- HEPA FILTERS
- FOR USE IN FACEMASKS
- 0.3 MICRONS FILTER SIZE
The best medical mask — called the N95 respirator — filters out at least 95 percent of particles as small as 0.3 microns. By comparison, a typical surgical mask — made using a rectangular piece of pleated fabric with elastic ear loops — has a filtration efficiency ranging from 60 to 80 percent.
The scientists who conducted the tests used a standard of 0.3 microns because that is the measure used by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health for medical masks.
Linsey Marr, a Virginia Tech aerosol scientist and an expert in the transmission of viruses, said the certification method for respirators and HEPA filters focuses on 0.3 microns because particles around that size are the hardest to catch. While it seems counterintuitive, particles smaller than 0.1 microns are actually easier to catch because they have a lot of random motion that makes them bump into the filter fibers, she said.
“Even though coronavirus is around 0.1 microns, it floats around in a wide range of sizes, from around 0.2 to several hundred microns, because people shed the virus in respiratory fluid droplets that also contain lots of salts and proteins and other things,” said Dr. Marr. “Even if the water in the droplets fully evaporates, there’s still a lot of salt and proteins and other gunk that stays behind as solid or gel-like material. I think 0.3 microns is still useful for guidance because the minimum filtration efficiency will be somewhere around this size, and it’s what NIOSH uses.”