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Does a Dust Mask Protect Against Coronavirus?

You’ve probably read a lot recently about different face mask options and wondered if the dust face masks you already have on hand will do the trick. These masks cover the nose and mouth and provide short term respiratory protection against non-toxic nuisance dust and mild irritants. Though usually worn in construction and agricultural job settings, a face mask for dust can also be worn during activities like dusting, gardening, and sweeping. 

It’s made up of a flexible and versatile pad and is held in place by rubber and elastic ties. This makes it a comfortable (and less expensive) alternative to the respirator. An anti-dust mask protects the wearer from certain kinds of dust, such as wood, silica, fiberglass, brick, and drywall. Dust masks also provide protection from allergens. 

Unapproved face masks for dust don’t provide protection against hazardous dust, chemicals, gases, and germs. For nuisance, dust respirators are recommended. However, specialized dust face masks can be used for basic protection against infectious agents, including coronavirus.

Features and usage

With the growing dust mask fashion and usage, many companies make dust masks with special features like a dual strap for proper fitting. Now some manufacturers have introduced a bendable aluminum fitting strip on the exterior of the conventional dust mask. A foam rubber strip is also found on the inside to form a good seal and grip. 

Masks with such features gain approval from NIOSH. This is why the NIOSH stamp can be found on some dust masks. Most dust masks are meant for construction workers to protect them from non-toxic dust. The dust face mask is also essential for industrial usage, including the pharmaceutical, construction, and agricultural industry. 

Some types of dust masks can even be used to prevent you from inhaling dust during a dust storm. But now, specialized quality dust masks are also available with high-filtering efficiencies, which are comparable to N95 respirators and can be used in healthcare and toxic industrial settings.

Construction and working principle

The dust mask is designed in such a way that it protects the wearer from breathing dust particles and allergens. It mainly slows down the flow of air. Due to relatively slow motion, small particulates in the air are trapped inside the dust mask’s fibers. For a demonstration, see the video below:

The filtering efficiency of masks also depends on filter construction. In light of this, several mask-making companies have reconstructed their dust face masks in such a way that their efficiency is not altered even during fast breathing and can be worn while doing intense physical activities. 

Dust masks are mostly made of fibrous, non-woven material (cloth filter-like material) arranged in a web-like structure. This web-like configuration is perfect for capturing small particles. There are small spaces left in this configuration, which makes it easier for the wearer to breathe. Filtering facepieces (dust masks) are usually made by using silicone, neoprene, and rubber. Rubber and neoprene are rigid and long-lasting; however, silicone is preferred for its comfort and flexibility. 

Full-face respirators with strap harnesses and ratchet suspensions are also available that make wearing and removing them easy. Due to the porous nature of activated carbon, some mask manufacturers use it to make mask filters. Activated carbon also has adsorption potential, so wearing this mask (or a designated air pollution mask) in the setting of a poor air quality index can keep you safe from several allergens and infections. 

A neoprene dust mask is also a popular form of dust mask, as it filters out 95 percent of dust particles in the air. It filters out chemicals, fumes, and pollens, but neoprene material can cause an allergic reaction, so these neoprene dust masks are not usually recommended.

Can dust face masks provide protection against coronavirus?

Coronavirus is a respiratory virus that can cause flu-like symptoms. People with poor immune systems like the elderly, young children, and already sick people are more susceptible to coronavirus infection. 

Coronavirus spreads through respiratory droplets, i.e., when the infected person coughs or sneezes. It releases the virus into the air in the form of tiny droplets. Once these virus-containing droplets are inhaled by healthy individuals, those individuals become infected. Since seemingly healthy individuals may be carriers of the virus, those around them may benefit from mask-wearing by anyone who is able to do so.

Dust masks with high efficiency are recommended to be worn by health care professionals who are dealing with the infected or suspected cases of coronavirus. However, surgical masks are recommended for people who are likely to catch COVID-19. Low-efficiency dust masks still have better protection levels than surgical masks, but these do not provide full protection against viruses.

Classification of dust face masks on the basis of efficiency

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There is a whole variety of dust face masks available with different features ranging from varied efficiency, types of particles it protects from, usage, comfort, and much more. You have to choose what is best for you, depending on your need.

Anti-dust masks come in different ratings and configurations depending on the exposure limit of occupation and protection factor it offers. There are three ratings: P1, P2, and P3. These types, referred to as particle-filtering face masks or dust face masks, are briefly explained below:

FFP1 Masks

FFP1 offers the least protection out of three categories with an aerosol filtration of almost 80 percent and an inside leakage of a maximum of 22 percent. If you are looking for the minimum amount of protection from non-toxic particulates, FFP1 fits your criteria. It is mostly used during home renovations and other construction work of similar nature. 

FFP1 dust masks are good for hand sanding, drilling, and cutting, and are not efficient for protection from viruses and bacteria.

FFP2 Masks

FFP2 has better protection levels compared to FFP1 masks. It has a minimum filtration of 94 percent and leakage to the inside of a maximum of eight percent. It is mostly used in construction, agricultural industry, and health care settings. FFP2 masks are best for plastering and sanding.

It is used for protection against the influenza virus and is currently used for coronavirus as well. This mask is comparable to the N95 respirator.

FFP3 Masks

FFP3 offers a minimum 99 percent filtration efficiency and only two percent of leakage to the inside. These masks prevent bacterial and viral infections and are also used for fine fibers like asbestos protection. They are also used in healthcare settings to protect against coronavirus.

Which dust mask is best for coronavirus?

A patient is advised to wear a surgical mask as soon as the infection is suspected. In Europe, respirators of class FFP2 and FFP3 are used by medical staff for protection against coronavirus when they are dealing with patients who have been infected or are suspected of infection. In the US, however, N95 respirators are recommended by the CDC to be used by healthcare personnel. An N, R, or P-series respirator can be worn by a healthcare professional.

Single-use masks vs. surgical masks vs. dust masks (respirators)

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Single-use masks are very thin, layered masks, and are only effective in capturing large dust particles. However, surgical masks are more specialized, and these are fluid-resistant, loose-fitting, and disposable masks. They are usually used in healthcare settings where they don’t need to provide full protection from respiratory pathogens. 

Unlike these two types of masks, dust masks and N95 respirators offer greater protection, and a proper rating system exists for these. Usually, N95 respirators and FFP2 and FFP3 masks are rendered protective against coronavirus infection. FFP1 dust masks have better efficiency than standard surgical masks, but they are not efficient enough to filter coronavirus.

Examples of FFP1, FFP2, and FFP3 masks

As discussed earlier, FFP1, FFP2, and FFP3 are approved dust masks. Many unapproved versions are also available, but here we will review examples of the above-mentioned filtering facepieces. These masks have designations such as:

R = Dust mask reusable 
NR = Non-Reusable (single shift use only) 
D = Meets the clogging resistance requirements

FFP1 dust masks

3M™ 8710E Dust Mask FFP1

3M is a big name in the healthcare industry. Their respirators meet European standards. They manufacture masks in a variety of shapes and features (disposable vs. non-disposable, half-face vs. full face masks, etc.).

The 3M™ 8000 Series Particulate Respirators are suitable to be used in construction industries where workers are exposed to dust and non-volatile liquid particles. This mask is durable, and its good design significantly reduces heat and moisture build-up. It is apt for the construction, agricultural, manufacturing, decorating, pharmaceutical, refinery, and industrial cleaning industries. It is tested and approved.

JSP® 111 FFP1 Disposable Dust Mask

This is a standard disposable mask for general use. It is suitable for sanding, drilling, and cutting, and it meets the requirements of European standards (EN 149:2001). It is light in weight and has elastic head straps and a cup-shaped design for a comfortable fit. It protects against mist and fine dust (in low levels).

FFP2 dust masks

Delta Plus FFP2 Disposable Dust Masks

Though this mask features an exhalation valve, which is generally not recommended as it can still allow the wearer’s infected droplets to exit the mask, it is an option for those who are able to observe strict social distancing in addition to mask-wearing. It is foldable, and a good fit for all face types. 

JSP® FFP2 Standard Disposable Dust Masks

This mask is also suitable for lower levels of fine dust and oil/water mist. Its welded nose piece ensures a perfect fit. Another beautiful feature is that it is designed to be hygienically folded when not in use. Be sure to order the non-vented version, if possible, for the reasons stated above.

FFP3 dust masks

P-367 FFP3 Without Exhalation Valve Respirator

FFP3 masks offer the best protection and a secure fit. It boasts high filtration and low breathing resistance, even without the exhalation valve.

Facemask FFP3 Without Valve

This mask is specifically designed to reduce respiratory resistance without the use of an exhalation valve. This means you can breathe more comfortably without potentially endangering those around you. It’s usable for exposure to viruses, as well as biological agents and cytotoxic drugs.

Let’s review

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Dust masks protect against non-toxic dust and are mainly used in construction and agricultural settings. Certain dust masks are specially approved and available in different configurations and ratings on the basis of the protective factors they offer. 

FFP1 is least effective and recommended for use by workers in construction and agricultural occupations. However, FFP2 and FFP3 face masks are recommended by WHO to be used by medical staff dealing with the infected or suspected coronavirus patients. The general public is advised by the CDC to use cloth-based coverings instead of these specialized anti-dust masks to prevent the shortage of these masks for frontline healthcare workers.

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