There are 4 main types of masks or respirators that are being discussed in relation to coronavirus. Masks (and respirators) are often rated by their filtration efficiency. Generally, filtration efficiency refers to the ability of a mask or material to filter out or block particles from passing through the mask. Filtration efficiency is typically presented as a percentage with higher numbers representing better performance. Filtration efficiency may vary by particle size and masks or respirators may be tested against a range of sizes to assess their ability to filter both small and large particles. Filtration efficiency is typically not based on a mask or respirator’s ability to filter out a particular pathogen but rather is based on filtration of generic, machine generated particles (typically made of salt solution). A summary of masks and respirators, with links to further information, is available below.

Summary of types of masks and respirators

To find out more about N95 respirators, surgical masks, fabric masks and occupational masks see the other sections within our resources.

The CDC highlights the differences and similarities of N95 respirators and surgical masks in the graphic below:

Want to learn more about mask use for interrupting the spread of COVID-19?

Editor's note

Author: Jackie Knee
Review: Peter Winch, Julie Watson
Last update: 06.18.2020

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