What Are N95 Masks Made From?

N95 Masks Made From Plastic

N95 masks made from synthetic plastic fibers are most common. These plastic fibers are similar to the fibers in synthetic and polyester shirts many people wear.

N95 Masks Made From Synthetic Plastic

For example, let’s take the 3M 9332 masks that I wear in Beijing. Technically this is an N99 (FFP3) mask, but the idea is the same.

 

 

3M makes the filter material in the 9332 mask using polypropylene fiber.

 

N95 Mask Materials

 

N95 Masks Made From This Raw Material

Polypropylene in the filter medium is a plastic. Manufacturers make this plastic out of fossil fuels like oil.

Polypropylene N95 masks

 

That means the fibers in these masks are similar to fibers ones in our clothes. Companies use these fibers to make clothes like quick-dry shirts, rain jackets, yoga pants, or any stretchy fabric.

 

Synthetic Fibers

Mask makers often give the polypropylene material a electrostatic charge. That static charges makes the filters more effective. 3M has a great video explaining how static charge works in masks:

N95 Masks Also Contain These Materials

Besides the filter material, N95 masks can also include other materials, such as metal. For example, the 3M 9502 (that Smart Air tested for decontamination in the microwave) contains several metal parts. The mask uses steel for the staples (which secure the straps to the mask) and aluminum for the bendable nose clip.

N95 Mask Materials

To make the straps of the 9332 mask, 3M uses polyisoprene. Polyisoprene is in natural rubber and also synthetic rubber. Other masks have elastic fabric straps.

N95 Are Ratings, Not Materials

However, it is worth keeping in mind that N95 is a rating certification about performance, not materials. The N95 rating requires masks to capture 95% of particles. Thus, theoretically, N95 masks could be made out of any sort of material as long as they meet these requirements.

This chart explains exactly what’s required of masks to be certified as N95 in the US versus similar ratings in the EU, China, Australia, Korea, and Japan. Although there are differences on many aspects, none of the agencies require a specific mask material.

N95 Mask Ratings Comparison Chart


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zeta

Are surgical masks made out of a different material ? I’m asking because the coronavirus survives up to 7 days on them.

Great question, Zeta. Surgical masks are made from very similar non-woven (typically melt-blown) material that you find in respirators.

To clarify about how long coronavirus can survive on these types of materials: data shows that can coronavirus survive 48-72 hours on cardboard material, much less than 7 days. It’s important to note the difference between virus ‘viability’ (its ability to infect) and virus ‘detectability’. Some studies have shown it’s possible to detect viruses up to 7 days later, however that does not mean the virus is still able to infect at that point.