come into close contact with infected patients. However, the FFP3 mask alone is not enough for full protection. Doctors and nurses additionally wear safety glasses and rubber gloves, as well as disposable gowns or overalls.

Are FFP masks washable?

Respirators are not designed to be washed. Especially the FFP2 and FFP3 face masks have a paper layer that can break down in water and affect the filtration of the mask. Therefore, it is necessary to avoid any application that will wet the mask, such as washing, spraying disinfectant, or wiping with alcohol or gel.

How many times can medical masks be used?

Both surgical masks and FFP respirators are disposable. However, it is recommended to focus on the integrity of the mask rather than time, especially in situations that require reuse of the respirator. According to experts, FFP2 masks can be reused as needed as long as the functional integrity of the mask is maintained and the filter material is not physically damaged or contaminated. However, single use is recommended for effective protection.