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The difference between N95 Medical Mask & N95 Standard

The difference between N95 Medical Mask & N95 Standard

This is a general document that is not specific to any particular airborne contaminant, including viruses and bacteria, and the following information is intended for professional audiences.

The following article is intended to help you distinguish the N95 standard versions and the surgical versions of the N95 filter respirator.

N95 masks approved by NIOSH

Respirators are designed to help reduce the wearer's exposure to airborne particulate hazards. In the United States, respirators are tested and certified by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

NIOSH tests and certifies masks based on their physical and performance characteristics, including filtration efficiency.

For example, an N95-rated filter face mask has a filtration efficiency of at least 95% of oil-free particles when tested using the NIOSH criteria.

The dust particles used for filtration testing are within a range of sizes considered to be most penetrating. The test methods therefore ensure that the filter media can filter out particles with an efficiency of at least 95%.

FDA-approved medical masks

In contrast, Medical Masks are designed to be worn by healthcare professionals during surgery and other medical duties, to help prevent contamination of the surgical field and/or the patient by how to prevent liquid droplets

Surgical masks are used as medical devices by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or equivalent agencies outside of the United States.

Certification as a medical mask is based on data and recommendations provided to FDA by the manufacturer for review, in which FDA evaluates and verifies that the product meets the requirements for a medical mask.

Because surgical masks are used during surgery, the main performance requirement is fluid resistance – the mask's ability to resist the ingress of high-pressure fluid flows,

Additional information on the difference between a surgical medical mask and an N95 respirator is described in the NIOSH infographic on the difference between an N95 medical mask and an N95 respirator.

Medical N95 mask

Medical N95 respirators are all approved by NIOSH as N95 respirators and are also FDA approved as surgical masks. These products are often referred to as medical masks, healthcare masks, or surgical N95s.

Compare N95 standard masks with medical N95 masks

Putting it all together will help you differentiate between a NIOSH-approved standard N95 respirator and a medical N95 respirator. Although superficially similar, the main difference is the liquid resistance and the result of the certification from the FDA for medical N95. But when is liquid resistance necessary?

Many tasks performed by health care workers – such as patient care or non-emergency medical examination patients – have little risk of exposure to high-pressure fluid flows and are not performed in sterile field.

For those performing such tasks, the main potential hazard to consider is that airborne droplets containing viruses and bacteria, such as coughs and sneezes, can be effectively filtered. with a properly selected and worn N95 respirator.

Therefore, if a healthcare facility is prioritizing the use of respirators – due to limited supplies during a health emergency – they may want to consider prioritizing surgical N95 respirators. for healthcare workers who need respiratory protection while performing surgery or other tasks that could expose them to high-pressure lines of body fluids or conducting work in a sterile field.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in their website FAQ about Medical Protective Equipment, says, in times of shortage, only healthcare professionals who are working in the sterile field or who may be exposed to high-speed splashes of water, sprays or new blood or body fluids should wear this [N95 Medical Mask] mask.

For others who do not perform such surgical procedures or do not need to maintain a sterile field, a standard N95 mask (or equivalent) may be worn to help reduce exposure for personnel exposed to the virus and airborne bacteria produced by the patient.


  • Helps reduce particles inhaled by mask wearers
  • Helps reduce particles both inhaled and generated by the wearer (plus fluid resistance)
  • Helps reduce wearer-generated particles released into the environment (plus liquid resistance)


  • Can be used for respiratory protection where the wearer may be exposed to hazards
  • Means to be used during surgery
  • Can be used during surgery and other missions to help protect the patient

Difference between 3m n95 8210, 1860 and 1870+

The following chart shows some of the key similarities and differences between the 3 types of masks. 8210 is an N95 standard mask, while 1860 and 1870+ are both N95 medical masks

Mask-3M-8210-N95Mask-3M-8210-N95MEDICAL MASK-3M-1860MEDICAL MASK-3M-1860 Mask-3M-1870-N95Mask-3M-1870-N95
Standard mask N95 3M Model 8210Medical masks N95 3M Model 1860Medical masks N95 3M Model 1870+
Designed to help protect the wearer from exposure to airborne particles (e.g. Dust, mist, fumes, fibers and bioaerosols, such as viruses and bacteria) x  x  x 
Designed to fit the face snugly and create a seal between the user's face and the respirator x  x  x 
Meets NIOSH 42 CFR 84 N95 minimum filtration efficiency requirement 95% for oil-free solid and liquid aerosols x  x  x 
Approved by the US FDA as a surgical mask o  x  x 
Not made of natural latex x  x  x 
Liquid Resistance – Meets Test Method ASTM F1862, Resistance of Medical Masks to Blood Penetration, determines the resistance of the mask to synthetic blood under various high pressures.1120 mm Hg       160 mm Hg       

For a list of 3M medical masks and surgical masks, see this 3M Masks and Respirators Brochure.


ASTM F1862 is a standard test method for the resistance of medical masks to the penetration of synthetic blood. This test is required because in some medical procedures a blood vessel can sometimes be punctured, resulting in a high velocity blood flow acting on the protective medical mask. The test procedure specifies that the mask or respirator be conditioned in a high humidity environment. Synthetic thread (2cc) was shot horizontally into the mask at a distance of 30 cm (12 inches). Surgical masks and respirators are tested on a pass/fail basis at three velocities corresponding to the human blood pressure range (80, 120, and 160 mmHg). The inside of the mask is then examined to see if any synthetic blood has penetrated the inside of the mask. Liquid resistance according to this test method is when it passes at all levels.

Personal Protective Equipment FAQ, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, updated February 29, 2020.