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Do You Really Need an N100 Mask?

With the current coronavirus pandemic, the use of face masks and respirators has multiplied. From makeshift tissue paper masks to heavy-duty full-face respirators, each precautionary measure offers a different level of protection.

As of now, most governments, organizations, and hospitals are recommending the use of N-series masks in high-risk environments. In this series, the N95 face respirator is highly recommended and most easily accessible to the public. The other two masks are the N99 and N100. The 95, 99, and 100 ratings indicate different levels of protection and each one has its purpose.

So, is the N100 mask the one you need? Here we break down all the basic information so you can make an informed decision about whether the N100 respirator is right for you.

What is an N100 mask?

The N100 mask is a full-face respirator that gets its classification and rating from the NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health). This mask can filter out non-oil particulates with the highest degree of efficiency. While the N95 and N99 offer 95% and 99% safety respectively, the N100 filters up to 99.97% of all breathable particulates.

What does an N100 mask protect against?

The specification about non-oil particulates means that you can protect yourself against dust, fumes, smoke, vapor, coal, iron ore, flour, wood, metal, and pollen. The N100 face mask can also protect you against a variety of non-oil liquids, including chemical leaks, aerosol, and other harmful droplets.

How is an N100 mask different from the rest of the N-series?

The main difference is in its efficiency. The N95 is more of a face mask, whereas the N100 is a full-face respirator. The N100 is built differently and provides a higher level of protection.

An N95 face mask has one optional exhalation valve that helps with breathing (though the valve may affect the mask’s ability to protect those around you if you are infected). The N100, on the other hand, is a full-face respirator that comes with attachable cartridges that offer a higher quality of filtered air.

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When do you need an N100 respirator?

You don’t need an N100 face respirator at all under ordinary circumstances. Even if you’re sick, an N95 should suffice. And if you’re looking after an infected person, you can still do without the N100. However, if you’re working long term with exposure to viral droplets or contaminated air, there’s nothing better than the N100.

This means that the level of protection you need depends on the particulates you’re exposed to. If you’re exposing yourself for a short period of time, you don’t really need to wear an N100 mask. But if you know you’re going to be at risk of exposure to contamination for a long time, you might be wise to use one. The best thing to do is to talk to a health expert for their advice.

What’s the benefit?

When you look at the big picture, you may not see much difference between an N99 and an N100 respirator. After all, 99% and 99.97% are basically the same, right?

Wrong.

Healthcare workers and other medical service providers often need the best protective equipment available. The rise of viral infections in the past, including Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), has probed many immunologists and biologists to question the safety of health workers in hostile environments.

The public and private healthcare sectors have focused on surgical masks and N95 face respirators as appropriate protective measures. But these preferences are based on data and research that are still unfolding. For more assurance and guaranteed protection, the N100 remains the best protective measure for workers exposed to hostile environments.

Even a tiny number of lethal droplets, fumes, and solid pollutants are enough to get you infected. A mask that leaves room for 5% of particulates to enter is, therefore, inevitably riskier for those exposed to contamination on a long-term basis. In these cases, a mask with 99.97% protection is preferable. The N100 face mask is the equivalent of a HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Air) filter.

How do you use an N100 face mask?

Depending on the level of protection you want, you can choose between a full-face or a half-face N100 mask. The N-range masks come with adjustable straps, which you need to set accordingly so the mask fits comfortably and securely on your face.

The half-face respirator comes two attachment vents at the bayonet. The full face respirator also provides eye protection, since airborne particulates can enter your body through the eyes, as well as the mouth and nose.

When it comes down to choosing between a full-face N100 mask or a half-face mask, you should consider how frequently and critically you need the mask. With less dangerous working conditions, a half-face respirator should be sufficient. But if you want to be sure, and reach near-perfect effectiveness, you might as well go all in with the eye protection option.

N100 mask attachments

Yes, an N100 mask is very protective on its own. But sometimes, you need to go the extra mile to get as close to 100% mask efficiency as you can. In many conditions, you face fumes, vapors, gases, and particulates that are smaller than the 0.3-micron size. These lethal pollutants can wreak havoc inside your respiratory system if your mask lets them in.

Gas and vapor cartridges

Gas and vapor cartridges are ideal when you’re working with fumes or gaseous particulates. These cartridges are attached to the mask bayonet and only allow clean air to pass through. There are different cartridges for different types of gaseous particulates. 

Since cartridges are replaceable, you don’t need to buy different masks. You can attach any two cartridges at a time to your N100 mask. You can also choose between combination cartridges or separate cartridges, depending on your needs.

Respirator filters

If you’re worried that the mask itself isn’t enough, you may want to attach respirator filters to the attachment vents. These filters are round, cloth-based discs that provide extra protection against solid airborne particulates. They maximize the 99.97% protection characteristic of an N100 face mask.

Respiration pre-filters

The worst working conditions that you can face in particulate-infected air is a combination of gaseous, liquid, and solid particulates. Pre-filters can help protect you in this difficult environment. They are often a combination of gaseous or vapor cartridges and respiration filters. You need extra attachment gear if you want these respiration pre-filter combinations. They prevent solid and liquid particulates from entering, while the gas or vapor cartridges purify the air.

Bear in mind that these attachments need to be replaced from time to time. You can go for a pre-made N100 mask kit but once the attachments expire, you’ll need to replace the entire kit.

Is an N100 mask reusable?

With the hefty price tag and expensive attachments, you want to get your money’s worth. The N-series masks, including the N100 mask, are all reusable, so you don’t need to dispose of them after wearing them for a few hours.

While it’s reusable, the N100 mask can also get dirty or infectious. Wipe it clean with antiviral and antibacterial sprays. Your N100 mask will eventually start to wear out or break, so replace it when necessary. 

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What is the N100 mask made of?

The N100 mask is made with the highest quality durable materials, including high-grade plastic and silicone. These masks are made to last so you can wear them for long periods of time and they should not leave any permanent marks on your face.

How do you fit an N100 mask?

While wearing an N100 mask make sure that you can breathe properly. It fully covers your mouth and nose, so it does affect your breathing to some extent. When you put on the N100 mask, keep it neither too tight nor too loose. The mask shouldn’t slip off your face every few minutes. It shouldn’t pinch your cheeks, either.

Take off your mask for a while if you feel it piercing your skin. If you need to wear your N100 mask for several hours, place bandages on the areas where your skin touches the mask. This will avoid leaving marks on your skin.

When and where to buy an N100 mask?

N100 masks are available online as well as in stores. Before you think of purchasing, consider if it’s the right one for you. If you are highly exposed to harmful particulates, then an N100 mask may be the way to go. Otherwise, other options may be just as effective for what you need.

Who should avoid wearing an N100 mask?

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As protective as it looks, the N100 mask may not be ideal for some people. If you’re a member of the general public with little exposure to particulates, the N100 mask may be an unnecessary burden.

Also, N100 masks aren’t suitable for people with respiratory problems. If you have asthma, a lung infection, or other breathing issues, an N100 mask can hinder your ability to breathe easily. In general, N100 masks aren’t designed for casual use. As with other N-series masks, they are especially suited to healthcare workers.

Essentially, the N100 mask does offer a high level of protection that is difficult to match. However, it isn’t as easy to wear as other face masks. Whatever you decide, only buy your N-series face mask from a trusted, verified source.

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