COVID-19: How to Know Which Mask is Suitable for You? N95 and Variants

10 Mar.,2023


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Now that the government has removed face masks from the list of essential commodities, you face the prospect of being ripped off on the price of N95 masks. Here is an explainer on what are N95 masks and how they are categorised and tested globally, as well as the equivalent masks. 


Moneylife connected with by Professor Bipin Kumar of IIT Delhi to get a detailed understanding of how the nomenclature – N95 is arrived at, the certification and testing criteria and equivalent masks elsewhere in the world.


Prof Kumar, a Fulbright Fellow and assistant professor for textile and fibre engineering at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi also explains face masks and certification of N95 in India. He has also helped the

start-up Etex, which has made very affordable, biodegradable ‘kawach’ masks that Moneylife has recommended


What Is N95 Mask?

An N95 mask is a filtering face piece respirator (FFR). An N95 means the mask has been rated to filter at least 95% of airborne particles it encounters. 


N95 respirators reduce the wearer’s exposure to airborne particles, from small particle aerosols to large droplets. N95 respirators are tight-fitting respirators that filter out at least 95% of particles in the air, including large and small particles. 



Which Face Mask Does the WHO Recommend?

The role of face masks is for patient source control, to prevent contamination of the surrounding area when a person coughs or sneezes.€ 



per WHO guidelines

, Healthcare workers should use, “a particulate respirator at least as protective as a US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)-certified N95, European Union (EU) standard FFP2, or equivalent.”


Everyone else should wear a triple-layer mask or even a cloth mask. 


To reduce the spread of COVID-19, CDC recommends that people wear cloth face coverings in public settings when around people outside of their household, especially when other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.


The cloth face coverings recommended here are not surgical masks or respirators. Currently, those are critical supplies that should be reserved for healthcare workers and other first responders. Cloth face mask coverings are not personal protective equipment (PPE) or appropriate substitutes for PPE such as respirators (like N95 respirators) or medical face masks (like surgical masks) in workplaces where respirators or face masks are recommended or required to protect the wearer. 


Cloth face coverings are most likely to reduce the spread of COVID-19 when they are widely used by people in public settings. The spread of COVID-19 can be reduced when cloth face masks are used along with other preventive measures, including physical distancing, frequent handwashing, and cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces. 


What Is the Standard Followed in Different Countries for Mask?

Much like other industries, respirators/ masks have different approval sources and names.

  • Australia/New Zealand- P2, P3
  • China- KN95, KP95, KN100, KP100
  • Europe-FFP2, FFP3

For More Details:

  • Japan- DS/DL2, DS/DL3
  • US- N95 (United States NIOSH-42CFR84) 



What Is Certification Process and Test Standards Followed for the Mask Across World?

Every country has different certification body and test methods for the mask.  



What is the Process of Getting N95 Certification and Testing Procedures?

The general practice for getting N95 certification is to conduct all tests from an authorised lab and then take the results to NIOSH for certification. The final rights for N95 certification is always with NIOSH. There are two NIOSH N95 protocols of interest:




What Standards Does India Follow?

In INDIA, BIS is following certification for Filter Half Masks to Protect against particles of Class FFP2 as per IS 9473:2002

  • India-BIS P2


Is there any certifying body in India who can authorise N95 certification?

NIOSH has the complete authority for N95 certification. I am not sure of any body from the country who has the authorisation from NIOSH to certify N95. 


Please note the testing body and the certifying body are two different entity. Usefully, a manufacturer has to first get the testing results from the authorised testing body, and then he/she has to submit all results and manufacturing report to the certifying body (like BIS). The certifying body (like BIS) will then audit the entire report for the certification process. 



Who are testing body in INDIA for masks?

In India, here is the list of NABL accredited labs who does the testing of mask.


Who are certifying body in India for masks?



Is South Indian Textile Research Association (SITRA) Authorised to Certify Face Masks?

SITRA only test surgical face mask/ fabrics and issues test report. SITRA is not certifying AGENCY for the face mask.


Many Manufacturers are Claiming N95 Equivalent? What do you mean by N95 or N95 Equivalent?

NIOSH has not authorised anyone from India to certify for N95. I am confused for such words like “equivalent”. A true N95 mask must follow some protocols and standards. 


NIOSH-approved FFRs will always have one the following designations: N95, N99, N100, R95, R99, R100, P95, P99, P100.




Many manufacturers are claiming N95 or N95 equivalent? Are they legal?

NIOSH has listed all approved manufacturers on their website. You can visit their website and find out if their name is in the list or not.



Signs that a Respirator May be Counterfeit:

  • No markings at all on the filtering facepiece respirator
  • No approval (TC) number on filtering facepiece respirator or headband
  • No NIOSH markings
  • NIOSH spelled incorrectly
  • Presence of decorative fabric or other decorative add-ons (e.g., sequins)
  • Claims for the of approval for children (NIOSH does not approve any type of respiratory protection for children)
  • Filtering facepiece respirator has ear loops instead of headbands


A manufacturer has SITRA results for the mask with more than 95% filter efficiency (PM0.3). Can he/she claim the mask as N95?



A manufacturer has only the BIS certification for Class FFP2 mask? Can he write N95 on the product, and sell the product in the market?





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