Dust Mask N95 Filters Cartridge Explained


During the coronavirus pandemic, masks, once relegated to specific professions, are quickly becoming commonplace.

Not all masks are the same. Filtering facepiece respirators, commonly referred to as N95 masks, are regulated by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

To help meet growing demand for these masks, and other alternatives, Honeywell has increased production at multiple facilities globally.

Here is a breakdown of what an N95 mask is:

N: This is a Respirator Rating Letter Class. It stands for “Non-Oil” meaning that if no oil-based particulates are present, then you can use the mask in the work environment. Other masks ratings are R (resistant to oil for 8 hours) and P (oil proof).

95: Masks ending in a 95, have a 95 percent efficiency. Masks ending in a 99 have a 99 percent efficiency. Masks ending in 100 are 99.97 percent efficient and that is the same as a HEPA quality filter.

.3 microns: The masks filter out contaminants like dusts, mists and fumes. The minimum size of .3 microns of particulates and large droplets won’t pass through the barrier, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC.)

Material: The filtration material on the mask is an electrostatic non-woven polypropylene fiber.

Valve: Some disposable N95 masks come with an optional exhalation valve. “The presence of an exhalation valve reduces exhalation resistance, which makes it easier to breathe (exhale,)” according to the CDC.

For information on how to protect yourself during the COVID-19 outbreak, contact your local health care professionals, visit the CDC and World Health Organization (WHO)

Dust Mask and Filter Cartridge Ratings

Respiratory Filters come in a variety of ratings that relate to how the respirator performs (how much it filters) and what environment type it is designed to be used in. When choosing a respirator it’s important to understand that as the letter rating and number rating increase, breathing fatigue will increase. While you certainly don’t want to choose a rating that is too low, you don’t necessarily always want to pick a P100 filter for every application – particularly if you’re just looking for a simple dust mask to do home improvement work. Typically, an end user will find an N95 respirator cooler, and easier to breath through than a P99 or P95 dust mask.

Respirator Rating Letter Class

  • N – Not oil resistant
  • R – Resistant to oil
  • P – Oil Proof

Respirator Rating Number Class

  • 95 – Removes 95% of all particles that are at least 0.3 microns in diameter
  • 99 – Removes 99% of particles that are at least 0.3 microns in diameter
  • 100 – Removes 99.97% of all particles that are 0.3 microns in diameter or larger. HE or HEPA quality filter.

Respirator Ratings & Considerations

Quite simply, a respirator with a rating of P100, has been tested to be proof against oil, and tested to filter 99.97% of all particles 0.3 microns in diameter or larger. To the right you can see various examples of the size (in microns) of various substances for comparison.

N95 Dusk Mask for Avian and/or swine Flu

N95 Masks

Most commonly used for Flu or Influenza prevention, these masks are effective according to the CDC in helping to prevent the spread of Flu, swine flu and avian flu transmission from person to person. N95 masks are designed to fit over the nose and mouth of the wearer, and properly fitted can provide excellent protection. Our most popular N95 mask is the 3M 8210 Dust Mask.

P95 Masks

Most commonly used for working in environments exposed to oil-based particles, P95 respirators are approved by NIOSH for 95% filtration efficiency against oil-based and non-pil-based particulates. I deally suited in the petrochemical and pharmaceutical sectors. Our most popular P95 mask is the 3M 8271 Dust Mask.

Full Face Respirators

Filters & Cartridges

Used in conjunction with full face respirators or half face respirators, filters and cartridges are used where a more secure fit is desired for the user. Unlike disposable masks which only filter out air-based particulates, cartridges are capable of filtering out non-particulate hazards ranging from organic vaporsr to chlorine and tear gas. Cartridges and filters are sold in pairs typically, and are attached to the masks and discarded when they are worn out. You can explore our full selection of filters & cartridges here. Full masks are typically used in environments where contaminates will irritate mucus membranes and a users eyes.

Example Particle Sizes

Particle Particle Size
Anthrax 1 – 5
Asbestos 0.7 – 90
Atmospheric Dust 0.001 – 40
Bacteria 0.3 – 60
Beach Sand 100 – 10000
Bone Dust 3 – 300
Bromine 0.1 – 0.7
Carbon Dioxide 0.00065
Copier Toner 0.5 – 15
Corn Starch 0.1 – 0.8
Fiberglass Insulation 1 – 1000
Lead 0.1 – 0.7
Metallurgical Dust 0.1 – 1000
Mold Spores 10 – 30
Oil Smoke 0.03 – 1
One inch 25400
Oxygen 0.0005
Pesticides & Herbicides 0.001
Radioactive Fallout 0.1 – 10
Red Blood Cells 5 – 10
Saw Dust 30 – 600
Smoke from Natural Materials 0.01 – 0.1
Smoke from Synthetic Materials 1 – 50
Spores 3 – 40
Sugars 0.0008 – 0.005
Tobacco Smoke 0.01 – 4
Typical Atmospheric Dust 0.001 to 30

Frequently Asked Questions

Why use disposable filters?

Disposable N95-equivalent filters take up less space, can be deployed quickly, and when paired with a cloth mask will put less strain on the lungs (and heart!) of you, your children, and your parents than a sealed respirator, while still achieving approximately 90% filtration efficiency.

Are N95 Masks Really Effective against the flu?

A little online research will reveal that the flu virus is .17 microns in size. Clearly smaller than even N100 masks can filter out. However, it is critical to understand that the flu virus does not float in the air by itself. The flu virus is transported from patient to patient on droplets of excretions from sneezing and coughing. These particles are typically 5 microns or larger. When a sick patient wears a respirator, the respirator can be very effective at preventing infectious material from leaving the patients body, and when worn by healthy individuals, it prevents inhalation of said material. More importantly, wearing a mask is a excellent way of preventing the user from rubbing or touching their mouth or nose, which is a very high risk factor. At the end of the day will an N95 mask guarantee to protect you from the Flu? No. But it can substantially reduce your risk or receiving or transmitting the disease.

When do Dust Masks/Filters wear out?

In general, dust masks and filters should be discarded after each “encounter” or “procedure”. The risk of contamination can also be heightened by removing and applying the mask multiple times. In general, once removed, the Dust Mask should be disposed of. Additionally, proper hand hygiene should be observed when touching a potentially contaminated mask. Further concern should be given to cross-contamination when wearing masks into different rooms or areas. Regardless of usage, masks should be discarded when used beyond 8 hours, and careful review and testing should be performed in regards to hazardous chemicals/particles.

Why not use a filter that blocks 100% particulates?

Any filter that provides 100% clean air is probably going to cause more harm than good on most days. Researchers have found a significant increase in breathing resistance when comparing a filter like the N99 to the workhorse of filters, the N95. In other words, filters with higher ratings generally make your lungs work harder to draw air through the filtering material, which can be dangerous for sensitive groups, especially if you have a pre-existing pulmonary or respiratory condition. Our fitted filters, made of material tested to N95 standards, can provide a high degree of protection, with less potentially dangerous strain on your heart.

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