Below, we’ve provided examples of approved respirators and their associated model numbers, which can be used to reduce your risk of contracting flu or other viruses.
Personal Protective Equipment respirators, more crudely known as “face masks,” are designed to protect the user from potentially dangerous, airborne particles. That is why you’ll see healthcare personnel wearing NIOSH-approved, disposable PPE respirators, especially during our nation’s flu season.
Tip: For civilian style facemasks read this: 2 ply vs. 3 ply disposable masks
When worn properly, PPE Masks help protect the user in 2 ways.
- A properly fitting, clean, NIOSH approved, N95, N99 or N100 mask helps prevent the penetration of most viral and bacterial particles that are traveling through the air, within spewn droplets. Like when a sick person coughs or sneezes.
- The mask prevents the user from touching 2 highly susceptible, infection points of entry: their nose and their mouth.
What You’ll Learn about Respirators
By the end of this article, you will learn
- the difference between N, R and P Rated Masks
- what 95, 99 and 100 mean
- if respirators really work against flu
- who should wear masks and who should not
- the minimum rating you should look for
- what is the top ranked respirator available and when to use it
Are Masks Effective Against the Flu or Other Viruses?
Protective masks have been essential since the days of Tuberculosis and they are recommended by the CDC to protect healthcare workers. But…it’s important to realize that PPE Respirators and face masks don’t PREVENT the flu or other viruses. They merely help prevent infectious viral particles from entering the user’s nose and mouth.
Still, PPE respirators are deemed effective enough that healthcare professionals are trained how to properly wear PPE respirators and most medical facilities have strict guidelines for when to enforce mandatory usage.
N95 Mask vs. N99 vs. N100 vs. and What does P95 or R100 Mean?
First, let’s cover the letters N, R, or P designations. These three assigned letters relate strictly to whether or not the mask in question will retain its effectiveness in the presence of oil.
- N Means NOT – so these are NOT rated for oil and can lose their effectiveness if they come into contact with oil.
- R Means Resistant – these masks are resistant to oil and can work as expected in incidental, small amounts of oil.
- P Means Proof – these masks should perform exactly as expected even if they encounter oil.
What is an oily environment? The possibilities are endless, but some examples of oily environments are manufacturing facilities, auto shops, fire damaged settings, oil spill locations, pesticide applications.
Now the numbers meanings:
Respirator Number Class Ratings
- 95 – Effective against 95% of all particles that are at least 0.3 microns in diameter
- 99 – Effective against 99% of particles that are at least 0.3 microns in diameter
- 100 – Effective against 99.97% of all particles that are 0.3 microns in diameter or larger. HE or HEPA quality filter.
In short, you can use a BETTER rated mask, but you should never use an UNDERRATED mask. For instance, it would be acceptable to use a P95 NIOSH respirator in a non-oily environment, but you should not expect full protection if you decide to wear a “N” rated mask in an oily environment.
Minimum Respiratory Protection Rating for PPE
When trying to protect yourself from something like influenza , TB and similar viruses, the MINIMUM rating you should look for in your PPE is N95. You can go higher (such as P95, R100, N100) but never lower.
Here is a snippet from the CDC on PPE ratings:
“The CDC Guidelines for Isolation Precautions in Hospitals recommends that health care workers protect themselves from any disease spread through the air (airborne transmission) by wearing a respirator at least as protective as a fit-tested N-95 respirator.† These guidelines were written before SARS was discovered, but they have been used to protect against other airborne diseases such as tuberculosis.“
Hopefully you can now see that a NIOSH approved N95 Respirator is the MINIMUM rated form of protection.
Now let’s see some examples and where you might be able to buy yourself some NIOSH approved respirators. If we found items available online, we may provide an affiliate link to amazon, walmart or other source for your further research, price check and availability.
Wait….first let’s take a second to talk about valveless masks v. no valve.
Valveless Respirators vs Valve
For quick, temporary use, the difference between a respirator with a valve and one without is nearly negligible. However, if wearing a respirator for extended periods of time, like you are visiting a loved one in a hospital and plan on spending several hours… a respirator with a valve is usually more comfortable.
Respirators with valves allow warm air (breath) to escape which results in less moisture for the wearer.
However, respirators with valves are not considered sterile. The plastic or rubber valve collects moisture which usually results in drips, whereas valveless respirators should not experience drips.
CDC Approved List – NIOSH Approved Respirators at Least N95
Due to Coronavirus – Many of our top picks are listed as “currently unavailable” or “out of stock.” We’ve also noticed a lot of pricing increase. We are continuously looking for other sources and we apologize for any inconvenience.
N95 Rated NIOSH-Approved, CDC Listed
3M – Model# 8000N95 – Link to Product or you can click the pic for pricing and availability.
Moldex – Model# 2300N95 – Link to Product or you can click the pic for pricing and availability.
3M – Model# 8210 Regular or 8210Plus – Link to Product – or you can click the image below for pricing and availability.
3M – Model# 8511 N95 – Link to Product or you can click the image below to be taken to pricing and availability.
P100 NIOSH Approved Respirators- Most Protective Rating, CDC Listed – Oil Proof 99.97%
Moldex – Model # 2360P100 – Link to Product or you can click the pic for pricing and availability.
SAS – Model# 8641 P100 – Link to Product or you can click the pic for pricing and availability.
Is it Hard to Breathe in a Respirator and What If I’m sick?
It’s not difficult for most, but breath is warmer and more moist. It’s important to understand that PPE is for healthy people to wear for protection against contagious environments.
The kind of protection we are talking about is for keeping healthy people from becoming ill. These are not made for sick people to wear and can actually be a breathing hazard for sick people or people with breathing issues.
Light Duty Masks (Task Masks, Medical Masks)
Many times, sick people will be offered light duty masks so as not to complicate their breathing. Often times, you’ll even see a pouch or a box of masks at the reception area of a doctor’s office with a sign reading “If you’re sick, put on a mask.”
These 2 or 3-Ply disposable masks come in various qualities. Some just reduce droplet blow-through of the wearer. While others are made with materials that aid in 2-way protection (keeping germs in and keeping germs out). You can see deconstructed masks in our article here: 2 PLY vs. 3 Ply Disposable Masks.
But overall, these are NOT respirators and not the type of protection used by healthcare workers during high contagion seasons or events.
Masks have been used by healthcare workers for decades and are an integral part of PPE, Personal Protective Equipment. When properly fitted, they help reduce the risk of catching another person’s illness by filtering spewn viral particles.
For optimal protection, choose NIOSH approved masks with a minimum of N95. You should now know that this respirator will protect you against 95% of viral particles .3 microns in diamter.
The most protective respirator would be a properly fitted, P100. But remember, it still has to be NIOSH approved. From N95 through P100, whichever respirator you choose, follow manufacturer’s instructions exactly as written and never wear a respirator beyond its useful life.