Respirators, Surgical Masks, and Cloth Face Masks: How Are They Different?

Face masks come in three major types: respirators, surgical masks, and cloth masks. They are worn mainly to prevent the spread of transmissible diseases that travel through respiratory droplets. Each has its unique composition and function that make it appropriate to wear only in particular situations.

Respirators and surgical masks are worn mostly by healthcare workers, while the general public is encouraged by health experts to choose cloth face masks instead. Read on to know more about each type of face mask.

Respirator Masks

A respirator mask is a kind of face mask primarily designed for use in healthcare and other settings where there is a high risk of exposure to hazardous atmospheres. They are made up of two layers of spun-bound propylene, a layer of melt-blown propylene, and a layer of cellulose or polyester. Its multilayer composition confers it a highly efficient filtration capacity as opposed to surgical or cloth masks. Respirator masks are also tight-fitted and form a very close seal around the mouth and nose, effectively blocking even small respiratory droplets.

Respirators are considered proper respiratory protective devices and are used as part of the personal protective equipment (PPEs) worn by healthcare workers in high-risk conditions. The most commonly used respirator mask in healthcare settings are the N95 respirators. They are named as such because they have the ability to filter out 95% of airborne particles. Because of their close fit, they also greatly minimize the wearer’s exposure to aerosol and bodily fluids such as blood and nasal secretions.

Respirator masks are disposable. They should be discarded after every use, especially when there has been exposure to potentially contaminated secretions such as blood. They must also be disposed of when they become deformed, soaked, torn, and when the seal around the mouse and nose are no longer tight. Likewise, they should be discarded when breathing has become difficult for the wearer. Place any used respirator inside a plastic bag, and seal the bag properly before putting it in trash.

Surgical Masks

Surgical or medical-grade masks are disposable masks made up of two layers of non-woven fabric with a filter layer in between. They are fluid-resistant and can easily block large respiratory droplets, bodily secretions, and other noxious substances such as toxic chemicals. Unlike respirator masks, they are loose-fitting and do not provide full protection from inhalation of smaller airborne particles, such as those released when someone coughs or sneezes, or those produced during certain medical procedures.

Surgical masks are recommended for use in surgical settings and low-risk areas in the hospital. They are not recommended to be used by the general public in cases of a disease outbreak as they are primarily reserved for medical healthcare workers and other personnel stationed in high-risk areas..

Like respirators, surgical masks are disposable and must be discarded after every use. They should not be repeatedly worn under any circumstance. The masks should be discarded when it has been damaged, deformed, soiled or when breathing has become difficult for the wearer. As with respirators, the proper way to discard surgical masks is to put them inside a plastic bag before throwing them away.

Cloth Face Masks

Unlike respirators and surgical masks, cloth face masks are washable and reusable. Because of this, cloth face masks are more sustainable to use and are very eco-friendly. Ghluv’s own line of cloth face masks are also treated with HeiQ Viroblock technology, which confers antimicrobial properties to the products, giving them an additional layer of protection against contamination by pathogens. The great thing about HeiQ Viroblock is that it can last up to 30 washes, and even beyond treatment’s intended life cycle, you can continue wearing your Ghluv face mask as an ordinary cloth mask.

That being said, cloth face masks have a less effective capacity for filtering out harmful particles or microorganisms as compared to surgical masks or respirators. They are not intended to replace surgical masks or respirators in cases where such masks are required to be used, such as in hospitals. Despite this, the use of cloth face masks is still highly encouraged by health experts for general use since they have been shown to be quite effective in reducing respiratory droplet transmission. They can also be worn as protective wear by those residing in areas with a low risk for disease transmission. Moreover, choosing cloth face masks, also helps preserve the limited supply of surgical masks and respirators for use by healthcare workers.

Knowing the difference among the various types of face masks helps in ensuring that the correct type is worn in appropriate situations. Wearing them correctly, when paired with proper handwashing and physical distancing, makes a big difference in helping the world become a less dangerous place in the middle of a pandemic.