Different Air Pollution Masks Explained

Posted by Matt Silver on

Different Air Pollution Masks Explained

Air pollution levels have been rising, and the worst hit regions are metropolitan areas of the world. Densely populated regions with an urban core often share the same space with factories that rapidly deteriorate the environment. As a result, people have been experiencing headaches, nausea, breathing problems, and are falling sick.

Pollution levels cannot be controlled by the common person, but the involuntary ingestion of particulate matter can be controlled by taking certain measures. These include closing car windows when traveling, shutting windows tight when indoors, and wearing specialized air masks built to filter out particulate matter and germs.

Many health-conscious individuals who are well-informed about dangerous levels of air pollutants in their environment do turn to air masks, but their default choice is often surgical masks. What they don’t understand is that while surgical masks are good at what they do, they are designed to prevent the wearer’s bacteria and viruses from leaving their mouths, not the other way round.

Surgical masks are not as effective at preventing the ingestion of particulate matters. Instead, what wearers need are specialized air masks that are designed to contain air pollution.

These masks protect users from inhaling particular matter that is suspended in the air, such as carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and sulfur dioxide.

The three most popular air masks in the market are N95, N99, and N100. These masks require certification from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). We’ll take a look at their specifications to help the reader decide the best one.

The Difference Between ‘N’, ‘R’ and ‘P’ masks

N – No resistance to oil

R – Small resistance to oil

P – Oil proof

Workers who spend the majority of their time in industrial environments should ideally choose masks that are rated at least ‘R’ or ‘P’ to filter out oil aerosols. Particulate matter with a tinge of oil can degrade the performance of masks by jamming electrostatic charges embedded within the mask.

While ‘N’ rated masks will serve the same purpose, its effectiveness will degrade after sustained exposure to oil aerosols over a period a few hours. For normal users who use them for everyday tasks, a simple ‘N’ rating will suffice.

N95 Air Masks

These masks can filter out up to 95% of air pollutants (PM 2.5) from the ambient air. A good N95 mask should have at least one valve dedicated for exhaling air. This valve acts as a deterrent for moisture accumulating near the eyes and nose bridge.  

This respirator will filter pollutants such as fumes, mists, microbial germs viruses, and bacteria.

N99 Air Masks

Most modern environments are plagued with several pollutants, and an N95 might not suffice. For added protection, N99 certified air masks are recommended for unparalleled protection. They have a higher filter rate than N95 but are not good with oil-based aerosols.

For everyday purposes, it is highly recommended to opt for N99 air masks.

N100 Air Masks

They go one step further than N99 masks, offering an additional 0.97% protection at 99.97%. No device has yet been built that offers a precision of 100%. The difference between N99 and N100 masks is not considerable enough to justify the price difference.

Which Air Mask to Choose?

All masks that have acquired certification from NIOSH are highly recommended to use. ‘N’ masks will suffice for industrial environments, but their efficiency will degrade over time once exposed to oil-based particulate matter. For everyday purposes, N99 masks will do just fine.

But why choose the N99 over N100?

N100 certified masks are heavier and denser than N99 masks. The extra padding makes it highly probable for moisture to perspire and accumulate. The condensation of moisture degrades the filter’s efficiency by saturating it with water. This not only makes the air filter obsolete but also creates an environment where it is harder for the wearer to breathe.

Choosing the Right Size

Users should carefully select the size and read the instruction manual carefully. Individuals who are physically active and are involved in sports such as running, hiking, cycling, and mountaineering should choose a mask that has few valves to avoid accumulation of moisture. The added moisture could clog masks to make inhaling troublesome.

Using Activated Carbon Filters for Added Efficiency

Not all N99 masks are the same.

Specific pollutants such as ozone and sulfur dioxide require additional protection such as activated carbon. This also helps to get rid of strong odors and other harmful gases.

Activated carbon works by trapping gas molecules on a bed of charcoal and, thus, is more useful.

At Debrief Me, there are military grade N99 masks, which means they come with activated carbon filters and high-quality cotton that offers anti-dust protection. These affordable masks are designed for fitness enthusiasts, laboratory workers, construction workers, and everyday users who are commuting to and from their workplace.

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