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The N95 Standard: What Does it Mean?

Standards have always been important when it comes to measuring the quality of goods and services. Whether it be the “Gold Standard” or otherwise, they create a certain expectation in the public's eye. So, what can be expected of the ever-popular N95 masks, and why is the designation important?


Full Circle

In order to understand the N95 standard as the public knows it today, it’s important to realize masks were initially developed without classification. Some of the first modern-equivalent masks were constructed in an effort to slow the spread of the Manchurian Plague in 1910, but after their initial development, the concept expanded to industrial applications.

Fast forward to 1972, and the first N95 mask was developed by 3M and approved by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, NIOSH. Although the technology was designed to protect users during industrial activities such as mining, it was re-adapted for medical use and patented in 1995. Similar to 1910, masks were again being used to prevent the spread of disease. Now, in 2020, N95 technology is being leveraged in the battle against COVID-19. 


What are N95s used for?


Technological Advantages

To the untrained eye, it may not be obvious why having the N95 standard is so critical. This sentiment becomes even more widely adopted when there are more affordable and available alternatives. So, one must ask: What are the advantages of N95?

According to the standards set by 3M, “N95 is a disposable particulate respirator that is designed to help provide reliable respiratory protection of at least 95 percent filtration efficiency against certain non-oil based particles.”

In layman's terms, any mask with an N95 classification blocks out nearly all particles the user encounters and is even regulated by NIOSH and the CDC. When comparing these criteria to similar products, the answer becomes clear that N95 masks are a force to be reckoned with. Many unregulated respirators such as cloth masks pose a staggering risk to the public when used, and often unknowingly. 


How much does an N95 filter?


N95 and COVID-19

Just like many other viruses, COVID-19 can spread through the air due to coughing or sneezing. Given the transmission of the virus and continued success of 3M’s research-backed technology, N95 masks have been an incredibly popular choice during the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, many masks with the classification of N95 have been completely bought out from the market due to extreme demand. 

So, next time you come across an N95 mask, consider buying it! Or you can just impress your friends with your knowledge of the history of the development of the mask.