Face masks and face coverings are an important element of personal protective equipment. Face masks can help protect the wearer against various airborne particles, including respiratory microbes, smoke, and industrial pollutants. There is a variety of face masks available, including disposable, reusable, surgical, P2, N95 and KN95 masks which all offer different levels of protection for different situations. Medical authorities across the globe including the World Health Organisation (WHO), Centre for Disease Control (CDC) and the Australian Government Department of Health have now recommended the use of face masks during the COVID-19 pandemic to help reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
It is important to make sure you understand the different types of masks available (including disposable, surgical, cloth and respirator masks) and which one is most appropriate for you. It is also important to understand how to safely put on, remove and dispose of a face mask. You can use some of our guides below to make sure you are using the right face mask, and using it correctly.
Different Types of Face Masks and Their Uses
There are lots of different types of face masks, intended for different settings. You can use the guide below to make sure you understand the differences between face masks and pick the right one for your needs.
Disposable face masks: disposable face masks are loose-fitting, single use masks which are generally not TGA- or FDA-approved. These masks can be very useful for the general public in reducing the spread of respiratory droplets from people who may be sick. These respiratory droplets are released by coughing, sneezing or talking and can contain respiratory viruses and bacteria which can infect others. Disposable face masks are a good mask to wear when going to the grocery store, getting on public transport, or going for a walk during times of peak illness.
Cloth masks: cloth masks are reusable face coverings made from a washable fabric such as cotton or denim. These masks can be very useful for the general public in reducing the spread of respiratory droplets from people who may be sick. These respiratory droplets are released by coughing, sneezing or talking and can contain respiratory viruses and bacteria which can infect others. These masks must be washed daily before reusing to be effective. They should be made from 3 layers of a mix of breathable fabrics, or two layers with a replaceable filter. You can view instructions on how to make a cloth face mask here
Surgical face masks: surgical masks are loose-fitting, 3-layered, TGA-approved disposable face masks. These masks are generally used by medical staff to help contain any viruses, bacteria or other germs they might spread to others via respiratory droplets. These masks can only be used once, and are suitable for medical clinics and consultants.
P2, N95 and KN95 Respirator Masks: these masks are all high particulate respirator masks. P2 masks are graded by an Australian/New Zealand standard, N95 masks by an American standard, and KN95 masks by a Chinese standard. However, all of these masks objectively achieve the same level of protection. They are tight fitting, single-use masks that protect the wearer inhaling or spreading air-borne particles. These masks are not recommended for general use, and should only be used in healthcare settings or work sites where protection from airborne particles is needed. These masks are certified to filter at least 94% (P2) or 95% (N95 and KN95) of airborne particles, including viruses.