Medical vs. Cotton Masks

Oct 16, 2021

Rebecca Rudman has been making masks since the start of the pandemic. The founder of the Windsor Essex Sewing Force knows that there is a lot of confusion about masks and concerns about allergies.

With cotton masks now being widely available, there could also be some confusion about the differences between cotton masks and medical 2-ply or N95 masks and how and where they should be used.  Some people with allergies can face some troubles with facial masks.

“I would suggest talking to your family doctor because without a lot of research on cloth masks it’s hard to get widespread endorsement,” said Rudman

Ken Drouillard, a professor at the University of Windsor School of Environmental Studies has explained the differences during a live meeting hosted by the We Spark Health Institute on October 6, 2021

Medical masks are called many names. surgical mask, isolation mask, dental mask, procedural mask, etc. Medical masks are only able to be used as a one-time mask before being thrown out. But most importantly they are mostly used where there is a low-risk infectious environment.

Compared to these medical masks, N95 masks are meant to be a close fit mask used to block any airborne germs, and like medical masks they can only be worn once. The N95 masks are used in higher areas of infection environments.

Both medical and N95 masks are tested and certified for certain aspects, The masks need to go through a filtration efficiency testing to see how well it will protect someone from wearing a mask, it goes through breathability test known as a pressure drop test.

But Drouillard says even then, N95 masks are not officially certified.

“An N95 mask is not considered a certified mask use unless an individual who’s wearing it has undergone fit testing” said Drouillard “And what it means is that you went in and had face measurements done so they can fit you to the correct mask for your characteristics.”

The fit testing is usually done to make sure the mask will work well to protect the wearer from anything harmful that the wearer may breathe in.

Cloth and fabric masks are not personal protective equipment (PPE) because they don’t have much of a standard and certification and these are used as health care worker’s last resort, but widely used by the general public.

With a recent move in February 2021 by the American Society for Testing and Materials, there has been a standard that was made for commercial cloth masks. A lot of the standards for cloth masks are considered to be much lower than a common medical or surgical mask may have. Commercial cloth masks had to have just over 20 per cent and a high breathability rate of 147 pascals, while the medical masks filtration efficiency had 95 per cent.

To learn more about the differences of medical and N95 masks, more information can be found on the Health Canada website.