Over the past two years, different face masks have become a part of our reality. Even before the COVID pandemic began, many countries struggled with pollution. People living there are used to wearing respirators with PM particle filters that protect against tiny airborne particles harmful to our respiratory system and overall health.
Since the pandemic began in 2020, interest in different face masks has significantly grown. Many people want to know more about the best possible ways to protect themselves from the virus and other airborne contaminants. Also, not all masks are pleasant to wear at all times. Some masks we don’t even feel on our faces, while others tend to be painful on our earlobes if we wear them too long, irritate our skin, or feel suffocating.
In this article, we will share everything we know about PM2.5 masks and provide some advice on when to use this type of mask, along with some comparisons between other kinds of masks and this one.
What Is a PM2.5 Filter?
When we talk about PM masks, we are talking about masks designed to improve the quality of the air we breathe.
A PM2.5 filter is a disposable filter inserted inside a cloth mask to improve its effectiveness in air filtration.
A PM2.5 mask or respirator might also be called an N95, KF94, FFP2 or KN95 mask and is generally a disposable or single-use mask.
The main target of this type of mask and filter are airborne particles. Together, they can block a high percentage of harmful particles, including aerosols.
What Are PM Particles?
PM particles stand for ‘particulate matter’ particles. If you live in an area with air pollution issues, you probably hear this term a lot.
PM particles represent a mixture of solid and liquid airborne particles. They can be a mixture of dust, soil, dirt, smoke, soot, and many other pollutants. Places where there are many factories, wood-burning, or heavy car traffic, are usually in danger of having higher levels of PM particles in the air.
Some PM particles are only detectable with an electron microscope. In contrast, others can be observed with a naked eye even thanks to their size and darkness usually.
The two types of PM particles are PM10, which are 10 micrometers or smaller, and PM2.5 which are even smaller fine inhalable particles whose diameter is as small as 2.5 micrometers or less. A single hair is 70 micrometers in diameter, 30 times larger than a PM2.5 particle.
The most harmful effects of PM particles are health-related. For instance, these microscopic particles are usually very easy to breathe in, which can cause lung damage. Still, things can get worse if the particles end up in your bloodstream after that. The PM2.5 particles are far more dangerous than their larger counterparts.
These particles cause reduced visibility, posing problems for both aircraft and drivers.
How Do PM2.5 Filters Work?
The main principle of how PM2.5 filters work is via an electrostatic barrier, through which they capture the particles. The filter is constructed from a breathable fabric that captures the tiny, microscopic particles that usually pass through other materials such as polyester or cotton.
There are several reasons why these filters are so effective:
- They are made of advanced materials specially designed to filter tiny particles and contain unique capabilities for trapping microscopic particles. Some of the materials used are spun-bond fabric, melt-blown fabric, and activated carbon.
- The filters provide two types of barriers: mechanical and electrostatic, effective against the tiniest nanoparticles.
- When the filter is combined with a multiple-layer cotton mask, it can block most airborne particles.
PM2.5 filters are the most practical solution due to the following facts:
- They are flat and therefore take up less space than the standard respirators;
- You can use them continuously for up to 24 hours, or up to 2 weeks of occasional use;
- Once you start noticing that it’s becoming harder to breathe in them, it’s time to replace them or the filter at least;
- You can use PM2.5 filter replacements against poor air quality, and in case you find yourself in a highly crowded place.
What Is the Main Difference Between PM2.5 Filter Mask and Surgical Face Masks?
As the name says, surgical masks are commonly used by doctors in hospitals in environments and settings in which the presence of airborne pathogens is expected and prevalent.
The main reason behind wearing a surgical mask is to prevent the potential bacteria and virus-contaminated bodily fluids from leaving the body and endangering other people. However, they do not guarantee that such particles will not enter the body. The primary purpose of medical masks is to protect the people around you from viruses and bacteria, while their secondary purpose is to protect you. Both PM2.5 and N95 masks provide excellent protection against larger airborne particles; however, N95 are slightly more uncomfortable to wear.
Since medical masks are designed to protect from water droplets, their design is usually looser, and some gaps might occur between the edge of the mask and your face.
While heavier and larger drops are far less likely to pass through these gaps, light particulates have much higher odds of sneaking out that way.
PM 2.5 filter masks, on the other hand, are designed in such a way to fit the face more tightly. Also, unlike the medical/surgical masks, they are meant to be reused several times. Furthermore, this mask protects both other people from potentially harmful water droplets coming from your mouth and nose, and they protect you from airborne particles.
These masks have been quite popular for many years now in Asia. Many places in Asia face high levels of air pollution, and people even refer to them as “anti-pollution masks”. When you purchase them, they usually come with a disposable filter inside.
The filter’s grade level usually tells you about their efficiency, as most of them can filter out somewhere between 65% and 90% of aerosol particles, which is slightly less than the medical N95 mask. However, PM2.5 filter masks have a much lower inhalation strain.
Sometimes, PM2.5 masks also come with an exhalation valve. This valve will always be insulated with an inner filter layer.
The mask is engineered so that the gap between its edge and the face is almost non-existent. Respirators that industry workers commonly use leave no gap at all, while those intended for every day, non-medical, anti-pollution use trade that efficiency for the lung and heart strain.
The filter in the PM2.5 mask is far denser than the medical one as its goal is to keep both the germs and the pollution particles away from you.
On the other hand, if you opt for a PM2.5 respirator for germs and viruses protection, do make sure to consult the professional first, especially if you belong to a sensitive group for any health reason, since a different tradeoff is present here – lower inhalation resistance, and the existence of the edge – face gap. Non-medical anti-pollution masks are more suitable for short-term exposure to the potential virus and bacteria infection. They are very efficient in keeping others safe from your bodily fluids from coughing or sneezing.
Industrial respirators such as all kinds such as KF94, FFP2, KN95, or N95 are usually labeled as industrial respirators, and thus should contain indications on packages about whether relevant authorities approved them.
Hopefully, you enjoyed this article and found it helpful to find out about the difference between masks and respirators and discover more about what PM2.5 respirators are. If you decide to purchase one, check the instructions before use. Whichever masks you choose, in the end, all of them will do at least one job flawlessly – preventing us from touching our mouths or nose accidentally.
Also, always wash your hands before and after using your masks. Otherwise, you risk transmitting viruses and bacteria. And finally, whenever you are disposing of the mask, the least you can do for the environment is to cut the straps. In case these somehow, unfortunately, end up in nature, at least you are preventing animals from getting their feet or bodies stuck inside the strap.