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Differences between N95 and surgical N95 respirator

Updated: Feb 27, 2022

As COVID-19 raged for more than two years, vaccination and wearing masks are the most important protection measures against infection. In the recent attack of Omicron, the transmission capacity of the virus grew seven times greater. Consequently, normal medical masks are no longer effective against the new variant of the virus. Government experts have advised the public in the media to switch to more protective masks (3D respirators, N95 respirators or duck-tip respirators) or wear two masks at the same time for enhanced protection.

1. What is the difference between N95 and ordinary surgical masks?

2. What are the standards and types of N95 masks?

By international standards, "N95 respirators", as well as those recognized and recommended by the WORLD Health Organization for COVID-19 conditions, should be referred to as "Particle Respirators”. According to different scope and function, it can be subdivided into "liquid barrier type" and "non-liquid barrier type". Its performance and function in all aspects are far from that of ordinary medical masks.

Classification of respirators

Many people say that respirators such as N95 (equivalent to FFP2 NR in the European Union) are highly protective. However, they could really be uncomfortable to wear. On top of that, they are airtight, stuffy, and could not be worn for a long time.

Most users do not know that N95 respirators are classified as either industrial or medical.

Industrial respirators, such as N95, are originally designed to protect the wearer from dust, sand, industrial particles, and so on. The standards recognized by WHO are N95 and above of NIOSH, FFP2 NR and above of EN 149 in Europe, KN95 and above of GB2626 in China and so on. There are also common Korean KF94 in circulation on the market.

These respirators’ main focus is high-viral and high-density coverage; high viral is usually accompanied by high breathing resistance. Although in the past, industrial N95 standard also improved in respiratory resistance, these respirators are not designed for daily use. When worn for a long time, you’ll start to feel the difficulty in breathing and a slight discomfort. In addition, N95 for general industrial use, does not have the non-fluid resistant capability of medical standards, and is not suitable for high-risk medical environments. However, EN 149 and other tests in Europe include filtration tests for oily droplets, which have some liquid protection capability (on the contrary, the common N95 only has sodium chloride solid particle test, but does not have liquid protection). The words "Surgical Respirator" or "Surgical N95" are not printed on the packaging of the industrial N95. Eu certified products are only labeled EN149 FFP2 NR. N95, FFP2 and KN95 are approved by WHO as non-liquid barrier respirators.

Surgical respirators / Surgical N95 (N95 respirators + medical use) (also known as ), are liquid barrier respirators developed gradually to cope with the needs of SARS, H1N1, COVID-19 and other multiple epidemics on the basis of material progress. They are designed with both "high filtration" and "low respiratory resistance”, with high tightness and are comfortable to wear. Breathing apparatus for medical use is in the high rate of protection is higher than in the industrial apparatus test standards, increase medical related "synthetic blood through" cut off (a liquid) test, biological compatibility test, etc., and the breathing resistance requirements up to and certification by the health level, the world within the scope of qualified products are numbered.

The only medical and surgical respirator approved by WHO is Surgical N95 (approved by NIOSH and FDA), EU that meets EN 149 and EN 14683 dual certificates simultaneously, and Chinese GB 19083 standard grade 1 or above medical breathing apparatus (Korean KF94 is not included in the WHO guideline).

At the same time, in order to meet the needs of different medical risk environments and medical personnel in terms of face shape and usage, most medical and surgical respirators are available in different styles — headband, ear band, standard face type, and thin face type. The wearer can choose according to the requirements. Medical and Surgical N95 respirators will be labeled "Surgical Respirator" or "Surgical N95" on their packaging.

In the wake of the outbreak, NIOSH stopped certifying non-US healthcare organizations outside the US, as the US government repeatedly required manufacturers to supply products first in the United States. Surgical N95 supply almost ceased outside the United States; no new manufacturers were able to apply for manufacturing. As a result, most products sold outside the US are tested using EU standards.


  1. World Health organization. (2020, November 13). Technical specifications of personal protective equipment for covid-19. World Health Organization. Retrieved February 3, 2022, from

Update : 20220205-Eng

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